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September 5, 2018

Leah Dieterich's Playlist for Her Memoir "Vanishing Twins"

Vanishing Twins

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.

Leah Dieterich's stunning memoir Vanishing Twins is a poignant exploration of identity and open marriage, and one of the year's most thought-provoking books.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Dieterich fully embraces the art of introspection in this unique memoir. Her prose, dispatched in pagelong ruminations, establishes thought-provoking connections . . . In these poetically written episodes, the author ponders the nature of love, attraction, and identity through literature, pop culture, psychology, femininity, and the delicate nuances of being a 'beautiful and controlled' ballerina. Graceful snapshots of a life that lyrically coalesce into expressive declarations of identity and intimacy."

In her own words, here is Leah Dieterich's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Vanishing Twins:

The White Stripes “There’s No Home For You Here”
This is undoubtedly a breakup song, but instead of one adult singing it to another, I imagine one twin embryo singing to its sibling. “I’d like to think that all this constant interaction / is just the kind to make you drive yourself away.” It’s the anthem for Vanishing Twin Syndrome. It also fits the experience I had when I was trying to maintain two long-distance relationships, one with my husband Eric and one with my lover Elena. Both of these relationships were mediated through technology—instant message and video chat. I find webcams really awkward. “It’s hard to look you in the face when we are talking / so it helps to have a mirror in the room / I’ve not been really looking forward to the performance / But there’s my cue and there’s a question on your face / Fortunately I have come across an answer / which is go away and do not leave a trace.”

Justice “Genesis”
Genesis is where we find the Adam and Eve story in the bible. It’s one of the foundational stories in the tradition of lovers being part of one another; of not being able to live without each other (quite literally in this case) although of course it was only Eve who couldn’t live without Adam, having been created from his rib. There is an anecdote in Vanishing Twins about a man having a pain in his ribs and finding out that he has a teratoma, a cyst composed of bits of teeth and hair that are remnants of a vanished twin he incorporated into his body. It’s kind of a reverse Adam and Eve thing, I guess. This song feels like a battle and I see it as the soundtrack to a kind of epic fight between the twins in utero after one has told the other she is leaving because their closeness has become unbearable. Justice was really popular during the time period in which Vanishing Twins takes place and I remember Ethan and I were shooting a commercial in Australia and every day these ominous clouds would roll in and threaten our shoot. I made a video of these weather patterns to show Eric and Elena and set it to “Genesis.” This track has since been used endlessly in advertising, film and TV so it pays homage to the advertising through-line of the book.

Stravinsky “Rite of Spring - Part One: Adoration of the Earth: Spring Rounds”
The Rite of Spring is the last ballet I performed before quitting dance, and this is the movement I liked best. The beginning of this section has the twinkling of rebirth I felt when I was dancing. I was rising from the dead—or channeling my dead twin and there she was, dancing with me. During this part of the ballet, seven men partnered seven women and since there were so many more women in the ballet, some of the women partnered women, too. I was one of these such women.

Elysian Fields “Black Acres”
There is something that feels very sylph-like in this song. “Virgins all elude the trees,” she sings like a whispered secret. I picture the Wilis (the spirits of virgin girls who died before they were married) in the ballet Giselle which was the name my best friend gave herself in our high school French class. It’s a very spooky sounding song. After I quit ballet, I definitely felt like a certain version of me had died. I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a ballet dancer, but I didn’t have time to mourn her because I met Eric a month later.

Camp Lo “Luchini AKA This is It”
“This is it” is what I felt when I met Eric. This is the person I’ve been looking for my entire life. I felt complete again. “Luchini AKA This is It” was on the first CD mix Eric made me. Camp Lo were a hip hop duo influenced and involved with De La Soul and Disable Planets and some of the other positive hip-hop acts of the 90s. It has an absolutely irresistible hook that’s sampled from a 1980 song called "Adventures in the Land of Music" by Dynasty. I was totally smitten.

The Velvet Underground “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
If you don’t listen too closely to the lyrics, this song’s sunny guitar and childlike tambourine celebrate finding someone to love and protect you, and to see you. But listen more closely and it starts to get a bit darker…

Miles Davis “So What”
So What—that’s what I would have said to anyone who questioned my idea that merging with someone was not the ultimate form of love. Eric and I didn’t care. We’d been together for four years and were so in love and getting married. We listened to a lot of bebop at that time and this song and “In a Sentimental Mood” featured prominently at our wedding. It has a very steady, relaxed tempo, a little sleepy even—and that is what our relationship was like at that time.

Fugazi “The Argument”
This song feels like the way we argued back then–in a kind of shoe-gaze, muted, monotone way. That is to say: barely at all. Eric was a big Fugazi fan and this album came our right around the time we moved in together and this was my favorite track. “Here comes the argument,” Ian MacKaye sings at the end of the song, but the argument never seems to come. Or does it? It’s bubbling there, but the song ends before it really gets going.

