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August 18, 2006

Book Notes - Andrea Seigel ("To Feel Stuff")

Though only released earlier this month, Andre Seigel's second novel, To Feel Stuff, was highly recommended by a couple of friends. Siegel's story of a permanent resident of Brown University's infirmary, Elodie, and the two men who find her fascinating (one a fellow student and the other a physician who sees her as the ultimate research project) is told through the main characters' voices and perspectives. As the story unfolds, a ghost is introduced to the plot, and Seigel manages this literary juggling act with charm, insight, and humor.

In her own words, here is Andrea Seigel's Book Notes contribution for her novel, To Feel Stuff:

Because one of the narrators, Chess, is an Ivy League a capella singer, most of these songs are actually in the book.

Ask- The Smiths

The chorus is the epigraph of the book, and it took me forever to get. The rights kept jumping from company to company for months. Then, suddenly, there was a legal dispute over who even owned the lyrics, so for awhile no one had the authority to give me permission. After that some guy messaged me on Myspace basically saying that he knew Morrissey’s “people” and that if I’d perform a sexual favor, he would plead my case. So I “smoked the white owl” and then Morrissey called me the next day.

Just kidding. I hung in there and eventually landed the rights. Which was weird considering what happened with “Girlfriend In A Coma” (see below).

Elodie- David Mead

This song isn’t in the book, but it’s part of the book. Seeing as how the girl narrator is named Elodie. David told me the song is about French actress Elodie Bouchez, who recently slept with Mia Kirschner on the season finale of The L Word and completely mesmerized me with her two front teeth.

When singing, David often sounds on the verge of crying (both happy and sad tears) and for whatever reason this makes me think of “America.” (The imagined conception of our country (what I see and feel when I fly over it in a plane), not the band.)

Tarzan Boy- Baltimora

So I hate a capella singing. I can kind of deal with it when one person is singing a heartfelt song and it’s a spur of the moment thing and there’s no church involved. But when there’s a group of college kids standing underneath an arch and harmonizing in parts, I begin to have evil wishes about a structural weakness collapsing that arch. There’s just something so sinister and gross about singing a song for its technical elegance. And I really can’t deal with anything done in unison.

Because I needed Elodie to be furious the first time she ever heard Chess singing with his a capella group, I opened her section with Tarzan Boy’s “Baltimora” pummeling in through her window. Which is a moment taken straight from my life, because “Tarzan Boy” was sung directly underneath my dorm room window one night while I was trying to watch Conan O’Brien. I found it so presumptuous that this a capella group had assembled in a non-remote place where people (me) who didn’t make the effort to come hear them sing were now forced to hear them sing. Those “oh-ay-oh-ay-ohs” in the chorus produced this insane rage inside of me, the way they were being enunciated.

Desperado- The Eagles

This is the solo that Chess is supposed to sing the night he gets his knees bashed in by a guy wielding a crowbar. I think it’s funny for an a capella singer to think of himself as a Desperado.

Freebird- Lynard Skynyrd

I needed a song that really pisses people off, especially if it’s being sung to them in a serious way that’s supposed to explain the singer’s reasons for leaving. This song seemed perfect. It’s good that I only needed to use one line (and that that line falls under “Fair Use”) because, and I guess I should have figured this out ahead of time, the licensers did not like the way that the song was being portrayed in the novel.

Steve Winwood- Back In The High Life

Oh my god, I love Steve Winwood. He sounds like a vampire to me. And I wanted to use “Life” because I always find songs with declarative choruses so fantastically depressing. It’s like in Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”— you just know she can’t breathe for the first time. She’s completely lying. And when Steve insists that he’s going to be “Back in the high life again,” I get the strong sense that the “character” in those lyrics is going to snort a line of coke next and wake up with burning genitals and his big toe gone. So it’s perfect that Chess would find a song like this uplifting.

A close second Winwood choice for the novel was “The Finer Things.”

Diana Ross- I’m Coming Out

This comes on the radio as Chess is in a limo riding back to Brown. It’s another song that’s supposed to play on his fantasy (like Winwood’s “High Life”) of being back on the way up, but I actually think, in this case, Diana really might have been genuine about coming out. She seems optimistic at this point. I’m sure that crumbled later in life.

Kermit The Frog- The Rainbow Connection

The book’s quick discussion about this song and Kermit being psychically gifted is straight out of my own thoughts. This song creeps the shit out of me.

Girlfriend In A Coma- The Smiths

What’s really weird is that Universal wouldn’t let me use the lyrics I wanted to from “Coma” because they were insulted by the content of the scene. (They were fine with me putting a Morrissey quote at the front of the book, though.) But the scene is totally in keeping with the humor of the song. I offered to write an essay explaining why the song belonged in the book and why the book was complimentary to the song, but they were having none of this.

So then the sketchy guy from Myspace reappeared again with another tit-for-tat offer, this time suggesting that I watch him “gallop the antelope,” but I said no thanks because I knew I could work around the missing lyrics.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough- Diana Ross

More Diana. The song’s used at a moment that illustrates the two camps that exist in the world, according to me: those who believe there is a mountain high enough, and those who don’t.

No Woman, No Cry- Bob Marley and The Wailers

Chess wisely decides maybe he shouldn’t sing the chorus of “No Woman” at a moment when it would multiply his assholeness by five thousand, but he still thinks about the lyrics. If anyone ever sung this song to me while I was sad, I wouldn’t be sad anymore, but wanting to kill that person instead.

These three songs aren’t in the book, but were a big part of my life while writing it:

If I ever Get Better- Phoenix

The perfect song for a protagonist who’s chronically ill.

Late For the Sky- Jackson Browne

The song I hope someone plays at my funeral.

Signs- Snoop Doggy Dog featuring Justin Timberlake

The song I’ve been performing a dance routine to while on my book tour.


see also:

Excerpts from the book

Andrea Seigel's website
Andrea Seigel's blog

Andrea Seigel on the Pinky's Paperhaus podcast

also by Andrea Seigel: Like the Red Panda

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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