Welcome to Tomes & Tones, a new feature which explores the often uncanny pairing between books and music. Have you ever read a novel and had a particular soundtrack in the background? Is this novel now synonymous with that music whenever you think back to it?
For each episode, one writer will give an example of when they have experienced this pairing, and why these seemingly unrelated components worked so well together. Hopefully it will offer up some creative combinations to our readers, who can judge for themselves how the works of art are able to merge. No doubt many readers will also have some unique and interesting combinations of their own.
Sometime eleven or twelve years ago, I saw a movie called The Jacket. It’s a decent movie, but back then I perceived it as incredible and breathtaking. Looking deeper into it, I discovered that it was loosely based on a century-old book – The Star Rover. I desperately wanted to read it to see what is going on and, most importantly, how far away the movie is from the book. Well, sometime in 2008 I had my first attempt at reading the book after waiting virtually forever to get it from the US. It took me almost a year to finish reading it (I was 15 at the time and English isn’t my first language). It was flabbergasting. I needed two more re-reads to properly grasp the depth of the book. The thing I loved most about it (beyond the wording and the subject) was the absolutely scintillating delivery; it’s just as astonishing today, on my sixth re-visitation, if not even more so.
Three years ago (more or less – I can’t tell precisely) I was digging for music on Last.fm. I was still drowning in the stupor induced by Dionaea’s Still, so I figured there may be other bands out there that have similar approaches. After a few hours of relentless tune-churning I ran into Follow the White Rabbit. They blew me away in ways I could not comprehend. It was one of the biggest turning points of my music-listening experience. Never have I encountered such power and authenticity at a musical level. I listened to their music on repeat until the sounds didn’t make sense anymore. I’m still jamming it, and every time it plays it feels like the first time I’m hearing it. This kind of replayability is the stuff masterpieces are made of – this is the kind of high I’m hunting in my aural discovery quest.
Endorphinia is a truly awe-inspiring and spectacular album, released by some dudes from Saint Petersburg, Russia almost seven years ago; they were going by the moniker Follow the White Rabbit. ‘Were’, since the band is no longer active to the utter dismay of their fans. The Star Rover is an awe-inspiring and spectacular book in different ways than the album. It was written in 1914 and published just a year later, finding its place among Jack London’s final works. Also, both seem to have a similar fate regarding their renown, falling into the category of ‘overlooked masterpieces’, most likely because of their inaccessibility and density.
To me, even though Endorphinia and The Star Rover are worlds apart (and nearly a century as well), it feels like somehow FTWR inadvertently wrote the perfect score for this book. At first glance, the amounts of time needed to digest either of the two pieces seem to be disproportionate, considering that the album runs just seven minutes shy of an hour, while the book may take around 8-12 hours to read depending on the reader. This is but a mere technicality, however, and I firmly believe that, maintaining the proportions, the album perfectly covers the content explored in the book.
Endorphinia doesn’t follow a precise plot or common thread of any kind. Maybe the best way to put it would be in the words of the band itself, and I quote:
‘This is more than music. This is a human fantasy in a flesh. These sounds are as though strike to the death, giving you new life, letting your mind free, opening you the way to the new world, the world of illusion, fabled figures, wild colors, the riot of light and shade. The other world you’ve never seen, or rather never heard before.‘
The lyrics are mystifying to say the least. First of all, they are nowhere to be found save for ‘Few Stories of a Deserted Forest’ and ‘The Great Worm’. Secondly, they are nigh incomprehensible on the record. This is due to a combination of the vocal delivery (read: the way it works with diction) and of course the many dense layers of the songs themselves. To make things slightly more difficult, the first song is in Russian. Although some bits can be understood, there’s nothing to really tie them to, leaving a huge blank on that side. If anything, this further adds to the ethereal feeling that overflows across the record.
The Star Rover follows the story of Darrell Standing, who is imprisoned for murder. The story revolves around his experiences in prison and how he learns astral projection, as well as how he, through astral projection, relives past lives in various times and spaces across history. While this synopsis already hints at an intricate, winding arc, it’s nothing compared to how the plot is ultimately fleshed out.
Jack London arranges words with a characteristic energy that is bristling with sheer power in almost every paragraph. I really can’t precisely pin it on anything in particular; sometimes it seems like it’s merely in the phrasing, whereas other times it may be a particular word, or simply timing. Examples are the ninth paragraph of the first chapter, or the 16th paragraph of the eleventh chapter. The vocabulary London employs is surely worthy of praise. It distinguishes itself by not only being dense and rich, but also by how it draws contours and nuance in any given instance, with what can only be described as an elegantly abstemious yet stark approach.
