September 13, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Michelle Tea's brilliant novel Black Wave blurs the line between memoir and fiction in this poignant work of metafiction.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Gliding deftly through issues of addiction and recovery, erasure and assimilation, environmental devastation and mass delusion about our own pernicious tendencies, this is a genre- and reality-bending story of quiet triumph for the perennial screw-up and unabashed outsider. A biting, sagacious, and delightfully dark metaliterary novel about finding your way in a world on fire.."
Black Wave is a mash-up between memoir and speculative fiction. Written in the third person, it follows Michelle (uh, me), a downwardly spiraling lez living in San Francisco at the end of the nineties, the start of the city's first tech bubble. She pulls a geographic to Los Angeles (‘Geographic' is sober-speak for trying to outrun your addictions) and learns that the world, in an advanced state of environmental collapse from the book's start, has been slated for total destruction. At the same time, the reader learns that the lover Michelle convinced to take her to Los Angeles is but a stand-in for a boyfriend who forbid Michelle to write about him. We're actually in a book. Things get weirder as everyone begins dreaming of the lovers they'd have if the world were to not explode, then finding said lovers on Craig's List. Throughout it all I take off on tangents about addiction, queerness, memoir, ambition, betrayal, class, family, writing and tangents. Hear are the songs that would occupy this world.
The Lords of the New Church, "Apocalypso"
Nobody listens to The Lords of the New Church enough. They're the best garage-punk-goth band the eighties spit up, and Apocalypso is a great showcase for ratty Stiv Bator's (resting in punk in some wild heaven, I hope) nasal whines and barky growls. No time to laugh cause it's all funny, honey / Never thought it would ever happen to me / Video plays it back simulcast / Watchin' the world plunge back to the past. Michelle sitting on the floor of her dingy Hollywood studio apartment watching the first suicidal response to the pending apocalypse on her black and white teevee.
Sonic Youth "Kotton Krown"
When the world begins to end in earnest, people begin to dream of the people they'd have loved if they'd lived, psychedelic astral adventures. Kotton Krown basically triggers the feeling of falling deep in love in my body when I listen to it – it has some direct connection to certain precious brain chemicals. It feels like a wish coming true /Feels like an angel dreaming of you. This song is so perfect, for these scenes and just in general.
Cocorosie "Beautiful Boyz"
Michelle romanticizes criminals, her own potential criminality, the criminal potential of those she loves, the existence of Jean Genet, whose beloved opinions of thieves she nostalgically quotes. Oh, how he loved – he loves prison / How awfully he loved prison. Michelle laments – or simply wonders about – how her criminal friends would have fared had they not been born into low-class, queer existence. All those beautiful boys / Pimps and queens and criminal queers.
The Cramps "Drug Train"
The Cramps make drugs sound like so much fun. Michelle really likes drugs. First they're fun. Then they're not not fun. Then they're not fun. But look, she's doing them anyways. That's how it goes.
Pulp, "Common People"
The Mission District, where Michelle lives in San Francisco, is getting overrun with the upper classes, the gentry, the moneyed folk lured to the city to make scrilla in tech, and lured to the Mission by it's promise of edgy nightlife. These cockroaches come to slum but wind up making the neighborhood as cleaned-up and moneyed as they are. Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school. / But still you'll never get it right / ‘cos when you're laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall / If you call your dad he could stop it all. This is on the jukebox when the lez bar gets invaded by drunk yuppies, as well as when Michelle is killing cockroaches with her bare hands in Los Angeles.
I was dreaming when I wrote this / Forgive me if it goes astray. Seriously, I should have that disclaimer at the start of every book I've ever written. But especially this one. Prince knew the world ended in 1999, too! The sky was all purple / There were people runnin' everywhere. Pretty much. By the end of the book, Michelle's acceptance could probably be summed up with But life is just a party / And parties weren't meant to last.
Arcade Fire "Black Wave / Bad Vibration"
I stole the name of the book from this song, actually. While going through a brutal breakup and listening to it on repeat while working the weight machines at the Y. The core message of impermanence helped, as it always does when something you want is ripped away from you. This book was meant to be the story of that breakup. Thankfully it turned out a lot weirder. By the way, I don't like the start of this song at all. Just the dark, driving end. Stop now before it's too late / Been eating in the ghetto on a hundred dollar plate / Nothing lasts forever / That's the way it's gotta be / There's a great black wave in the middle of the sea / For me
Missing Persons, "Walking in L.A."
Michelle moves to Los Angeles in 1999. She does not drive. She takes endless buses and keeps her life and routine very small, a two-block radius. Her poverty feel more oppressive in L.A., with the wealth all over the place. Even writers are rich in L.A., so she can't use that as an excuse. When the end of the world is announced she knows she'll die poor and it finally breaks her heart. For all her bravado and class war posturing, being poor is really hard. Dale Bozzio, the original Lady Gaga, new it well: Only a nobody walks in L.A.
The Clash "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A."
Michelle spends the apocalypse in the used bookstore she works at, paring books with albums and then reading while listening to them. She listens to The Clash while reading Peter Plate. Peter writes urban noir, set in San Francisco, in the SROs, in the Mission, kids in gangs, corrupts cops, junkies. It's actually really funny – he has this high-wire sense of urgency and the absurd, and when he gives public readings he performs whole chapters from his books from memory, the Russian Declarative tradition, I believe, which he inherited from radical Russian ancestors. The Clash one-hundred-percent embodies the energy of Peter's writing and performance, life and heart.
Joy Division "Ceremony"
One of Michelle's brief dream loves is a teen punk in a Joy Division shirt when she finds her. Isn't Ceremony the saddest song? Even without the words. It's like innocent doomed longing, a big vibe of the latter half of the book. This is why events unnerve me / They find it all, a different story. Every love Michelle dreams about is a child when she finds them, forever unable to become that person she loved.
Kommunity FK "Something Inside Me Has Died"
I lost my virginity to this song! Which is hilarious. I love this obscure goth-pop band no one remembers. This is for a little two-paged chapter when Michelle realizes that love is an illusion and becomes very sad.
Sisters of Mercy "Black Planet"
I just can't get out of this goth k-hole. The goths do the apocalypse so well, and here the British Andrew Eldritch is improbably spending his radiation and acid-rain-soaked apocalypse in Southern California! And I ride down the highway 101 / By the side of the ocean headed for sunset / For the kingdom com / For the black / Black planet Michelle so would have enjoyed his company while wasting away in her bookstore waiting for her lover Matt Dillon to visit.
Michelle Tea and Black Wave links:
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Girl at the Bottom of the Sea
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for How To Grow Up
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Mermaid in Chelsea Creek
Psychology Today interview with the author
Switchback interview with the author
VIDA 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)
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)