Monday, November 9, 2009

Songs as Setting

From personal experience, we know that songs or musical background can really dictate the mood or feeling in the room - especially at a dance or a party. Not only does music contribute greatly to the atmosphere, but it identifies us with those around us as we can't help but listen to, sway to, or react to a piece of culture together. While music sets a physical, audible place in the Big Five Four for the club-like atmosphere Sway and Natalie enjoy every weekend, it also contextualizes the character in a certain culture, spirit, and perceived time frame for this scene.

Natalie"two-steps" out of the bathroom to the sound of "Hey Baby Que Paso," which the book describes as a "Tex-Mex" song she was particularly fond of. The song is playful, upbeat, and sung in Spanglish by the band Texas Tornados, many of whom are Anglo musicians. The accordion and steady drum beats are characteristic of some mariachi music but the keyboarding and slide guitar also give the tune a characteristic Texas ring.

Though the song sends a very different sentiment, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," is similar in it's Tex-Mex-ness in the sense that it is a slow, bluesy country ballad sung by a Tejano - Freddy Fender - in the typical style of a song-bird cantador. The song plays while Sway dances with Cal (who has always been sweet on her - in vain). This is an appropriate setting of place for this older, smokey dance hall full of younger women and older men who are looking for a good time on the weekend but not necessarily serious relationships. It also seems to place the Big-Five-Four in a bygone era - the song feels very much like a 50's country song even though it was sung in the 70's. freddy-fender.jpg

I think both songs communicate Natalie and Sway's "place" in they country/Tex-Mex, borderland of Lava Landing. The songs paint an audible picture of towns stuck in a time past and people stuck "wasting days and nights" intentionally. They are rather playful songs, but they also communicate the sense of longing that Martinez will continue to communicate throughout the novel for commitment and love.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, as usual, Maggie.
    I love your reference to the collective nature of listening to popular music in the nightclub setting. It's interesting to think of the bar/cantina scenes in this novel and their significance for the characters and the plot. A lot happens on the space of a dance floor or at a bar table...and always with some music in the background, setting the mood, as you say.