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November 21, 2012

Book Notes - Peter Trachtenberg "Another Insane Devotion"

Another Insane Devotion

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.

Peter Trachtenberg's Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons is a lyrical, smart, and thoughtful meditation on change, loss, and love in all its forms.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Through short sections of intelligent, often humorous prose, former and potential girlfriends and past pets are conjured in hopes of understanding how people can fall in and out of love."

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


In his own words, here is Peter Trachtenberg's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons:


Although this is a book about cats and the search for a missing one, I consciously chose not to include any cat songs on this playlist. Most I've heard are either novelties or use a cat as a one-to-one symbol for a woman ("What's New, Pussycat?", "Stray Cat Blues"). And certainly a cat can remind you of a woman (or a man), but the cat—the cats—in Another Insane Devotion aren't symbols. They're cats. Still, they inspire feelings that in some ways resemble the feelings I felt for the woman I married, and it's those feelings that the book sets out to explore. What was it that made me travel 700 miles in search of my lost cat Biscuit? Why of all the women I'd cared for did I choose to marry the one I call F? What did these beings call forth from me, and was it the beings or love itself, the inexplicable thing that filled them as water fills a glass. Then you drink from the glass, and are filled too.


"Sexual Healing" (a capella version) – Marvin Gaye

The stripped down version of the song that peeled off a million pairs of panties. To listeners cauterized by Eminem and Lil Wayne, Gaye's x-rated conclusion is pretty tame. But it's indisputably sexier, a distillation of (im)pure longing that tells you everything you need to know about desire, that thing you may not feel for a cat (and if you do, I don't want to hear about it) but do for another human. This is how you take care of it.


"I Feel Beautiful" – Robyn Hitchcock

Nobody does wryness better than Hitchcock, and no other singer can make wryness throb a little. And, really, what's so ironic about "I feel beautiful because you love me," except maybe the marimbas?


"I Walk the Line" – Johnny Cash

There are love songs beyond counting but very few that treat the obligations that arise from love. This one does, not just in its lyrics but in the twanging drive of the rhythm guitar and the stoicism of Cash's vocal. Love that's stronger than dirt.


"Real Wild Child" - Iggy Pop

In the book, this song is the last on a mix-tape played at a memorial service for F.'s father. The real person was someone who loved music but only of certain kinds, and I doubt he ever heard Iggy snarl his way through this speeded-up version of the 1958 raveup by Johnny O'Keefe. I doubt he would have liked it. But I do. "You could imagine Iggy baring his teeth as he sang. . . , baring them the way you do when you're biting into a steak, a nice, thick, bloody one, the blood running down his chin."


"I'll Be Seeing You" – Jo Stafford

Another song from the memorial tape: "Stafford's version may be the saddest song in the American songbook, saturated with yearning and slow as a dirge. Why does she sing it so slowly, you wonder? But of course 'I'll Be Seeing You' is a song of the war years, and it's clear that Stafford is singing to a man who won't be coming back. She knows it and he knows it. She's singing a love song for the dead. This is what accounts for the omnipresence of its object. The singer sees him everywhere—the children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well. Nothing like that happens when you just break up with somebody. In your imagination, she is where you know her to be: going out with an asshole she met at El Teddy's. Only the dead can be everywhere, and that's because they are nowhere."


"Me Gustas Tu" - Manu Chao

This insanely bouncy, hypnotic thing is to love songs what pantheism is to religion, with pedal steel:

Me gusta viajar, me gustas tu.
Me gusta la mañana, me gustas tu.
Me gusta el viento, me gustas tu.
Me gusta soñar, me gustas tu.
Me gusta la mar, me gustas tu.

I like to travel, I like you
I like tomorrow, I like you
I like the wind, I like you
I like to dream, I like you
I like the sea, I like you.


"I'm From Further North Than You" - The Wedding Present

Is it Britpop or Brit punk? Love song or breakup song? How can we be going out if neither of us speaks?

"I Found a Reason" – Cat Power

Slowing down the 1970 Velvet Underground song and paring down the instrumentation to a single tentative piano, Cat Power divines its hidden spring of tenderness and hope. What better song to play at somebody's wedding? Come, come, come to me.


"I'm Beginning to See the Light" – The Velvet Underground

If you don't associate tenderness with the Velvets, still less do you expect to come upon ecstasy, maybe even religious ecstasy. But here it is, the thing itself, in the hammering guitar and Lou's impossible-to-replicate yowl. I know you can't replicate it because I've tried. Many times.


"Ship Out on the Sea" – Be Good Tanyas

The only song I know that makes banjo sexy. Frazie Ford's breathy, dreamy vocal suggests somebody disappearing down the garden path of orgasm.


"Save Me" – Aretha Franklin

Aretha hollers and every ladder company in 100 miles stops what it's doing to come put out the fire.


"Lie Down Here and Be My Girl" – Nick Cave

When Cave sings "be my girl," he means more than sex. He might mean marriage, but marriage of the most desperate kind, like the two of you say your vows, exchange rings, and jump off a cliff, kissing all the way down.


"Cucurrucucu Paloma" –Gaetano Veloso

The pace is stately, the strings wind tighter and tighter. You keep waiting for Veloso to cry out in longing, but he doesn't cry. He coos. Everybody knows that if you want a dove to land in your hand, you coo to her.


"Married" – Standard Fare

When Emma Kupa sings, "Now I've found someone I can get serious about," is she being ironic? It's hard to take anything completely seriously if it's sung a little flat in a broad Midlands accent. But the ringing guitar is as sincere as you can get.


"This Bitter Earth" - Dinah Washington

I love the song for itself but also for its role in Charles Burnett's great film Killer of Sheep, where it's the soundtrack for one of the hottest and most heartbreaking scenes of married love I've ever seen. It ends in frustration, but isn't frustration also a part of marriage? Who are you going to be frustrated by if not a spouse?


"Nessun' Dorma" – Giaccomo Puccini, Turandot

Another mix-tape song. Puccini's hero waits to see if the woman he loves will yield to him or have him slaughtered like hundreds before him, and all China waits with him. Romanticism is what happens when feeling overflows the levies of the self and floods the world.


"She Doesn't Exist Any More" – Robyn Hitchcock

Irony only takes you so far. And if the feeling persists after every defense against it has broken down, except maybe a faint amazement at the feeling's depth, you get a song like this.


"Que reste-t-il" – Charles Trenet

What we're left may not be so bad after all.


Peter Trachtenberg and Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Publishers Weekly review

Publishers Weekly 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

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" 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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