Inspirations & Playlist

We live in the creative products of our civilization no less than we live in a house on a street in a city in a country at a certain time in history. This is just some of the music that plays constantly inside my head, the colors of my internal palette, that bleeds through all my work, and specifically, informed Paint It Black.



Love in the Asylum,” “Altarwise by Owl-Light,” “Over Sir John’s Hill,” and “In Country Sleep,” by Dylan Thomas. There’s a whole Dylan Thomas theme in Paint It Black. “Love in the Asylum” was actually the title of the short story.

Riding the Elevator into the Sky,” by Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Towards God. Sexton and my protagonist have many fears and yearnings in common. I can’t get her language out of my ears.

Burnt Norton” from Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, also The Wasteland. The end of time theme. Eliot’s poetry is a constant song.

The Prose of the Transsiberian and Little Jeanne of Montmartre, by Blaise Cendrars. There’s a whole Transsiberian theme in the book, and I think Cendrars captures the restlessness and extremes of youth so beautifully.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde. Each man kills the thing he loves.


The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. I return to this for a certain aristocratic clarity. The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber. The Dark Castle and the Duke who stops time with his cold cold hand. Poe, especially The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe was my first love. Faulkner. The existential, familial doom of The Sound and The Fury. A history of the LA punk scene, We’ve got the Neutron Bomb by Mark Spitz and Brendan Mullen, totally evocative of time and place.


Punk music, circa 1980, with special emphasis on LA. XGermsCramps. I have a character who is a cross between Nina Hagen and Lena Lovich. Patti Smith, who inspires me always. Nico, and Velvet Underground with Nico. Nico to me embodies absolutely the dark poignancy of this book, songs like “These Days” and “Fairest of the Seasons,” which so evoked the boy’s mindset in my book.

Classical piano repertoire. Late Brahms piano music, really spoke to me, the Romances and Intermezzos. The musical voice of one of the book’s major elements. Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire, both for the modernism and the fact that Schoenberg was an exile from Nazi dominated Europe, like the grandfather in the book, Debussy, for that out-of-time sense of a house in mourning.

1920’s music—The ‘golden age’ music of the book, so to speak. Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and SevensLucille BoganBig Bill BroonzyIda CoxBessie Smith.


Ciao Manhattan and Chelsea Girls, just to see Edie Sedgwick, an icon of this period, and evocative of my protagonist in certain ways. Last Tango in Paris. One forgets, this is really the story of a suicide survivor. Sunset Boulevard. For Goth feel. Billy Wilder was another exile from Nazi Europe.

Visual Arts

Egon Schiele, the boy’s favorite artist—a somehow desperate, highly eroticized, painter of the Viennese Secession. I love this period, but it took me a while to warm to Schiele. Paul Tchelitchew—disturbed, metamorphic drawings–highly inspirational. Eric Fischl—I craved his eerie eroticised domestic scenes. Sophie Calle–the mystery of human life as viewed from outside.

—From Poets and Writers, September 2006.