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April 14, 2011

Book Notes - Francisco Goldman ("Say Her Name")

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

Francisco Goldman's Say Her Name is a lyrical and heartfelt autobiographical novel of love, loss, and grief.

The Boston Globe wrote of the book:

"“To call Francisco Goldman’s book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters. With the power and fine temper of its writing, it is as much poem as prose…. Tense set pieces, respectively heartbreaking and chilling…generate the book’s propulsive drama. What they propel, though, is its most remarkable achievement: the incandescent portrait of a marriage of opposites."

In his own words, here is Francisco Goldman's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Say Her Name:

Say Her Name is an obviously autobiographical novel that is mostly about my wife Aura Estrada – about her life, our life together, and her death in 2007 at age 30, the result of a bodysurfing accident, and about my life afterwards, without her. There are a lot of music references in the book, just as there was a lot of music in our lives. Here, then, is a playlist of songs and music by musicians actually mentioned in the book, and a few other relevant selections.

1. "In The Summertime" – Mungo Jerry

Aura was born in 1977 and, in the state of Guanajuato. Her parents split-up, and she and her mother moved to Mexico City when she was four. Most of the portrayal of Aura's childhood in Say Her Name was imagined from an array of recalled anecdotes and other clues. The earliest music in her life that the book refers to would be, I think, her memories of her father's guitar playing. He played Beatles songs, I'm pretty sure about that – everyone in Mexico who can play a musical instrument, but especially if they were young in the sixties, plays Beatles songs. I also claim that he used to sing the Mungo Jerry classic. Maybe he did, who knows?

2. "El Triste" – "Gavilán o Paloma."

José José was maybe Mexico's hugest star in the 70s, 80s and into the 90s– well, at least until Juan Gabriel ascended – until he ruined his voice through, apparently, substance abuse. On You Tube you can see his incredible 1970 debut at a televised "American Idol"-like competition in Mexico City, singing "El Triste," when he blasted his way to fame with his unmatchable voice. ( In Say Her Name there are several references to José José and his often bathetic if gorgeous ballads. I evoke the disconcerting lyrics of one in the book when I introduce the moment that Aura and I met: "Like in that José José song, ‘Gavilán o Paloma,' where he sings that he was pulled toward her like a wave, una ola, and he went up to her and said, hola, that's how it happened."

3. "Soy rebelde" – Jeanette

In the book, referring to our upcoming wedding, Aura :"burned CDs with music she imagined would play before the ceremony and that always included winsome, girly Spanish pop from her adolescence, like Jeanette and Mecano…" Jeanette, with her soft plaintive voice and sometimes quietly defiant songs was an iconic pop star of the 70s.

4. "Love And Hate" – Mano Negra.

In her adolescence, among Aura and her friends then Mano Negra, fronted by Manu Chau, was the classic group. This is from their album Casa Babylon. Also big: the The Smiths, Soda Stereo, Babasónicos, Beastie Boys, and:

5. "Cerca de la revolución" - Charley García

Charley García, twice mentioned in the book. "Cerca de la revolución" is a classic teen anthem. Playing off a certain Foucault essay, I gave Aura's department head at Columbia University, where she was a grad student, the great Argentine rocker's name.

6. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" – Bob Dylan

Aura had a nearly lifelong love for Bob Dylan. When she was a girl, Dylan played a concert in Mexico City, and her stepfather took her. When she was 28, she published an important and beautiful essay called "No Direction Home: Bolaño, Borges and the Return of the Epic." And during the last year of her life she found a site where she could download Dylan's Theme Time Radio shows, and burned many of them to CDs. I play them all the time. On Aura's computer, her iTunes most played is topped by "Rollin' and Tumblin'," from Modern Times.

7. "Where Is My Mind?" – The Pixies

During the two years that the UNAM – the giant public university in Mexico City --was shut down by a student strike, Aura, as an undergrad, spent two years at the University of Texas in Austin. Those years had a big influence on her music tastes too. I know she became a big Pixies fan while she was there. She and her girlfriends also liked – had crushes on -- Ben Harper.

8. "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love" – Belle & Sebastian

I was two decades older than Aura. Our first nights together, from Say Her Name: "The apartment filling up with music I'd never heard before, tuneful, clever, girl music – Belle & Sebastian – on the happiest mornings of my life so far... She brought her own CDs those first nights she stayed over."

9. "Down On The Street" – The Stooges

"And what did I turn Aura on to? Iggy Pop and the Stooges, I guess."

10. "It's Oh So Quiet!" – Bjork

"One morning, back during that first or second week, she led me from bed to stereo, put in her Bjork CD, and advanced it to "It's Oh So Quiet," the song about falling in love, where Bjork's lullaby shhh-shhhs turn to euphoric shrieks of WOWWW WOWWW…THIS IS IT!!! – I could inspire that?! Bjork-like was the slant and shape of Aura's eyes, the fall of her hair, her air of a mischievous sprite."

11. "UMA" – OOIOO

Aura loved this raucous all-girl Japanese band. I vividly remember her bouncing around the apartment to this song, from their album Taiga.

12. "Stephanie Says" – The Velvet Underground

If Say Her Name has an iconic song, this is it. Aura rehearses it for her audition with a friend's band. The lyric "It's so cold in Alaska" is cited a couple of times in the book. In the novel Aura was working on in the year before her death, which I often cite and quote throughout Say Her Name, the character Marcelo Díaz Michaux, as a student in Paris, attends the legendary 1972 Velvet Underground performance at the club, Bataclan.

13. "Oh Yoko!" – John Lennon

This is how I pretty much always felt about Aura. My first year living in NYC,in the late 70s, I once passed John and Yoko walking arm and arm up Broadway. My face turned bright red. No other celebrity sighting every thrilled me like that one did.

14. "A GO GO" – Rondo Brothers' Remix of Pérez Prado

We hired a Mexico City DJ to play at our wedding. "When our hipster Mexican DJ led off his first set with Pérez Prado and some techno-cumbias, he provoked a stampede of middle-aged Mexicans, Juanita's people, to their parked cars; they came rushing back with Beatles and ABBA CDs in their hands…" This is not the Pérez Prado song that "DJ OXO" played, but it was something like that.

15. "Lay Your Head Down" – Keren Ann

We both loved Keren Ann too. We bought her latest CD that last spring, during a visit to Albuquerque, when we found it in a record store near the university. Needless to say the lyrics to this song devastate me. They were going to be in Say Her Name, but in the last draft I cut them. "You know, my love, this was no dream of mine, but the way you rode those waves made me want to follow you blind."

16. "Lovely Rita" – The Beatles

A friend of mine says that one unique aspect of Mexico is that fashions arrive there and never leave. Punks, hippies, the Beatles, whatever, they stick around, even if they also morph into something profoundly Mexican as well. (See Daniel Hernandez's chapter on punks in his wonderful new book, Down and Delirious in Mexico City.) The Beatles are the prime example of this. One of Aura's mom's favorite Mexico City nights out was to go to the Liverpool Pub to hear the Beatles cover band. The day of Aura's funeral, her friends and I heard Beatles songs playing everywhere – from cars in traffic, in the supermarket – and we speculated that Aura was signaling to us, but the truth is wherever you go in Mexico City you hear the Beatles.

17. "Chavo Suite" – arr. By Ricardo Gallardo, Kronos Quarter

A song in honor of the Mexican TV character, El Chavo del Ocho. Everyone of Aura's age, as well as younger and older, and not just in Mexico but throughout Latin America, grew-up with this show. But there is something about that, and you can hear it in the voices quoted in the song, quintessentially Mexican. When the little girl's voice at the end whispers, "Buenas noches, Chavo," and makes a kiss, I get tears in my eyes every time. Buenas noches, mi amor.

Francisco Goldman and Say Her Name links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Baltimore City Paper review
Barnes & Noble Review review
Beth Kephart Books review
Bookreporter review
Boston Globe review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fat Books and Thin Women review
Kirkus Reviews review
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
The Longest Chapter review
Metro review
New York Times review (Dwight Garner)
New York Times review (Robin Romm)
Newsday review
NPR review
Rundpinne review
San Francisco Chronicle review
The Seattle Times review
Stargazerpuj's Book Blog review
The Story Girl review

Publishers Weekly interview with the author

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)
musician/author interviews
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

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