April 2, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Fiona Maazel's Woke Up Lonely is a vibrant, engaging, and endlessly inventive exploration of loneliness, and is easily one of the year's finest novels.
Marie Claire wrote of the book:
"It's as if a Paul Thomas Anderson movie married a David Foster Wallace novel and had a baby. Which is to say, this story is weird, thrilling, and inimitable."
I can't listen to music when I write. If I listen to music, I end up listening, and since I can't even drive a manual vehicle, this requiring of me too many actions at once, imagine me trying to listen and write at the same time. I can, however, listen to music before I work, which is what I generally do. I can put words on paper whenever I want, but if I want them to be any good, I need to be able to lay bare my inner life and to be as vulnerable about it as possible. And since I'm generally a guarded person—someone once told me my defenses were gothic in terms of their rigor and intricacy—finding ways to shed the armor often includes listening to music. Okay, sometimes I just think of whatever painful things have happened to me until I get just upset enough. Sometimes I'll read some short fiction I find especially moving. But mostly I'll listen to music because music is penetrating and immutable insofar as I can't dilute its power of effect.
"Lonelier Than This" – Steve Earle
In the way of research for Woke Up Lonely, I read a lot of books on the topic of loneliness and solitude. But I also listened to a lot of music on the subject, which turns out to comprise ninety percent of the music out there. While writing the novel, I listened to this song compulsively and was struck dumb by Earle's notion of people calling out to each other in vain: "Maybe this is as good as it's gonna get and I'll always be this way. I'll just wander this world callin' out your name." Seemed like a great way to describe what loneliness feels like—the hopelessness of it all. The pathos. So it's no coincidence that throughout the novel, references to calling out for each other abound.
"Darker with the Day" – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
I'm wild about Nick Cave. His nasty phase, his ballad phase, his acutely religious phase—whatever he does, I'm interested. There was a time when I listened to No More Shall We Part obsessively. It's moody and even a little ridiculous, but also so committed to its own affectation that it wins me over every time. In my mind, Nick Cave and Thomas Hardy, who is one of my favorite authors, belong together—both engaged in contrivance and histrionics that still manage to stir me to a contemplation of bigger things.
"Candy Says" - Anthony & the Johnsons cover
Not sure there's a better rendering of self-loathing out there—self-loathing and dread—as "Candy Says," and when Anthony applies his tremolo, his flutter and transgendering aesthetic, he manages to alchemize shame into a kind of aura that lingers in the air well after the song's over. This was useful for me to think about when trying to write about people who are estranged from themselves and how the shame of that estrangement can become pandemic.
"Always Already Gone" – The Magnetic Fields
I have a close friend in this band, so it's always a little embarrassing to write about them, but I'm a huge fan! "It seems you were always already gone"—what a way to characterize the pathology of loneliness, of the person who is always already not there, and thus always apart from. We tend to think of loneliness afflicting the person who's been left behind, but I like to think about the person who leaves compulsively. I am reminded of what Leonard Cohen once told an interviewer in the nineties about his failed romances: "I was unable to reply to their love. Because I was obsessed with some fictional sense of separation, I couldn't touch the thing that was offered me, and it was offered me everywhere." When trying to write up one of the characters in my novel—the cult leader, Thurlow Dan—I had this idea in mind, that he be unreachable both by choice and birth.
"I Felt Your Shape" - The Microphones
I went through a big Microphones phase in the summer of 2008—which should give you a depressing sense of how long it took me to write this novel. I drove down to North Carolina to visit the astronomical research center featured at the end of the book. I stayed in a lovely cabin and spent a lot of time watching the humming birds and listening to this song.
"Woke Up New" – The Mountain Goats
None of this novel is autobiographical, but since it took me five years to write it, I was able to channel various traumas into its pages, among them having to part from someone important to me. I listened to this song during that time, impressed by what seems so fundamental about loss—the sense that even the little things seem unmanageable now that you are alone with them.
