March 28, 2007
The Book Notes series has authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
My first exposure to Peggy Munson's writing was a short story in the 2006 edition of Best American Erotica. Her story, "Fairgrounds," was one of the stories that truly stood apart and caught my eye with its innovative use of language and keen narrative style. Since then, I have been eagerly awaiting publication of her first novel, and it's easy to see why Munson's debut novel, Origami Striptease, won the 2004 Project: QueerLit contest. Lyrical and erotic, the book draws the reader in and is a truly suspenseful psychological novel.
Origami Striptease is a love story between a writer and an enigmatic wanderer named Jack. After a sexy affair, Jack unravels in a growing obsession with ice cubes, Greenland, and Zamboni ice resurfacing machines. The writer topples into a nightmarish Rorschach blot of a life as she nurses a severe illness. The book crams gender, love, and perception through a paper shredder.
I have a complicated relationship with music and language. I became disabled fifteen years ago by an illness that decimates my ability to think, and often makes any stimulation – including music – overwhelmingly taxing. On the other hand, the rhythm that underpins language helped me to restore some of my linguistic processes while dealing with slow brain processing speed, word-retrieval problems, and short-term memory deficits. Studies have found that babies imitate the rhythms of speech before uttering actual words, and I think this pre-verbal part of language is fairly intact in me. When I wrote Origami Striptease, I developed an inexplicable language technique that enabled me to coast through sentences at times. I write very slowly, but sing-song Dr. Seussian language has been one way of speeding it up. I am not sure of the neurobiology (Oliver Sachs, are you listening?), except that I wonder if it is akin to an autistic child’s rocking. I found that when I rock, using (irregular) iambic meter, I sometimes recall words long-lost or finish a paragraph without suddenly feeling like I’m stranded on an unfamiliar street. Writing fiction requires short-term memory: the ability to re-enter a scene in the book and know where you are. So the musicality of language guided me through the writing of this book by roping thoughts together when I couldn’t find the words. The villain also plays in a band called The Sludge and Brother Zero and two of the characters deal with the arrhythmic percussion of damaged hearts.
“What Made Jack Run”
The Sludge and Brother Zero
“It was a barbed wire day wrapped around the temples and all Jack did was run.” This is the anthem of the book and I wrote it as a 3-chord song. It is the song that seduces the main character into the inky netherworld of the villainous Sludge.
“Jack and Diane”
John Cougar Mellencamp
At the end of elementary school in the Midwest, this song gave me sultry sexual feeling, and I’ve been a sucker for James Dean-imitating rebels ever since. They can barely scrape together enough change for my Tastee Freeze corndog but have big dreams and a Jack-in-the-box in their pants. I didn’t name the Jack character in the book after the song but my subconscious probably did.
“Girl Laying Down”
When I heard this song I almost rolled off my bed. It could have been written about me, or the main character in my book, abandoned to the only help she can find. “I left her fifteen years behind.”
“The Dreaming Dead”
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
“Your black eyes remind me of the dreaming dead.” The absence of place and time and dreamy, near-death vibe make it a perfect soundtrack cornerstone. It should play during the book’s cemetery sex.
“Come to Jesus”
It may twist the American psyche that I was listening to this almost-Christian-rock song throughout the entire writing of my raunchy, silicone-balls-out novel. The way Mindy croons about Jesus in her too-wise young voice is moving and strangely erotic. My characters cling to a ragged notion of redemption despite everything.
“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
“In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.” There is a lot in this novel about how people become complicit in abuse and neglect and destruction. Without letting perpetrators off the hook, I wanted to dive into the social forces that allow all manner of sludge to slip through.
“The Man Comes Around”
This song reminds me of the weight of each uttered syllable on earth. The “Telltale Heart” tick-tock of the irregular iambic prose reminds readers of the oppressiveness of time and those gilded moments outside of time during pure connection. Johnny sure did call his own death. Still, with over a billion MySpace friends, he never succumbed to a Messiah complex.
“You have seen some unbelievable things.” I wanted this book to be really hard to talk about, just like some of its specific bits of subject matter (abuse, illness) are hard for survivors to describe with the full gestalt of the experience.
“I’ll Do Anything”
Sexy, sadomasochistic, titillating, nightmarish, raw? The video with oxygen and fire and angels and gas masks and immolation goes right along with the oxygen tubing the main character clings to as her life force is being sucked away.
David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust
My favorite line from this song: “A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.” It was prescient about bad priests, don’t you think? I hear this song playing during the feverish Zamboni invasion.
“Melt Your Heart”
Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins
“What’s good for your soul will be bad for your nerves if you reverse it.” Origami Striptease has many adverse cardiac events. The physical and metaphorical hearts of these characters can’t help but absorb the world, despite their attempts to calcify themselves.
“Take Off Your Clothes”
Push, pull, push, pull. Hell, just get naked.
“Boy Meets Girl” and “When We Grow Up”
Free to Be You and Me
My gay boyfriend and I listened to these songs incessantly when I was a kid. Would the gender revolution ever have occurred without this Hippie programming album? Thanks Marlo Thomas!
“Silly faggot, dicks are for dykes!” Did Marlo Thomas know that the young founders of the Baby Jesus Butt Plug were listening?
“Milk White Air”
“Why don’t we go up there now?” This is the denouement: it’s beautiful.
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)