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April 5, 2012

Book Notes - Chiara Barzini - "Sister Stop Breathing"

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Chiara Barzini's Sister Stop Breathing is a fresh and exciting short fiction collection. These stories vibrate with Barzini's unique voice, their often surreal landscapes marvelously enhanced by collage art.

The Coffin Factory wrote of the collection:

"Barazini’s writing is bizarre, yet at the same time very familiar. They are entrancing works of prose, putting the reader in an introspective state of mind. While reading Sister Stop Breathing, you will find the corners of your mouth turning up, and— a page later—moisture brimming from your eyes. In other words, these stories are what reading is all about."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Chiara Barzini's Book Notes music playlist for her short fiction collection, Sister Stop Breathing:

Sister Stop Breathing is a collection of illustrated short fictions whose themes range from the apocalypse, motherlands, and the space we inhabit when we travel between life and death. Most of the stories were composed during a time when a series of unexpected deaths occurred, and I think part of me tried to inhabit the grey zone that souls go to when they are flying away but still have some unfinished business on the ground. I grew up in Rome but was raised as a teenager in Los Angeles, then moved to NY, so my idea of "home" is also very much at play in the stories. I've tried to create a kind of meta-plane where geographical and emotional landscapes co-exist in a unified field. Here are songs about ghosts, death, California psychedelia, the cities I love, and twisted family members.

1) David Lynch – Los Angeles (from the audiobook Catching the Big Fish)

I listened to David Lynch's audiobook on Transcendental Meditation and creativity on an early morning train ride right around the time I started working on this collection. I was in a doze zone when I did, but somewhere between my dreams and my semi conscious state, his words stuck and had an impact. Practicing meditation was the most useful tool for the creation of my stories. During meditation, or right after, my visual world would expand and produce postcard / photographic images that were then transformed into stories. (Thanks to Cal A Mari who illustrated the book, there are many colored snapshots to be looked at and read.) In this particular section, David Lynch explains what it is about the city of angels that attracts him even though to many it feels like a "huge sprawl of sameness". The light and magic of certain pockets of the city can truly "fill the soul". I believe that same golden California light has worked its way through the stories in this collection.

(Photo Credit: © Chiara Barzini)

2) Edoardo Bennato - "Ma Che Bella Città"

Neapolitan folk singer Edoardo Bennato is a reminder of the best ways in which Italians can make fun of politics and our own faux sense of nationalism. Italians are great at not taking themselves too seriously and someone like Bennato is truly capable of bringing playful and imaginative sarcasm to political and social themes. I have tried to access his same whimsy when writing "Dead Prime Minister", a story about a seemingly deceased head of government whose arm and voice keep lurching out of his casket on the day of his funeral. Of course all references to Berlusconi are completely casual.

(Photo Credit: ©

3) Ahom Aquarian (Source Family member) - "Oh YaHoWha"

The Source family – my favorite "family", was a Hollywood entity, commune, cult, and temple founded in the early Seventies. It isn't easy to describe 125 people living together in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, running an organic restaurant, travelling in a white Rolls Royce, meditating, practicing tantric sex and following, from one end of the world to another, a spiritual leader who had many wives and occasionally robbed banks. They also of course had a psychedelic rock band and recorded music. My dealings with the "occult" brought me to meet the Source's leading family member today: Isis Aquarian. She was one of "Father's" wives and carries on the mystical legacy of this fantastic group of people. It felt like part of my book (for example the story "In the Seventies") might have been written in those spiritually charged (and crazed!) Hollywood Hills at the beginning of 1971, though I'm not sure I would have been too cool with the polygamy facet.

(Photo Credit: Source Family Archive © Isis Aquarian)

4) Quix*O*Tic: "The Breeze"

"Oh to be the breeze in the top of the trees, to be nowhere". The idea of disappearing into thin air, transforming into wind, and having nowhere to go is alive throughout Sister Stop Breathing. In "Youth Hostel" a woman buries herself to death only to realize there is nothing to do after that. In "Advantages of Catching Stray Bullets" the spirit of a person who has been shot realizes she can still have a small impact on people's lives by whispering the answers to tests and quizzes in people's ears. Mira Bilotti's haunting voice speaks to that kind of primordial state of existence where souls pass from a bodies and begin cycling through the air, transforming into wind.

