I write to music. I’ve never conducted any sort of survey to see how common that is among fiction writers, but I do it. The rhythm keeps me moving when I’m looking for excuses to pack it in, and the proper playlist keeps me in the right mood.
With Summer of Long Knives (of which a great deal more will be said in the next few months), I had to go with material far out of my usual range. The novel’s set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, so to keep my head in the milieu, I had to find music that fit, or at least reflected, the time.
Der Koeningraetzer Marsch
I first heard this tune when it popped up during a Nazi rally scene in the third Indiana Jones picture. The march long predates the Third Reich, but the Nazis did use it during parades and rallies, most famously during The Triumph of the Will. It was helpful whenever I had to picture Nazi ceremonies.
Falling In Love Again
Inspector Rolf Wundt, the protagonist of Summer of Long Knives, saw the movie The Blue Angel starring Marelene Dietrich because his wife, Klara, had dragged him to it. He’d been reluctant to go because he didn’t want to see Emil Jannings, the bearded man in the video, playing another middle aged sad sack. But after witnessing Dietrich’s performance, he went back to see the movie several more times. He saw in its modern (for the era) take on sensuality the things that had attracted him to Klara, fourteen years earlier.
According to Sir Ian Kershaw, whose two volume biography of Hitler helped me understand both the dictator and the ways in which his personality shaped the Nazi power structure, taking Hitler’s prewar chum August Kubizek’s portrait of Hitler as a young man at face value has certain hazards. (He wrote his book under the editorial direction of the Nazis, changed details to conform with the notoriously unreliable narrative of Mein Kampf, and invented where his memory failed him. Still, he did tell a story about Hitler which may be at least partly true, centered around a performance of Rienzi, a Wagnerian opera about a man who rises to be tribune of the people, only to be betrayed and die in his own collapsing, burning palace. Kubizek claims that after the opera, he and Hitler walked the streets of Linz in silence, before climbing a hill in town. There, under the stars, Hitler lectured Kubizek about his desire to become, like Rienzi, a leader who rises from the masses. Now some of this Kubizek probably amended and embellished to fit the narrative of Hitler as a figure of destiny, but I consider it likely that Hitler, who seldom talked to people so much as harangued them, would have led Kubizek up a hill where he could blather about his new, Rienzi-inspired daydreams. I played this during scenes in Summer of Long Knives set on the Obersalzberg, and particularly during the scene where Inspector Wundt briefs Der Fuehrer on his investigation.
Tomorrow Belongs to Me
This song from Cabaret isn’t of the period, but it reflects a theme that runs through Summer of Long Knives–the passions that animated the Nazi way of thinking, the seductive grip it had on so many Germans, and how the protagonists of the novel, who before 1933 considered the Nazis a joke who’d never be able to hold power even if they somehow managed to blunder into it, struggled to deal with the reality of the Nazis’ tightening control over every aspect of German society. It’s chilling to see the conservative playboy’s shrug when Brian asks, “Do you still think you can control them?”
There were other songs, period and not, that kept me going while writing Summer of Long Knives, but these were the crucial ones. For those of you who write, what playlist took you through your most recent work?