Listen to the BRIDE OF THE TORNADO Playlist by Author James Kennedy
Looking for the perfect soundtrack while you read the mind-bending Midwestern Gothic Bride of the Tornado? Author James Kennedy made this playlist for your reading pleasure.
Read on for a look inside each song choice. Spoilers ahead!
1. “Doe” by the Breeders
This is the second track from Breeders’ debut album Pod. I listened to this dreamy record a lot while writing Bride of the Tornado. I wanted to write something that felt both groovy and “off,” the way these songs made me feel when I first heard them at nineteen. I agree with Breeders vocalist Kim Deal, who called Pod “a bunch of ugly, stinking gross songs,” and also Pod‘s recording engineer Steve Albini, who said it was “both childlike and giddy and also completely mature and kind of dirty . . . it had this sort of girlish fascination with things that were pretty but it was also kind of horny.” When I first heard it, I was fascinated because I couldn’t connect it musically with much else I’d heard. Years later it still sounds fresh.
“Doe” feels like it could be the theme song for Bride of the Tornado’s unnamed narrator (in this article I’ll just call her “the Bride”). Kim Deal said in an interview that the song about a drugged-up teenage couple fantasizing about burning down their small town—which is not too different from the eventual sentiments of the Bride and the tornado killer.
2. “The Bells” by Jeff Mills
Detroit radio in the 1980s was magical for me. My fourth-grade teacher kept the radio on in our classroom all day, which I loved, but night was when the best stuff came on. Late at night, a mysterious-voiced DJ called The Electrifying Mojo would start his show with the “Landing of the Mothership,” and would play a wild mix from Detroit’s underground, techno, funk, New Wave and electronic music, along with his hypnotic sci-fi tinged commentary. The Electrifying Mojo was how I first heard Kraftwerk, Parliament Funkadelic, the B-52s, and obscure Prince B-sides. Listening to him late at night, it felt like I was being let into an exciting secret.
Stuck in her small town, the Bride listens to a similar DJ from a faraway city called Electrifier. “The music he played was alien, intense, unlike any music anybody around here listened to. Sometimes the music felt frightening, I didn’t know why. Or it felt goofy but I didn’t get the joke. Often nobody sang in these songs, or if they sang it was in a foreign language, or the voices were samples from movies, and the music sounded like a machine pulsing and the repetition put me in an expanding trance, especially late at night, it made my brain open up and feel different.”
This song is by Jeff Mills, a Detroit DJ known as the Wizard who was legendary in his own right. Although Bride of the Tornado is supposed to take place in the mid-1980s, and this track is from a little later, it sounds the way the Electrifying Mojo made me feel during those late-night radio sessions. “I wanted something clean and robotic, empty and chilly but full of power, not for my brain to listen to but my body to move to.”
3. “Darling Nikki” by Prince
The Electrifying Mojo loved Prince, sometimes playing his albums in their entirety on his show. As a kid I didn’t always understand what Prince was singing about, but I was fascinated. The Bride names her adopted cat after this song, though she too only half-understands it: “There was one song that Electrifier played a few times that I didn’t exactly like, but I couldn’t stop listening to. The name of the song was a girl’s name. A man sang it and the words seemed to be about something wild and thrilling, but he sang them in the flattest tone, weary and jaded. I listened to that song again and again.”
Most of “Darling Nikki” sounds raw and sexy, but its ending takes a creepy left turn: an eerie choir singing something apparently backwards. If you listen to it reversed, it turns out to be an apocalyptic message: “Hello, how are you? Fine, fine, ’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon.” Prince is a pretty funny guy, backmasking a Christian secret message into his music. Take that, Judas Priest!
4. “Secret Days” by School of Seven Bells
At the beginning of the book, the Bride spends a lot of time on her own: biking around the woods alone, breaking into abandoned houses alone, playing video games at the bowling alley alone, swimming in the quarry alone. This song’s laid-back pulsing bass and ghostly, ruminating vocals put me in that empty summertime mood, the feeling of lots of lonely days full of time to kill. As the Bride says, “When you’re alone, everything feels more intense. But it also feels like you’re only half experiencing it.”
