July 9, 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.
Monica Drake's The Stud Book is a sharply witty and ever smart look at modern motherhood.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Drake teases out the intersection between theories on parenthood, evolution, sex, and reproduction. The result is a relevant and original story about life and self worth in an increasingly crowded world. . . . Drake’s sharp wit and contemporary take on ecology and adult life make this an entertaining and thought-provoking read."
Once a man said to me, "I've had two things happen in my life, and I don't want to talk about either one."
I understood: he'd had a lot of bad things happen, and needed to talk about it all.
Another man said, "I don't hold anything against my daddy," and maybe I'm wrong, but behind his soft Southern drawl I heard rage at that father figure daddy man.
A woman said, "It all started when there was small fire on the radiator at this hostel we stayed in." When she said, it all started, she meant it all ended, talking about an affair, and it didn't really start or end with that fire on the radiator, but something, for her, did.
We all have this way of understanding each other that transcends our words, but we also have a hell of time communicating. How can both be true simultaneously? That draws me in: the mistakes, the bone deep understanding, the space between what we say and what we mean.
My new novel, The Stud Book, is a dark comedy about the urge to connect and the drive to reproduce, coupled with an aversion the exact same gestures, sometimes within the same character, the same scenes. I'm interested in jagged emotional leaps. When I first started writing, my work was all gaps and quick returns, a lot of space on the page. I liked the disjointed way one sentence could exist next to another; it's the way one body moves in so close...and everything changes.
I write in near silence, to hear to the words in my head. I read my work out loud repeatedly. Sometimes I mumble sentences to myself in public if I'm working, it's true. It doesn't make me a good candidate as a café writer. But I listen to music when I'm not writing and always think about language. Here are a few songs that influenced this new novel. Some made it onto the page. Others are soundtrack, further in the background, but still there. I hear them.
Tom Verlaine, Television. "See No Evil"
This song--the whole album, Marquee Moon--is amazing in its fragmented, nearly-narrative-but-not-quite delivery. Everything about it is both broken and confident, and the lyrics recognize a need for permissiveness in a hard world. I listened to this back before I'd written a word, in my teens, totally adrift, and it made me want to write, sing, howl, do what I could. I put a scrap of it in this book, a tiny touchstone in tribute.
Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
Before Amy Winehouse died, I was painting the inside of my house and listening to her music on repeat. Yes, it was on CD. I'd work my day job in the day, take care of my family, try to get some writing time in, then move the furniture, spread out drip sheets and stay up late into the night singing along as I layered Miller Paint's Peach Mallow on the walls. I felt so responsible--too much, really--and exhausted, and the lyrics were the opposite, debauched and indulgent. I started to see the whole scene through the eyes of one of the characters in the book. I wrote dozens of pages from that vantage point, and ended up cutting all but a sliver, like under-painting.
Queen, Freddy Mercury. "Don't Stop Me Now"
God. Who doesn't love this? It's a song conveying in all ways a manic level of happiness and a beautiful, constant level of threat, a crash always just around every corner. I'd play this when I'd get stuck, on the book. I'd play when I was low, or when I was too hopeful. It's everything, and Freddy Mercury is a muse, even after he's left us, and so he's quit being a working artist, sadly. In the process of writing The Stud Book, I stopped and drafted a story, and wrote Freddy Mercury in. That one's over at The Collagist: http://www.dzancbooks.org/the-collagist/2012/9/9/lady-liberty.html.
Beach Boys, "Wind Chimes"
This song delivers an alternative package of masculinity--or maybe it's just a very private, internal moment that happens to come through a male body. Either way, it defies gender stereotypes and conventions. At one point Brian Wilson considered it akin to comedy, for the album Smile, but it seems more painful than funny. It's gentle, moody, with a violent shift in tone, a recovery, a tiptoe of an interlude, as though tracing the thoughts of a man reeling in emotions with no outlet. I don't exactly buy into conventional gender stereotypes, and I hope the range of men in The Stud Book illuminate elements of a troubled continuum. I'm interested in how men navigate the struggle to be manly, in all those marketed ways, against what I believe is a much richer internal life.
Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
This one is mentioned in the novel. When Georgie, a new mother, is looking forward to getting back in the swing of her career, she blasts this song. It's classical music from 1880, and was meant originally to have a comedic edge—one of a set of overtures, the other one being tragedy—but to me it conveys more of a combination of anxiety and big dreams. It's a wry song with inside jokes, speaking to an Epicurean mindset perhaps, riffing on beer hall drinking songs, songs about mortality, and the need to pour the beer now while we're all still alive. I hope this is the spirit of my novel. It's something I feel—perhaps all too often.
Liz Phair, "Sitting in the Girls' Room"
Here's a stripped down, narrative tune, with many details of the narrative intentionally omitted. It reminds me of a Susan Minot short story, the kind of work that drew me into short stories in the first place. And it reminds me of the power in keeping a tight focus, at times.
Tricky, "Black Steel"
I'm in love with the forward propulsion of this song. Tricky took a Public Enemy tune and made it more emotionally complicated by backing off, softening the lyrics, letting the words slur at times and playing up the electronic music, that sense of running forever. The narrative is granted complexity by letting the vocals move in more subtle places. I don't want to pit one version against the other—and even the first version was drawing on earlier tunes—but it's the Tricky rendition that turns me on. It's phenomenal and dreamy, a voice half heard that won't quit. To look at the two together, in a writerly way, you see the full meaning of revision, to re-envision: the second artist had a new vision of existing work. He tweaked the tone, and made the work resonate in entirely new ways. It's painful, and beautiful, and that's always just slays me.
Monica Drake and The Stud Book links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
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