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May 12, 2014

Book Notes - Stacey D'Erasmo "Wonderland"

Wonderland

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 new novel Wonderland rings with authenticity, from its middle-aged musician protagonist to its cast of compelling auxiliary characters, and is a powerful a statement about art as well as second chances.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"D'Erasmo avoids clichés in this rhapsodic portrait of a rock-and-roll diva like a champion slalom skier racing downhill without touching a single pole. Anna is an irresistible narrator. D'Erasmo brings us inside the music and the musician’s psyche in this transfixing song of a self evolving through discovery, loss, and renewal."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Stacey D'Erasmo's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Wonderland:


It seems as if this should be easy—the novel is about Anna, an indie music star who's attempting a comeback after seven years off the scene, so wouldn't the playlist just be Indie Greatest Hits? (Whatever those might be.) But that doesn't get to the heart of the matter. This playlist is more like an imprint of Anna's wishes, hopes, guardian angels, and moments of doubt and melancholy. These songs aren't what her music sounds like necessarily, and they don't mark what her place might be in the Indie Canon, and they aren't what's on her iPod. They're her soundtrack. They get her. They're the songs that make her laugh when they turn up on the radio, on someone else's iPod, or in a sudden memory she has on her way somewhere. That's the best way I can explain it. Also, they're all great.


"Here I Go Again," Whitesnake
I will never not love this song. I will never not love Tawny Kitaen tumbling over the hood of a car in whatever peculiar modern dance/stripper routine she's doing in the video. I will never ever not love, and on some level completely believe, Jimmy Coverdale's passion for his own '"walk along the lonely street of dreams'" in pursuit of his own impossible dream. It's trashy, and it's true, and if you don't love it, there might be something wrong with you.

"Here I Go Again," Audra Mae
Audra Mae brings a rich, sweet joy to this cover and not even the tiniest bit of irony. She slows it down, rolls around in it for a while. You could say she looks before she leaps, sees how she might be able to make a very large mistake, laughs, and does it, anyway. The fact that they used this cover on an episode of '"The Good Wife'" should not disqualify it from heavy rotation. It's delicious.

"Paris Train, "Beth Orton
So much lilting beauty. Every time one is on a train—from Paris, or even from Trenton—one wishes to express that, what is it?, that erotic nostalgia, ruefulness, scraps of memory, but one is also aware of one's deep tilting toward cheesiness. Orton writes that song you've always wanted to write, and can't. This is the song.

"Wondaland," Janelle Monae
Part of Monae's android/robot/girl who fell to earth period. It's like some sort of bouncy, electro, acid-trip, post-disco siren song sung by a gummy bear. The wondaland Monae invites the listener to is possibly not on this planet, and the possibility does exist that you might not be able to get back once you've been transformed into six and a half dimensions. But who cares?

"Factory," Martha Wainwright
One of the most gorgeous songs ever of being between everything, hungering for a place and maybe only finding it in the song of looking for a place. The splendor here is Wainwright's voice, which has so much timbre in it you think you can hear generations of song there. She sings about a loneliness for which we really don't have a word. But we do have this song.

"Sweet Child ‘O Mine," Sheryl Crow
Crow expands the ache in her cover of this song, convincing us that Axl Rose does, in fact, have a heart. When Rose sang it, it was clearly about a child (unless I'm quite mistaken), but when Crow sings it, she opens up a side in the song—could be a child, could be a lover, could be the child in a lover. She plumbs the depths of this rock classic.

"Pixies," Murder
Thought of this song often while making Wonderland. It's strange and eerie, sad, with lines about houses being made by pixies and '"words to make your eyes bleed'". It's a song of worlds never made, unmade, and it sounds as if it's being sung by a spectre who's already hung around too long. The particular shade of frantic-shading-to-homicidal melancholy in this song isn't, actually, in the book. Maybe I warded it off by listening to this song.

"Tom the Model," Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man
To the extent that Wonderland is about transitory loves, this would be their theme song. Gibbons is raw, pleading, rejecting, and tender all at once, entreating a former lover go away while also finding herself unable to forget any of it. It's like one of those letters you write in your head and never send, or shouldn't.

"In the Land of Make Believe," Dusty Springfield
Another cut of wonderlands; here, because it's a track from the incomparable Dusty in Memphis, a song of lost love. The wonderland, though, also lies in the impossibly delicate spaces between the notes that Springfield finds and the soft soft soft upper register in which she sings. They aren't ordinary, these notes; they aren't daily. They're too pure to bear, almost.

"Dilettante," St. Vincent
Anna would definitely be a fan of St. Vincent, and I think this is one song she'd have on her iPod and listen to often. Like much of St. Vincent's work, the song manages to go in about fifty different directions at once sonically, from a sound that's kind of like a ballad on heavy downers to madly scratching electric guitar riffs. St. Vincent makes the sound of mixed, even contradictory, emotions like nobody's business. Anna would concur.

"Home," Dawn Landes
A song of a wanderer, a '"tumbleweed,'" unabashedly homesick, sung in careful, simple phrases with a precisely modest piano arrangement. Late at night on the bus, or the train, or the plane, or in the car, this one would tumble gently through, and past.

"Design for Living," Nona Hendryx
Lost gem from 1983. Nona Hendryx was part of Labelle before going out on her own. This is certainly a love song, but what makes it astonishing is the taffy-pull sound of electronic violin played by Laurie Anderson, Nancy Wilson on guitar, Gina Shock or Tina Weymouth on the bass (hard to tell), Valerie Simpson on piano, and Patti Labelle on back-up vocals. The song ramps up and ramps up, heading into a gospel-funk-techno lift-off that goes all the way up your body to the astral plane.

"Crazy on You," Heart
Because they rock. Seriously. When Ann Wilson sings, '"Let me go crazy on you,'" she's not really asking your permission. She's issuing a warning. And where is that cave under the ocean from which she pulls those notes like enormous birds racing across the sky?

"Dancing Barefoot," Patti Smith
'"Makes me come on like some heroine'" is about all you ever need to know about women, music, art, love, and plunging off whatever cliff into your desire. Smith is rightly known as a goddess of punk, but when you listen to this song (obsessively), you hear how much of punk was actually about surrender to forces within and without. Smith plunges in, and we follow. That's a rock star.

"Hejira," Joni Mitchell
No comment needed. The source.


Stacey D'Erasmo and Wonderland links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review
Library Journal review
New Yorker review
Oregonian review
Publishers Weekly review

Deborah Kalb interview with the author
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Mother Jones essay by the author
Publishers Weekly 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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