5. “Rite of Spring, The Adoration of the Earth: Spring Rounds” by Igor Stravinsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev
The Rite of Spring is a ballet about a Slavic village’s folk rituals celebrating the coming of spring. It starts with various dances and games and a procession of village elders, building up to a dance of virgins in which one girl is chosen to be sacrificed by dancing herself to death. The music doesn’t sound like what one might expect from a ballet. It’s percussive, dissonant, and primal—especially the brutal way Valery Gergiev conducts it here.
“Spring Rounds” expresses the mood of the first few chapters: it begins idyllic and pastoral, but then a slumping, grinding bass riff keeps recurring. In the same way, the Bride is enjoying the springtime and hanging out with her friends, even as something ominous gathers force in the background. The way Gergiev conducts the trombones—barging in with vulgar, sloppy glissandos—feels like the eruption of the vision of what the Bride calls “the Horrible Woman” into her life, giving her the queasy feeling that “the universe itself might somehow really secretly be in bad taste.”
6. “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma!
Is it just me, or do the trilling flutes that open and close Stravinsky’s “Spring Rounds” sound like they’re playing a garbled version of the melody of “I Cain’t Say No”? In any case, I love the way that brooding modernist masterpiece slips so smoothly into this light comic song from a corny American musical.
But wait! Is Oklahoma! as corny as all that? No! The traditional staging of this musical prettifies a story that, on the page, is about barely-contained lust, sexual assault, near-suicide, savage frontier justice, and an entire community pitilessly turning against a weirdo to commit a kind of unanimous murder. (I’ve read that Daniel Fish’s recent revival of Oklahoma! foregrounds these darker elements.)
“I Cain’t Say No” is sung by the wide-eyed ingenue Ado Annie, and it seems to be a coy song about enjoying sex (“Other girls are coy and hard to catch, but other girls ain’t havin’ any fun / Every time I lose a wrestlin’ match I have a funny feeling that I won!”).
But just like the Christmas staple “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” this song easily slides from jokey bawdiness to something more problematic. The Bride is creeped out at the prospect of singing this prurient song at the auditions of the school musical, and she is further disturbed when the nasty old man Mr. Z sings this song to her.
What the Bride doesn’t realize is that, for Mr. Z and all he represents, this song reflects an awful truth: they already have something planned for her, and they’ve already decided that she can’t say no.
7. “Don’t Call Home” by the Breeders
This song (another one by the Breeders) lines up with the fourth chapter, “The Amateur Runaway.” It has the jagged, alienated feeling the Bride has as she’s attempting to run away from home—the sense of a bleak and permanent decision. Or maybe that’s the way the Bride would have felt, if she had successfully run away. “Phone by the cash register / Quarter in your pocket / Miles away but you can’t call home / No, you can’t call home.” But a last-minute appearance by the tornado killer causes the Bride to change her mind and stay in town. As the Bride says, “That was the summer I had planned to run away. But that was the summer of the tornado killer. I should’ve run.”
8. “Kick the Tragedy” by Drop Nineteens
For me this shoegaze also-ran expresses the feeling of the fifth chapter, “The Last Real Summer,” when the Bride and her sister Cecilia are lazily wasting their summer together: long days of biking around, laying out in the fields talking about nothing, getting drunk, hanging out in their favorite cafe and exploring other weird places in town. Most of the song is a wall of soothing guitar noise, a hypnotic drone with enough variations to keep it from being monotonous. At about five minutes of lulling fuzzy guitar, the instruments go quiet as a teenaged girl starts rambling in a melancholy, confused way about her life, in a way that feels nostalgic and oddly specific. For all its dreaminess, her monologue isn’t vague: the precise details make it feel like you’re dipping into a randomly-chosen page of her diary. “Fucking Phil, he’s off with his boys somewhere and I’m just sitting here getting more and more lost with everything.” And then the languid noise comes blasting back, carrying us to the end of the song.
