War & Peace. Long. Really long. It’s not easy to find one song to go with a 1,200 page novel (not even really a novel- Tolstoy insisted it was something entirely different than a novel) about Russian aristocracy, love, and historical philosophy during the Napoleonic Wars. My first instinct was to pick a really long song. That makes sense, right? But the song should also reflect Tolstoy’s extremely verbose (but delightfully entertaining) writing style, his ability to be true to life while being entirely fictional. On top of that, the song should have a philosophizing tone, for sure. And it, too, should probably question its own form. Is “the song” even a valuable way to make music now that MP3s no longer limit their length the way records did (within reason)? I think Tolstoy would have liked this question. And would have had 300 pages of ideas about it.
I was initially leaning toward Joanna Newsom- she has some long songs- when I remembered Dan Bejar’s (Destroyer’s) “Bay of Pigs.” A fourteen minute song about a historical event? Yep. Written in Bejar’s whimsical and verbose lyrical stylings? You bet. I’m not sure that Bejar is reinventing what a song is in the same way that Tolstoy believed he was reinventing the novel, but Bejar certainly works outside of traditional song structures, and isn’t afraid to stray from the old fashioned radio-friendly three-minute track. Dan Bejar is definitely a bit more fanciful than Tolstoy, but I read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which is definitely one the most poetic versions out there.
It was hard to choose something current for War & Peace. It seems like it should be a 19th century Russian composer. If I can’t picture it playing during one of the many ballroom scenes, it doesn’t quite fit. But still, I think if Sofia Coppola were to do a modern-day hipped-up film version, “Bay of Pigs” could definitely be on the soundtrack.