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June 7, 2018

Karen Finley's Playlist for Her Book "Grabbing Pussy"

Grabbing Pussy

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Karen Finley's book Grabbing Pussy is as thought-provoking as her performance art. Based on her performance piece Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, this collection of prose and poetry is timely, funny, and poignant.

Hyperallergic wrote of the book:

"With irreverent humor and searing insight, Finley tackles our current political miasma."


In her own words, here is Karen Finley's Book Notes music playlist for her book Grabbing Pussy:



Grabbing Pussy is a poetic political text of humor, resistance and rage exposing the language and symbols reflecting on the indecent course of events for leadership, a genital election display, corruption that shadows US policy. The text weaves sarcasm and emotional transgressive relations of body, soul, memory and Freudian euphemism. The abuse of power, narcissism, borders, espionage, neoliberalism and family dynamics with the Clintons, Trumps and supporting players with Comey and Scaramucci and side contributors. The search for meaning, the interpreting of recent US politics with an overall craziness, with psychodrama, abusive accusations, sexual undoing and wit. The book travels through the heated exchanges, triggers, symbols and words and the deeper embodiment behind the bombardment of language cruelty. Grabbing Pussy is about taking language back, speaking up and out with agency, protest and resistance.

How do we listen for the words for us to write, yet allow the sounds that inspire and move us with our craft? I listened to music while writing the book but I also refer to sound that relates to the themes or environment of the text. This double or triple application of sound as companion for the book suits the complexity of the focus. Music as retreat, music as environment, music as embodiment., music as subtext.

Silence – listening and selective playing. There is so much sound and noise that at times I would alternate between listening to trees, birds, trains and traffic and going through my vinyl collection. I wouldn't select but just go in order in sequence.


Pussy Power

Throughout the book I reference Pussy – as a space of protection, shaming, containment, divinity and com/passion. While writing the section Pussy Power I listened to both music that speaks about Pussy but also Pussy as a space of speaking out. The text addresses hypermasculinity – the fear to sublimate male to male desire. In Grabbing Pussy, I list the many euphemisms that are both derogatory and endearing while taking back our body, our selves.


Two Cats by Linsey Alexander



It was a joy and privilege of seeing Linsey Alexander live in Chicago at the Kingston Mines while I was editing the book. I just love his double entendre, humor, life and musical force of his composition. In this song Two Cats – Alexander playfully refers to the two Cats- as Pussy in the front room and Pussy in the back. His pussy poetics celebrate the c word. The audience was electric and went wild for Linsey Alexander who playfully articulated the unsaid while saying it. Don't miss the opportunity to hear this artist live!

Pussy Riot




The music and guerilla art performance collective Pussy Riot has been an inspiration for their courage, standing up and paying the ultimate price of incarceration for their art activism .In 2011, 5 members of Pussy Riot performed inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior protesting the relationship to Putin and the church. I have participated in some activities related to the group. In particular I was in conversation with Masha Alekhina ( a member) for an event at Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY. Masha made a point in saying that it isn't enough to just laugh at the power– to mock Trump, that citizens in Russia would laugh at Putin, and that it is dangerous to turn a corruption into a laughing matter.

Tales of Taboo by Karen Finley

I created and sang the words to this dance techno beat song in the mid eighties with producer Mark Kamins. At that time pussy or strong language wasn't directly said in music. This song is played when I perform in Unicorn Gratitude Mystery.

Further Pussy Listening:

The Power of Pussy by Bongwater'



This 1990 album with a companion music video of the album title hilariously and poignantly parodies the over the top emphasis of sexual lyrics. Created during the AIDS crisis the cry for pussy and all its (W)hole meaning becomes a political and social marker of the staying power of pussy.

Blue Dress

In the section Blue Dress where I review the psyche and symbolism of the blue dress worn by Monica Lewinsky ( the 21 year old intern who had an affair with Bill Clinton in the White House) while she was literally engaged sexual encounter with Clinton. Lewinsky kept the blue dress with his semen and it was used as evidence during the trial. The writing takes blueness as a feeling, a human condition, a blue landscape to ejaculate upon. And to consider deeply the meaning of our fascination and hubris of coming on blueness and keeping, treasuring semen on blueness. To consider the symbolism of the blue in terms of depression, truth, sky, the blues.

Blue by Joni Mitchell

The entire album is iconic, a space of yearning, memory and solitude. But the singular song Blue is a haunting. A singular silhouette frozen and melting anguish and desire. At times slowing down the song, playing backwards. This is the anthem.

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

This was the album I listened to before, leading up to and throughout the writing of the book. The music brought space and reflection for inspiration for the writing. In particular

Blue in Green written with Bill Evans brought me the rhythmic portrayal of repeat, patience and craft in particular for the sections on gender, blueness

Little Girl Blue by Nina Simone

For the section The Blue Dress, She/He, When Hillary Took Too Long To Pee.

Moved by the urgency of Simone's vocals and the piano percussion holding the emotion. The words of Simone explains the training of the girl child and the little girl blue of the acceptance and no way out.

Blue Hotel by Chris Isaak

The soundscape here is other worldly – but the lyrics speak to aloneness. And refers to the aloneness of the female Hillary and the aloneness in her position.

Blue Hotel, on a lonely highway,


Blue Hotel, life don't work out my way.


Blue Hotel, on a lonely highway,

Blue Hotel, life don't work out my way.

I wait alone each lonely night.

Blue Hotel...
Blue Hotel...

In the piece Anchor Baby

Trump as Chaos Kid

No More Drama by Mary J Blige

In this section I write about the chaos, the drama, the tantrums surrounding Trump. This song by Mary J. Blige takes on the drama and insists on no more drama – as resistance – rather than having to accept the traumatics in nation unbuilding.

In the section Gratitude, over used thankfulness is explored as a female behavior standard and gendered manner expectations of submission with infidelity and validation.

Hold Up by Beyonce



In the song we hear Beyonce struggles with finding her value, her looks, her self worth, with her man cheating on her. In the video Beyonce takes a bat and breaks a car window – snaps the fire extinguisher – so she fights back. And gets out of her heels and into her sneakers with other childen and folks on the street. This feminist position of vulnerability and taking control speaks to some of the issues in Gratitude.

The Yoga Mat

Yoga by Janelle Monae

In a section in Gratitude I address the neoliberal sacred spaces such as the yoga mat. In my writing the yoga mat still becomes a space of attack or defensiveness in a satirical voice. I select Jane Monae's song for it is irreverent and appropriates yoga for her own embodiment and the gaze.

Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill from the album Pussy Whipped, 1993

In the poem Pussy Speaks Out – addresses fighting back against sexual harassment. The text is to be defiant rather than as victim. I just love the words within this rebellious lyric of Rebel Girl

When she talks, I hear the revolution

In her hips, there's revolutions

When she walks, the revolution's coming

In her kiss, I taste the revolution!

Political atmosphere, experimental

Respect and mood

DJ spooky also was touring Rebirth of a Nation during the writing of the book.

I also listened to

That Subliminal Kid Versus the Last Mohican by DJ Spooky

This album is experimental, a soundscape and not easily tagged or located. It was important to me to still have a space of abstraction and dislocation as a cultural movement. I am inspired by DJ Spooky's choices of content and innovation while being political.

For the poem This Land is not your Land

This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

This Land is not Your Land is in discourse to Guthrie's classic work. In Guthrie's song he includes and describes America for all. I first wrote as a text for a film I collaborated on with Bruce Yonemoto Far East of Eden about immigration Asian exclusion Act legislation by Senator Phelan in the early part of the last century and the eventual incarceration of Japanese Americans.

In Trump Said – which speaks to the wall and immigration policy.

I prefer These Walls by Kendrick Lamar. And in his walls he speaks to sexuality, masculinity, incarceration, desire and police authority.

These Walls by Kendrick Lamar

If these walls could talk, they'd tell me to go deep

Yelling at me continuously, I can see

Your defense mechanism is my decision

Knock these walls down, that's my religion

Walls feeling like they ready to close in

I suffocate, then catch my second wind

I resonate in these walls

I don't know how long I can wait in these walls

In Unicorn Gratitude – speaking as a unicorn as mythical white beast and the trappings of spiritual attainment – what the hell.

The Unicorn by Irish Rovers

The Lady and the Unicorn by John Renbourn

Art as Activism - inspiration

Resistance, The artist as historical recorder and power of imagination.

Allen Ginsberg's Howl inspired me to consider poetic text as a form, the text written during the McCarthy era is a classic milestone for artistic response.



In writing Take These Statues Down which speak to taking down Confederate and racist statues I referred to this song.

Fight the Power by Public Enemy

And while I was in my final edit I listened and viewed the film

This is America by Childish Gambino

This is what I listened to in my head for positive vibes to feel human potential and joy as take away.

Love and Affection by Joan Armatrading

Imagine by John Lennon


Karen Finley and Grabbing Pussy links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia page
excerpt from the book

Amos Lassen review


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

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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musician/author interviews
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