9. “Creme Brulee” by Sonic Youth
At the same time that the Bride floats through a lazy summer with her sister Cecilia, she’s also testing the waters of a long-distance romance with the tornado killer. This casual, loping, yet emotional song gives me the feeling of an intimate summer fling—maybe because the first time I heard it, I was nineteen and ready for one. “What was I being invited into, what was I getting myself into?” wonders the Bride. “I didn’t know what he’d do next. I didn’t know what I might do.” This song’s refrain promises an answer: “You and me burning in the summertime.”
10. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case
C’mon, how could I leave this song out? Neko Case has a lot of great songs, but of course this one is most appropriate for this book. It’s about the ravenous and violent love of a tornado for someone: “My love, I am the speed of sound / I left them motherless, fatherless / Their souls they hang inside-out from their mouths / But it’s never enough / I want you.” Neko Case wrote, “I had a dream one night about a tornado . . . It’s a literal story about a tornado in love with a person . . . It wasn’t me that the tornado was in love with; it was kind of a kid.” This yearning, driving song sounds like what it feels like when the Bride and the tornado killer finally click—when he is filling her bedroom with flowers and she feels all the possibility and risk of meeting up with him at last. “I was afraid,” the Bride admits to herself. “But I liked being this kind of afraid.” Even still, this song hints that the Bride might be right to be afraid of what she’s unleashed: “Carved your name across three counties / Ground it in with bloody hides / Their broken necks will line the ditch / ’Til you stop it, stop it / Stop this madness.” It’s an open question whether the Bride can.
11. “For Dinner . . . ” by Slint
This tense, quiet song gives me an expectant just-before-a-thunderstorm feeling, which is just how the Bride feels during her eerily prophetic dream of the tornado killer showing up at Lisa Stubenberger’s sleepover party. There is an ominous anticipation beneath this hushed, reserved song. Something’s coming. Something’s on the edge of change. (And as we see later with the character of the waitress Mrs. Lois, something ghastly is indeed “for dinner.”)
12. “Meat to Maths” by Mica Levi
I’ve watched the movie Under the Skin more times than I care to say. The soundtrack by Mica Levi is one of the reasons it’s so good.
This song—is it even a song? more like a kind of expressive noise—has the jangly, unsettled mood the Bride feels when she is watching the zombified girls in their bridal dresses lined up in front of Mr. Z’s house: being led in without resistance, and coming out with their faces plastered with empty grins. “I had a queer feeling, like I had gone through the rear door of the world, that I was seeing some backstage thing I wasn’t meant to see,” reflects the Bride. “Or maybe this was the way the world had always been, and I was only finding out now.”
13. “Bullet Train to Vegas” by Drive Like Jehu
Cuthbert Monks and his buddies disrupt the girls’ sleepover, whisking them away for a joyride in Cuthbert’s van, driving over the forbidden strings and into tornado country—and to the tornado killer’s secret home. Nobody’s there, so the high schoolers have a spontaneous party at the empty house, drinking beer and dancing and breaking things, and although the Bride is kind of into it at first, the night begins to feel like it’s slipping out of her control into something crazy and dangerous. This relentless, driving, fuck-yeah song gets the feeling just right, especially when the tornados come and the night gets truly terrifying and deadly: “We’ll ride the bullet train to Vegas / The minute that we blow this burg / Just as far as it’ll take us.”
14. “To Here Knows When” by My Bloody Valentine
The wild night at the tornado killer’s house turns into a white-knuckle car chase through a storm as the high schoolers try to escape the police and some vengeful tornadoes—until the Bride deliberately drives them all straight into a tornado, sucking her and the van up into the clouds, tossing the rest of the kids back down onto the ground. But that’s when the Bride and the tornado killer meet in the sky and touch for the first time. This fuzzy, mesmerizing rush of gorgeous noise is what that sensation sounds like, a sexy fantasy almost too good to be true. “We went on kissing until we were out of the whiteness and in the open and the clouds spread out below us like a map of heaven.”
15. “Reopening” by Azita
After the Bride’s secret rendezvous with the tornado killer, she can’t wait to see him again. But as the days and weeks go by, he is nowhere to be found. The weather becomes weird. Even the tornadoes seem unsettled by his disappearance. “Under such a black sky the grass seemed a little too green. A passing school bus full of loud summer campers looked too yellow for its own good . . . Tornadoes were idly blowing around outside town, but they seemed listless. As though they didn’t know what to do without the tornado killer either.” This song is by legendary Chicago musician Azita (also of the band Bride of No No, a name I naturally like), and its lugubrious, haunted, lonely sound matches the mood of the Bride. She feels like she’s taken a wrong turn, but she doesn’t know what is wrong, or how the tornado killer has changed her, and she begins to feel alienated from herself. “Lose the scent, time misspent / Can’t defend / Fallen inside to my grave / Wrecked my head, knocked out dead / Weeks in bed / Fallen inside to my grave.”
16. “Blood Tree” by Mary Timony
The Bride is sick of the obnoxious Cuthbert Monks, who is repeatedly phoning her house for some reason; she’s also sick of the irritating Keith Merkle, who pissed on the carpet of the tornado killer’s house and then was apparently taken by the tornadoes. She only cares about seeing the tornado killer, but he is nowhere to be found. This is a great kiss-off song for the guys in your life who aren’t measuring up to the one you want but can’t have. “I don’t care about you / And whatever you want me to do . . . The only boy I ever loved / Turned into a golden dove / And moved to California.”
17. “Vanity” by Hali Palombo
On the last playlist I made (for my previous novel Dare to Know) I went kind of overboard by including four tracks by Chicago composer and sound artist Hali Palombo. I’ll limit myself to just one track this time, but I really love Palombo’s eerie soundscapes and noise collages. This wash of noise feels like the fuzzy audio on the television after the Bride sees the tornado killer apparently meet his end onscreen . . . again and again. “The replays repeated all night. You could watch it as often as you liked.” Palombo’s atmospheric compositions—which she makes from found audio, often sampling from shortwave radio—are compelling and unsettling in a way I really like.
18. “The Same Deep Water As You” by the Cure
The Bride and the tornado killer end up alone together in Archie’s creepy, empty old mansion as the tornadoes and storm rage outside. At first the Bride tries to take care of the wounded tornado killer. But his appearance and behavior start to freak her out—and then she realizes they’re trapped together in this haunted-feeling house. This rainy, thundery, implacable song is attractively dismal in the way the Cure excels at. It gives me the feeling of the tension, misunderstandings, fascination, and frustration between Bride and the tornado killer their first few days together in the house.
19. “Wide Eyes” by The Big Moon
Cooped up in Archie’s old mansion with the tornado killer, the Bride is alienated by him at first, but when she finally lets herself be drawn into his strange eyes, they find each other entering each other’s minds, exchanging memories, even seemingly altering each other’s pasts. This song has a soaring, anthemic feel that seemed romantic when I first listened to it. When she sings “Who walked into the room? / ’Cause it feels like crashing / And it feels like landing / And I want to dance / And I want to cry / Your wide eyes,” I thought it was addressed to her lover. Later on, when I read up on this song, I learned that it’s actually addressed to her baby—that it’s really about the exhaustion of taking care of a newborn and the confusion of happiness and burnout that comes with it. The weird tension between my initial impression of this being a romantic song, and the reality of it being a motherhood song, makes this particularly appropriate for what we will discover is the Bride’s true relationship to the tornado killer and Mr. Z: she’s lover, mother, and prey to them.
20. “Never Gonna Sleep” by Free Kitten
The romantic time for the Bride and the tornado killer in Archie’s mansion comes to a climax when they get drunk and pretend to get married in the house chapel—and then instinctively find themselves performing an intimate and hallucinatory ritual with the Horrible Woman’s knife. This intense, unexpected culmination leads to a surprise end to their idyll.
