Updated: Apr 9, 2022
Novelist Neil Bartlett talks us through a playlist to accompany his new mosaic novel, ADDRESS BOOK
Each of the seven addresses in my new book gets its story told in a different decade, I guess because one of the things I wanted to explore was how queer lives connect across time. Every front door hides a different narrative; everybody sings to a different tune—but I really believe that our experiences of love and loss and struggle can bring us together. I guess I wanted to make a series of fictional spaces where the reader can enter another life, and get some strength and joy from a place and time that may be entirely unlike their own.
1. Bach's Chaconne for Solo Violin / Itzhak Perlman (Part 1/2)
In my first story, set in the summer of 1974, a fifteen year old boy gets taken to bed by a musician, and learns what it feels like to have your body played with 'til it sings. This piece by Bach always brings me back to that feeling; tension; release; fear; joy. I grew up without any classical music in my life (my parents drew the line at Radio Two), and I first heard this piece when the real-life equivalent of the lover from the story played it to me on his gramophone after we'd been to bed together. My life changed, that afternoon.
Story number two takes place in another bedroom, this time in 1987. The story very much draws on my experience of living through the first wave of the UK AIDS epidemic—and just like me, one of the ways that the young queen in the story copes with the darkness is by dancing his nights away under the lights of London's biggest gay nightclub, Heaven. This Eighties gay power-ballad classic (which I reference in the story) has always made me smile, and I have to say that the lyrics still kick me in the heart. Take a bow, Miss Belinda Carlisle!!
3. Lucia Valentini Terrani - Agnus Dei - Petite Messe Solennelle
Back to the classical; and back to 1891. In the same apartment, but in a very different time, another young man dreams of love and lust. My soundtrack for the writing of the third story was Rossini—specifically, this weirdly beautiful and haunting setting of the mass. Rossini's music was very popular in the Italian church community where this particular queer London love story is set—and I loved the idea of conjuring up a queer romance to a setting of the mass. And check out this extraordinary soprano...
4. CeCe Peniston – Finally (Official Music Video)
Oh boy, now I'm really heading down memory lane... the fourth story needed me to imagine the Hackney tower-block after-party of of butch-femme civil partnership ceremony... so I picked C. C. Penniston for the dancing, and the imitable Lorraine Ellison for the slow number. Two songs that really hit my spot.
5. Lorraine Ellison – Stay With Me (Baby)
6. Miles Davis - Seven Steps to Heaven (Original) HQ 1963
My fifth front door is in London's Camden Town, in the middle of the 1960s—and here's the exact piece of music that features in the story, a track from Miles Davis' album 'No More Blues'. Jazz at its most supremely cool and alive—and, in my story, put to a very unexpected queer use!
7. Kylie Minogue - All The Lovers live
The sixth story features the same CD of Bach music as the first one—but this story is set in 2012, the year that our then Home Secretary Theresa May launched her 'hostile environment'. The idea was to stigmatise all immigrants and asylum seekers as threats to 'our' country, ie to the xenophobic values of the core Conservative vote. Lest we forget that the year wasn't all racist dog-whistling from our rulers, here's an alternative female vision; my favourite video of my favourite track from the London leg of Kylie's world tour that year. An all-time queer anthem; a vision of underwear-only multicultural togetherness and hotness. This track never fails me—I think I love it even more than caffeine.
8. Maria Callas – La Sonnambula
The final story in the book celebrates a very particular kind of queer love; the kind where two people decide to set up home, and then spend the rest of their lives together. To go with this story, I give you the track that my fella and I had played (at top volume) while we were signing the paperwork when we finally got hitched. The incomparable Callas, singing live and doing apparently impossible things with the ending of our favourite opera, Bellini's la Sonnambula. The lyrics mean: 'Human thought can barely comprehend this much happiness; I can feel it, but I still can't quite believe it.' Well Maria, you took the words right of my mouth. If joy has a sound, this is it.
Neil Bartlett lives in London with his partner James Gardiner. His first novel, the queer love story Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, was written in a council flat on the Isle of Dogs, published in 1990, and translated into five European languages. His second, Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, was nominated for the Whitbread Prize in 1996; his third, Skin Lane, was shortlisted for the Costa Award in 2007; his fourth, The Disappearance Boy, earned him a nomination as Stonewall Author of the Year in 2014.
You can find out more about Neil and his work, and contact him, at www.neil-bartlett.com