August 6, 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.
Stacey D’Erasmo's The Art of Intimacy smartly and thoroughly examines literary intimacy from both sides of the page, making this book as enlightening to readers as writers.
The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote of the book:
"D'Erasmo manages to teach, model, and argue many essential truths about intimacy within the slim volume, making The Art of Intimacy a perfect go-to resource for any writer, teacher, or thoughtful reader who wants line-level references to apt 20th- and 21st- century literature that represent intimacy in its kaleidoscopic diversity."
I wrote the lecture that turned into this book, The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between, to try to get at a subject that I always find both fascinating and mysterious—the endless permutations of intimate connections and how those connections ramify into spaces and events that might not seem to have much to do with one another. This is what fiction explores, of course, but it's also what life does. Connections—romantic, antagonistic, erotic, familial, spiritual, and so on—move us around in ways we don't expect. We're all writing stories with who or what we choose to love, to hate, to run toward or away from, but that story is always changing and it's hard to know what it's about, exactly. Playlists, reading lists, lovers: mine never fall into one category, or at least not so far. These are a few songs on my mental turntable, in no particular order, that echo in those spaces between.
"When" Elysian Fields
This song, sung up from the depths by Jennifer Charles, works on a simple repetition. Every line begins, "When [something happens], I love you," but what's in those brackets changes throughout from the sweet to the predatory to the protective, and more, as she goes on. "When I am drifting in my dream"; "When your king is cornered by my pawn"; "When you are asleep and so defenseless"; "When they have our names down on a list" are just a few. They're all equally true, sung with equal weight.
"How Does It Feel," D'Angelo
One of the sexiest songs, and hands down the sexiest video, ever made. That ragged, abrupt ending throws the listener off the edge into pure desire. In the video, the crucifix, which seems to be the only thing D'Angelo is wearing, is a nice touch.
"What Are You," Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney
A very complicated love call—the bonnie prince offers ardor, "everything," adventure, but also "merciless" spankings, and the hope that the beloved will tear his sundress off. Haunting and ominous, and somehow deadly serious. Approach the prince with caution.
"Oysters," Meshell Ndegeocello
Like "When," this one has a simple poetic structure. It's a list of all the impossible things people want—wishing on shooting stars, wishing for the world to change, throwing pennies in a wishing well—contrasted to the reality the lover offers. The melancholy, the slow notes, the minor chords all speak to the impossible, transitory beauty of the ordinary and the vulnerability of mortal love.
"Oh, the Divorces," Tracey Thorn
My dear friend Chris Castellani put this on a mix CD for me, and it's one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. Don't listen to it if you're actually about to break up, because you won't be able to leave the house.
"It's Been Awhile," Staind
Shout from the ruins, pure rock and roll. "It's been awhile since I've gone and fucked things up the way I always do/ But all that shit seems to disappear when I'm with you." Desperation drives desire here, a huge apology that's also a call for rescue.
"I Feel You," Depeche Mode
A love song like a car wreck. Fatih Akin used it in his astonishing movie Head On (Gegen Die Wand)—a love story between a German man and a Turkish woman that began in a car wreck, literally, and moved between borders both geographic and emotional. The words are sweet and clichéd ("This is the dawning of our love"), but the mad driving beat is more like what it must feel like if you're a vampire about to bite.
"Keep in Mind," Chinawoman
Chinawoman has one of the strangest and most beautiful voices I've heard in a long time—gender, ethnicity, and age are all uncertain in her sound, a sonic embodiment of a space between everything. She seems to have some sort of echo chamber built into her vocal chords that creates a penumbra of notes around every note she sings. This song seems to be a love song, and the beat is bouncy, but the words are considerably more somber: "When we touch let's keep in mind/This flesh is rotting all the time/When we make love be advised/Tomorrow we could both evaporize." And yet one still leans closer.
Light as silk, all expectation, straight from the moment just before, just after, just next to, just beyond, just above, and just below the lover's appearance. Just out of reach, always.
"Erotic City," Prince
"Every time I comb my hair/Thoughts of you get in my eyes." Surreal, irresistible, dirty, the closest thing I've ever heard to pure jouissance. Because, ok, it's all very complicated, but it's also great. Erotic city is the space between, the imaginary zone where we all live.
Stacey D’Erasmo and The Art of Intimacy links:
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