July 19, 2012
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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Karolina Waclawiak's debut novel How To Get Into the Twin Palms is a quietly stunning exploration of assimilation and personal identity.
The Rumpus Roxane Gay wrote of the book:
"Not only is How to Get into the Twin Palms about the overwhelming state that is displacement, it's about what happens when loneliness becomes unbearable. Waclawiak writes through these tensions so elegantly, so tenderly, that How to Get Into the Twin Palms is, by far, one of my favorite books this year."
I often listen to songs repeatedly and obsessively. Sometimes, one song for an entire 8-hour period and sometimes, every day for an entire week or more. The frequency of play turns these songs into almost hypnotic experiences, especially when I'm writing. I don't know when I started this practice, but it's as if I can't live without the song in my life and then, when it's over, I can hardly stand to listen to it again.
I always listen to music when I'm writing and the songs or albums all have the same kind of makeup - brooding, melancholic, and moody – to get me in the appropriate head space to work. These particular songs were on tap when I was writing How To Get Into the Twin Palms and I think they aptly convey the loneliness of my narrator Anya and capture her searching feeling. The following songs account for hundreds and hundreds of hours of writing and are still making the cut.
"Maladjusted" – Morrissey
A no-brainer. Morrissey is the light of my life and I think this particular song is the perfect entrance point to get you settled into Anya's off-kilter head space. Defiant and searching, I think Morrissey is my spirit animal.
"In Every Dream Home a Heartache" – Jane Birkin and Bryan Ferry
I seem to be listing to a lot of spooky duets lately and this song definitely falls into that category. Bryan Ferry's voice is incredible and Birkin's is just so haunting. This song makes me think of Los Angeles and the landscape of beautiful homes full of emptiness. Polished and perfect, but completely hollow. It's a verdict that's been handed down to Los Angeles more than once.
"Ladies in Love" – Jon DeRosa
I feel extremely fortunate to be marrying a musician whose work seems to be completely aligned with mine. I write to Jon's music a lot, either to his ambient project Aarktica or his newer solo work. This particular song is based off of a poem by serial killer Charles Schmid Jr. and has really beautiful cello by Julia Kent, who I love. Haunting, haunting.
"Afterwards" – Arab Strap
Aidan Moffat and Adele Bethel's voices work so perfectly together. I love all of Arab Strap's songs and their lyrics are just… amazing. This song is so sexy, messy and devastating, and I had to put it in. It's just laden with disappointment. My book is full of sex, and lack of sex, and needing sex.
"Knives from Bavaria" – Dean and Britta
Another duet. I think the reason I was so drawn to duets while writing this book has to come from the exploration of male/female power struggles that are featured in this book - what it means to be a woman, sexual identity, and everything that comes with the decision of who to be. I always got the feeling that Anya was prowling through the pages, actually prowling like an alley cat or something. But, this song has a drowsy feel to it, dream-like, really. It is the soundtrack to Anya's fantasy sequences.
"Love Will Save You" – Swans
Michael Gira is a genius, in my humble opinion. His lyrics are so penetrating and biting. I listen to a lot of Swans when writing, so it was hard for me to just pick one song, but I think I have to go with this one. It starts so quietly but the cumulative effect is ferocious.
"Superstar" – Sonic Youth
This is a cover of The Carpenter's song and it's full of longing and sadness and the feeling of missing something. We're all missing something, right? And if we're not longing for someone or something, we wish we had something to miss.
"Second Skin" – The Chameleons
A song that perfectly fits my narrator's need to shed her skin! Thank you, Chameleons. And thank you, Jon, for introducing me to one of the most lyrically interesting bands I have ever listened to. Neither of us can comprehend why they didn't get bigger. I feel like I probably should have lived in Manchester in the 80's. I just spent an hour googling to see if Morrissey and Mark Burgess were friends. The only thing I could come up with was Mark Burgess saying Morrissey was the greatest lyricist of the 80's. I agree, Mark! But so were you.
"Crowd of Drifters" – The Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt always gets me. I have only cried at two concerts in my life (Bieber-level tears). The Magnetic Fields and Morrissey (if the Smiths reformed, I think my head would explode). The Charm of the Highway Strip is a fantastic and underrated album. Everyone should go and listen to it right away. This song makes me think of all the drifters and grifters wandering Los Angeles and memories that plague us or, conversely, evade us.
"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" – The Walker Brothers
I love songs from the 60's because they're so gloomy, but composed to be somewhat cheerful. Isn't 60's pop just perfect? This makes me think of Southern California for obvious reasons as well. I think it's almost more oppressive to be depressed and wandering in Los Angeles because of the always perfect weather. I found myself waiting for the June gloom to arrive just for some spice.
"Los Angeles" – X
I could not, in good conscience, put together a playlist about Los Angeles without including this song. It also coincides with the frenzy toward the end of my book. And as far as I'm concerned X is Los Angeles. And this is another duet, as a matter of fact.
"Some Velvet Morning" – Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
My last duet! I love this song. It's so bizarre, like waking from a fever dream, which sort of embodies that last few chapters of my novel. Nancy Sinatra's voice is so perfect here and Lee Hazlewood is just amazing. I love that Nancy's lyrics have such a sense of optimism. I wanted to end my novel with a bit of optimism, so I'm leaving you with this last bit of optimistic listening in my sea of dour songs!
Karolina Waclawiak and How To Get Into the Twin Palms links:
the author's website
video trailer for the book
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists