May 6, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Emma Forrest's memoir Your Voice in My Head is as genuine and honest a depiction of depression and recovery as I have ever read. Smartly written and surprisingly witty, this is one of the year's finest memoirs.
The Observer wrote of the book:
"[Your Voice in My Head] dances along with all the lyrical panache of a novel . . . Her prose is smart and frequently witty and there are echoes of early Lorrie Moore."
Your Voice in My Head is about my recovery from a suicide attempt at 22 (and how I got there in the first place). This track listing has been a pleasure to compile: when things were really bad, listening to music through headphones was about the only thing that could call me back into my own body. It's also interesting for me, in aligning the music to a story with manic depression at its heart, to see which songs fit where.
I'm going to start with "This Is a Low" by Blur, with that epic refrain "But it won't hurt you." Damon Albarn in his flat in London, listening to the shipping news on the radio, and feeling less alone in the world. It's one of those songs that is simultaneously so comforting and so sad, which is how I feel about Your Voice in My Head.
I write about listening to Donny Hathaway's cover of "Jealous Guy" on the Pink Tea Cup jukebox in the West Village, when I moved to New York from London. The breakdown was imminent but I was trying to head it off at the pass, trying to fill the hours I was awake so I wouldn't do anything stupid. I ate a lot of pecan pancakes. I listened to a lot of Donny Hathaway.
"Human Touch" by Bruce Springsteen, who I've loved for such a long time, and who reminds me of the doctor at the heart of this book, the man who saved my life and changed my life: everything good about America, the real America. I know Springsteen is Italian/Irish but I think the idea of manifest destiny is also the Jewish story, that you're always moving, always on the road, and that's where you become your best self. In the beautiful harmonies here with his wife, Patti Scialfa, I clung to this hope that I might one day have a worthy consort.
"Journey in Satchidananda" by Alice Coltrane: jazz harp! Again that idea of a worthy consort, of being romantically intertwined with an artist of equal measure has always held great allure for me. It's why I gravitate, in my story, to the men that I do.
"Uh Huh Oh Yeh" by Paul Weller—that's a very manic song. That's probably one I danced to a bunch by myself during manic episodes! "Pata Pata" by Miriam Makeba is another great song for a manic swing. And when I am on an even keel, it makes me happy, too, because me and my mum dance to it together—and this book is nothing if not a love letter to my mum.
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by The Slits: my ex, the teacher I write about, the first truly "good" man I had been with who makes me realize I was good and deserved good things, he programmed that into my iPod. His love, and his great taste in music, have been a constant, in one way or another, since we met.
Oh, the day Obama was elected, this is in the book, my dad sent me Simon and Garfunkel's "America" with a note that said "Welcome back America, we missed you." I cried so hard. When I was nine or ten and we were in New York, he took me to the 59th Street Bridge so we could sing Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song" whilst we held hands and skipped. He gets really pissed when reviewers say he's eccentric. He'd probably prefer "exuberant."
Joan Baez—"Diamonds and Rust." Well that's the romantic breakup in the last part of the book: having been everything to someone, showing them new worlds, and then being, well, being left behind, how humbling, how humiliating it is. Joan Baez was smarter, more gifted and more interesting than any other woman Bob Dylan had ever encountered. And he still left her behind. My take, when I get past the pain and the shame, is that "Time heals all wounds. And if it doesn't, you name them something other than wounds and allow them to stay."
"Hurdy Gurdy Man," Eartha Kitt's cover. I loved her and loved Donovan's original, but it took the next boyfriend to introduce me to that version. I'd never heard it before, which told me there was much left to explore: whole universes and parallel narratives and that nobody has just one soul mate.
In a concluding letter my mum sends, when I've made it into my 30s and she into her 70s, she writes: "I've been thinking about what happens to female voices as they grow get older. Both Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell are shot. Those, pure, soaring effortless sounds are gone. Joni Mitchell, however, sounds better an octave lower. I have Emmylou's new album. Her voice is gone, but the dramatic power and musicianship is still there and the songs are lovely. Everybody ends up sounding like Tom Waits sooner or later." That letter made me less afraid of a lot of things. I'll pick Joni Mitchell's "Case of You" because I know it's her favorite.
"Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)"—by Florence and the Machine. I've never met her, but Florence wrote about my memoir in Dazed & Confused magazine and said such amazing things I thought, "I better download all her music." I love this song. It reminds me of the The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy where she writes poetry from the perspective of Mrs. Midas, Delilah, the Devil's wife, etc. Obviously, Florence has an incredible voice but I am so turned on by her writing here: "This is a gift, it comes with a price / Who is the lamb and who is the knife? / Midas is king and he holds me so tight / And turns me to gold in the sunlight." If either the breakdown at the start of the book or the heartbreak at the end of the book are too painful for you, you could just listen to that song on repeat, instead.
Emma Forrest and Your Voice in My Head links:
The Awl profile of the author
Georgia Straight profile of the author
LAmag.com interview with the author
National Post profile of the author
Other Press interview with the author
Paris review essay by the author
thecommentary.ca interview with the author
Toronto Star profile of the author
The Writerly Life 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)
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