August 5, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Brandi Homan's Switchback Books has always impressed me with the poetry collections it publishes. Her own book Bobcat Country is equally worthy of admiration. Homan's prose poems are immediate, intense, and instantly relatable. I generally read poetry collections a poem at a time, but found myself tearing through this slim volume in one sitting, reading the book as a collection of linked essays instead of poetry.
Jennifer L. Knox called the book "the unholy love child of Lynda Barry and Ween," and I would be hard-pressed to do write a more apt description.
Demo wrote of the book:
"Homan examines the ripple effect of childhood with chagrin and tenderness with lines like, "I grew up in a nice house on the good side of town with / parents who loved me and a shotgun rack in the basement. For / vacation money, my mother worked part-time at Wal-Mart. / My friends and I wore Daisy Dukes and steel-toe boots." Later she writes, "Someone’s looking down on my kinds of comfort." Bobcat delivers a Midwestern pastoral with exacting detail and a sheepish sense of humor, reminding us how it felt to have our feet propped on a sun-hot dash, singing along to Guns N’ Roses as our youth flew by."
In my second book of poetry, Bobcat Country, I spend a lot of time examining "where I come from" versus where I actually ended up thus far in life.
Toward the end of the writing process, I exchanged manuscripts with my friend and fellow Switchback Books editor, Becca Klaver, who was working on finalizing her own book, LA Liminal, also out this year. Somehow we ended up discussing our imagined soundtracks to our manuscripts, with Becca burning me a CD of her LA-inspired tracks plus her own soundtrack for Bobcat Country. The list that follows was culled from my original, in-process soundtrack.
"American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty is singing about me in this song. Ok, ok, maybe not me per se, but definitely someone like me: a middle-of-the-road white girl "raised on promises" and finding out that, even in this day and age, those promises are still mostly unfulfilled for the majority of people I know or used to know. And hell, who isn't looking for places to run to in this great big world?
"Iowa" by Dar Williams
There are a lot of great things about Iowa, my home state and the backdrop for a lot of Bobcat Country, but unless you're a college sports fan, a 19-year-old with her first fake ID, or into Slipknot, there's not a lot of cool things about it, excepting this song. The line "at night we walk in to our houses and burn" says it all. A friend (read = Becca) once asked why the "speaker" (read = me) at the end of the poem "Taxonomy Lessons" was trying to hide the burning she felt, and this song says it point blank: That's just how we do.
"Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" by Tom Waits
As if I have to explain including Tom Waits on any soundtrack, imagined or no. But I love the disconnect in the lyrics between how the woman wants things to be and how they really are, which, as mentioned previously, is a large theme in Bobcat Country.
"Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" by Okkervil River
I first heard this song on a mix CD an ex-boyfriend made for me, straight from a Paste magazine sampler. Regardless, it was one of those songs I instantly loved… one that sticks in your heart, not just your mind. A connection. Will Sheff screaming "Hey I'd watch it!" also reminded me that if I'd read what I was writing, there had to be someone else out there who would want to "watch it" too.
"Stuck Between Stations" by the Hold Steady
Oh man, this song. First, it makes reference to the poet John Berryman—whose Dream Songs is one of my desert-island books—and his frustration with life in the Midwest. The Hold Steady scream, quite literally, Midwest adolescent entrapment, which I was somehow—at 30—still trying to escape.
For me, this song echoes the feeling of being between Iowa and someplace/something/someone else. I'd already written most of "All the Way Around the Dial," and the metaphors between the two (mine, when the radio scrolls through without finding a station, a kind of loneliness) were so close that I fell in love.
Also, I romanticize the suicides of poets, could probably do the list like Tobey Maguire does in the Wonder Boys movie, but with writers. I touch on suicide at least twice in Bobcat Country, but I'm not suicidal, nor do I think it's right of me to have this bent toward its glamorization. However, I do possess said bent and enjoy "Stuck Between Stations" just a touch more for its reference to Berryman's death.
"Suffering Jukebox" by Silver Jews
A large part of my identity used to be (still is?) concerned with meeting other people's expectations, so aptly described in David Berman's lyrics: "Suffering jukebox, such a sad machine / you're filled up with what other people need." Then there's "Suffering jukebox, in a happy town / you're over in the corner breaking down / they always seem to keep you way down low / the people in this town don't want to know." I am continually fascinated by what family members choose to tell relatives, the secrets generations keep from each other. Plus, I definitely harbor the "Tennessee tendencies" Berman describes.
"Thunder Road (live)" by Bruce Springsteen
Two words: epic nostalgia. Not to compare this song to Jeff Buckley's version of Cohen's "Hallelujah," but I've listened to "Thunder Road" on repeat in a way that I've only also listened to the Buckley cover—meaning, for hours at a time. Hours!
"Papa Was a Rodeo" by Magnetic Fields
My friend and fellow writer Jessi Lee Gaylord first played this for me on our one and only road trip together—to homecoming weekend at The University of Northern Iowa, my alma mater. Yes, THE Northern Iowa that upset number-one seed Kansas in the NCAA tourney this year and THE Northern Iowa that spawned Kurt Warner. But I digress. Stephen Merritt's bass voice and the pure poetry of his lyrics make it hard not to be inspired. And I would be remiss without admitting to an urban cowboy fetish served up here nice and clear: "I could play guitar and rope a steer before I learned to stand." Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times, yes!
"Brandy" by Looking Glass
Yeah, I was named after this song and have heard it all my life, including when I actually was a cocktail waitress. What is great about this song is that it centers me—reminds me of my very being. It's like an aural security blanket of sorts, which was a great comfort when writing some of the more uncomfortable spots of Bobcat Country.
"Lost Cause" by Beck
What does it say that this song is perpetually number one on my iTunes? Beck wins for "waving your guns at somebody new" (see said cowboy fetish). But also "They know your secrets and you know theirs / This town is crazy, nobody cares." Anyone who's from anywhere can relate to that.
"Someday I'll Be saturday Night" by Bon Jovi
All right, let's be kind. Obviously this is the track I'm most embarrassed by. But I have loved Bon Jovi in much the same way that my fellow Lenihan Lions still love Guns 'N Roses—since we were in seventh grade. New Jersey? Hells YES. Big parts of that seventh-grade girl are alive and well in Bobcat Country. She rocked out to this song as a pick-me-up, encouragement that she wasn't wasting her time with poetry: "Hey man, I gotta live my life / like I ain't got nothing but this roll of the dice / I'm feeling like a Monday but someday I'll be Saturday night." Someday, someday indeed.
Brandi Homan and Bobcat Country links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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