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September 1, 2009

Book Notes - Stephen Elliott ("The Adderall Diaries")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

As much as I have admired Stephen Elliott's writing in the past (Happy Baby is one of my favorite novels), his new memoir The Adderall Diaries still managed to amaze me. Elliott has produced a memoir as fascinating and captivating as a great novel.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Despite the luridness of the subject matter, the author creates a refined, beautiful work of art. His themes-seemingly crime, murder, drugs and sadomasochistic sex-actually encapsulate the nature of truth, self, love and memory, and the limits of art to get at them all. Deserves a place on the shelf next to such classics of uninhibited American introspection as On the Road and A Fan's Notes."

In his own words, here is Stephen Elliott's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder

My taste in music is embarrassing and something I rarely write about. Also, I'm inconsistent in my musical tastes, like just about everything else. But I can figure out the music I was listening to while writing The Adderall Diaries by what music I entered into my iTunes playlist at the time, cleverly titled: "Songs Steve is Listening To." Why I would have a playlist referencing myself in the third person is anybody's guess.

"Callin' Out" by Lyrics Born

This entered my playlist in May 2008. I know where the song comes from, a DJ I had a crush on, DJ Felina. I think I asked her for her playlist, just as a reason to have a conversation. I think it was right around the time this photo-spread was published in a local magazine.

But this is the only song of hers that made it into my permanent rotation.

It's also just after the Hans Reiser trial, the murder trial I had covered for half a year. So maybe I was ready to listen to something a little more upbeat.

"Nowhere Fast" by Mary J. Blige

I'm listening to this in February 2008. It's Mary J. Blige standing on the stairs with a knife saying, "You ain't leaving me... Hope you're not thinking you're not the one... I worked this relationship 9-5 and I deserve overtime... You can say what you want..."

What's not to like about this song?

"Hit Me Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears

Around January 2008 I got on this Britney Spears kick. I think I went almost a month listening to Britney Spears over and over. I realized, finally, that it was because it was the perfect music for blocking out noise. It was so familiar, so derivative, I didn't need to engage with the music at all. It was background noise. That got me thinking about larger issues surrounding pop music. I vowed never to listen to Britney Spears again, but not until I had downloaded the video. I ended up writing a short essay on the genius of Britney Spears, which I published in The Stranger.

Since then I've sworn off not just pop culture, but writing about pop culture, I guess this is the exception. But we're talking about what I was listening to while writing my book.

"Stronger" by Kanye West

I hate this song so much. I really dislike Kanye's addictive, offensive music. But in the Kanye canon this song is particularly offensive. Especially the line, "You can be my black Kate Moss tonight." But there you have it. Somehow it worked its way in there, and was probably my gateway drug to Britney.

"On The Road Again" by Canned Heat

Because only a month before Kanye I was listening to this song by Canned Heat. "My dear mother left me when I was quite young." That might be the line that dragged me into this sweet ballad. I've spent a lot of my life on the road. I ran away when I was thirteen, two weeks after my mother passed away, and never went back.

"I Lost Something In The Hills" by Sibylle Baier

But then, in October of 2007, I was listening to Colour Green by Sybille Baier. What I still love about this album is that I don't have to apologize or explain. It's an incredible album. Sibylle's voice... There's nothing commercial about this album. And I think the story is the son found the tapes in some box in the attic, or something. "Oh I know farther west these hills exist."

"If You're Into It" by Flight of the Conchords

You have to remember, I'm trying to explain why I was listening to this music over 18 months ago. But I don't even know why. I know every Sunday I was going to my friend's house and watching HBO.

What's weird to me now, going through the music I was listening to then, is that I was covering a murder trial. Every day I was in court listening to testimony in the Hans Reiser murder trial. I would wake up in the morning and write for three hours and head to the court at nine a.m. And this is the crap I would listen to. It's no wonder it took the book so long to come together.

"Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood

This song is so bad. Don't listen to this song. I'm re-listening to it, trying to come up with something smart to say. But the smartness eludes me. "I dug my key/into the side/of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive."

WTF Carrie? Are you psycho?

But here's the thing about the Hans Reiser trial. Hans Reiser's best friend also confessed to eight murders (here's the Wired article that broke the story). The friend and I had overlapped many times, though I didn't remember ever meeting him. And his initial agreement to work on a book with me is what dragged me into this labyrinthine (is that a word?) murder trial. Hans' friend was also an acquaintance of my ex-girlfriend, who I still think about all the time. He would talk to her about me, which added yet another twisted element to the book. And this song somehow speaks to my relationship with my ex, but I'm not sure how.

"Half The Time" by Pablo

This song show up over and over again in my playlist. "I don't care what you think about me/the TV's on so I don't have to worry."

I love songs like this, sad but also upbeat. Almost anthem like. Reminiscent of "Rock and Roll Suicide." First you're sad, but you'll get over it. I guess it's obvious why this kind of music appeals to me. "I'm not going to say that I'm always right/I'm not going to say that it's even half of the time." I have a lot of mood swings and I've gotten pretty good about taking a breath and waiting for them to pass. This is in sharp contrast to my many suicide attempts as an adolescent. Songs that start sad and finish triumphant keep me going.

Other notable songs from the playlist: "All My Little Worlds" by the Magnetic Fields, "Slow" by The Broken West, "Hatchet" by Low, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" by The Kinks, "Serotonin" by Simple Kid, and "Rockstar" by Nickleback.

You see, there's no rhyme or reason to it.

Stephen Elliott and The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder links:

the author's website
The Rumpus, the author's litblog
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Bookmarks review
Boston Globe review
Critical Mass review
Deckfight review
Erobintica review
Fanzine review
Magnet review (by John Wesley Harding, aka Wesley Stace)
Pop Damage review
The Skinny review
Time Out New York review
The Velvet review

The Astonishing Egg interview with the author

The Cult interview with the author
The Faster Times interview with the author
Flavorwire interview with the author
Huffington Post articles by the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Jacket Copy interview with the author
Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes interview with the author
Mobylives interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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