Marco Rafalà’s Playlist for His Novel "How Fires End"

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How Fires End

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Marco Rafala’s novel How Fires End is an unfrgettable and epic debut.

The New York Journal of Books wrote of the book:

“Rafalà seems to love language as much as his characters love their farms and their patron saint. That’s a powerful combination, and it fuels a compelling novel.”

In his own words, here is Marco Rafalà’s Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel How Fires End:

1. Sicilia Bedda

Roberto Alagna — The Sicilian

I heard this song a lot growing up. My father always listened to the local Italian program on the radio, and when this song came on he would sing along. On the weekends, when he wasn’t working, our house was always full of Italian music but this song in particular always left my father exposed, raw—I could hear the emotion in his voice. It’s an immigrant song, seeping with nostalgia. In the song, a Sicilian laborer comes to America for work but longs to one day see home again. That yearning drips from every note as the singer declares that even when he closes his eyes, he can still see his homeland. And he vows that one day he will return to Sicily and never leave. The power this song held over my father is what drew me to music at a young age. I wanted to be the song that captured his heart, his emotional attention. If one song captures the feel of the novel, it’s this one.

2. This is the Sea

The Waterboys — This is the Sea (Deluxe Version)

This is one of the songs I imagine David listening to late into the night on headphones, looking up at the wide expanse of a starry night, getting lost in his thoughts. I imagine the song sounds familiar to David. It conjures up a yearning and sadness inside him inherited from his father. But, hope also. A promise of a way out.

3. Maps and Legends

R.E.M. — Fables of the Reconstruction (Deluxe Edition)

Fables of the Reconstruction/Reconstruction of the Fables is an eerie, saturnine album, full of haunting music. Gravity is everywhere on this record. You’ll find it not just in some of the lyrics but in the tones explored in the music itself. These are songs set to the temperament of gravity. “Maps and Legends” is one of the album’s more upbeat songs but the tone is foreboding, bleak and romantic—not hopeful or cheery. I love this song for its moodiness, for pulling me back to my former teen self with all the ache and angst of that age—how we orbit ourselves and each other in sometimes cataclysmic ways.

4. Vitti’ Na Crozza

Quartetto Franco Li Causi — Folklore Siciliano

This is a traditional Sicilian folk song. The lyrics form a dialogue between an old man and the skull of someone who died violently and without a funeral. The song is a fatalistic and existential reflection on life and the finality of death, full of bitter stoicism and sorrow. This is another one of those songs that filled my childhood home and the way my father sang it left a lasting impression on me—a feeling I tried to capture in my debut novel.

5. Close to Me

The Cure — The Head on the Door

The Cure’s “Close to Me” is one of those pop songs that just exudes a time and place so perfectly. It speaks to that time in the life of a teenager where they oscillate between hope and anxiety, between the possibilities of the horizon and the claustrophobia of uncertainty. For many teenagers in the 1980s this song spoke their language.

6. Blue Monday

New Order — Singles

In the movie of the novel that plays in my head, I imagine this song in the scene where we first see Tony bullying David, pushing his face into a dirty snowbank. As both of their fathers converge on the conflict, there’s a sense of a deep-seated history between these two men—an animosity that spills over into the way their children interact with each other.

7. Black Celebration

Depeche Mode — Black Celebration

What else is there to say about Depeche Mode’s “Black Celebration” than what David says about it?

If you could make ash and embers sing for you, these were the songs they would sing. Throwing sparks from a dying fire. And if you could be those songs, you would know what it was like to feel those red-hot embers trailing off you, floating around your body.

8. Mesmerism

Dead Can Dance — Spleen and Ideal

This is the song playing in the record store when Sam and David are browsing the stacks. It’s a hopeful song, and a personal favorite. It’s a song that speaks to that smallest, unreachable part of you—the vulnerable you, the you you protect at all costs. It makes you feel as if you really could belong to this world after all.

9. Ocean Rain

Echo And The Bunnymen — Ocean Rain

Sam loves Echo and the Bunnymen. At one time, there was a long scene early in the book, pages and pages long, where Sam introduces David to bands he’d never heard of before. This was one of those bands. That scene eventually got pared down and pared down in the long, painful revision process. Including this song is my way of including an outtake from the novel.

10. All’armi…all’armi… la campana sona

Otello Profazio — Storie e leggende del sud

As the Allies invade Sicily during World War II, this is the folk song a young Sicilian man plays over and over again much to the annoyance of another older gentleman. It’s a comedic scene that plays in the background of a much more dire moment to lighten the mood a little, but the song tells the story of an invasion so it’s also a reminder for the characters to remain vigilant against the dangers of this life.

11. Sigh’s Smell of Farewell

Cocteau Twins — Love’s Easy Tears EP

A soothing song, a balm for having to say goodbye to characters I’ve lived with for longer than the ten years it took me to write about their lives in this novel. I’ve always loved this song from the Cocteau Twins and now, I can’t help but love it even more.

12. Spirit

The Waterboys — This is the Sea (Deluxe Version)

A song about survival, full of hope and redemption and an earnest yearning for something better—the perfect song to end this playlist on.

Marco Rafalà and How Fires End links:

the author’s website

Kirkus review
New York Journal of Books review

Kirkus profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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