December 4, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
The 2007 winner of the Gatewood Prize, Kathleen Rooney's Oneiromance (an epithalamion) is powerful poetry, one epic poem that explores all the emotions of a wedding with truly unique and cutting wordplay.
Alice Fulton wrote of the book:
""Kathleen Rooney's beautifully structured epithalamion is saturated with nuptial terror: the music and friction, zeal and unease, absurdity and profundity of marriage."
What you need to know about Oneiromance (an epithalamion) is: it is based on a true story, the story of the time(s) that Martin and I got married, once in the States and then again in Brazil, or, if you prefer, once in the eyes of the law and once in the eyes of the Lord. My younger sister Beth did the same exact thing with her husband Nick, and the ceremony in Brazil ended up being a double wedding presided over by our great uncle Dom Alfredo Novak, a super-amazing guy who has been a Roman Catholic bishop in South America for over 50 years. As you might imagine, the whole thing was really complicated, so the first track on my soundtrack to the book is:
“Complicated,” Avril Lavigne, 2002
I know, I know—but hear me out. This song was one of the most successful singles of 2002, and probably got that way because it is both really cornball and silly and really touching and wonderful, which, I would argue, are qualities it shares with weddings. Weddings are phenomena that in some sense reduce people as individuals, but enrich them together; they encourage people to let themselves go (the album this song is from is called Let Go, incidentally) and give themselves over to something bigger and more social.
This song was #1 on the Brazilian Hot 100 Chart in 2002, and was apparently still extremely popular in the summer of 2005 when Beth and I went down to Paranagua. We spent a month there before we got married, hanging out with our great uncle, doing work with the nuns, and helping teach English in the high school. Some of the students were fluent and were thrilled to have a chance to grill us on American habits and pop culture, stuff that their teacher didn’t really know about. One of the best students, though, was this girl who was very shy and never asked us anything in the classroom. One day, when Beth and I were out walking around the town, she ran into us and finally got up the nerve to ask a question, which was: was she understanding the lyrics to this song correctly? So we sat there on the bridge to the island of Valdares while she sang “Complicated” with fractured lyrics and we helped her get them right:
Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else gets me frustrated
Life’s like this you
and you fall and you crawl and you break
and you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
promise me I’m never gonna find you fake it
no no no
“Panis et Circenses,” Os Mutantes, 1968
Bread and circuses! Weddings are often enormous circuses in and of themselves, or at least ours was. Again, here I’m interested in the idea of spectacle, and in people’s willingness to choose fun and feasting, often at the expense of individual freedom or expression. Also? I love Brazilian music, and Os Mutantes make some of the best.
“How Great Thou Art,” Carl Gustave Boberg, 1885
This song actually appears in the collection, in the last poem, the epilogue. It is our great-uncle Alfredo’s favorite Christian hymn. As a result, it was sung in our ceremony in its entirety twice: once in English and once in Portuguese. It’s also a really beautiful song about seeking signs in the natural world and elsewhere for a larger meaning outside of and greater than yourself:
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
I’m not religious anymore, but this song is a moving expression of religious longing.
“Love is a Battlefield,” Pat Benatar, 1983
This is another one that’s in the book, in the Midwestern Wedding section; specifically, I refer to the part that goes:
Believe me, believe me
I can’t tell you why
I’m trapped by your love
I’m chained to your side.
I also am a fan of this part: “And before this gets old, / will it still feel the same? / There’s no way this will die,” as well as of the tension between the ridiculous and the heartfelt that permeates the whole song, and, of course, the distant whistling near the end. Of additional relevance is that it’s a spousal collaboration between Benatar and her second husband, Neil Giraldo, who co-produced.
Once we all got back to the States, our respective parents threw us a huge party at the American Legion Hall in Downers Grove, Illinois, and the DJ played this song while we were all sitting in a row up at the head table looking out at the crowd, and it was just like yeah, love is a battlefield.
“More Than Words,” Extreme, 1990
This one’s in the book too, pretty extensively in the poem “Midwestern Groom: Dream no. 4.” For the aforementioned party, we had to do all the usual reception-y things like introducing our parents and honoring our grandparents and doing a “first dance,” and we—Martin, Nick, Beth and me—had to pick a song off the DJ’s playlist that would manage to express in general terms our unique loves for one another, thereby holding personal significance for us while simultaneously telegraphing said love to the 300 or so assembled guests. So we picked this one.
Beth and I really, really loved it when it came out on Pornograffiti back when I was ten and she was seven. Although as we got older we gradually realized that it was maybe a little cheesy, we still retained a genuine fondness for it. Also, Martin and I are writers, so like, our love is “more than words,” get it? And Beth is a professional photographer, so pictures are worth “more than words” to her, too. And Nick just has a good sense of humor and irony, and we all share an appreciation for the sensitive and delicate acoustic guitar work of Nuno Bettencourt, and there you have it—“our” song:
Now that I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close, don’t ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me ’cause I’d already know
“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” Talking Heads, 1983
“And you love me ’til my heart stops / Love me ’til I’m dead?” Yes.
“Fake Empire,” The National, 2007
This song wasn’t out at the time we got married, but we really admire The National and listen to them all the time. We had them in especially heavy rotation when we were living in Provincetown in 2005–2006, which is when I wrote much of Oneiromance, and where Martin, who was a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, wrote much of his novel.
Martin and Nick and Beth and I heard this song together most recently when we were standing in Grant Park on November 4th, 2008, along with hundreds of thousands of other supporters waiting to hear Barack Obama’s speech upon being elected the next President of the United States. Before he spoke, the JumboTron played a video about hope and change in which this song figured prominently, and it made me cry for the first time that night.
So that will be the last track on the Oneiromance soundtrack, I think, because it circles back to the individual-social axis I referred to with the first one, and the way that spectacles and the music that features in them can help unite us and elevate us as a group. This song—or at least, that particular experience of hearing it in the context of being with Martin and Nick and Beth and all those other people at the election rally—illustrated that effect in reverse: we were losing ourselves in this huge, historic, communal moment, but then suddenly—by hearing this song to which the four of us felt a personal connection played to the crowd—we were finding something of individual significance. “Turn the light out, say goodnight / no thinking for a little while / Let’s not try to figure out everything at once”: after so many of us had worked so long for the candidate we believed in, the song was perfect for the way it felt to finally know that somebody would soon be in charge who has our best interests at heart, and who has got the situation under control. Like at last we were hearing: you can stop worrying and rest for a second. We’re all going to work together to fix this stuff and it’s going to be okay.
Kathleen Rooney and Oneiromance (an epithalamion) links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)