(Photo Credit © Chiara Barzini)

5) Bonnie Prince Billy - "The Sounds Are Always Begging"

Many of the stories like "Waking Up With Legs" and "Birthday", address themes of offbeat domesticity and family relations. The wives in Sister Stop Breathing are definitely ones to "turn crazy and start chopping up beds" like they do in this touching song by Bonnie Prince Billy. Female hysteria that rushes blood to the brain is alternated with elements of sympathy, love and courage – those elements that allow families to get over deaths, separation, divorce, and tragedy.

6) Current 93 - "Why Caesar is Burning Part II"

David Tibet's wild imagination, his song-poems and the explosive ways in which he deals with so many of the themes that are dear to my heart like the apocalypse, have been a huge inspiration throughout Sister Stop Breathing. Most characters in my book would easily "mistake the night for tar". Tibet's visual realm, his paintings featuring bright red and blue barren landscapes or his Coptic prayers written in ink over and over each other to form images of pale ghosts and smiling moons, put the viewer in a meditative space, and are suggestive of surreal nowhere lands that are at once distant and familiar, like the craters in the story "Overlapping Volcanoes."

(Painting credit. Title: I HAVE SEEN THE GNOSTIC GLORY by David Tibet © David Tibet

7) Jasmine Golestaneh - "Mirror"

Jasmine is a friend and a muse. Her band Tempers conjures a hypnotic magic that encourages you to dance and abandon yourself in lascivious mystery zones… Her solo work is different: equally profound, but more direct. In the tradition of Leonard Cohen, her poetry and voice can take you to deep and real places, striking those intimate chords that have to do with our fears, sense of abandonment, and romance. "Mirror" is a song about being an outsider, living in emotional exile. "I am sorry you can't be like the rest," says this heart-wrenching ballad and in some way I know my characters, living in a mysterious periphery of life, regret the same exact thing.

(Photo credit: © Chiara Barzini)

8) Kate And Anna McGarrigle- "Swimming Song"

These two folk sisters from Quebec have always struck me as a bit of an eerie couple. "The Swimming Song" in particular has a kind of naïve folksy tune and text, but for some reason I've always felt there was something more going on between the lines. Aside from speaking of summersaults and back flips the sisters sing about about "salting wounds" and being "self-destructive fools". The child-like approach mixed with the darker imagery were a perfect match for Sister Stop Breathing. And anyway, Sisters are the protagonists of my book. They give it its title.

(Photo credit: © Chiara Barzini)

9) Tim Buckley - "Song of the Magician"

When I die do not cry hear my sigh passing by
After I have turned to win
I will try to help you then
You will be love and your love will live

There is nothing I like more than dead people sighing into the ears of those who are still alive. My book is full of them! The idea of being Love after death and of Love being a living thing is a more optimistic view than what happens in the stories of Sister Stop Breathing… "The Song of the Magician" could almost be a musical sequel to the book, the part where souls are liberated rather than stuck on earth with nothing to do.

10) Suicide: "Keep Your Dreams"

Dreams and dream logic are a big part of Sister Stop Breathing. Suicide's woozy, psychedelic lullaby reminds you to hold on tight to your dreams, creating a vast space of "forever". The song starts and ends out of nowhere, taking you on a dizzy ride. Whether you want to be rocked into the hours of the night or you want to sit in a room and marvel at the universe, being guided by your dreams, the literal and symbolic ones, is a great way to end the book with.

(Collage Credit: © Chiara Barzini)

Chiara Barzini and Sister Stop Breathing links:

the author's website

The Coffin Factory review
The Collagist review
The Esoterrorist review
Satellite Voices review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlists

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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