Chris McKinney’s Playlist for His Novel “Midnight, Water City”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Chris McKinney’s novel Midnight, Water City is a compelling and surprisingly timely work of noir science fiction.

Lincoln Michel wrote of the book:

“Midnight, Water City is a hardboiled noir drenched in a water-soaked future of soaring seascrapers and floating suburbs. The prose is sharp, the tech strange, and the twists shocking. McKinney expertly blends science fiction, noir, and cli-fi into a wild and original ride.”

In his own words, here is Chris McKinney’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Midnight, Water City:

My latest novel, Midnight, Water City, was a huge departure for me. I’d spent years as a regional writer whose books are set in contemporary Hawai’i. Installing music in those narratives was both easy and meaningful. For example, in my first book, The Tattoo, chapters are introduced with lyrics from Hawaiian songs that connect to the book. Examples include “Rusty Old Steampipes” by Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau and “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” by Olomana. I also played Hawaiian music on ukulele back then, so I was very familiar with the genre.

Now, unlike anything I’ve written before, Midnight, Water City is sci-fi set in 2142. Predicting what kind of popular music will exist in the future is even more difficult than predicting what kind of technological advancements will be made. I imagine the piano as still relevant, especially because the piano is not just a major tool of composition, but it’s a beautiful, classic piece of furniture. I’ve walked into many houses with pianos, and often the people who live there can’t or can barely play the thing. There are a couple of pianos in my new novel.

I also mention something called digi-opera in the new book because as technology advances so does music as spectacle, and what’s more over-the-top than opera? The narrator says that he was born of the age when hip-hop began to fade (around 2062), and if it lasts that long, it will have sustained itself remarkably well. I’m rooting for it to continue to thrive and evolve, but all genres, even ones as game breaking as hip-hop, do seem to ebb eventually.

I imagine a far more globalized and united world in 2142 centered in the Pacific, so I’m thinking along the lines of variety, fusion, and home. In the spirt of this, here’s my Midnight, Water City playlist:

“Dynamite” BTS

I’m Korean, Japanese, and Scottish, so the Korean part of me has a soft spot for K-pop. But, ten years ago, if you would’ve told me that a Korean pop group would sell out Wembley and the Rose Bowl, and there would be a limited-edition McDonald’s combo meal that pays homage to a K-pop boy band, I would’ve thought you were mad. Then again, my book is set in a future absent of racism, so maybe I should’ve seen it coming.

“Still D.R.E.” Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg

Featured early in the film, Training Day, this song, for me, is forever intertwined with the devilish charm of Denzel Washington. He’s literally Satan here, as he attempts to slyly and gradually corrupt an innocent and idealistic Ethan Hawke. Midnight, Water City features a cop who had at one point gone bad. But it’s the character Akira Kimura who resembles Lonzo more. She’s the straight up gangster.

“Rhythm of the Ocean” Hawaiian Style Band

One can’t write a book called Midnight, Water City and not include a song about the ocean in a list like this. This particular song is admittedly light and nostalgic, and the novel is neither. In fact, a large part of the book is about taking a hard look back on one’s life. But hey, it’s my childhood love for the ocean that anchors the novel, and this song never fails to make me smile.

“Thunderstruck” AC/DC

From Sydney back in the ’70s, AC/DC is hands down my favorite rock band of all-time. Stuffed with power cords and vocal gravel, AC/DC’s music is a reminder that simple can often be better. “Thunderstuck” is what I hear in my head when I’m writing action sequences. My favorite version of the song is the live performance at River Plate, Argentina in 2009. The crowd’s eruptive energy in the perfect accompaniment to the song.

“Sinnerman” Nina Simone

There are a number of examples of cover versions of songs that exceed the original, but I can’t think of many as good as Simone’s version of “Sinnerman.” This is perfect chase scene music and has been utilized as such in The Thomas Crown Affair and Lovecraft Country. Characters are always running from something, and this song is what I hear when the truths of the past begin catching up with the narrator.

“Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” Shakira

A part-Lebanese Columbian who grew up Catholic and belly dances—what’s not to like? This particular song wasn’t without controversy, though. Written to open the 2010 FIFA ceremony in South Africa, the song should’ve probably been performed by a native artist, but I love Shakira’s version, especially as she performed it at Super Bowl LIV. Was that Irish riverdancing thrown in for good measure? All I know is this cultural mishmash is hypnotic. It’s what I aspire to create.

“Hawai’i ‘78” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Best known internationally for his rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole is a legend in Hawaii. A former member of the group, Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, “Braddah Iz” wasn’t just a singer and musician, he was a Hawaiian sovereignty activist as well. “Hawai’i 78” is a haunting critique of urban development built over his people’s sacred lands. It’s a stark, timeless reminder of how long this has been an issue. With a thirty-meter telescope and rail system under construction, it certainly still is today.

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen

My favorite song of all time. “At night, we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines.” I love the audacious, over-the-top lyrics stuffed with car metaphors as much as the music. The music itself is pure rebellious desperation. How the energy just builds, seethes, and explodes. Clarence Clemons and the sax solo. Ugh. From beginning to end, this song inspires me.

“I Would Die 4 U” by Prince

“Born to Run” may be my favorite song, but the musical artist I’ve always been in awe of most is Prince. Not only was he a supremely gifted musician, performer, and songwriter, but the guy, with his fluffy blouses and heels… he… just… didn’t… care. My wife likes to say that I tend to enjoy music that ends movies perfectly. She’s right. This particular Prince song accompanies the ending montage in film Purple Rain. Plus, sexual innuendo mixed with religious undertones? Prince taught me more than anyone else during my childhood, be who you are. I’m a sci-writer now. This is the perfect song to end the Midnight, Water City playlist with.

Chris McKinney was born and raised in Hawai’i, on the island of O’ahu. He has written six novels, including The Tattoo and The Queen of Tears, a coauthored memoir, and the screenplays for two feature films and two short films. He is the winner of the Elliot Cades Award and seven Ka Palapala Po’okela Awards and has been appointed Visiting Distinguished Writer at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

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