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September 26, 2017

Book Notes - Alice Anderson "Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away"

Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away

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.

Alice Anderson's Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away is one of the most moving memoirs I have ever read.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Anderson is a gifted writer who vividly describes both settings and emotions. Her powerful story gives voice and hope to women caught in similarly terrible conditions.""

In her own words, here is Alice Anderson's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away:

Three Little Birds
Bob Marley & The Wailers

This is the song I made a lullaby I made for my sweet three—Avery, Grayson, and Aidan. It was the song I'd sing at bedtime, the song I'd sing in an airport to calm then down when we were all traveling and everyone was tired to the bone. The night I was attacked, with the sweet three looking on, ended with my abuser locking himself in our bedroom with the kids, telling me there'd be no kids left if I called the police. Luckily, I called a DV shelter instead, and they advised me. The next morning, he woke up early and I did too, making his coffee like I always did, and he left three crisp one hundred dollar bills on the counter when he left, suggesting I buy each kid a new bike. Talk about "honeymoon phase." Only I took the money and ran. And the next night, huddled together on one bunk in the same shelter I'd called in a panic the night before, I sang this song to my shell-shocked children. That is, until someone down the hall yell, "Shut up, stupid!" and that was the end of that!

Sign Your Name Across My Heart
Terrence Trent D'Arby (Sandanda Maitreya)

It didn't make it into the book, but when I moved into the "Maxi Pad" in Paris, where a half dozen other models were already bunked out, D'Arby was briefly staying with us, dating one of the girls. I did just about everything in Paris except model. Save some shoots and shows I walked in, my days there were spent eating peaches, reading books, writing poems on brown paper bags, exploring the night city. I've always loved this song, and I'm a sucker for anyone who calls me baby.

You Don't Own Me
Son Lux
Stranger Forms

"I feel you tracing my scars—you don't own me."

I love the darkness of this track. This line, in particular, always strikes me in the heart. Because many times in toxic, abusive relationships, there is a kind of bonding over the ugliness. That moment before the moment you enter that honeymoon phase? When the abuser gets to fawn all over your tender, hurt parts (emotional, spiritual, or physical) and make it all better? But that's part of taking back your narrative, of taking agency of your own wounds. Because, as I say in Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away's first line: "We make chapels of our scars." And they are our own, not the abuser's. The story moves from telling an abuse story to telling a survival story. From telling a story of being wounded, to leaping out of that wound.

Keep Breathing
Ingrid Michaelson

First, I'm a Grey's Anatomy addict—it's my escape of choice, and this song appears in some of my favorite episodes. There is nothing like a Netflix binge when life seems unbearable.

"All I know is I'm breathing/all I can do is keep breathing/all we can do is keep breathing." Some Bright Morning is about survival. A lot of time people think of survival in a finite, "you made it" way. But survival can be soul achingly slow. When you leave an abuser, it's not over the day you leave. The leaving is metered out—over years, over battles, over court dates—and you have to keep fighting. Likewise, I am eight years out from sustaining a traumatic brain injury, and recovery from TBI is measured out not in days or weeks or months, but years. In both cases, my children were along for the ride. It's terrible to never get relief, to feel that the surviving isn't ever over. So sometimes all you can do is keep breathing, until you arrive at that finally, when the rough days are over at last.

The Greatest
Cat Power

I love Chan Marshall's kitten growl. This is one of those songs, and one of those albums, that I played over and over again. I was in catastrophe and court battles for the better part of ten years, and this song was a saving grace. As anyone who has been through the family court system or as a "victim" in the criminal courts knows, it can feel endless, like your fate is out of your hands and handed over to a power outside of yourself. It can rob you of agency, strip you of dignity, cloak you in fear. It's a ringer—spiritual, emotional, physical—if there ever was one. So when Chan sings,

Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stall me
And then came the rush of the flood
Stars at night turned deep to dust

Melt me down
Into big black armor
Leave no trace of grace…

Secure the grounds
For the later parade

it feels like I can power through, and arrive at the later parade of safety, of freedom, of peace.

How Many Fucks?
Erika Jayne

Well first, zero fucks given. I think the best survival stories are the ones that have a healthy dose of badass in the redemptive narrative. That's where the humor and the fearlessness and power come in. Also, we are a big drag family. My daughter Avery, aka PLEATHER, is a drag artist. She's the drag daughter in the local drag scene. There is a thematic pull through of drag as subversion in Some Bright Morning—they way we put on a persona to obtain power. So we play a lot of artists that are beloved in the drag scene. When this one came out, it was a personal power ballad: sunroof open, red lips on, driving down the highway, car dancing, no fucks given. Especially in the world of family court, where you have to relentlessly behave "like a lady" if you hope to keep your children, it's nice to have this kind of track in your back pocket. "How many fucks do I give? None, not one, zero, zero, done."

I'll Fly Away
Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss
O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack

Of course I had to include this song. It's my anthem. The title of the book came from a scene, shortly after Katrina, when we're in New Orleans for the weekend to escape the hell that was still South Mississippi (where Katrina made direct landfall.) We'd often go to the Quarter to feel like life was at least normal: where restaurants and stores were open, where we could get away from the devastation that was our town, Ocean Springs. In the Quarter there is this street band that is always playing Jackson Square. On this day, it was just a ragtag ghost of the former band. I was on the street with my kids—one a baby, one a toddler, and one about five years old. When they started playing, "I'll Fly Away" I started singing, and somehow they invited me up. After that, whenever they'd see me coming, they cut off whatever song they were playing and start in with "I'll Fly Away." I was trapped—in a marriage, in a place, in a life I wanted out of. All I wanted was freedom, and "I'll Fly Away" became my freedom ballad.

Alice Anderson and Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away links:

excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Fiction Advocate review

Electric Literature interview with the author
The Manifest-Station interview with the author
Rumpus interview with the author
Sacramento News and Review profile of the author
Salon interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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