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Music

From Dire Straits to Don Mclean: Chuck Palahniuk's 5 favourite songs of all time

@SamWKemp

Chuck Palahniuk is one of those writers who has come to be defined by their biggest success. In Palahniuk’s case, this was his 1996 novel Fight Club, which was later made into an era-defining feature film. However, the author has written over a dozen more books, as well as a sequel to Fight Club in the form of a graphic novel, which was published in 2016.

Before Fight Club, Palahniuk trained as a journalist at the University of Oregan. After graduating, he wrote for a couple of local newspapers and then began working as a mechanic, honing his writing in the evenings. He continued in this way until his writing career began to gain traction.

By his 30s, Palahniuk had managed to leave journalism and car repairs behind him and had started writing fiction in earnest. His first attempt at a full-length novel, Invisible Monsters, was rejected countless times by major publishers.

Despite the setback, he continued writing and eventually found a publisher for his book Fight Club, which became a bestseller. Following the release of his first novel, the manuscript for Invisible Monsters became hot property and was eventually published in 1999.

Here, we take a look at Palahniuk’s favourite songs of all time, which he revealed during an interview with KCRW. From growing up in Washington to meeting his wife, the author’s selection forms a comprehensive soundtrack of his incredible rise to fame.

Chuck Palahniuk’s five favourite songs:

‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc

For Chuck Palahniuk, English Rockers 10cc were an important part of his adolescence, soundtracking those awkward, romantically stunted years. Identifying the roots of his affection for ‘I’m Not In Love’, he said: “It goes way back to junior high school dances and the early 1970s, which were just agony: all the boys on one side of the gym, all the girls on the other side of the gym.”

“What I loved about it was the fact that I got it wrong and that, for years, I thought it was the song that was seriously someone who wasn’t in love until a friend of mine pointed out the fact that it’s more likely a song about someone denying that he is in love, for fear of being rejected. And suddenly I realized it made more sense,” Palahniuk continued. “It’s one of those songs that is maybe not the greatest music, but it’s associated with a time of life that was so simple and, in comparison, so much nicer than the current time.”

‘American Pie’ by Don Mclean

Next up is a song that seems to symbolise not only Palahniuk’s affection for his wife but also his fascination with the relationship between memory and language: “In my world, you are either a words person or you are a music person,” Palahniuk once said. “And so, ideally, words people marry music people. And I’m a words person, so I married a music person. And as a words person, my life is not complete until I had memorised every lyric of ‘American Pie’.”

“You know, what I love about music is that can repeat the same things, but it never gets boring,” the author continued. “And it uses such great devices to keep people engaged on a very intense level, even though it doesn’t necessarily make sense.

“We stay engaged with ‘American Pie’ even though we don’t for sure know what the allegorical lyrics mean. And I fell in love with that aspect, that kind of poetic aspect of loving something without knowing exactly what it means.”

‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty

For Palahniuk, the beauty of music lies in its ability to immortalise a specific moment in a person’s life. This is certainly the case with ‘Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. “Jump ahead four or five years, and I’ve gotten my first full-time job; I’m working in a theatre,” he began, setting the scene in a way only a writer could. “I’m a sophomore in high school, and my shift ends at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’ve got to get out and be in chemistry class at 7:15 am.”

‘”Baker Street’ played on our tape of Muzak, our endless Muzak cassette. Hearing ‘Baker Street’ in the middle of the night when I knew I was up later than everyone I knew, and that I was working, that always just kind of carried the weight of what being an adult would be: this grand disillusionment, this grand constant striving towards something that you will never really achieve, this grand burnout. I love that about “Baker Street,” Palahniuk concluded.

‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits

Next up, Dire Strait’s cerebral ode to the Stratocaster, ‘Sultans of Swing’. While most of Palahniuk’s favourite songs seem to evoke a particularly optimistic period in his life, this song seems to do quite the opposite.

“It’s one of those songs that I listen to a thousand times at work in high school, late at night, that kind of taught me that adulthood was not going to be as wonderful as everyone seemed to think it would be and that there would be a lot of lowered expectations as I grew older,” he said, adding: “But, it wasn’t a bad introduction.”

‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ by Gordon Lightfoot

This six-minute epic showcases singer-songwriter Gordan Lightfoot’s remarkable narrative voice at its very best. For Palahniuk, it was this that drew him under the Canadian musician’s all-embracing spell. “When you are 13 years old, washing dishes three days a week in a roadside diner like I was, it is a song that is on the radio constantly,” he began.

Attempting to define the sheer beauty of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’, Palahniuk said: “You know it’s more to do with lyrics. I don’t like songs where the lyrics are too simple and too repetitive. Right now, I’m secretly addicted to the Taylor Swift song, ‘I’ll Write Your Name’. Is that the name of that song? It’s one of those, what they used to call, patter songs — where they tell a very short, choppy, very clever lyric, as opposed to a very repetitive melodious lyric. And so, I’m addicted to kind of ballads and patter songs because the lyrics tend to be a lot more clever.”