Mahvesh Murad very kindly invited me to be a part of Midnight in Karachi last week. I was a little nervous going in, and from my recollection I babbled discursively. This is why I prefer writing to talking!
In the interview Mahvesh asked whether I had a playlist for the book, and I told her how one specific song contains the entire emotional realm in which Occupy Me was put together. It’s not a long piece of music, but for me it opens up vaulting internal spaces.
This is a book that was written in little tiny bursts and then put down for long stretches. One of the ways I’ve learned to deal with this heavily punctuated process is to use specific music to trigger the mood of the book. Now, proper writers will create playlists for their novels, but I never have time. I usually have a bank of material that I will draw on ad hoc; Lisa Gerrard features heavily. For Shadowboxer I was using Warpaint, but I needed something different for OM and my main musical sources, Coltrane and Miles Davis, were too complicated and distracting. So I went to see what I could find of the old Cocteau Twins recordings that my ex used to play to death in college, because I thought their otherworldly atmosphere of guitar and voice-without-real-words might help me. Searching You Tube, I stumbled on an astonishing duet by Elizabeth Fraser and Jeff Buckley.
In my ignorance, I had never heard of Jeff Buckley. It turns out that he was the son of the late Tim Buckley, composer of the elegiac ‘Song to the Siren,’ which Elizabeth Fraser had interpreted so hauntingly back in her Cocteau Twins days. The story goes that many years later Jeff Buckley, now famous himself and very much on the rise artistically, met Fraser and they recorded together a series of songs that were never released. The songs were left unfinished because Jeff Buckley drowned in a freak accident in the Mississippi River at the age of 30. Jeff’s mother subsequently let the song go out, and it has been widely circulated on You Tube, which is where I found it.
The first time I listened I was blown away. I think this may be the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard. It unlocked such intense feelings that had been unexpressed—or maybe they were just inexpressible—until this music brought down the floodwalls. In terms of writing the book, this song unlocked everything.
Whenever I lost my way (which was often), I’d put on this track and sit under the headphones, tears streaming down my face, until the music had put me back on the road to what I really wanted to do. I’m so grateful for this recording.