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September 6, 2016

Book Notes - Kendra DeColo "My Dinner with Ron Jeremy"

My Dinner with Ron Jeremy

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.

Kendra DeColo's second book My Dinner with Ron Jeremy is fierce, lyrical, and provocative, and one of the year's most striking poetry collections.

Chapter 16 wrote of the book:

"Amid references to pornography and masturbation and pubic-hair trimming, in poems with titles like, 'Self-Portrait With the Virgin Mary and Magic Mike' — which attempts to capture the radiant truth in each — DeColo manages to coax beauty and meaning from the absurd aching morass of human existence. It's not every writer who can emerge from these corners with anything approaching grace, much less deft and bracing poems such as these. Put another way: She has the range."

In her own words, here is Kendra DeColo's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection My Dinner with Ron Jeremy:

I've never been a "True Fan," in the sense that I never cultivated an intense, possessive relationship with an artist or delved into a genre, emerging with specialized, cabalistic knowledge to hold up like a badge. I grew up in the '90s, dated boys who listened to Sebadoh and Sonic Youth, hung out with girls who were the Rayanne to my Angela and taught me how to dig for cardigans at the Dollar-a-Pound to a soundtrack of Liz Phair, Bikini Kill, and Bjork. But when left to my own devices, I would listen to TLC or whatever was playing on the radio. My relationship with music was platonic—loving, but lacking the neurosis or heat of passion.

And yet, my second poetry collection My Dinner with Ron Jeremy is engaged in perpetual conversation with music and the refuge of fandom. It's a coming-of-age book as well as a book about motherhood; a bridge of recovery and reckoning connecting the themes. Many of the poems are influenced by music I listened to as a teenager in the '90s, the shows I would tag along to as an outsider, only to be swept up in the spectacle and emerge shimmering and changed. The book is a mix-tape I made for my 14 year-old self, proof that she would grow up to be someone who doesn't apologize for who she is, especially her love of pop music.

"Honey White" Morphine

Certain songs send me crashing into my skin, summoning heat from memory; what it first meant to lose yourself, sweaty in the Middle East basement, thrashing against bloodied elbows and soaked t-shirts, pressed up against the monster truck-sized speakers. I saw Morphine play there a few months before Mark Sandman died. I met him moments before the show and although we exchanged only a handful of words, I felt an infusion of kindness from his gentle remarks: his voice that dripped with sex and tenderness a tunnel I could see myself on the other side of; a bigger, fiercer self who danced until her "ligaments shone."

"Subterranean Homesick Alien" Radiohead

High school is tough, especially in a suburb of Boston where jocks call you faggot and throw rocks at you while you're walking your little sister home from school. Everyone has their own version of this story. Mine is that for a whole year, I listened to Radiohead's OK Computer every morning and felt disembodied by the interstellar crooning and modulations, just fucked up enough to ease into my loneliness and smoke a Parliament on the way to the bus, dizzy and ephemeral, protected by the gauzy and operatic haze.

"Fell in Love with a Girl" The White Stripes

I regularly fell in love with my girl friends, especially the ones who couldn't love me back. We would sleep next to each other after coming home from a party or a show and I would lie there wide awake, wanting to savor the closeness and tenderness, still feeling the fuzz of busted speakers as we blasted songs throughout the night. My longing was loud, child-like, and self-defeating and I wore it proudly and brutally.

"4 Better or 4 Worse" The Pharcyde

Listening to The Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II can make almost anything feel good. I love every song on the album and will listen to it while doing the most mundane tasks and suddenly feel like I'm having the best day of my life. This song in particular speaks to the balance of play, heartache, and lewdness that I try to explore in some of my "marriage" poems.

"Buggin' Out" A Tribe Called Quest

This bass line is the axis on which the earth spins, the momentum that keeps us going, tipped gingerly from moment to moment as effortlessly as Phife's syllables—it is the vein of light I reach for to steady my syntax, to access acceptance and hope, meandering throughout the day like a flâneur who believes only in the run-on sentence of her breath, who follows the road as far as it will take her.

"Fuck the Pain Away" Peaches

This song is the anthem for claiming one's sexuality, even if you're just faking it. When I say "feminist erotica" to talk about my book, this is what I'm talking about—Peaches wrote the handbook and I'm just a humble follower. The breakdown of her lazy, contemptuous, "Huh, right, what, uh" reminds me of playing into male fantasies of the docile, vacant, make-up slicked girl only to twist it into something violent, terrifying, and joyful.

"Come to Daddy" Aphex Twin

This song is fucking terrifying. And yet I listened to it many times while riding through the suburbs in the backseat of someone's parents' station wagon, driven by a kid fucked-up on ketamine. This reminds me of the crass, inarticulate terror of Donald Trump's campaign and the appalling submissiveness of media outlets like NPR and The New York Times who somehow haven't set manners aside to say, please let me out of the fucking car. The few poems that reference Trump are guided by this distortion.

"1000 Deaths" D'Angelo and the Vanguard

This song possesses another kind of distortion—melodic and building toward meaning. You can feel D'Angelo's rage and exasperation as the song gains traction and form. It is one of the best responses to current events, specifically Black Lives Matter, that I've heard. It reminds me that it's worth pushing a project to completion so that you can speak back to what's happening in real time.

"Leaving the Past" Immortal Technique

I can take or leave a lot of Immortal Technique—especially his homophobia and didacticism. And yet this song will always have a special place in my heart. It's about growing up, accepting the world as it is while continuing to fight. It is unapologetically angry and yet hopeful.

"One Day" Sharon Van Etten

When I was pregnant I would go for long dreamy walks, following the path from our duplex that ran along the interstate, past the drainage pipe where watercress grew. I would listen to this song and feel an impossible love for my daughter, Sharon Van Etten's vocals expressing what I couldn't yet understand, the feeling so deep in my body, "synchronizing with the thrum of my lopsided heart."

"Isa Lei" Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt

If I could only listen to one song for the rest of my life, it would be this one. It is the soundtrack to a movie about two flawed people who are transformed by love for their child. In the movie you watch them struggle and flail, the light always at the golden hour, the days endless. You watch them bathe their baby and watch her sleep, in awe. They give what they have of themselves and somehow it manages to be enough.

"Tennessee" Silver Jews

This is the song my husband and I play every time we cross the Tennessee border on our way home from an extended trip. I walked down the aisle to the first verse: "I saw the river paying in the valley/ rushin' round the bend and skippin' stones/ I saw the meadow wobble in the moonlight/ I've come to get my girl and take her home…Marry me, leave Kentucky, come to Tennessee…...Cause you're the only ten I see." Cassie Berman's vocals are perfect. It is the best love song I know. The book ends with me finding my love and coming home to Nashville. I hope the poems capture the tone of this song—heartfelt, playful, and alive.

"Hard Life" Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

"I've got my problems, sometimes love don't solve them, but I end each day in a song." This song says everything I need to say about monogamy, marriage, and what it feels like to sit at a Waffle House booth outside Lexington, Kentucky while the light begins to fade and the mountains echo every thought in your body, blue-lit and tinged with magic. And gratitude.

Kendra DeColo and My Dinner with Ron Jeremy links:

the author's website

Chapter 16 review

Bitch Media interview with the author
VIDA essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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