In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
J. Ashley-Smith’s novel Ariadne, I Love You is both haunting and clever.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
“Ashley-Smith uses this eerie, ambiguous ghost story to explore the fraught relationship between artist and muse and the thin line between love and obsession . . . The result is multilayered, atmospheric, and thought-provoking.”
Compiling this playlist was more of a journey than I expected. It took me back to the days of the mixtape, to the peculiar melancholy of rainy afternoons, knelt by the stereo, surrounded by open CD cases and cassettes, exploring your understanding of or relationship to another person through the selection of this or that track. Ariadne, I Love You is set partly in a time of mixtapes, with characters preoccupied with music, with making music and with ‘making it.’ It’s a story of three friends, of an ambitious and self-centered musician in love with his best friend’s girlfriend, of an obsession that haunts him across decades. It’s about madness and grief, the ghosts of the past, and the horror of finally getting what you wished for, when the passage of time has corrupted the original purity of that wish.
Writing the story was itself a journey back to my own not-so-distant past as a musician and aspiring rock star. Though it is in no way autobiographical, it is intensely personal. And pulling together this virtual mixtape took me right back to that time, in the way that only music can.
I’ve chosen sixteen songs, one for each chapter in the story. The songs don’t correspond precisely to the events of each chapter, but they do chart the emotional journey of the protagonist, Jude, just as they cast light here and there on the other characters. It turned out, also, that many of the songs had a particular significance to my own experiences as a musician, which was not my intention but an unexpected and somewhat melancholy bonus. I hope you enjoy listening to this ‘tape’ as much as I enjoyed making it.
I Can’t Get Next To You – Thee More Shallows
I put this song right up front as it exposes in a very pure and succinct way Jude’s central motivation, and the heart of the story. It articulates so directly how we can be disempowered by longing, no matter our own capabilities. Thee More Shallows deconstruction and reimagining of this Temptations classic ratchets up the darkness inherent in the original song, hinting less at romance than at dangerous obsession.
Bad Vibrations – The Black Angels
The story begins with Jude’s arrival at a derelict train carriage in the Australian bush. He’s hit rock bottom, is drinking himself into an early grave having learned of Coreen’s untimely death. From the moment he arrives, there’s the sense of something wrong, of something watching. That same sense of dread lurks in this modern drone classic. And the heartbreak, and the hangover – it’s all there.
Gold Soundz – Pavement
This song is such a soundtrack to summer days, of hanging with my first band and other uni friends, of pissing away the afternoons getting drunk in Sheffield’s botanic gardens. It brings back memories of summer’s lazy drone, of acoustic guitars and sun glinting off hothouse rooves. There’s a cloudless nostalgia in the effortless cool of the lyrics, in Pavement’s trademark chiming, not-quite concordant guitars, that’s at once deeply true and yet an idealisation, as is the case with all nostalgia. It’s a song of happy, uncomplicated times, of Ben and Jude – before Coreen. Before—
Do The Vampire – Superdrag
When Jude reconnects with Ben, goes to stay with him and his two daughters, he brings a copy of their old album. As I wrote this scene, with them all kicking back to listen to this slice of their shared past, I imagined their band, The Böring Straits, sounding something like a cross between Superdrag and Weezer, but with rougher edges and London accents. “Do The Vampire” was a mainstay in a flat I shared with the singer from my first band, a singer-songwriter I studied film with at uni, and our mutual friend, a philosophy graduate. Elements of that time have, in one way or another, snuck in to express themselves through this story.
Cold, Cold, Cold – The Handsome Family
Surely The Handsome Family are one of the greatest bands of all time? Ingenious dark imagination wrapped up in a funeral shawl of alt-country melancholy. Each song is a short story, a gothic microverse. I listened to this album on loop when I was first writing Ariadne, I Love You – five years ago now. My eldest son needed music to get to sleep and we would listen to this album every night (which maybe explains a lot about the person he is growing into…). “Cold, Cold, Cold” is a classic ghost story, and perhaps a bigger inspiration on the ghost of Coreen (if indeed it is Coreen) than I realised at the time.
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – The Byrds
The song that started it all – in the story that is. When Jude first meets Ben’s girlfriend, Coreen, they play the album he bought that day in Camden market: The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. This purchase marks the start of Jude’s change of musical direction. But he’s uncertain about it, mortified to think that Coreen will judge him based on this song. But the moment passes and so begins the night that will change all of their lives. The name Jude picks for his next band – The Ride Me Highs – is taken from the chorus of this song.
Drunken Spree – Papa M
Before Dave Pajo made the departure into his own brand of Country music, the ex-Slint guitarist released album after album of dreamily complex instrumental post-rock. Just before we got our record deal, the first band I was in supported Mogwai and Aerial M (the predecessor of Papa M), and this album, this song in particular, set the tone for a year living and recording on an old four-track in a Sheffield attic. To me it’s the sound of autumn collapsing into winter, of grey skies like a lid on the world. The title (in the context of this playlist, at least) is a nod to Jude’s own drunken spree, burning through credit cards and all of his bridges on finding out Coreen is dead. It’s a long track, with an intro of hypnotic drone that lasts for most of the song, but when the beat at last kicks in, the payoff is *chef’s kiss*.
Rock’n’Roll Suicide – David Bowie
“Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth…” My favourite Bowie song and so appropriate for a story about a musician collapsing in upon himself, smoking himself to death, coming to terms with the fact that the obsessive love on which he staked his career was never real, never more than his own fantasy. In a way the story, the last chapters in Jude’s life, are a self-centered and unconscious suicide note, a personal implosion collapsing around the void left by the dead Coreen. Until, that is, he stumbles across heaps of gleaming animal bones and the grim secret of Coreen’s own last days.
Nobody Home – Pink Floyd
Sharing the podium with Bowie’s “Rock’n’Roll Suicide,” Pink Floyd’s masterpiece has to be one of the all-time classic depictions of a rock star’s dissolution. As a kid, I obsessed over this album. My dad had a cassette of The Wall, one of the few tapes always in the glovebox of our car. The evocative songs, the weird narrative they seemed to reveal churned in my young imagination, telling a quite different story to the one Roger Waters intended. (Even though I’ve since seen the movie of this album, the images it brings to my mind are still those of my childhood – not a hammer to be seen.)
Trouble – The Broken Family Band
There was a shift towards the end of the nineties, start of the noughties, of indie and alternative bands turning to country and alt-country for inspiration. This shift is embodied in Ariadne, I Love You by Jude’s evolution from his band at uni, to the band that takes him to fame, and the song that takes him there – co-written with Coreen. One of my hands-down favourite bands embodying that transition come from my hometown of Cambridge – The Broken Family Band, who rose from the ashes of indie rockers Hofman. I could have picked any of their songs, all of which are wry and darkly hedonistic, but “Trouble” seemed best to embody the ache and longing of Ariadne, I Love You.
Bloodflow – Calexico
This song is for Ben, for the chapter in the story where Ben recounts his side of Coreen’s decline. It’s the soundtrack to his emotional journey. The descent into darkness that all face who watch their loved ones die.
1939 – Hayden
When I first moved to Sydney in 2006-7, two friends and I formed a band ironically named The Silver Linings. The drummer from that band – genuinely one of the coolest and most dapper humans I’ve ever known – turned me onto Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden. There are so many of Hayden’s songs that I love, but this one resonates most with the vibe of Ariadne: a melancholy ghost story about a woman making peace with her own tragic death.
Dark Turn of Mind – Gillian Welch
This one is for Coreen – a girl with a dark turn of mind.
It’s a Crime I Never Told You About The Diamonds In Your Eyes – The Black Heart Procession
The drummer from my old band ran an underground gig night in Leeds – Echolalia – and The Black Heart Procession played it. Then they and all of us crashed the night at his house. The band borrowed an amp for the show as theirs had blown up at their previous gig. We should have seen this as foreshadowing, ‘cause they went on to blow up his housemate’s amp too with that damn-loud piano. We sat up until the wee hours goofing off with them and my copy of their album 2 is a cherished souvenir of that night. Alongside Papa M, it’s the album that defined the tone of those years – a tone that crept into Ariadne, I Love You. Spooky, gothic, moody, emotive – and all that longing…
Dead-aid – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci
Probably my favourite song by my favourite band of all time, Welsh psychedelic geniuses, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. I imagine this track on loop as Jude collapses into delirium, finally acknowledging that Coreen is truly dead. It was a tough choice to make between this song and another, “Christina,” from the same album – a classic of obsession and toxic, one-sided love. “Dead-aid” won out by its mood.
Eyepennies – Sparklehorse
No song better evokes the transition to the other side than “Eyepennies” by Sparklehorse. Before his own heartbreaking and untimely suicide, Mark Linkous penned many songs that alluded to a kind of primitive magic, hinting at journeys – symbolic or mythologised – from this life to some unknowable beyond. I imagine this song as the soundtrack to Jude’s waking at the train to find the world changed, and him changed with it. Credits roll.
J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian writer of dark fiction and other materials. His short stories have twice won national competitions and been shortlisted seven times for Aurealis Awards, winning both Best Horror (Old Growth, 2017) and Best Fantasy (The Further Shore, 2018). His novella, The Attic Tragedy, was released by Meerkat Press in 2020 and has since been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, an Australian Shadows Award, and a Shirley Jackson Award.
J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires.
You can connect with J. at spooktapes.net, or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.