Initially I had no plan to select a soundtrack for the book, but since the consensus among the friends to whom I circulated the manuscript is that my writing has a distinctly visual style, I began thinking in terms of the sounds that would convey the mood and tone of specific parts of the story, were it ever to reach the big screen. Music is immensely important in this way, and as a lifelong fan of cinema, it wasn’t a difficult leap for me to make.
Like many countries in Latin America, Madrinega reflects a blend of cultures – in this case Spanish, Honduran, and Cuban. It has been colonized, freed, allowed to briefly experiment with democracy, and then placed in political restraint by the demands of the Cold War and the overriding need of the United States to control events in the Western Hemisphere.
As the story opens, Madrinega with its authoritarian government has managed to avoid being targeted by overt or CIA-sponsored counter-revolutionary campaigns of the era, but due to internal conditions, poverty and political violence among them, it has not escaped the strife and bloodshed that accompany oppression arising from a fear of both communism and loss of economic control.
For these reasons, the soundtrack is a blend of many genres: American pop music circa 1983 including works by the Eurhythmics and Men at Work; Chicano-Latino songs including Jingo, a timeless piece by Carlos Santana and El Quinto Sol, a political protest song performed by a talented but not-so-famous group out of San Francisco, Los Peludos; plenty of Spanish guitar by artists from Ottmar Liebert to Luca Stavos to Diego Fernandez; and a few offerings of classical music by Philip Glass complementing the more emotional, thoughtful, or brooding scenes of the story. It is in short, an eclectic musical collage reflecting if not of the times. What follows is a partial legend of where individual pieces in the soundtrack fit into the novel.
The Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) is playing on a car radio as the story opens; it hit the top of the charts in September 1983. It triggers in Leighton a flashback to a woman he left behind in Hawaii and their all-too-brief sexual encounter just as his vacation was getting started -- and just prior to his being recalled for some as-yet-unknown emergency. The lyrics remind him of the R&R that he desperately needs and will not get, and as he meets with his superior Miller to be briefed on his new assignment, he is in a foul, irreverent state of mind.
In Chapter 1, readers learn that General Vilar, dictator of Madrinega, has used American-supplied cruise missiles to destroy a hospital in the quiet village of Panactatlan. El Pueblo by Jose Mendez, with its slow, sleepy guitar rhythms, is an ode to Panactatlan and the small villages like it caught up in a war its residents do not understand, placed in a crossfire by geography and circumstance.
El Quinto Sol, performed by Los Peludos, is unique in that it is the only song in the soundtrack that is expressly political. A protest song, it was often performed at events in the United States during the early to mid-1980’s as, at a minimum, an expression of concern about U.S. policy in Latin America and particularly El Salvador. It fits the tone of the novel perfectly, but Leighton is surprised when he hears in it a nightclub so far from home.
Goza Negra, by Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera, is an extremely popular song originating from pre-Castro Cuba, and is well-known and widely performed in clubs throughout the Americas, including the United States. Performed by a beautiful Afro-Latina vocalist at the Villa Palmera nightclub, it underscores the club’s status as not merely a popular watering hole, but the capital’s premiere night spot, one of the few locations where a fragile truce between the government and the guerillas exists, and a place where patrons are certain to have a good time.
And finally, Symphony No. 3, Movement 3 by Philip Glass, Michael Riesman and Anne Manson is a pensive, classical piece replete with violins that – without spoiling the plot – imparts the deep struggle associated with suddenly being forced to grapple with issues of life and death, and the lasting anguish associated with steeling oneself to perform foul but necessary deeds.
In listening to the soundtrack, my hope is that the story becomes as real for you as it has for me.
Enjoy the music and the story.