"Songtrack" for a book: The Minorities by Suffian Hakim
In another article, Suffian Hakim explored how his novel The Minorities is a subversion of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth structure: our primary protagonist travels from the known to the unknown but fails to become master of either world.
Here, he offers a "songtrack" for The Minorities.
The playlist I have created follows Joseph Campbell's Monomyth structure: the first 10 songs provide the soundscape of The Known, the next 10 capture the discord of The Unknown, and the final 10 taper into the story's nameless Narrator and his failure to become master of both worlds, despite having met all the beats of the Monomyth arc.
I am not going to write about all 30 songs (explaining Marilyn Manson's "President Dead", for example, might be a spoiler) but I will pick 10 of them which were most significant to the soul of The Minorities.
I contextualise my ideas and emotions in song-scapes, so I'm very excited for this opportunity to share this playlist, which changes tempo and genres parallel to the narrative — so be prepared for a musical ride.
Art Pure by Tim De Cotta.
I've known Tim De Cotta since we were 13 (we sat together at the back of Malay class in Saint Joseph's Institution), and while I seldom glean wisdom off the doofus, his last album, The Warrior, bleeds with important lessons for the artistic human being. "Art Pure" helps me pause and consider my intentions with what I write, to ensure I keep my art, as the title demands, pure. It also helps that the song has one of the sexiest bass lines I've ever heard in a local song.
I Like Birds by The Eels.
This is a fun song, a bopping ditty with an invitation for lost souls to rest their bones ("If you're small and on a search / I've got a feeder for you to perch on"). Essentially, that's the message of the book's Narrator to the people who share his home: you may be illegal immigrants, or running away from domestic problems, or a freakin' pontianak, but you will always have refuge here.
My Sweet Lord by George Harrison.
The members of The Beatles were fascinating in their own right when pursuing solo projects, but most fascinating was George Harrison. It was good to see him grow out of the shadow of the McCartney-Lennon songwriting behemoth, and we were all the better for it. He wrote some memorable anthems in his time as a solo artiste, and one of my favourite songs is My Sweet Lord, a soaring praise/worship number that adulates the Hindu and Christian faith. The Minorities touches on the ability for different faiths to coexist when so many faiths have a very one-true-religion, we're-going-to-heaven-the-rest-of-you-infidels-will-burn philosophy, and My Sweet Lord chooses to focus on the beauty of different faiths rather than their ugly dogmas.
Kau Ilhamku by Man Bai
By My Side by INXS
There are a few pages after our protagonists get out of Singapore and get deeper and deeper in Malaysia where they experience the calm before a storm. They're driving under cover of night, they managed to get past Singapore customs without any issues, and there's a sense that they can succeed in their quest. I imagined these songs to be playing on the car stereo as the Malaysian street lamps whooshed by their blue Toyota, as unseen, sinister forces trail them.
By My Side is set "In the dark of night", a motif that occurs several times in that particular chapter. But it is also fitting as even though they're in a car together by one another's sides, their thoughts wander alone, each dealing with their own apprehensions internally and alone. I needed Malaysian songs in this playlist, of course, and the first one I've chosen is Man Bai's 1999 masterpiece, Kau Ilhamku, which I felt was the perfect sonic foil for The Narrator and the pontianak Diyanah's growing relationship.
God Damn Tree by Caracal
Caracal guitarist Field Teo is one of my favourite people to play football with. For someone from a band that revels in its chaotic, deconstructionist music, he's a tidy, orderly player, adept at neatly stopping attacks before intelligently converting efficient defending into the counter-attack. Wait, what was I talking about again? Music! Right. God Damn Tree is a slow burn, a post-hardcore anthem that slowly bleeds dread before culminating in explosive, haemorrhaging anger ("You always leave me with all your f****** questions"). This is the headspace the character Shanti is in when facing her abusive husband. This is a punch-the-wall betrayal anthem, the chaotic storm that comes after the aforementioned calm. And dear god that opening guitar riff just cannot be ignored.
Be Still by The Killers
To me, the narrative in Be Still is the counterpoint to the so-called "hero's journey". It's a wonderful way to approach the adversities in your life: calm down, keep your head down and keep on keeping on. It's not a "go in all guns blazing" song, and that's how the protagonists in The Minorities won the day. "Rise up like the sun," Brandon Flowers sings, his Mormon faith bleeding into his vocals, "labour till the work is done."
My Body's A Zombie For You by Dead Man's Bones
I much prefer Ryan Gosling the musician rather than the actor (well, aside from his stellar performances in Lars And The Real Girl and The Nice Guys). When he's not carelessly invoking thirst on-screen, he's combining horror and music with his best friend Zach Shields. Their band, Dead Man's Bones, produce solely horror-themed music, and in My Body's A Zombie For You, he has a morbid love song that's fitting for the budding romance between The Narrator and Diyanah the Pontianak.
Wash Away (Reprise) by Joe Purdy
I first heard this song in Lost and it has been on many of my playlists ever since. This is the catharsis anthem. "I've got troubles, Lord, but not today, because they're going to wash away," Joe Purdy croons like a spiritual guru version of Jack Johnson. The Minorities ends on a similar note. Our protagonists are at the beach, under the early morning sun, the waves washing away the demons that have followed them throughout the book.
Memory Gospel by Moby
Memory Gospel has been etched into my brain since Dwayne Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar slow-danced to it in the surreal but heartbreaking climactic scene of Southland Tales and for good reason: it is possibly Moby's most underrated work, a steady strumming of heartstrings layered with piano keys unlocking the raw, oft-hidden pain in the deepest recesses of our emotions. This is the song that I play in post-meditation of the story I've created: a gospel wrought out from the hidden pain hiding in the shadowy nooks of my memory.
Get The Minorities here.
Read how The Minorities subverts Joseph Campbell's "monomyth" here.