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April 12, 2016

Book Notes - Joni Murphy "Double Teenage"

Double Teenage

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.

Joni Murphy's Double Teenage is a stunning debut, one of the finest novels I have read this year.

Maisonneuve wrote of the book:

"Double Teenage is undoubtedly a feminist text, but it isn’t one that offers a pretty picture of its characters overcoming male-dominated systems of power. The book ends with that cryptic line: 'This is a spell for getting out of girlhood alive.' Either this is Murphy’s metaphor for the entire book and the instructions are hidden within its pages, or it is a nihilistic gesture to show that the systems of patriarchy are embedded so deeply within every aspect of our society that only something as impossible as magic can fix it."


In her own words, here is Joni Murphy's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Double Teenage:


On one level Double Teenage is very informed by film and TV. Jacque Rivette, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Law & Order and The X-Files are all referenced in the book. Music was another more subtle, but no less important influence. I had the idea of the book being my album. I looked to album covers for visual inspiration and used albums by people like Kathleen Hanna and Buffy Saint Marie as inspiration. I feel a lot of women have been able to voice succinctly in song what it took me hundreds of pages to articulate in writing.

Experientially, I also wrote a lot at a café near my house where the employees have some major love of 1990s pop. I did some significant editing while half listening to Justin Timberlake and Alanis Morissette based mixes.

As I was writing, I would also take many dance breaks at home. For health reasons I think all writers should take dance breaks (The Stooges, Au Pairs, and lets be honest, Drake too).

My boyfriend made me these incredible Spotify playlists, one for each of the four sections of the novel. He helped me get into some deeper cuts from 1990s to 2000. We talked about both songs the characters would have really listened to and the music they ideally should have listened to.

I tried to embody the time of the characters (early 1990s to late 2000s) as they grew up, from age thirteen to about thirty. They were too young to be a part of the initial riot grrrls. So they are a big influence, but it’s easy to forget that a lot of that feminist energy was mocked and dismissed at the time. At least in my small town I heard more than a few cool girls through around the term “feminazi” or in other more subtle ways disavow feminism and align themselves with the boy energy of that time period.

There’s a lot of recasting of history now, people declaring that they always loved messy, fem, queer vibe, but I remember a lot of hostility and machismo. Double Teenage is a look back at a recent, yet lost, historical moment of the 1990s but through a lens of my current critical understanding. I try not to erase the ugly or the beautiful.


"Bull in the Heather" — Sonic Youth


"Llorando" — Rebekah Del Rio from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive


Trailer to Celine and Julie Von Bateau — Jacque Rivette


"Brand New Life" — Young Marble Giants

This song is relentlessly catchy and has a kind of energy I associate with walking fast, almost wanting to run just for the pleasure of it. The sound is hopeful but Allison Statton’s singing speaks of pain and longing. While I find her lyrics kind of world-weary her voice feels very young. It is to me a mark of being quite young but feeling that the pain of existing is already clear.

"Puberty Song" — The Raincoats

Keywords: England, post punk, out of time, ritual of puberty, chant, hope, and expectation.

"Stay Monkey" — Julie Ruin

This song, and basically Kathleen Hanna’s ethos and voice were a huge influence in me thinking through this book.

She treads the persona/ personal line really beautifully. She writes but also acts in the world. I think as a person I’ve yearned to be a performer like her, but could only voice this kind of violence or intensity on the page.

I think in some ways Kathleen Hanna brought a Kathy Acker vibe to young girls in small towns through song. Acker was not a writer who your teachers were telling you about in high school or college, she was, at least in my experience, off the record material.

Throughout her career Hanna has been consistently expressed a central tension in American girlhood, an aggressive, joyous, vital energy mixed with the knowledge that its risky to embody these feelings as a woman.

"Axemen" — Heavens To Betsy

Voice was a big question as I wrote Double Teenage. I wanted to channel both that lovely, flat affect of Young Marble Giants and then, in other parts the wild screaming I associate with A lot of Evergreen, west coast riot grrrls like Heavens To Betsy. Corin Tucker screams so well.

This song feels pretty archetypal of that time and set of ideas and feeling. It is at once pithy, angry, sophisticated and simple. There is a screaming out of control-ness and a clear-headed recognition that privilege is located both inside and outside the singer. This recognition of the messiness, the collapse of aggressor and victim is very appealing.

