Tiffany Murray //
Tiffany Murray’s Diamond Star Halo (translated in Dutch as Bidden voor Bowie and in German as Lieber Gott und Otis Redding) is a rock‘n’roll fairytale, set on a rural Welsh farm that doubles as a recording studio. The narrator, Halo, tells the story of her life in a place where music and magic lurk in every corner; it is also the place where a young foundling boy grows up to become a rock star, as big as Dylan and as enigmatic as Bowie.
The Rockfarm setting was drawn in part from Murray’s own experiences. As a child, she herself lived on the legendary Rockfield farm where her father recorded albums for the likes of Hawkwind, and where Queen are said to have written part of their Bohemian Rhapsody (in the 1990’s, the studio was revived with sessions by Oasis, The Boo Radleys, and others). Having had such an un-glamorous introduction to the otherwise sparkling world of music, Murray may be uniquely privileged to describe music culture both in its practical aspects and in its make-believe counterpart of stardom and illusion. And indeed, in her novel the two are constantly played out against one another. Like a great piece of music, this book itself is a virtuoso blend of experience and imagination.
It is about a lot of things beside music, though: the wonders of childhood and enduring love, ghosts and mysticism, colours and smells, horses and stables, folklore and family histories. But all these stories are somehow drenched in the flavour of music, and told in a lyrical, rhythmical style that makes you want to hum along to the words on the page. Halo’s image of her older brother Robert, who died in a playtime accident at a young age, is inextricably linked to her memory of a family night out to see a Ziggy Stardust show. Among the many stories-within-the-story, there is the haunting tale of a horse, Crazy Love, who is buried on the farm grounds but always resurfaces in the wet mud and will stay down only after Halo’s father covers the area with concrete. The horse could not be more aptly named – Van Morrison’s Crazy Love is one of those songs that have been played and covered so often that they will never really leave the stage. In short, this novel is about things that never quite go away.
Songs are used to describe moods and situations, and for this book, Murray wrote a few of her own: her fictional musicians needed a repertoire, too. Halo’s story begins when an American band called Tequila (described by Murray as a mix of The Flying Burrito Brothers and Band of Horses) arrive at Rockfarm, leaving a newborn baby behind with Halo’s family. This boy, Fred, seems destined to become a musician. Even as a young child he possesses the eerie charm of a star – a charm that makes Fred an object of desire and adoration for nearly everyone around him, Halo included.
Halo’s family worship music and musicians in many ways: her mother named her Diamond Star Halo after the lyrics of T-Rex’s song Get It On, and her father kisses her goodnight with prayers to dead icons like Robert Johnson and Jim Morrison. Her Nana Lew’s house is decorated with framed pictures of Johnny Cash and Elvis as other grandmothers’ houses are filled with pictures of saints; her brother Vince dresses up as his idol David Bowie and wears his hair like Boy George. When the band Tequila enters Halo’s life, their singer Jenny Connor fills her head with Americana folklore: stories of prairies and songs about stallion boys.
Thus, from a young age onwards, Halo perceives the world as if filtered through music. And this is also how she shares her world with the readers. Murray has said that “rock’n’roll is a spectacle – of beauty, truth, all of that – and it’s one you want to drink in.” Well, the cup she offers is filled to the brim.
Booktunes 12: Diamond Star Halo, is a selection of the many songs in this novel. As an extra Tiffany Murray shared a personal playlist with us, the Booktunes 12 Writer's Notes
text by Laura Schuster / photo by Ted Lauren