This song is sung by Kim Gordon, who also sang the ninth song in this list (“Creme Brulee” by Sonic Youth). For me it’s the opposite side of the coin. “Creme Brulee” is yearning and ruminating and romantic, but this song is pure carnality, when you’re losing your mind and track of time. It’s simple and relentless. I didn’t want Bride of the Tornado to be explicitly erotic, and so that energy got channeled instead into scenes like when the Bride and the tornado killer fall into each other’s eyes and exchange memories, or when they meet in the clouds, or when they participate in this visceral knife ritual. It’s fitting that this song finishes with Kim Gordon screaming “You don’t know!”—because the Bride and the tornado killer truly didn’t know what this ritual would unleash, and the awful consequences that are coming for them next.
21. “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma!
By now you know the drill: if there’s a song from Oklahoma! happening in this book, then bad things are afoot. After the Bride and the tornado killer are seized and separated, she is forced to undergo the final rituals in which her body is used to perpetuate the town’s tornado cult—and she learns the disturbing connection between the tornado killer whom she loves, and the old man Mr. Z whom she loathes and fears. A tiny Mr. Z seems to be singing this song somewhere deep inside of her as the entire town seems looks on, assenting to this ritual. “Why do they think up stories that link my name with yours?” goes the song. “Why do the neighbors gossip all day behind their doors?” Maybe they’ve been talking about the Bride behind their doors for a long time.
22. “Rite of Spring, The Sacrifice: Introduction” by Igor Stravinsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev
After the ritual is completed, the Bride is imprisoned in Archie’s mansion to be supervised while the new tornado killer grows inside of her. She has been pumped full of “black milk” secreted from the Horrible Woman, which paralyzes her and sends her into strange dreams and hallucinations. This song, another one from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” feels to me like the slow waking-up from a groggy nightmare, only to slowly realize that you’ve awakened into something even worse. It’s “moldy, solemn aura” that the Bride associates with the town’s hidden tornado cult—of something “somber, complicated, and poisonous.”
23. “Boilermaker” by the Jesus Lizard
Jesus Lizard begins this one like a punch to the face, and then keeps punching you in the face. This buzzsaw of a song taps into the kind of aggression the Bride needs to shake off her paralysis and escape. “In molasses / a fly in molasses / nasty sticky shit holds it down” is the situation the Bride needs to cut herself loose from. She manages to escape Archie’s old house, but it’s a splattery escape—she has to stab herself to shake off the debilitating effects of the black milk, and she kills two people while witnessing two others meet their grisly ends. But a lot more blood and guts will be spilled before the Bride can get out of this town and its sinister plans for her. In particular, there is a noxious oil that she must drink to clean herself out of what has been done to her. This song is also about a drink—a “boilermaker” is a shot glass of whiskey dropped into a beer, drunk down all in one go.
24. “She Will” by Savages
By the end of the story, I feel the Bride’s character has swung from one debut album to another: from the Breeders’ kooky, languid Pod to the Savages’ raw and raucous Silence Yourself. The refrain of this song, with singer Jehnny Beth shouting “She will, she will, she will, she will” while the drummer grabs the cymbal and repeatedly smashes the hell out of it, feels like the energy the Bride must draw on to do the final awful things at the bus station. This song is somehow both poised and primal: it’s how the Bride feels with her last thrilling encounter with the tornado killer at his house, and her final gruesome faceoff with the Horrible Woman in the bus station. One of my friends said that if there’s a message of Bride of the Tornado, it’s “break up with your boyfriend, get rid of the baby, and get the hell out of town.” In order to fully escape, the Bride has to be cold enough to leave everyone behind.
25. “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram
Just as she’d always dreamed, the Bride is finally headed by bus from her small town to the big city, which she associates with the kind of songs Electrifier plays. Just like Jeff Mills’ “The Bells” from earlier, this is the kind of song that liberates her and makes her feel like a different, more preferable world is reachable, “a more intense and vivid and better part of the world.” By the end, the Bride has been through the wringer, but she’s not broken. “I would be awake forever, everything bigger and freer and fresher and colder, and I had a rushing, emptying feeling, like escaping from a tiny hot vicious universe made just for me into a whole world made for nobody at all.”