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August 7, 2018

Lisa Locascio's Playlist for Her Novel "Open Me"

Open Me

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.

Lisa Locascio's novel Open Me is an impressive political and erotic debut.

The Village Voice wrote of the book:

"A bildungsroman that's not merely erotic, but a delicate investigation into migration, belonging, and the female form."

In her own words, here is Lisa Locascio's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Open Me:

My first concert was Lilith Fair 1997 at the New World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Illinois, featuring Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and Sarah MacLachlan. I was twelve. My parents, who accompanied me, bought me a t-shirt featuring the Lilith Fair sigil—a fertile, welcoming nude woman surrounded by flowers—that I got in trouble for wearing to school. I was hooked. I’ve listened to music every day since, developing occult rituals of repetition, curation, and adoration now as ingrained in me as my shower routine. When I started out, making playlists meant waiting with an audio cassette in my tape deck as my favorite radio station played, my finger poised above the record button, ready to capture a beloved song. Like so many people I loved making mix tapes for my friends and family, but most of all for myself. Making a playlist to accompany my first novel feels like a similar project, except my object of desire has become the whole reading public.

Open Me is the story of eighteen-year-old Roxana Olsen’s summer of unexpected discovery in rural northern Denmark, where she undergoes an initiatory immersion in pleasure and pain through intense encounters with two men and with herself. It is a story about a young person confronting questions of identity, freedom, and captivity. It is both a psychological thriller about an unhappy relationship and an openhearted coming-of-age bildungsroman featuring a love triangle. Oh, also, there’s a lot of sex. I dove deep into my memory and feeling and iTunes records to compile this companion to the book.

I hope all of it brings you pleasure.

Mild Confusion by Tamaryn

I moved from New York City to Los Angeles to begin a PhD program in 2009, and Open Me was the central project of my doctoral years. There is no artist I associate more with my book, the years I spent writing it, or the place I lived for most of that time—California—than Tamaryn, the Kiwi shoegaze/New Wave witch goddess of my dreams. I discovered her album The Waves in September 2010 (shoutout to Bust magazine for putting it on my radar), right after I began writing the novel.

“Mild Confusion” is the last song on The Waves, but when I saw Tamaryn play songs from that album live—three different times, between 2011 and 2014—she began her sets with this song. It’s an ecstatic, high-winging immersion into a new world, a great place to begin and finish. It is the invocation that brought me into the work and world and people of the book.

Young Girl by Dawn Landes

I discovered Dawn Landes’s music via Chris Onstad’s webcomic Achewood, which all of my cool high school friends were into. Landes’s song “Twilight” was linked from the character Molly’s blog (yes, I read the blogs of characters in a webcomic).

“Young Girl” is from Landes’s 2010 album Sweetheart Rodeo, and captures so much of what I wanted to evoke in Open Me: the excitement and danger of feeling your power and also coming to understand how it can be used against you, the terrifying, intoxicating ride of coming into your own and realizing how fleeting that sense of self-ownership can be, or, as Landes puts it, “Don’t you know? Time’s a rodeo.” These are the experiences and realizations upon whose cusp my protagonist Roxana is at the beginning of the book.

We Used To Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols

“We Used To Be Friends” was released in the spring of my senior year of high school and quickly became an anthem for myself and a close friend with whom I would later lose touch, this breakup topped any of my romantic ones for pure suffering until my divorce and inspired and fed my protagonist Roxana’s relationship with her friend Sylvie, which is a pivotal link in the chain reaction that lands her in Denmark. With their synth-driven spaceout, the Dandys really nail the melancholy and inevitability of the way that some friendships pass out of their sacred intimacy and intensity and begin afterlives as passing acquaintances or less—a truth hard for me and my main character alike to accept.

AF607105 by Charlotte Gainsbourg

This song, with its driving piano chords and hilariously French pronunciation of “Saskatchewan,” is about a flight, and because I’m relentlessly obvious, I like to listen to it when I’m on planes. Its sleepy, chanty repetition, with Gainsbourg’s bedroom-eyes voice intoning a list of extraordinary experiences rendered commonplace by the ordinariness of traveling by plane masquerades as soothing, if very emotionally invested in the flight time. Then, at 2:26, the song takes a turn—I live my life tracking and feeling deeply such song turns—and Gainsbourg offers a paean to the miracle of skybound mobility: “All the things I carry with me, and all the things I left behind / All the things that wait to meet me hover in the air tonight / If I can only keep on moving and never stop and think of me, and freefall through the years and decades, terminal velocity.” It’s a sentiment I feel very close to Roxana on her flight to Denmark. She is shot through the air to a place she has never been before, where the temporary exile of travel will render her a new person.

Space For Rent by WhoMadeWho

WhoMadeWho was an opening act I had never heard of, but I arrived early to get a good spot near the front, figuring I could always slip off to the bar if the opener was lame. But they were amazing, these two guys in black-and-white unitards fronting a band with sharp choreography and flair to spare, Freddie Mercury meeting Busby Berkeley. I immediately began listening to their albums; their 2005 self-titled release was my favorite, and “Space For Rent,” with its sleazy, sexy feel, became my mantra as a bumbling, newly single person. Now it reminds me of my character Søren, who like the band is Danish, and presents a dizzying, magical new world to Roxana, a place he promises to guide, protect, and delight her. To me this song is all about the darkly glittering promise of going out into the night.

