October 12, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Liza Monroy's essay collection Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon to be on Fire is filled with acute and compelling observations on themes of familial and romantic love.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Monroy (The Marriage Act) chronicles her efforts to find lasting love with the (often unsolicited) advice of her opinionated mother, a retired U.S. visa screener referred to as 'The Profiler'... [she] provides insight into managing expectations and the layers of experience, how we can construct a vivid romantic narrative around someone when we are merely a 'bit player' in their own story... it is interesting to watch Monroy learn her lessons, to stop romanticizing her partners or assigning them to neat boxes, to assert boundaries and rules, even if they get broken. When she finally gets her happy ending, it feels earned."
I'm thrilled to be back at Book Notes for the finale of my loose "mother/daughter" trilogy—Mexican High, The Marriage Act, and the last installment, Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon to be on Fire. As different as the books are from one another, there's plenty of intentional overlap, especially in their common subplot, the story of a daughter struggling with her well meaning but overbearing and controlling mother. The trilogy takes the girl from her teens through her mid-thirties, ending with the mother, a "profiler" for the U.S. State Department, becoming a matchmaker for the daughter, who by then is divorced and living in New York City.
Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon to be on Fire was born of an essay that ran in the New York Times' Modern Love column, "When Mom Is On The Scent And Right." Can your mother tell who is a right partner for you better than you can? How do we look for love now—is luck, chance, and circumstance still a viable path or should we go online? Is there such a thing as fate? Are vision boards real? So are some of the questions I was led to both in the experiences and during the writing process.
Since collections are the albums of the written word—different "tunes" adding up to a whole—here are musical accompaniments for each essay.
1 – "The Profiler's Daughter" = 'Terrapin' by Syd Barrett
Jeremy, the high school boy my mother had deported from Mexico back to the U.S., introduced me to psychedelics and this soothing, nonsensical song. We listened to it on repeat in his bedroom as he taught me guitar.
2 – "Two Husbands Real and Fake" = 'Superhero' by Ani DiFranco and 'Love Don't Cost A Thing' by Jennifer Lopez
Two songs for two husbands—one gay and one straight, one real and one fake (just not in the way you'd expect) "Superhero" captures what the power dynamic in emotionally abusive relationship can feel like ("you are like a phone booth/ I somehow stumbled into/ now look at me/ I am just like everybody else") and is perfect for Julian, the Wall Street Ex-Husband. "Love Don't Cost A Thing" sums up the relationship between Emir and me: light and poppy. Love was enough.
3 – "The Fake Trip" = 'You Must Be Out Of Your Mind' by Magnetic Fields
This is a brilliant breakup song. The essay tells the story the ex-boyfriend who gave me a fake trip for my 30th birthday, which led to our relationship's demise. What the hell is a fake trip? Good question. I can't even explain it—but (in the piece) I tried.
4 – "Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon To Be On Fire" = 'Devil Inside' by INXS
That same ex's go-to karaoke song should have been foretelling if I had been paying attention. (A close runner-up is 'Strangest Thing' by Mr. Easy – an upbeat reggae tune I listened to compulsively during this time for the line "the strangest thing just happened to me" alone.)
5- "Brazilian Fight Club" = 'Capu Funk' by SambaDa, 'Batuque' by Dom La Nena, and a nod to 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten
When I fall in the roda (the circle inside which the Afro-Brazilian martial art is played) or in life, Capoeira makes me get back up. The obvious choice is Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" — even Hillary Clinton used it as the theme music following her convention speech — but my Fight Club is Brazilian and my capoeira mestre is also the lead singer and guitarist for SambaDa. Their "Capu Funk" captures the spirit of the dance/fight/game. "Batuque" by Dom La Nena is catchy and sexy with the dulcet tones of the berimbau in the background.
6- "The Gold Star Breakup" = 'Laid' by James and 'Fake Plastic Trees' by Radiohead
Andy, the idiosyncratic ex who is subject of this essay, could sing both of these songs and play guitar and sound exactly like the original versions. These were his two sides, the high highs and low lows that came to define him in my mind.
7 – "Somebody's French Girl" = 'The French Girl' by Ian and Sylvia
I'd never heard of this song until I set out to make this playlist, and turns out it's perfect. Originally composed by Ian Tyson of Ian and Sylvia, it seems to have been forgotten until Bob Dylan covered it. There's also a Gene Clark version. Coincidentally, this song sets the perfect mood for the time I constructed a whole "happy ending" narrative around a guy while I wasn't even a bit player in his own love story.
8 – Icky Sweater = 'Undone, The Sweater Song' by Weezer
My mother sends me a photograph of an ugly sweater. She thinks it would look good on me.
9 – "Love And Death And Fate And Faith And Marine Iguanas" = 'Benediction' by The Weakerthans
The love interest in this essay, the collection's darkest, introduced me to this mellow sad song as we sat around a hotel room in Puerto Rico while it rained outside.
10 - "The Profiler Selects" = 'Matchmaker' from Fiddler on the Roof
The song describes being set up with "someone wonderful, and interesting. And well-off. And important." Exactly the Profiler's criteria…
11 – "The Skeptic And The Vision Board Party" = 'I'm God' by Clams Casino
What is making a vision board but an attempt at playing God?
12 – "The Hidden Gem of America" = 'Walking With A Ghost' by Tegan and Sara
'The Ghost Inside' by Broken Bells
'Happy Phantom' by Tori Amos
I actually had a "Ghost Playlist" in my iTunes the month I lived in the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio, known as the setting in Thurber's story "The Night The Ghost Got In. These are the top three songs from that list.
13 – "33" = 'Overlap' by Ani DiFranco
This was the song my husband Jason and I danced to at our wedding—it appealed to me for the lyrics "I know there is strength in the differences between us/ and I know there is comfort where we overlap." Sounds like a great setup for a marriage that works.
14 – "The Manifestation of Señor Bacon" = 'Turn Down For What' by DJ Snake, Lil Jon
Señor Bacon's song is easily interchangeable with the one for the guy who broke all my stuff and left me the voicemail referenced by the title essay, since the video encompasses destruction of apartments. My potbellied pig is also a little destroyer, albeit way more charming. I imagine him turning the house upside down to this song.
15 – "Stars Burned Twice As Bright" = 'Chicago' by Sufjan Stevens
An eerie thing happened as I arrived in a coffee shop to try to write about my former boyfriend Andy's sudden death during his incredible journey traveling the country in his van. I was feeling totally blocked and this song came on just as I was sitting down to try to write the essay again. Overhearing the lyrics about crying for freedom in a van felt like more than a coincidence.
16 – "Crab Legs In Her Carry On" = 'Mama's Song' by Carrie Underwood
"Don't you worry 'bout me" Carrie Underwood sings. It's as if she wrote this song as a message to my own mother. I surprise myself by tearing up as I watch the video in my mother's kitchen. Jason, my baby, and The Profiler are there, too.
"You're definitely someone's mother now," Jason says as he watches me blubbering to country music.
"I don't like this pre-packaged stuff, it's like Hallmark cards," my mother says.
Typically this precious, cheesy song wouldn't appeal to me either but today it sounds like truth. In a perfect world, I'd choose it to play over the credits of the Profiler movie.
Liza Monroy and Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon to be on Fire links:
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)