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April 11, 2016

Book Notes - Augusten Burroughs "Lust & Wonder"

Lust & Wonder

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Augusten Burroughs' memoir Lust & Wonder follows the author through three relationships in New York City, wittily told in his unique and unflinching style.

In his own words, here is Augusten Burroughs' Book Notes music playlist for his memoir Lust & Wonder:

Lust & Wonder is a memoir that traces my crooked romantic path through three relationships: Mitch, a writer whose career I envied and therefore was blinded and overlooked our complete lack of chemistry; Dennis, who I thought would help me achieve "normal," whatever the fuck that means; and Christopher, my literary agent and now my husband too. In many ways, particularly tonally, Lust & Wonder is the third volume in a loose trilogy that includes my earlier memoirs, Running With Scissors about adolescence and Dry about my drunken 20s.

Whitney Houston
"I Didn't Know My Own Strength"

I might as well get the most embarrassing one out of the way first. I had a Whitney Thing happen to me, which I recently wrote about for Cosmo:

I never cared much for Whitney during her big belting "I Will Always Love You" prime, but I sure as hell loved her when she became a complete disaster for her last comeback tour and could barely make it through the chorus without coughing, gasping for air or calling out to the audience, "Help me out, ya'll!"

As she traveled to a new city each night, I spent the next day watching the latest cell phone videos uploaded on YouTube. She was so awful in Australia that huge numbers of the audience just walked out. I was obsessed. Whitney Houston was now a catastrophe and I was officially hooked. The apartment was a disaster of dirty laundry, tangled, filthy sheets and dogs impatient for their overdue walks. Dinner was courtesy of GrubHub every night because cooking would be a horrendous distraction from Whitney.

"You've got to see her at the O2 Arena last night," I told my husband Christopher before he could even take his coat off when he got home from work.

"Oh no," he cried, covering his ears and shaking his head from side to side. "Please, no more Whitney. My mind will melt, I can't."

But of course he could. And he did. I made him watch every warbling and corrosive version of "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," her new single. Christopher was horrified by the performances and checked Google. "Diane Warren wrote that," he said with mild interest. Immediately, I followed her on Twitter.

I was more than a year overdue for my next book and had pretty much stopped writing altogether so I could focus on Whitney "The Voice" Houston, who was back even if her voice was not. It was the most spectacular train wreck ever and I held on as it flew off the tracks. "Wait, listen to her do the R. Kelly ballad in Seoul!" "Check out the studio version. It sounds like she wasn't wearing her teeth!"

This was me at my most obsessive, unedited worst and to my astonishment and glee, I was not living alone. I was also quite cognizant of the fact that without Christopher, I would be forever single because there is unlikely to exist another man who could have tolerated my inexplicable, relentless obsession with Whitney Houston's public downfall in comeback form.

Punch Brothers

I am a castrophist. In almost every situation in life, my brain goes to the most crazily extreme worst case scenario–no matter how unlikely–and instantly cements it as reality. Here's a story I tell in the book after I've been called the "master of disaster." (Thankfully this newgrass string transcription of a Debussy piano piece was my takeaway.)

Several days later, we climbed into a 2001 Acura belonging to our friends Laura and Leslie and the four of us drove to see Punch Brothers, a bluegrass band so brilliant, its lead member won a MacArthur grant. I spent most of the concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall, a Princess Anne bricked playhouse built in 1885, feeling that it was probable the balcony, where we were seated, would collapse on the people below due to to the uproarious foot pounding that was going on.

I frequently see these movies in my mind of terrible things that may happen. When I was young, I considered this to be both a side effect of my unstable and rather terrible childhood but also the very reason I was able to survive it. When the Titanic went down, I would have already been sitting in the first lifeboat ten minutes after we boarded.

Stan Getz
"Once Upon a Time"

Jazz played way too big a part in my longest relationship for how much I hate it as a genre. The only way I can handle jazz is if it's disguised as something else–in this instance, as a symphony and it's kind of amazing. But most of the time it seems aimless and endless and I have to expend a lot constructing my face into a mask of serenity to hide my murderous feelings.

