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August 17, 2018

Kristi Coulter's Playlist for Her Essay Collection "Nothing Good Can Come from This"

Nothing Good Can Come from This

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

Kristi Coulter's essay collection Nothing Good Can Come from This is a witty and poignant examination of her transition from drinking to sobriety.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:

"Deeply human. Taken together, the collection is about more than sobriety. It's a celebration of the quotidian, a love letter to the breathtaking beauty of the mundane."

In her own words, here is Kristi Coulter's Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection Nothing Good Can Come from This:

“Jesus’s Hands,” American Music Club
I was never a woo-girl kind of drinker; even as a teenager I was always using booze to try to tap into something grave and serious and bigger than myself, the way more efficient people might use hallucinogens. (In some ways I was trying and failing to be a boy-poet drinker in the Bukowski/Tom Waits mode.) Drinking for me held the promise of the kind of warmth and connection and acceptance embodied here in the voice of Mark Eitzel, one of the great boy-poet drinkers.

“The Fear,” Pulp
Have you ever woken up after a night of drinking feeling sick and regretful and worried about something you might have said or done? There’s some small-f fear in that. Have you ever woken up sick and regretful and worried more often than not for months or even years on end, even though you promise yourself every night that you’ll only have two glasses of wine? And when you wake up sick and regretful and worried, do you already know you’ll be making and breaking that promise again tonight, because you don’t know how to stop yourself from doing this thing that you actually hate? That’s the Fear with a capital F, and this is the song that finally named it for me.

“My Backwards Walk,” Frightened Rabbit
This song is about trying over and over again to leave a relationship, but I associate with the four thousand years I spent trying to become a moderate drinker rather than quit completely. (Pro tip for anyone stuck in that morass right now: it’s way easier to just quit. I know, I didn’t believe it either. But it’s true.) Also, I tripped on a stair the night I first heard it performed and bruised my knee, and for years it hurt when I put pressure on the wrong spot. I called it my Drunkard’s Knee, because I like old-timey sounding ailments and because I needed bad things that happened to me while I was drinking to seem madcap vs. stupid. Scott Hutchison, the brilliant and funny frontman for Frightened Rabbit, wrote frequently about his own destructive drinking. He killed himself a few months ago. I eventually saw him play this live a half-dozen times and I wish I could again.

“Lived in Bars,” Cat Power
Because not all my drinking was a drag, or I wouldn’t have done so much of it. A lot of it was great. And when it was great, it felt like this.

“Thank U,” Alanis Morissette
The essay “Desire Lines” explores my lifelong fear of being what science would now call ‘basic.’ A few unpopular years in middle school resulted in decades of aversion to Yankee Candles and flavored lattes. So it’s probably karmic justice that within days of quitting drinking I had this song on a loop in my head. I didn’t even know I knew it! But the line “the moment I jumped off of it is the moment I touched down” is exactly what quitting felt like for me. I didn’t feel “ready” to stop drinking when I did; I just didn’t have anything else left to try. But almost as soon as I stopped I realized that while getting sober was going to be hard, it wasn’t going to be the full-on horror show I’d imagined it to be. I’d jumped, and landed. Five years later I still love this song, and I also still wonder what the ‘thin transparent dangling carrots’ are all about. (Are they earrings? I keep picturing them as earrings.)

“Strong Swimmer,” Shelby Earl
Shelby is a local singer-songwriter and former co-worker I’m pretty crazy about, and not only because she was such a good sport about how we liked to say her name as though announcing her in Branson, MO: “Shelllllllllby Earl!” (It’s just hard not to.) I’ve done a lot of athletic training where you have to go through the slog and soreness of building new muscles, and that’s what new sobriety was like for me. You’ve got to swim the laps and do the dumb kickboard exercises and all the other un-fun stuff, knowing eventually you’ll be a strong swimmer. There’s really no shortcut.

“Scent of Lime,” the Long Winters and “Rainfall,” Hey Marseilles
Nothing Good Can Come from This is very much a Seattle book, and these are two of my favorite Seattle bands. I used to have both of these songs on my running playlist—yes, I do enjoy running to slow, demotivating music--and in early sobriety a line from “Scent of Lime” became sort of a mantra: “The worst you can do is harm.” When I first quit drinking, my only job on any given day was just not to drink. “The worst you can do is harm,” I’d tell myself when I felt shaky. Even now, I lean on that line sometimes in a bad situation. Just don’t make it worse, I think. Start there.

“Clean Get-Away,” Lori Carson
I went through this lovely period in my first or second year of sobriety where I thought my slate was wiped clean, and none of my old habits or problematic relationships would ever be an issue again. Oh, it was wonderful while it lasted.

“Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Crowded House
Neil Finn solo is the first show I ever saw completely sober, and walking through that door was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. And I’ve been to so many shows, and always been the kind of person wants to be right up front in the thick of it. I’ve been knocked out cold by a stage diver. Al Jourgenson from Ministry once stepped on my freaking hand. But it was the prospect of seeing nice Neil Finn sing beautiful songs in his cute accent that gripped me with fear. But it was fine. More than fine. I actually see more live music now than I did as a drinker, and I love it.

“Calling Cards,” Neko Case and “If We Never Meet Again,” the Reckless Sleepers
The essay “Fascination” is about discovering my own gaze and capacity for desire in sobriety, after a lifetime trying to look good in the male one. That discovery eventually leads me into…a situation. But as I put it in the book, in the pre-situation years I “behaved myself (mostly).” “There’s an ocean of room in that ‘mostly,’ an interviewer recently noted. Yes. Yes there is, and what’s in that ocean sounds like these two songs.

“Daughters of the Soho Riots,” the National
I almost used a line from this song as the book’s epigraph: “How can anybody know how they got to be this way?” Because I could speculate all day about what combination of genes, experiences, and circumstances led me into alcoholism and out again. I know other people in recovery who’ve got it down to an elevator speech. But ultimately, I just don’t fully know. And I don’t care that much. I was there. Now I’m here. I’m on my way somewhere else. That’s what I care about.

“Do You,” Spoon
I guess this is sort of a summer-barbecue song, but I find it strangely moving and the chorus has become a sort of catechism, a series of questions I ask myself now and then: “Do you want to get understood? Do you want one thing or are you looking for sainthood? Do you run when it’s just getting good?” (Yes but a little bit no; not sainthood; sometimes.) I didn’t ask myself those sorts of questions very much as a drinker—or I’d try, but I would have forgotten the question by the time I had any sort of answer.

“Proclaim Your Joy,” Mark Eitzel
Because the king of boy-poet drinkers can also be exuberant and goofy and full of love, sober or drunk. Because so can I. This book isn’t about everything being one way and then flipping the Light Switch of Betterment. Everything I am now was in me then, for good or ill. I just couldn’t see it, because my field of vision was so narrow, and further contracting every day.

“Unsatisfied,” the Replacements
The book’s epigraph comes from this song because, I mean, my God. How could it not? It’s all in that unbelievable Westerberg vocal that’s daring you to tell him he’s gotten what he wants. Before I quit drinking, I had a vague idea that sobriety would mean a Zen state of perfect contentment, which was both attractive and somehow terrifying. Actually getting sober killed that illusion. I’m here. I’m awake. I want things. No, I’m not satisfied. Are you?

Kristi Coulter and Nothing Good Can Come from This links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Seattle Times review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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