Real Music for Imaginary People #2: Pale Grey for Travis McGee

This started as an excuse to burn CDs for friends and in the spirit of play, think up playlists for fictional characters or people we admire. Last time I offered playlists for Wes, my favorite character from "Angel", and Giles from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Blues for Wesley Wyndham Price and Rupert aka Ripper

This time it's Travis McGee, my first adult fictional hero and in many ways still my favorite. I started reading McGee with "Darker Than Amber" when I was 15. Like Alonso Quijana, who read so many books of chivalry that his brains dried up, I still find the example of the "knight in slightly tarnished armor" more compelling than the alternatives I see around me. I remind you that we live in a world where Midge Decter can hold up Donald Rumsfeld as the essence of manliness and not be laughed out off the stage, where the self-aggrandizement of small-souled men is America's biggest export.

PALE GREY FOR McGEE mix, version 1:

1. "Christian Island", Gordon Lightfoot (At home on his boat and at peace; the smiling ambler McGee. To my uneducated palate, Plymouth gin has worked at recapturing its old glory and we can all switch back from Boodles. I am ready to stand corrected if you're buying.)

2. "Falling Down", Tears for Fears (Disorder enters the world and McGee gets dragged in... The search for wisdom beyond Top 40 is is why I love Tears for Fears and MacDonald great too; a clear view of America without the distortion and the yammer yammer yammer; as if Henry Thoreau were avenging injustice and not so shy with women.)

3. "Guantanamera (Guajira)", Los Lobos (Cuban song, the love of the body and the heart and the land and the troubled world, too, with the young girl coming out of the sea and the Jose Marti lyrics with "Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar..." "With the poor of the Earth I'll take my chances...")

4. "Desperation Samba", Jimmy Buffet (McGee sinking low and mean as in "A Deadly Shade of Gold". There's not as much Jimmy Buffet in this mix as some MacDonald fans might like, and if it were 30 years ago I might have agreed with them-- but Buffet's gone from a rarefied pleasure for happy wastrels to a stadium event for weekend warriors. The current packaging of cheeseburgers and parrotheads is the antithesis of everything McGee and his creator believed.)

5. "Take Five", Dave Brubeck Quartet (We know McGee likes Brubeck, and this is an eternally great song.)

6. "Lush Life", Chet Baker (One of the songs McGee asks for by name, and Shostakovich wouldn't fit on the CD. And I've lots of Chet Baker anyway.)

7. "El Canelo (Son Jarocho)", Los Lobos (Happy music again; MacDonald and his wife lived in Mexico after the war because it was cheaper; the big resort towns were still little fishing towns.)

8. "Chan Chan", Buena Vista Social Club (Happy and sensual and wistful all at the same time. I wanted to grow up to be Travis McGee when I was a teenager; now I want to grow up to be Compay Segundo, panama hat and all.)

9. "Hotel California", Gipsy Kings (more "Deadly Shade of Gold".)

10. "Pretty Good Year", Tori Amos (McGee sometimes looks in the mirror and despises what he sees; for me, I'm awed by Tori Amos' ability to get inside men/boy's heads like that.)

11. "Happy Phantom" Tori Amos (McGee on the upbound, making trouble for the cushioned and comfortable villains.)

12. "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (Travis McGee wearing his pale-eyed glare of "a thousand disreputable McGees", the avenger in righteous wrath. I never think of McDonald as a gratuitously violent writer, then I realize that some of his scenarios would be NC-17 ratings if filmed. Like Boo Waxworth and that mangrove stump (shudder).)

15. "New York Minute", Don Henley (Counting the quick and the dead, the just and the unjust alike. Some radio stations pulled this song after 9/11. "Out here in the dark/ I heard the sirens wail/Somebody goin' to Emergency/ Somebody's Goin' to jail. / You find you someone to love, you better hang on Tooth and Nail; / The wolf is always at the door.")

16. "King of Pain", The Police (Old bills come due. Feel the pain and Bring the pain; that's McGee. And there are moments of cosmic vision turning from the personal to the universal. Tibetans like Choyam Trungpa say if you're going to be a hero, stand ready to have your heart broken.)

11. "The Dark Night of the Soul", Loreena McKennit (music responding to Saint John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul"; McGee, for all the sun and fun, often see himself forever living on the dark side of the world, even as a child too aware of the shadows chasing the happy people-- and finding when most abandoned, a strange comfort and companionship in the twilight world. Brother to dragons, companion to owls-- God's own strange night creature, but much loved for all that.)

14. "Ordinary Man", Gordon Lightfoot (Travis coming to terms with himself, forgiving himself for his flaws. Asking the eternal woman, the anima, for forgiveness and blessing.)

15. "I'm Ragged but Right", Lightnin' Wells (The return of cheerfulness, like Pogo and Porky with their cigar box mandolins and fishing poles on board the Hon. Walter J. Kelly floating down the Okeefenokee towards Fort Mudge. McGee likes to sing this when he's drunk. Forty-seven renditions in "The Empty Copper Sea". I like to sing it, too.)

16. "Flor de Huevo (Son Locos)", Los Lobos (The sun is flashing on the water. We're still alive. A-yi!)

This is anything but a perfect list. I would probably liked to put "La Pistola y el Corazon" in there for instance. Part of the challenge is to do as much as you can with music you already have around the house. (If these are already favorite characters of yours, odds are you have a sympatico music collection as well.) Additions, corrections, and alternatives are welcome.

1 comment:

John Bishop said...

I am working on a similar music project of my own for all 21 books and happened upon your website. I found you as I was researching the song, "Ragged But Right," from "The Empty Copper Sea." I was perusing some old JDMBibliophile magazines (from the JDM fan club, I guess), which I borrowed from a friend of my aunt's and found some music listed in the "Special Confidential Report" book that I hadn't discovered yet. I'm really not that far along, but I already have a large amount of music compiled. I even cut the main and end titles from the film, "Darker Than Amber," which I was able to make from that German (?!) subtitled print that has been floating around the internet. Any suggestions would be appreciated. My e-mail is Take care.