August 11, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Wendy S. Walters brilliantly melds essays, memoir, and fiction into a cohesive treatise on identity in modern America with her collection Multiply/Divide.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"A poet's collection of prose that blurs the boundaries of fiction, memoir, and essay. . . .The juxtapositions within the collection are formally provocative. . . .Feelings of love and loneliness pervade this collection, through writing that seeks understanding of person and place through history and geography. A curious collection, as interesting for the way the pieces fit together as for the accomplishment of any one of them."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Sometimes music is the only thing that makes me feel better. But in those times when I need to stick with the crappy feeling to get clearer on where it is coming from or where it is taking me, I avoid it.
There are also moments when, as producer Kerri Chandler has said, music is my friend. Chandler's work was in heavy rotation while I wrote my new book of essays/stories, Multiply/Divide, along with a few other tunes that have become important sonic companions over the years.
What a treat it is to consciously examine my favorite pieces for the first time. These are my comfort jams, the ones that help me to feel a bit of amazement about people and what we can do with our lives.
"Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush
This song first comes to mind whenever I think of work because of the Sisyphusian nature of the practice of writing. Kate Bush's music also reminds me of a period in my life before I had most of my major disappointments. When I first heard this tune, I was young and disbelieving in boundaries or limitations. My cousin, Brian Boyer, whose band Strand makes electronic music, first introduced me to her. But perhaps I had heard Hounds of Love before. At night I listened to the famed Detroit DJ, The Electrifying Mojo, on the radio station WJLB. He played a variety of artists from Kraftwerk to Prince. During the 1980s, black radio was cosmic and nimble.
"Music is My Friend" by Kerri Chandler
It is hard to pick one Kerri Chandler tune as I loop the albums Trionosphere and A Basement, A RED Light, A Feeling when I work. There's a kind of geometry to a Kerri Chandler composition, which for me means that the work evokes space. I am obsessed with space and its relationship to emotion and memory, so these tunes give me room to think about how rhythms and pattern create and dissolve worlds.
"Águas de Março" by Antõnio Carlos Jobim
While the best-known performance of this song features the incomparable voices of Elis Regina and Jobim, the miracle of the song is that it is a list that repeats on a seemingly infinite loop. "A stick, a stone/ It's the end of the road/ It's the rest of a stump/ It's a little alone/ It's a sliver of glass/ It is life, it's the sun/ It is night, it is death/ It's a trap, it's a gun." This song's juxtapositions—objects to emotions, metaphors to intimations, statements to questions—are poetry aka the art of making concepts out of words. I was writing some of the essays in Multiply/Divide when I first visited Brazil, and it was there that I really began to get a sense of the immensity of the Americas.
"Donuts" by J Dilla
Who doesn't love Dilla or Donuts?
"Brandy" by Looking Glass
Brandy works in a bar. Then she meets a man who promises that he will never be around, and she falls in love with him. She continues working in the bar while pining for this man who will not be around, that is, until she meets another sailor who will also romance her with his distance. Despite the fact that this may well be the anthem for loneliness, the melody sounds so upbeat and cheery it is hard not to feel a sense of possibility and future happiness.
"212" by Azealia Banks
My former student, Justin Allen, introduced me to this song. The lyrics initially made me uncomfortable when I first heard it. They are what my mother would call "very fresh"—but even though some of the lyrics make me uncomfortable, what wins me over is the tune's intelligence and catchiness. Banks also demonstrates the kind of originality that makes her a target for mediocre critics, and that's another reason why I love her.
"Arthur's Theme" by Christopher Cross
This piano-ballad is perfect walking music for New York of the 1970s, which is the time in which I came of age. Though I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, my sister and I spent every summer in Jamaica, Queens with our grandparents. But where exactly is the place between the moon and New York City? Sometimes I think I live there. And I suspect it is the place where most of my books have been written.
"The Hustle" by Van McCoy
This song reminds me of my father, who died a few years ago. We danced to it often when it was in vogue, but now it provokes me to find a new way of pushing forward when I face considerable obstacles. I have been living back in New York for almost eight years now, and on days when I am struggling with the humidity, creeps, delayed trains, awful smells, or fear in some far-out or generalized context, I hear the ladies who sing the refrain in their loud-whisper: "Do it!" They tell me to keep going, even when working conditions and visibility are poor.
Wendy S. Walters and Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
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