March 3, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Michelle Richmond has called A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood "part memoir, part manifesto," and I wholly agree. Lisa Catherine Harper seamlessly blends her personal experiences with pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood with explanations of the scientific and psychological processes and changes that occur.
I don't have children, but still relished Harper's astute observations and found the book impossible to put down.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Harper's elegant, thoughtful writing makes this a must-read for expectant parents. . . . The author's decision to cast her own experiences against the larger backdrops of biology, family, and transformation makes her book universal, moving, and relevant."
I've never been able to write listening to music. Not even a blog post. As a former dancer, I find background music distracting—music requires my full attention. But even though my book, A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood, was written in as much silence as I could find in the midst of raising one, then two babies, it's deeply connected to my life as a dancer, and specifically to the part of my life that I spent dancing with my husband. My husband and I met at Los Angeles' famed Derby club, at the height of the swing revival. The night I met him, I fell head over heels (literally) in love with the Lindy Hop. Later, I fell in love with my husband, and together we taught, competed, and co-founded the vintage dance troop, the San Francisco Jitterbugs. Our dancing introduced me to a new playlist: classic big band, early jazz, jump blues, boogie woogie, barrelhouse. This is the music of my book; it's what I danced to when I was 9 months pregnant, and what I played for my infant daughter. It's the music that grounded our new marriage and my new maternity. What I love most is its upbeat, energetic, improvisational heart--qualities that are also sort of useful for a new parent.
"Stockholm Stomp" by Jack Pettis and Al Goering, performed by Mora's Modern Rhythmists
MMA was the Monday night house band at the Derby, and was playing the night I met my husband. This was ground zero for the swing revival. MMA specializes in music from the 1920's through the early '30s, using period arrangements and transcriptions from the original recordings. This is an early hot jazz number, perfect for the kind of Balbo & partner Charleston jam circle I write about in "Pas de Deux" that hooked me on the dance.
"You Send Me" by Sam Cooke
This is just a beautiful song. No one can phrase a lyric like Sam Cooke, and this song gets to the guts of the kind simple happiness I recount in "Expecting," and which kept overwhelming me in the early days of marriage and motherhood.
"Saturday Night Fish Fry" by Louis Jordan
This is probably not my favorite Louis Jordan track,but we had house parties like this: frying fish, everyone in vintage threads, furniture cleared, carpets rolled back, everyone dancing on the wood floor. It comes closest to capturing what happened at the Christmas party recounted in "Public Life" where we announced the pregnancy.
"Big Fat Mama" by Roy Milton
Is an explanation really necessary?
"One O'Clock Jump"
There are a lot of Jumps, One O'Clock Jump, Two O'Clock Jump—and all have multiple versions. Count Basie's is the original, and probably the best, but Jimmy Dorsey's is the track for the classic, humorous dance short, Groovy Movie. Never ending, exhausting fun. Just like motherhood.
"Watch the Birdie" by Gene Krupa with Anita O'Day
We had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hearing Anita O'Day sing this. Live. At the Hollywood Palladium. At a dance camp run by our friend. On the day we got engaged. Really, it's all been downhill since then.
"40 Cups of Coffee" by Ella Mae Morse
Our daughter is named Ella for two reasons. Ella Mae Morse is one of them. Picking a single favorite is near impossible, but for this list, I'm going with the sexy, bluesy "40 Cups of Coffee" because that's exactly what you need when an infant keeps up all night, or while you're waiting for your partner to come home after you've been alone with the baby for ten hours.
"I Get a Kick Out of You" by Ella Fitzgerald
I love Porter's slant rhyme, coded humor, and Fitzgerald's phrasing. The other reason we named our daughter Ella.
"Every Day I Have the Blues" by Count Basie Orchestra
What it feels like when it feels like those sleepless nights will never end. One of the things I listened to when I needed a jolt during that long, hard "Fourth Trimester."
"'Taint What You Do" by Harry James
This is a classic Shim-Sham song, and there are many great versions, including Ella Fitzgerald's with Chick Webb, which is pretty hard to beat. This version is a little less polished, but the horn is great fun. In the months recounted in "Hatching" and "The American Women's Home," I spent a lot of time holding Ella and doing the shim sham, alone in our apartment.
"Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four" by The Andrews Sisters
This track may be less well known to the general public, but it was a standard for dancers, and this list wouldn't be complete without one cheesy Andrews Sisters song. No one embodied the optimism of the era like this trio, and one of the things about dancing and having babies is that both can transport you to a simple, blissed-out state. Also, with their cheery, bouncy, steady beat, the Andrews Sisters make great listening for kids.
"All the Cats Join In" by Benny Goodman and the Pied Pipers
Wicked fun to dance to with lots of fun, sexy, sly little tempo shifts and change-ups. It's also the eponymous track for one of the all-time great animated dance shorts. Little did I know that years later, when the kids and the husband suckered me into adopting a kitten, then a companion for her, then the neighborhood stray, this song would become prophetic.
"Flying Home" by Illinois Jacquet with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra
The other allusion for the title of my final chapter. This 1942 version with Jacquet playing tenor sax is the essential one.
Lisa Catherine Harper and A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists