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September 28, 2012

Book Notes - Cynthia Carr "Fire in the Belly"

Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz

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.

Thoroughly researched and skillfully told, Cynthia Carr's Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz is one of the year's most impressive biographies, a book that not only covers the artist's life but also the vibrant East Village art scene of the 1980s.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In this lucidly composed, skillfully contextualized first complete biography of David Wojnarowicz, former Village Voice reporter Carr (Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America) reveals how the controversial artist’s life experience shaped his art and politics."

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 Cynthia Carr's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz:


I always listen to music when writing. It's a tool that transports me to the part of my brain I need to inhabit to do the work. But I can't listen to words when I'm working on my own words. For my biography of David Wojnarowicz, I settled on contemporary composers like Ingram Marshall, John Adams, Morton Feldman, and Paul Giger. Soon into the process, however, I came up with the following playlist, which I burned onto a CD and used to "prime the pump" most days when I first sat down to work. The songs are very emotional, very elegiac. That was the place where I needed to go. But it isn't always a good place to write from, so I'd back off then to the more astringent music above.


"Shine," Ulrich Schnauss

I had this whole album (Goodbye) on my computer when I was in Paris doing interviews for the book, and I kept playing this poignant and enigmatic track. That was just the emotional valence I wanted for the project, and as the lyric says (and I might have said to David), "You hide – but I'm on your side."


"How to Disappear Completely," Radiohead

I began writing the book in Marfa, Texas, and because it's so isolated I made sure to bring music with me. I had just found Kid A in a used CD store and it was new to me. Sometimes a lyric just catches you: "In a little while, I'll be gone….I'm not here. This isn't happening." It speaks to David's elusiveness but also his short life. When I kept going back to this track, I made the decision to burn myself this playlist.


"Man is the Baby," Antony and the Johnsons

I didn't just choose this because of the Peter Hujar photo on the cover, though it's a masterpiece ("Candy Darling on her Deathbed") or because Hujar was David's best friend and mentor. But I wish they could have both lived to hear this record. The lyrics keep asking, "Forgive me. Let live me." I don't think David ever asked anyone for forgiveness in his life. I'm not taking the words literally. I simply like the spirit of this song with its hope for a new and freer life.


"yonderhead," Thomas Feiner & Anywhen

I love the deep voice singing here which, first, reminds me of David's deep voice. I think the song beautiful, and as for the lyrics: "Pick me up, animate me, render me/
Take me back, to the ghosts/ Of the day/Lend me a life/Put me on a loop again…." How could I resist? Somehow while listening to this I could see the entire old scene in front of me—the dark empty scary streets of the East Village and the faces of so many now gone.


"Dreamer," Toni Childs

Several months before his death from AIDS, David asked me if I believed in reincarnation. He told me, "I don't want to come back." He had had a hard life, and one would be enough in his opinion. This haunting song is so filled with loneliness and yearning. "Can't stop the hurting," it begins. But it also speaks of the difference it can make to find someone to love. "This life been so bad, I'm glad I finally found you here/You're the voice of the dream I had…." David was a dreamer for sure and lucky to find the men he loved: Jean-Pierre Delage, Peter Hujar, Tom Rauffenbart. The dreams he had about Hujar, after Hujar died, are among my favorite things in the book.


"Wolf in the Breast," Cocteau Twins

I wanted something from this album (Heaven or Las Vegas) on the list because the whole CD is so 80s it takes me right back to that era of people in pointed hair bouncing through East Village dives. I can barely understand a single lyric in any song, including this one. It's just wonderful 80s sludge – and a break from the heavy emotion of the preceding track.


"Bird guhl," Anthony and the Johnsons

This song makes me think in particular of Peter Hujar who so loved the Durer wing that David had one carved into Hujar's tombstone. As Anthony sings, "I've been searching for my wings." Bird girls go to heaven? Bird girls can fly? I could picture Hujar enraptured by this song.


"Nude," Radiohead

There's an exquisite moment here where Jonny Greenwood plucks the guitar strings so delicately – and on top of that Thom Yorke sings, "Now that you found it, it's gone."

How can something have so much structure and still be so ephemeral? It's like a life.


Cynthia Carr and Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz links:

excerpt from the book

Artinfo review
Bookforum review
Bookslut review
Brooklyn Rail review
Capital New York review
Just My Type review
Kirkus Reviews review
Lambda Literary review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
New York Times review
Newsday review
Out Magazine review
Publishers Weekly review
Shelf Awareness review

PAPERMAG interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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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