Yes, I know. Typically a book is written first, then the movie is made based on the book (and the book is inevitably better), and in the process of making the movie, someone throws together a soundtrack from any music included in it. But in the case of Birding in the Face of Terror, the soundtrack was finished before anything else.
Birding began as a memoir of short story length by JP, aka “Pedro” (my partner-in-crime here at ND Media), in autumn 2001, as his driving career at the company portrayed as “Eldorado Stages” was winding down to its unceremonious demise. (Most aspects of the American tourism-related transportation industry were waylaid by the 9/11 attacks, and when the work grew scarce his rookie status became an albatross.) He started expanding the story into a novel soon after by building in more backstory about his wife and their particular brand of insanity. But the emotional weight of writing about their chaotic lives and her deteriorating health while in the midst of it all –coupled with a complete inability to handle the East Coast “stage” of the story– led him to shelve the project (and all writing efforts) in the summer of 2002. Birding clearly wasn’t ready to be written yet.
It wasn’t until early 2009, four years after the passing of “Nadia” and a couple years settling into a much more stable life in the Finger Lakes region of New York, that Birding was pulled off the shelf. Adapting it into the multi-textured, semi-fictional novel it became was a slow process at first, so he often turned to related music to help keep the creative juices flowing when they were getting dammed up.
The soundtrack idea really took off in March 2010 on a trip to revisit the California locations of the story. He was introduced to some key tracks like Ray Lamontagne’s “Be Here Now” wafting through the dreamy quiet morning air at the hostel in Cambria, and a high energy Christian rock version of “Shine” from flipping through radio stations in his rental car. A handful of songs, such as Wilco and Billy Bragg’s “California Stars” and Black Sabbath’s surprising instrumental “Laguna Sunrise,” were added for the sense of place they bring to this Golden State story. And then there are songs like “Sugar Mountain” and “How to Disappear Completely” that evoke parts of the story so well, it almost seems like they were written for the soundtrack.
Several years later, after we had met through our mutual guru-of-sorts (Birding heroine Betty Pickett), JP, feeling unable to bring his story to fruition, enlisted me as his ghost writer. The very first thing he did, before sending me the original manuscript or any of his notes, was to share this playlist on Spotify, which he jokingly referred to as “the soundtrack to the motion picture version of Birding.” I listened to it constantly while absorbing the material. We were both born in 1972 and came of age during the heyday of “alternative rock” and particularly “shoegaze,” the genre that spawned many of these songs. More importantly, our musical aesthetics are remarkably alike, informed by many similar experiences and three decades in pursuit of the same hazy dreamscape between the two worlds that is always just around the next bend in the road –something this collection of music communicates better than words alone ever could.
With JP’s blessing, I added the two atmospheric tunes from Slowdive’s “Pygmalion” album, and we both felt the project had been completed just right. Birding itself still had two versions and another revision ahead, but at least we had a soundtrack ready for when the movie rights are sold. I think the soundtrack tells the story in words, tones and moods amazingly well. Hope you enjoy it. –Cheers, Waldo 1.4.19
Please click here to listen to and follow the Birding in the Face of Terror: Official Motion Picture Soundtrack on Spotify.
1. “Be Here Now, ” Ray Lamontagne
2. “Starlight No. 1,” Mojave 3
3. “Cello Song,” Nick Drake
4. “California Stars,” Wilco and Billy Bragg
5. “Do-Re-Mi, ” Woody Guthrie
6. “The Redtail Hawk,” Kate Wolf
7. “The National Anthem,” Radiohead
8. “How to Disappear Completely,” Radiohead
9. “Treefingers,” Radiohead
10. “Into Dust,” Mazzy Starr
11. “Mogwai Fear Satan,” Mogwai
12. “Shine,” Pillar
13. “Corpus Christi Chorus,” Jeff Buckley
14. “Blue Skied an’ Clear,” Slowdive
15. “Rutti,” Slowdive
16. “Laguna Sunrise,” Black Sabbath
17. “Sugar Mountain,” Neil Young
18. “Erik’s Song,” (unofficially subtitled “Flight of the Golden Eagle”), Slowdive
19. “Mothers of the Disappeared,” U2