Let the record show that my black T-shirt was in fact a Bauhaus T-shirt, purchased the previous fall down in the Village on the very first of my weekly trips to scavenge for new albums, generally vinyl dispatches from the world of the pale and winnowed… I didn’t buy rap—I heard it all the time… Rap was a natural resource, might as well pay for sunlight or the very breeze or an early-morning car alarm going off. No, I spent my money on music for moping. Perfect for drifting off on the divan with a damp towel on your forehead, a minor-chord soundtrack as you moaned into reflecting pools about your elaborate miserableness. The singers were faint, androgynous ghosts, dragging their too heavy chains across the plains of misery, the gloomy moors of discontent, in search of relief. Let’s just put it out there: I liked the Smiths. (page 63)
It’s difficult for me to accurately summarize a book as mind-blowing well-written as Colson Whitehead‘s new novel Sag Harbor. It’s both an unflinching and, at times, humorous look at adolescence, race, class, and identity set smack dab in the middle of the summer of ’85. Whitehead has called it an “archeology of the 80s” and in that he’s referring to all the pop culture detritus that surfaces within the narrative. These pages revel in references to movies, television shows, and advertising campaigns, all of which Whitehead deftly infixes to his storyline. As an author, he’s undoubtedly a master of his craft.
As far as cultural excavation goes, one can’t help but note the amount of music unearthed in this book. From the Carpenters to Run DMC, Whitehead dusts off a wide range of artists and songs for inspection. So, when I got finished reading the novel, I decided to compile a playlist.
As for the tracklist, I included all of the main songs Whitehead references in his narrative but I also took some liberties. Whitehead’s protagonist admits to loving the Smiths and the Bauhaus but never names particular songs. Therefore I picked two that I thought would help keep things moving along in my mix. Also, I added some sound bites here and there to help with the song transitions. These samples also come from the book and are sort of inside jokes for anyone who has read the novel.
Sag Harbor opens on Memorial Day weekend so this seems like an opportune moment to post a mixtape. Check it, here’s the soundtrack to the scribe, jams from Sag Harbor and the summer of ’85 (compiled with some liberties):
TRACKLIST (for Dummy):
- THE CARPENTERS – Top of the World
- AFRICA BAMBAATAA & THE SOULSONIC FORCE – Planet Rock
- BAUHAUS – Dark Entries
- RUN DMC – Here We Go (Love Connection)
- ICE CUBE – Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha
- THE SMITHS – Handsome Devil
- GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE – The Message (Road Warrior)
- PRINCE – Raspberry Beret (Six Million Dollar Man)
- BLONDIE – Rapture
- DONNA SUMMERS – Bad Girls
- UTFO – Roxanne Roxanne (Bill Cosby for New Coke)
- LISA LISA & THE CULT JAM – I Wonder If I Take You Home
- MCFADDEN & WHITEHEAD – Ain’t No Stopping Us Now
- HURRICANE SMITH – Oh, Babe, What Would You Say (WLNG end of broadcast)
See also Colson Whitehead’s AMAZON PLAYLIST:
Sag Harbor: Selected Cuts 1982-1985, With Liner Notes