June 11, 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.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara's Damn Love is an impressive debut story collection that powerfully illuminates the personal quest for love in all its forms.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"Whether she's writing about gay or straight relationships, the dynamics of family ties or friendships, Beach-Ferrara's exploration of the numerous types of love are spot-on in her debut short story collection."
I worked on the linked stories in Damn Love from about 1999 to 2010. A lot happened in my life during that time – falling in love, break ups, figuring out how to be an adult, losing family members, falling in love with Meghann and getting married, living all over the country and coming home to the South, my unlikely path to ministry. Though I sometimes felt great impatience with these stories, I'm glad now that it took so long to finish them; it gave me time to grow up and say things a little differently. I always listen to music when I write, despite the fact that I am tone deaf and do not know the words to any songs, even the ones I listen to obsessively on repeat.
"Fake Empire" The National
For me, this is a San Francisco song, where several stories in Damn Love are set. The characters who live there all fled or drifted West but can't quite – or don't want to – cut ties to other places. They have a foot in two worlds, unsure of where home is. I love the way the song builds upon itself to create a world that feels familiar and yet impossible at the same time. There's a sense of whimsy, romance, sadness and possibility, all tangled up. I listened to this song every day during the cold Boston summer that I did the final revisions of these stories.
"Hold On" Alabama Shakes
This song is alive with the grit of the South. Brittany Howard's voice grabs hold of you and doesn't let you go as she sings about the kind of love and faith that gets you through a dark night. I think about characters like Keisha in "Love the Soldier," Lonny in "Hit Me", Ruth in "Different Paths, Same Woods" and "American Martyr" – people who are making tough choices about love, baring their hearts and somehow finding a way through.
"Atlantic City" Bruce Springsteen
I listened to this song on repeat while I was writing "Stayin' Alive," which is set partially in the early 80's. It's a song that's linked to Roger – a young drifter who's striving, seductive, and absolutely unreliable because of the hold addiction has on him. Roger is fictional, but draws some of his traits from a number of people I've known and loved very much, including all of my uncles, men whom I idolized when I was a kid. I remember being four and riding shotgun in my uncle's truck and feeling like I was pretty much in paradise, music blasting that may or may not have been Springsteen but made you feel the way Atlantic City does.
"Maps" Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"They don't love you like I love you," pretty much says it all and taps into one of the themes running through these stories – about people who can't quite connect because of timing or geography or misalignments of their hearts. The imbalances of love are the heart of all of these stories, whether it's the love between a mother and son like Ruth and Peter, or two women, Alex and Keisha, who have been circling each other forever.
"Your Love" Bon Iver (cover)
This song showed up on a lot of mix tapes that I either made or received in high school. In writing "American Martyr," I went back to that time. The story follows Peter as he goes home to North Carolina to see his family after a long estrangement. While there, he's immersed in the past and a first love resurfaces unexpectedly. Working on this story, I dipped back into the memory of being seventeen and driving around late at night, listening to music with the windows down, being in love but also unable to say or do anything about it. Bon Iver's cover, which my best friend sent me recently, torques the song, taking it from a (fabulous) 80's pop ballad to his lovely backwoods, stripped-down sound.
"Lonely Girls" Lucinda Williams
I first heard Lucinda Williams when I was about 13 and that was pretty much it for me. This song goes out to the ladies in these stories with broken hearts – Alex in "Stayin' Alive," Cassie in "Custody Bus," and Brenda in "Layover". Williams' songs make you want to dance with a pretty/handsome stranger, have another shot of bourbon, and stay up all night.
"The Trapeze Swinger" Iron and Wine
My wife, Meghann, remembers that I listened to this song "like 5 million times" during the years I worked on these stories. She's pretty much right. It's an exquisitely lovely song about love and loss, two of my all-time favorite subjects and conversation starters at almost any party! Lucky for me, the blank page is usually receptive to these themes, as this is what most of the characters in Damn Love are wrestling with in one way or another, from Raj, a broken-hearted physicist in "An Equal and Opposite Force" to Weasel, who regularly risks his life in "Hit Me." I love how the song moves fluidly, almost languidly, between the here and now and an imagined, graffiti-filled afterlife, between the realms of the living and the dead.
"Fistful of Love" Antony and the Johnsons
This song belongs to "Monkey" and "American Martyr." Antony Hegarty's queer aesthetic courses through it, in its vulnerability and strength, its hope and risks. The soaring horns cut against the broken-heartedness of the lyrics and then there's Lou Reed doing his thing . . . this song gets me every time.
"Time Won't Let Me Go" The Bravery
This is another anthem to nostalgia that I listened to on repeat while working on these stories. A lot of the characters in these stories – Cassie in "Custody Bus," Douglas/Monkey in "Monkey," Weasel in "Hit Me" – live with one foot in the past, one foot pushing ahead. The past constrains them in some ways, but it's also a loyal, strange companion.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Damn Love links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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