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April 18, 2014

Book Notes - Cara Hoffman "Be Safe I Love You"

Be Safe I Love You

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.

Cara Hoffman's Be Safe I Love You is a provocative novel of war, family, and class, thoughtfully told from the perspective of a female soldier returning from Iraq.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"A searing, unforgettable, and beautifully written tale about the corrosive effects of war on the psyche, a contemporary version of Tim O’Brien's The Things They Carried with a female protagonist."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Cara Hoffman's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Be Safe I Love You:

Generation X Love Songs

In the two years that I was writing Be Safe I Love You I listened almost entirely to Estonian Composer Arvo Part. Particularly Odes III and IV in the Kanon Pokajanen, and also Fur Alina, and Variations for the Healing of Arinushka. All transcendent. I also listened to a lot of Ethiopian music from the 1960s, which my son gave me. And to his compositions which were in various states of completion, and to the album he put out this year with the band Chapter Books. All of these things are excellent listening. And I highly recommend them.

But the songs I came back to again and again in the last months of working on Be Safe were, appropriately, love songs—or at least what I consider love songs. This began while I was at a residency in the South of France. A friend of mine and I emailed music back and forth regularly. I was alone there for two months in a big strange house and waking up every morning to find Youtube clips he'd sent of Yacht or old tunes by Ricky Nelson was a lot of fun, and also constituted 100 percent of my social contact for the day.

So here for your reading pleasure is a little playlist of Gen X love songs. I think all playlists we make for people are in some way love songs, so I hope these make you as happy as they make me.

"Dystopia" - Yacht
I periodically get the chorus to Dystopia stuck in my head “The earth-the earth-the-earth is on fire, we don't have a daughter let the motherfucker burn.” Yacht is a lot of fun to dance to. My friend got this album and didn't realize at first he was listening to it on the wrong speed. “It sounded kind of like the Human League,” he said.

"I Found a Reason" – The Velvet Underground
This song is an anthem. And the Velvet Underground is cause for a whole separate essay. I can't put into words the debt of gratitude modern music owes this band. Or how much they influenced my thinking and aesthetics. This little piece might scratch the surface though: “I do believe if you don't like things you leave, for some place you never been before…” Words of wisdom for sure.

"Hey" – The Pixies
My god do I love this song and love Frank Black. I never get tired of hearing it. There are some punk songs that seem to have the secrets of the universe curled inside them. (Like Iggy Pop screaming 'every little baby knows just what I mean' in "Funhouse.") This one seems to carry a perfect sonic code a lovely distillation of animal being, all about sex and death and love. So simple and deep.

"This is Love" – PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey has a gorgeous vicious voice. When I've written about the timber of a voice being drinkable, I am not just thinking of Joan Sutherland or Maria Calais, I'm also thinking of her. What a badass she is, and the way she sings falsetto, like kind of macho stadium rocker from the 70s just blows me away. And this line is just perfect: "! can't believe that the axis turns on suffering when you taste so good."

"My Death" – David Bowie (written by Jacques Brel)
There's a lot of David Bowie listening going on in Be Safe. And god knows there was a lot of David Bowie listening going on in my house when my brothers and I were growing up. His voice, his range, his elegance are inimitable. It's hard to pick one David Bowie song and this one is the least representative of his actual style, but it is very appropriate for the novel and musing about beauty.

"Some Kind of Love" – Lou Reed
Lou Reed's death last October was maybe the only time I wept over the loss of someone I didn't know personally. This is one of my favorite songs ever. The lines "between thought and expression lies a lifetime" so apt and so romantic.

"Joan of Arc" – Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen is a writer's musican (and Joan of Arc is the ghost that haunts this novel.) I love his quiet wit and all the pretty lines he writes. Like this one: "Deep into his fiery heart he took the dust of Joan of Arc and high above the wedding guests he hung the ashes of her wedding dress." Lovely.

"Barrier of Bodies" - Angel Olsen
This song blew me away when I first heard it. Her voice is crushingly beautiful, rich and resonant. It's often hard to hear sopranos sing popular music. I'm not a Kate Bush fan and I find Bjork's growling and high pitched, twee, baby voice ridiculous. (Bjork actually did an interview with Arvo Part which is painful to watch but it is instructive on the graciousness of real genius, when confronted with questions about Jiminy Cricket.) Angel Olsen's singing has a kind of maturity, warmth, vulnerability and command that's very rare. The way she sings “If you should take me, I'll let you break my heart,” showcases these wonderful qualities.

"I am Stretched on Your Grave" – Sinead O'connor
I love her voice, again an example of rich powerful resonance. She has an amazing range, the high soprano just as controlled and lovely as the lower end of her reach. I love the rill that concludes this song, which reminds me of nights out at the Horrigan's pub with my family when I was a child. It would be wrong not to include some Irish music on this list given the novel.

"And no More Shall we Part" – Nick Cave
Of course Nick Cave is on this list. Like Leonard Cohen he's a literary song writer. His voice is simply lovely and powerful. I love the aching way he sings "All the hatchets have been buried now, and all the birds will sing to your beautiful heart upon the bough." He brings a visceral depth of feeling to song like Celine bring to fiction. I was lucky enough to see Nick Cave in concert last year. I think he's getting better with age. The intelligence and compassion and love and rage and darkness he commands is amazing. And he's self aware and funny as hell. He recently said he was going to erect a statue of himself, riding a horse and holding a sword, in the center of the terrible little farming town he grew up in. That still makes me laugh every time I think about it. It's hard not to love someone who's dead serious and funny at the same time.

Cara Hoffman and Be Safe I Love You links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

BookPage review
The List review
Miami Herald review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for So Much Pretty
New York Times essay by the author
The Quivering Pen essay by the author
Read Her Like and Open Book interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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