Colson Whitehead acknowledges his musical muses in his National Book Award Winner

For most readers, Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad kept us riveted up until the very end as it chronicles all the ways that slavery was translated from the plantation to the secretive medical experiments to the faux freedoms.  As we read the pages we feel how we all got here – to this place that needs to find healing.  I finished the 2016 National Book Award winner curled up in a ball.  But why am I writing about this on a record shop blog?  Well, for starters, I want everyone to read it.  And then, the acknowledgments make my record-shop-owning-heart quicken.

And I quote, “The first one hundred pages were fueled by the Misfits (“Where the Eagles Dare [fast version],” “Horror Business,” “Hybrid Moments”) and Blanck Mass (“Dead Format”).  David Bowie is in every book and I always put on Purple Rain and Daydream Nation when I write the final pages; so thanks to him and Sonic Youth. And finally, …”

Seriously, he always puts on Purple Rain for the final pages?  His novel never left the 19th century, yet his characters were powered through the emotion and pathos of Prince, of Bowie.  I have been thinking about this for months.  Is it Prince’s lyrics or rhythms or symbolism that help him bring his writing home, tying it all up in National Book Award winning fashion.  Admittedly, I haven’t read any of his other books, (but I intend to now) and I am inspired that these artists of his formative years drive every plot.  That’s genius: touching the artist’s emotion and letting it flow from genre to medium and back around.  It’s all the same yearning, we just express it in the way we can.  I wonder how many other artists of various mediums create while jamming to Sonic Youth?

And I love that he felt compelled to mention them in his acknowledgments, sandwiched between his editors and his family.

Go read the book.

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