If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray

Is this song too obvious? Not only is it by half of perhaps the most famous Swedish musical act of recent years (Fever Ray is the solo project of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer), but the song is doubly Scandinavian-associated as the music for the opening credits of the surprisingly good History Channel series Vikings. Funnily enough, Open Me began life, once upon a time, as a book about Vikings and time travel.

No song better encapsulates the glimmering, long-sought, bloody knowledge of body and desire Roxana finally accesses when she and Søren become lovers. “This will never end because I want more” is as apt a description of Roxana’s discovery of her appetites as anything I wrote in the book.

Hare Tarot Lies by No Joy

A friend of mine who read many drafts of Open Me jokes that Søren is like a Bond villain, this sexy guy who shows up promising Roxana the world, his sinister self-loathing cloaked in his genuine belief that what he’s offering will be good for them both. He wants emotional rather than world domination. Roxana has always wanted to be seen, and Søren’s lust for her whole person is a hit of the purest stuff she has yet tasted. She is absorbed into his universe and quickly implicated in the losing game of Søren’s wellbeing—a responsibility she rises to rather than shies away from. This song feels like the freefall of joining your life to another, of not even considering that something could go wrong.

Honey by Best Coast

Best Coast does stoner obsession better than anyone, and this song—always one of my favorites off their debut Crazy For You—takes a darker turn away from Bethany Cosentino’s neon palm-laden universe. Rather than chilling with a cat named Snacks, she’s suddenly wailing about a life spent waiting for an absent beloved. I can think of no better anthem for Roxana and Søren’s evenings high on the couch, discovering and avoiding each other.

Peace Signs by Sharon Van Etten

I remember reading an interview with Sharon Van Etten in which she said that she had begun making music only for herself but then heard from her friends that it “helped” them, which led her to decide to release it. This is as elegant a summation of the artist’s drive to share their work as I’ve ever heard, and reminds me of what my therapist said during the long years I despaired of ever finishing my book: “Imagine the person who’s out there waiting to read it.” That sense of invisible connection was a huge motivator for me.

This song is about the heartbreaking feeling of waiting for someone to realize that you love them, about keeping the faith that they will treat you right while knowing they won’t. Its driving tension evokes the way a bad relationship can feel like a worthy adventure, a meaningful undertaking, even as it eats you alive.

She Wants by Metronomy

Writing a book about a woman’s frustrated desire was difficult because so little space has been created in art and literature for discussion of the lusting female body and mind. I wanted to aestheticize the state of wanting, the way it heightens every experience, frustration, and perceived slight. Metronomy makes some of the sexiest music out there in large part because Joseph Mount understands that frighteningly powerful aggravation is the b-side to longing—an edge dramatized nicely in this song.

My Twin by Eleni Mandell

This song’s vibe of spywork and sleazy inquiry reminds me of Roxana’s tracking of Geden across the park where she knows he works. That secret feeling of wanting more information.

The Garden By Tamaryn

The other residency song on this playlist, “The Garden” is the lead single off Tamaryn’s second album Brave New Signs, which came out just as I departed for my first-ever residency at Prairie Center of the Arts in Peoria, Illinois. It was a strange, hazy two weeks in October. I lived in a McMansion basement, worked on my book, and took long, perilous walks though the sidewalk-less subdivision to buy pasta at the dollar store. “The Garden” always takes me back to that basement, where I wrote the scenes of Roxana’s increasing obsession and isolation as she paces around Farsø.

T by Glasser

A song of communion and shared space. This is the soundtrack to the sacred time Roxana spends with Geden in his unexpectedly lovely home, the feeling of deep realization that accompanies like recognizing like. Together they experience an unprecedented trust—an invitation to remove each other’s armor and breathe into the sensation of being joined.

Creature by Lia Ices

There is no song I’ve listened to more, no witchier anthem, no greater affirmation than this track by Lia Ices, whose work I discovered on, of all places, an episode of MTV’s Catfish. I recently realized that some of my intense attachment to this song is premised on lyrics I now realize I misheard. I thought Ices sang, “How should I dream of you in the bed full of sores?” a vivid question that reminded me of the David Lynch painting Suddenly my house became a tree of sores and seemed such a concise, brutally real statement of the way life is everything all at once, never just good or bad. That question really meant a lot to me, but I guess the line is actually “I'll share a dream with you in a bed full of soil” which is cool too. I got most of the lyrics it right, though. “I will howl for you”: I address those words to myself, to my readers, and most of all to Roxana, whose experiences and feelings I sought to make visible, real, important. This is a song of celebration and mourning all at once, The Fool tarot card, the recognition that something must die in order to begin again, the invitation to the rest of your life.

Lisa Locascio and Open Me links:

the author's website

Kirkus review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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