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September 9, 2016

Book Notes - Neil Steinberg "Out of the Wreck I Rise"

Out of the Wreck I Rise

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.

Out of the Wreck I Rise is a thoughtfully curated and interestingly composed collection of quotes about recovery from prose, poetry, song lyrics, and film.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steinberg and book editor Bader have compiled this collection of prose and poetry on the subject of addiction to help those who are still struggling or who are in recovery to find solace in the lives of great people who have also battled the disease. The writings are organized along the lines of an addict's journey—when the good times sour, the importance of time, and the power of embracing a new life. The experiences of well-known figures such as Etta James, Sid Caesar, and John Cheever are relayed in their own words, with feeling and lack of pretense. Anyone affected by addiction will surely identify with the accounts included here, and thus, not feel alone in times of difficulty."


In his own words, here is Neil Steinberg's Book Notes music playlist for the anthology Out of the Wreck I Rise:


Out of the Wreck I Rise is intended to help readers understand what addiction is and how recovery works. Co-author Sara Bader and I weave together excerpts from poems, novels, letters, journals, plays, movies—almost every form of writing from villanelles to a tweet by Ricky Gervais. Lyrics are key, and we include a number of songs for their illumination and power; we would have used more, but songs are very expensive to re-print, and some proved impossible to use because their ownership was so tangled that we couldn't secure the rights. Here are a dozen songs that either are in the book, or speak to what the book is about.



"Liquor Slave" by Lucky Dube

One of the keys in understanding addiction is that it is not a bad choice, but an obsession. You don't destroy your life through substances because you're stupid, but because you're compelled, enslaved, or as the late South African reggae star sings, "a slave, a slave, a liquor slave."

"S.O.B." by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Part tent revival, part 1950s demon rum scare movie, this hand-clapping surprise 2015 hit puts to music the give-it-to-me-now imperative and intensity of addiction, both the shrugging plunge, complete with shaking hands, crawling bugs and breaking hearts at the realization, even through the fog of intoxication: "This can't be me."

"Cold Turkey" by John Lennon

The former Beatle's agonized trek through heroin withdrawal, complete with desperate, groaning screams. "I promise you anything, get me out of this hell." In our book, which creates a mosaic connecting one thought to another to convey a narrative, it leads directly to Christopher Marlowe's: "Why this is hell, nor am I out of it."

"Detox Mansion" by Warren Zevon

In perhaps the most famous song about recovery, "Rehab," Amy Winehouse never gets there, with tragic results in her real life. For all the hard-partying rock stars, there are very few songs about actually going to rehab. "Detox Mansion," is among the best, conveying the weary cynicism mingled with hope that so often greets recovery. "I'm gone to Detox Mansion, way down on Last Breath Farm," sings Zevon, who struggled with alcoholism for decades, and was sober for 17 years before relapsing hard at the end of his life after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"Sober" by Pink

The pop pride of Philadelphia asks what is an essential question in recovery: "how do I feel this good sober?" Addicts must not only stop using, but construct a life they feel good about, where they find the kind of joy they used to find in substances. In the song, Pink sees herself clearly, a party girl running out of time, determined that this is not the way she wants her story to end.

"Some People Change" by Montgomery Gentry

This country duo is known for its smart, contemporary songs, blending faith and courage. "Some People Change" offers something that can be in short supply with the frequent reversals of recovery: hope. It limns the grimness of alcoholism in a few concise lines, the simultaneous submitting and hating that you're submitting, then celebrates those who can re-write the story of their lives: "Here's to the strong. Thanks to the brave. Don't give up hope. Some people change."

"Fallen" by Sarah McLachlan

A song that manages to be despairing and triumphant at the same time. "Better I should know"—in four words, the Lilith-fair founder deflates the regret that those who have "sunk so low." feel at being forced to give up their addictions and confront their broken lives even though "there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed." But there is, for many, as the Canadian balladeer reminds us.

"New South Wales" by Jason Isbell

Sometimes you just get sick of being sick. Isbell takes the details of recovery, the coffee and the posters, the slogans and the meetings, and find them good. Giving up his old life "holds no trace of sorrow," while the program ferrying him to his new life offers salvation. "God bless the busted boat that brings us back."

"Mariner's Song" by Cowboy Junkies

A beautiful song about loss and yearning, with that trademark fluttering mandolin. It might have nothing to do with recovery, but I chose to hear it that way. "I look for you in every crest I ride, with every trough I travel through" conveys the way the thing stays with you. But one line in particular sums up the best reason to keep on the straight path. "The last of man's great untamed beasts"—what could that be?—"lies lapping at my door. And I would be happy to give it what it wants, but I do know it would just ask for more."

That's it. As tempting as going back might be, there's no end to it. The beast would just ask for more.

"Lust for Life" — Iggy Pop

Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's movie about the Edinburgh drug scene might ask "Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?" but if you listen to the song playing over the opening credits, Iggy Pop's bass-drum driven "Lust for Life," you get a quick course in the pleasure of breaking with all those Johnnies and their enticements. "No more beating my brains, with liquor and drugs," Iggy sings, and makes us want to bounce along with him.


Neil Steinberg and Out of the Wreck I Rise links:

the editor's blog
the editor's Wikipedia entry
excerpts from the book

Foreword Reviews review
New York Times review

WGN Radio interview with the editor


also at Largehearted Boy:

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