We exchanged more emails after that first meeting. We had another date and it, too, was a success. Dennis asked, "Do you enjoy jazz? Because I love it and I know of a place downtown where we could go."

"And then we can have broken glass and arsenic for dinner!" I felt like replying because I barely tolerated jazz when I encountered it in elevators or dental offices. But I considered that when you meet somebody who really loves something, the high-road thing to do is to try and love it, too, so I wrote back, "That sounds great!"

We made a date for the following Friday.


In addition to being my literary agent and husband, Christopher is a musician who played keyboards in Tony Award winner Alice Ripley's eccentric pop rock band, Ripley, in the early-mid 2000s. Here's a song with some fun synthesizer lines if you listen closely. (Christopher says all keyboard players complain that they're too low in the mix.)

Demi Lovato
"Heart Attack"

Teenage girls have great taste so I have no problem listening to the music they like and make, even though it's a little unseemly for a bald, middle-aged man to be cranking Miley Cyrus in a Subaru. "I'm one Demi Lovato tweet away from an Amber Alert" is one of the book's punch lines. And also a cry for help.

The Go-Go's
"Can't Stop the World"

At a couple points in the book, I ask Christopher what music he has on shuffle, and he casually rattles off band names that might as well be another language, which some of them are. A sampling of them follows.

After one particularly bewildering list, I grabbed at the nugget I knew: "I'd heard of the Go-Go's." This (I am told) is their best song, one of the two solely credited to bassist Kathy Valentine, which is no coincidence.

June Christy
"Something Cool"

Here's another instance of my liking something that turned out to be inexplicably labeled "jazz." I just think of it as a beautiful song from the ‘50s sung by a sad woman sitting alone at a bar. Now that I can relate to. It's only when people start yammering about the differences between the mono and stereo versions and the re-ordering of the album tracks that I'm reminded, "Oh right. Fucking jazz." (P.S. This is the mono version.)

Guided by Voices
"Learning to Hunt"

As far as I can tell, most of this band's songs are a drunk guy shouting over an out of tune guitar for 90 seconds. They're from Christopher's hometown of Dayton, OH, a city featured in the book when he goes back to his parents' house and gets a lap dance from his mother while she's wearing her wedding dress. (Yes, nonfiction.) But GbV, as their fans abbreviate it, also have a few pretty songs. This is one of those few. Very few.

Jóhann Jóhannsson
IBM 1401, A User's Manual
"Part 1 / IBM 1401 Processing Unit"

Jóhannsson is an Icelandic, Oscar-nominated soundtrack composer but check out his earlier projects, symphonic masterpieces like Fordlandia and this one, IBM 1401, A User's Manual, which uses found sounds from an actual early ‘60s computer his father programmed. They are two of my favorite Sunday morning albums.

Mary Schneider
"Yodeling Overtures"

Mary Schneider is not just a yodeler; she is the Queen of Yodeling. She's from Australia, where they have mountain ranges and cowboys on the plains, so yodeling is in their continental blood. And there is nothing quite like this performance. It turns out that my friend, Richard Glover, who has Australia's biggest drive-time radio show, is friends with Mary Schneider's daughter, Melinda, a very good country singer, so it's likely that the Queen of Yodeling will soon know I am in awe of her.

The New Pornographers
"The Laws Have Changed"

This is another band Christopher loves that I don't quite understand, but I've gone to shows of theirs with him and they seem to have a great time making their Canadian racket. If they're happy, I'm happy. And for those of you who only want me unhappy, I'm sorry but you are shit out of luck.

A Flock of Seagulls
"I Ran (So Far Away)"

I'm ending with the second most embarrassing song, but it's a necessary one since (very vague spoiler alert) it figures into the book's last scene.

Augusten Burroughs and Lust & Wonder links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Denver Post review
Kirkus review
Miami Herald review
NPR Books review
Richmond Times-Dispatch review
USA Today review

All Things Considered interview with the author
CBC Radio interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for This Is How
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay (with Tegan Quin and Ingrid Michaelson)) for A Wolf at the Table

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

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)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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