"The Bleeding Heart Show" – The New Pornographers
I wrote a chunk of this novel in Tucson, Arizona. One of the happiest months of my life. I'd get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and do some work, go running through the canyons around 8, then back to work until dinner. It was intense, but at the end of every day, I'd jump on my bike and ride around the city listening to the New Pornographers. In terms of unmediated experience, nothing rivals the high of bicycling around a beautiful place listening to "The Bleeding Heart Show," and telegraphing that joy into the next day's work. Because it's not all gloom and doom on the page. Sometimes, exuberance is required. Exuberance has its place.
"All the World Is Green" – Tom Waits
If I could see anyone in concert, it'd be Tom Waits. I'm just waiting for the chance. In the meantime, his music has basically soundtracked multiple years of my life and these last few are no exception. "Pretend that you owe me nothing and all the world is green"—I weep almost every time I hear that line. Pretend all things are equal. Pretend there's moral equity in the world. Pretend there are no discrepancies between people to resolve. Pretend the world is Edenic. You have only to think about where we are these days—politically, culturally, ethically—to find in these lyrics a much bigger indictment than Waits likely intended.
"Marry Me" – Syd Straw
I probably first heard this song at Fez, in NYC, which has since closed down. And I remember being just devastated by its lyric—its insistence on love as the thing that actually prevails. I happen to believe this, too, despite all evidence to the contrary, which often makes me feel embattled and terrified—of being alone with my faith, of being wrong. Much of Woke Up Lonely gathered strength from these twin anxieties. Incidentally, Syd Straw sang this song at a friend's wedding. Their marriage has since broken up.
"Which Will" – Lucinda Williams
This is actually a Nick Drake song, but I like LW's version better. Blasphemy, I know. But it's a little more raw. A little more dire. If you won't love me, who will you love?—again assuming that love is a given; only its object changes.
"Long Gone Lonesome Blues" – Hank Williams, Jr.
I cannot stand country music, though you'll notice a couple of country singers on this list. I nearly named my novel after this song, except I didn't want to undermine the book's project by making it too sing-songy, or, you know, yodely. But I think there is an implicit rapport in American culture between the rugged male out there on his own tilling the land and notions of solitude and loneliness.
"True Love Will Find You in the End" – Beck
It will? Beck sounds so haggard on this track, it's hard to believe him. Though I think that's the point. I think he's got a will to believe (via Daniel Johnston) that's so hard-won—so hard to maintain—that it cost him his voice. Plus the song manages to iterate one of my favorite philosophical arguments on the topic of faith as put forth by the great William James in his lecture, "The Will to Believe," in which he contends (in essence) that it's not just okay but even a good idea to believe in something without evidence of its existence. For him, belief is a kind of self-fulfilling gesture (something like: build it and they will come) and also a precondition for getting the thing you believe in. By his logic, God will not reveal himself to you unless you have faith. Similarly, romance will not materialize in your life unless you believe in it first, and seek it out first. In short: Go, Beck. Or, more properly, go Daniel Johnston. Which is sad when you think about his life and its troubles, but I digress.
"Get Me" – Everything But the Girl
Tracey Thorne's got an amazing voice. She's probably best known for her more electro-pop stuff with Everything But the Girl, but I like their early stuff, too. It's a little maudlin, but that's okay. One of the central questions of Woke Up Lonely gets reprised in this song: Do you ever get me? Does anyone? Can anyone?
"Fall in Love With Me" – Iggy Pop
Remember that famous scene in Moonstruck when Nicholas Cage insists Cher just get in his bed? Wow, I bet no one's ever grouped Cage, Cher, and Iggy Pop in the same thought, but never mind. When all else fails, when you're done with the polemics and yawning, prolix deliberations on the topic of loneliness, just get adamant. Fall in love with me! Right now! Do it!
Fiona Maazel and Woke Up Lonely links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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