December 3, 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.
Debbie Millman's collection of illustrated poems and essays Self-Portrait as Your Traitor is one of the year's most striking books, the hand-lettered pieces both personal and evocative.
Co.Design wrote of the book:
"This book is a synesthetic fusion of the verbal and the visual; a contemporary illuminated manuscript that’s reminiscent of William Blake's illustrated poems and the work of Maira Kalman and Marian Bantjes."
Name an iconic song, and I can tell you everything that was occurring in my life at the time it was popular: When Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" was on the airwaves, I could be found in the front seat of Steven Bimini's bronze Pinto, a hot and sweaty youngster wearing white shorts, a Yes T-shirt, and yellow flip-flops; my legs covered in a summer's worth of mosquito bites, puffing on contraband cigarettes and arguing about the effectiveness of Jimmy Carter's cabinet. Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" has me at Eric Matthew's pool party, his poodle drunk on bad beer and running in mad circles while I tried to convince myself that the "I am beginning to" answer my boyfriend gave to the pointed question—"Do you love me?— was an acceptable response. Cut to Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," and I am back in the John Glenn High School cafeteria for my junior prom, clad in a pale yellow Laura Ashley-esque formal dress, looking up at a ceiling covered in tinfoil to match Stevie Nicks' lyrics "Oh, mirror in the sky/What is love?"
Music has been an omnipresent marker in my life; when someone mentions a tune, or when I hear the first chords of a song, a cascade of images and sensory perceptions fills my mind with a potency unlike that of any other stimulus. The music is as much a part of the memory as the memory is of my identity. I referenced these experiences in my first book of visual essays, Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays On The Intersection Of Life And Design. My most recent book, Self-Portrait as Your Traitor, is a sequel of sorts. It is not as overt in providing musical discourse, but because I almost always work with accompaniment, music is embedded in every piece of art. The following is a list of songs that correspond (in order) to each visual essay and poem.
Of Monsters and Men, "Love Love Love"
The lyrics, "You love love love when you know I can't love," cut a little too close to the bone for me, and corresponds with the fear described in Better of ruining any chance of lasting love before it even begins.
Martha Wainwright, "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole"
I think this song is dedicated to all the bad-boys out there that let us down, break our hearts and somehow always seduce us to come back for more.
Patti Smith, "April Fool"
Oh Patti, Patti, Patti, let's "burn all our poems, add to God's debris" even when we won't—or can't—stop writing.
Fiona Apple, "Better Version of Me"
Fiona's "Better Version of Me" is more optimistic than Super Bowl Musings, in that she seems to be aspiring to be her best self. I, on the other hand, describe how desperately I want to contort myself into someone else's idea of what (or who) is a better version of me.
Glenn Gould, "The Idea of North"
The Idea of North is part of Glenn Gould's 1967 Solitude Trilogy wherein five speakers express various points of view about Northern Canada. Their words create a vocal symphony, as the voices overlap and play against together. In Lucky, what is being communicated? What is the truth?
The brilliant "freak folk" of the Casady sisters is spooky, seductive and surreal. I'd like to think the narrator of Insects wants to burrow into a protagonist living in the dark little world of Lemonade.
Ani DiFranco, "Pixie," "Little Plastic Castles"
"I'm a pixie, I'm a paper doll, I'm a cartoon," sings Ani DiFranco. In Penelope, I long for a meaningful identity and end up experimenting (unsuccessfully) with all sorts of false persona.
Liz Phair, "Never Said"
In No. 53, a girl is fantasizing about a boy wearing an untucked Liz Phair tee shirt. In the entire world, it is impossible for him to be any sexier, if only because of that damn tee shirt.
Beck, "End Of The Day"
Beck sings, "I've seen the end of the day come too soon; Not a lot to say, Not a lot to do." Fare Thee Well paints a picture of the regret that results on an unexpected day that ends far too soon.
Ferron, "Ain't Life A Brook"
Ferron sings in her signature husky voice: "I watch you reading a book, I get to thinking our love's a polished stone, You give me a long drawn look, I know pretty soon you're going to leave our home." In Pebbles, I know that all you will leave is your pity.
Big Star, "Femme Fatale"
Alex Chilton's version of "Femme Fatale" is one of the world's sad secrets, as it is one of the greatest, most heart-breaking covers of all time. In Seeing Duff, a piece hidden on the underside of my book's dust jacket, I reminisce about the sad comfort of secrets, "As we languish in our sweat and wait for trouble."
Debbie Millman and Self-Portrait as Your Traitor links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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