This degree of command over words which London is so versed in bears a vigorous resemblance to how the members of FTWR exert their adroitness across Endorphinia. The manner in which descriptions are elaborated, how the characters are portrayed, and the demeanor of the streams of consciousness (respectively narration in certain cases) – it all forms a perfect analogue of how the album was recorded, mixed, and mastered. This fastidiousness in expression is part of the immense charm these works are overflowing with.
Endorphinia’s album art has some dark and surreal imagery that works smoothly with the otherworldly transitions from one life to the former ones in The Star Rover. In fact, it could pass as the book’s front and rear cover without raising any eyebrows. This is the outside art of the digipack, mind you. On the inside, there’s a similar perspective: from the ground to the stars, with an Aztec styled pyramid and with a different rendition of the space in the stars – which is very fitting to the context of the book.
“The Eye Light” is not only an apposite introduction to Endorphinia, but it also fits the introduction of the book quite well. As the first chapter eases the reader into the incoming torrent, so do the first couple of minutes of the opening track. As the musical outburst ensues, it pairs very well with the ungodly situation that is unfolding behind the prison walls in the second and third chapter, respectively. The second chapter introduces us to the environment of the prison, along with a select few characters, one of them being the trigger that makes the plot shift towards its main blooming point; the third chapter gives us a glimpse into the grisly treatment of the prisoners and the harrowing torture our protagonist will be subjected to. All these things will be fleshed out in vivid details over the course of the following two chapters.
“Few Stories of a Deserted Forest”, “Panic Attacks”, and most of “The Great Worm” aptly accompany the ensuing nightmare that unfurls between the fourth and the tenth chapter. In this section, we get a lengthy and scrutinous account of the gut-wrenching ordeal of Darrell Standing. These songs also match with the abrupt returns from the astral planes that are logged in the 14th, 16th, 18th, and 20th chapter, respectively.
The eleventh chapter details Darrell’s success at astral projection, his first passage into a past incarnation as a French nobleman, and his untimely demise at the sabre of his opponent. In the ninth and tenth chapter, we see Darrell struggling to get a proper grasp of how exactly he can will his soul outside of his body; then, just as he succeeds in the eleventh chapter, it feels as though the “FakeFace” suite encapsulates this process with unnerving suitability. A vague incarnation around the time of old Egypt, along with the perspective of a young child caught in what turns out to be the Mountain Meadows Massacre (the latter of which stretches out into the 13th chapter) can be found in the twelfth chapter. The scenery and the events that take place here can be summarized in the emotional discourse of “War Songs” and “Panic Attacks”.
During the 15th chapter, we are met with the incarnation of an Englishman living somewhere in the Polynesian archipelago during the late 1500’s. He takes it upon himself to voyage to Korea, where he rises among the bourgeoisie only to be cast away, drifting into exile with his loved one. This dramatic journey is mirrored by “All Night and Day” and “Zzz(Zzz)”.
As we’re passing through the long and winding trip of a tormented Viking, who travels all the way down and eastward from the frozen North towards Jerusalem (17th chapter), we’re introduced to his version of how Jesus was received by the people and what impact he had upon them around the time of his crucifixion. This tale seems to find echoes of itself in the contents of “Few Stories of a Deserted Forest” and that of the title track – “Endorphinia”.
The tedious and distressing story of Daniel Foss, who was stranded on a small island smack-dab in the middle of the ocean for seven or so years, is addressed in the 19th chapter. It would seem that the whole album could snugly fit the ongoing narrative of his fight for survival and his eventual rescue. Darrell’s final astral expedition takes place in truly ancient times. This tale is told across the 21st chapter, along with his longest soliloquy so far. The 22nd chapter and final chapter comes together as less of a closure and more of Darrell trying to wrap up his thoughts, tying together any loose ends that may have occurred during his astral storytelling. The ending of The Star Rover is almost as if it was magically tailored to the ending of Endorphinia (or vice versa).
I could rave on and on about how these works go hand in hand all too well. However, I think the point is already made. It is ultimately up to any one of you who are reading this to see if it is truly as I perceive it or otherwise. I would like to believe that the things I have said are not influenced in any way by the fact that this is about my favorite book and my favorite album; I guess that’s just as arguable as the entire pairing done across this article. Regardless, I hope you all enjoyed this article and the works presented within it.