"Daughters Of The Kaos" — Luscious Jackson

Feels archetypal of a certain time and scene, an ultra cool one, a scene that Celine and Julie only idealize from afar. As I was listening again and looking at the cover art for In Search of Manny, I couldn’t help but connect the album cover image to Valle Export’s famous image “Action Pants: Genital Panic”.

Also, tangentially I love that Luscious Jackson first conceived of themselves as an ESG cover band. Covers, doubles, and echoes are a significant thread in Double Teenage.


Valie Export, Action Pants

Valie Export, Action Pants "Genital Panic", 1968


Luscious Jackson, In Search of Manny, Grand Royal, 1992

Luscious Jackson In Search of Manny, Grand Royal, 1992


Liz Phair, Rolling Stone, 1993

Liz Phair, Rolling Stone, 1993


"Never Gonna Sleep" — Free Kitten

This little stretch of songs (Into the Groovey, My Love for You, and Never Gonna Sleep) evokes a sometimes chaotic, angsty party vibe. Party were violence or intimacy can suddenly happen between friends and strangers.

I love the tension in the drumming and the kind of ambient shrieks/ words of Kim Gordon. That’s all.

"Into the Groovey" — Ciccone Youth

From the vantage of now, Madonna is solidly iconic, but I like remembering how much her career was built around overt and subtle mimicry and theft (Madonna mimicking Marylyn, Madonna appropriating Paris Is Burning). Ciccone Youth follows her lessons and takes from Madonna but brings some of the mess Madonna came from back to the forefront.

"My Love for You" — ESG

What to say but dance?


"Fuck and Run" — Liz Phair

Exile in Guyville was one of the first CDs I ever bought (along with Tori Amos’ Under the Pink). Phair crystallizes both sensitive boy misogyny and how it felt to be in “Guyville” as a girl, engaging in sexual, (un)romantic moments. It is a painful morning after song that recalls a pattern of estrangement. What’s also compelling is that Phair, like Kathleen Hanna said she was not engaging in diaristic, guileless self-exposure, but rather taking on personas in order to express love.

“I was in love with people who couldn't care less about me. I was yearning to be part of a scene. I was in a posing kind of mode, yearning to have things happen for me that weren't happening. So I wanted to make it seem real and convincing. I wrote the whole album for a couple people to see and know me." (Rolling Stone Magazine, November 1993)

"Soul Vibrations" — Dorothy Ashby

It’s hard not to romanticize west coast by way of Detroit harp jazz. Ashby’s sound is mystical and spacey; it evokes driving in the warm cool desert. When listening to this I get those deep, maybe stoner thoughts about how all matter as vibration, waves as particles as waves.

"Strange" — Galaxie 500

I love fuzzy music, songs that sound as if you’re hearing them echo out of backyards or across water, even if you’re listening to them with headphones. This song also has these questions sung out so passionately. Open ended but full of feeling. There’s also a nice looping back to Liz Phair, who sang, "I was pretending that I was in a Galaxie 500 video," in Stratford on Guy. People playing one another.

"You Can Have It All" — Yo La Tengo

This is another rich memory song that’s on the one hand quintessentially of a time (2000). It’s a hinge we did and didn’t recognize— the millennium, after the collapse of one tech bubble but before the next, before Bush, before a decade of new wars. When this song came out the characters were 20, an age of anxious excitement when having it all might have seemed not just attractive but possible. It’s an ultimate drift song.

I don’t know if the band meant to conjure that neoliberal feminist question/promise of “having it all”, but I can’t help but hear that. I find the line of thinking absurdly privileged when it comes to this trope of women having children and career and loving relationship. I’m not saying I don’t wish for people to “have it all” but I feel this feeds too easily into an acquisitive, apolitical wash of good vibes.

"Cheree" — Suicide

In my fantasy, Suicide would be the house band in some David Lynchian alternate dimension. Double Teenage ends in this kind of dream space, outside of strict chronological time.

Suicide synthesizes the croony beauty of Elvis and the repressed sex violence that early white rock and roll could not directly address.

The last line of Double Teenage is “This is a spell for getting out of girlhood alive” but for me its not just girls, it’s everyones task to get through our lives awake, bearing the weight of personal history and trauma with compassion and hope. Loving others is a way of surviving. To me this song presents sweetness grounded in awareness of pain and suffering.


Joni Murphy and Double Teenage links:

the author's website

Maisonneuve review
The Rusty Toque review

Bookforum interview with the author


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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