Jenny Wilson “Summer Time the Roughest Time”
From the Rite of Spring’s “Adoration of Spring,” to Jenny Wilson’s hatred of summer. This song was the first single on her debut album and a friend from Sweden clued me into it when it came out in the US. This song to me is about trying to design an identity for oneself; of not knowing exactly who you are, of feeling like a fake. It also calls into question a lot of received ideas we get from the culture about how we’re supposed to feel about certain experiences—even seasons! In hindsight this song is a perfect track to describe the summer Eric went to the artist’s residency and I met Elena and our open relationship got more complicated.

Le Tigre “Keep on Livin'”
This song played over the end credits of Elena’s film and I see it as her musical entrance into the book. It was an animated film that collaged photos and video of herself alongside tangled line-drawings. As the credits rolled, I applauded alongside everyone else in the darkness, acutely aware of the chair I was sitting on, of my hands touching each other. There was heat in my face. I had a crush on a cartoon. How silly was that? But really, this wasn’t the first time I’d swooned for a two-dimensional heroine. As an eight-year-old, I’d watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit hundreds of times, just to see Jessica Rabbit slink around, pouting a Billie Holliday song. She’d turned me on.

Justin Timberlake - “Mirrors”
This song was one of the first pieces of pop culture I looked at when I started analyzing the messages we internalize about the ideals of love in my research for Vanishing Twins. “Mirrors” is an update of The Velvet Underground’s song. I’m looking right at the other half of me / the vacancy that sat in my heart / is a space that now you hold. When this song came out it was everywhere. On the radio, on the internet; live on the late-night talk shows. Girl, you're my reflection / all I see is you, Justin sings in his floating falsetto toward the end of the song. It’s a complicated phrase. If his lover is his reflection, then she is he, and if all he sees is her, then all he sees is himself. It doesn’t sound romantic, it sounds lonely. That said, I love this song because I pretty much love every Justin Timberlake song. And I’m not alone in this. He’s a person inspire crushes from people of all genders and musical persuasions. He has pan-appeal.

Gabo Brown and Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo “It’s a Vanity”
I got very into these reissues of West African psychedelic music that Numero Group put out in the mid 2000s while Eric and I were living apart in New York and LA. This song in particular was a favorite and its title feels fitting for the mirroring I was doing with Elena, Eric and Ethan.

Deep Time “Bermuda Triangle”
People disappear in the Bermuda Triangle and that’s what I felt like was happening to me as these concurrent relationships went on. I spent so much time thinking about Eric and Elena and their needs and desires, I couldn’t figure out who or where I was.

The Mars Volta “Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt” 2006
The Mars Volta is a band that rose from the ashes of a post-punk band called At the Drive In which Eric introduced me to when we met. He was really into punk and hardcore back then, and I could only tolerate hardcore music when it was live, when I could get into the performance of it. I never liked it coming out of speakers in the apartment or the car. We couldn’t agree on music a lot of the time, but The Mars Volta was a band we both fell in love with. I liked the wildness of it, the impassioned vocals. The odd time signatures reminded Eric of the prog rock/hardcore/metal he loved. It reminded me of Stravinsky and the Rite of Spring. There is a section of the book that takes place in London when the love triangle hits a breaking point and one person comes close to death. This song feels fitting for that chaos.

Sufjan Stevens “Seven Swans” 2004
This song feels like mourning. As with so many of Sufjan’s songs, there’s a lot of Christian imagery, but “Seven Swans” makes me think more about ballet; about mourning the death of that identity. When I danced it was with a kind of religious devotion. I’d sometimes complain or bemoan the unfairness of a particular thing in ballet—usually that I hadn’t gotten a role I felt I deserved—and my mother would say “You know you don’t have to do this, right? I want to make sure you don’t think I’m asking you to do this.” I always brushed her off. It had nothing to do with her. I felt compelled by something beyond myself to dance, both when it was painful and when it was joyful. I felt similarly about my relationships. “Seven Swans” also seems to call out from the lowest point in my open relationship. “I heard a voice in my mind,” Sufjan sings. “I will try / I will try / I will try…. I will try / I will try / I will try….” This was the incantation I was singing to myself. I was trying to make it all work.

Cat Power “The Moon”
I love Sufjan’s voice for its breathy vulnerability, and I love Cat Power’s for the same reason. His is high for a man, hers low for a woman—there’s a definite kinship. I listened to both of them a great deal during the time period in which Vanishing Twins takes place—the fraternal twins of my music library.

Joanna Newsom "Emily"
Late in the book, there is a scene where I make a video of my hand throwing three dice to see how long it takes to roll three ones. It is something I did at Elena’s urging. She had said she wanted she and Eric and I to all be equal entities in our relationship, three dice each rolling a one. It took nearly 14 minutes to achieve three ones and I searched my music folder for a song of the same length and Joanna Newsom’s “Emily” was spot on. Of course. “Emily.” Another E name! I laid the track onto my clip and it lined up eerily well. Its lyrics were perfect too, as they reminded me of Eric and Elena and Ethan. Of the love for a sibling. Of mothers’ bodies, celestial bodies, bodies of water.

Au Revoir Simone - "All or Nothing"
This song represents the ultimatum everyone gave me. It’s also so very Brooklyn 2010. It’s what I was listening to during the Vanishing Twins era.

Jeanette “Porque Te Vas”
“Porque Te Vas” was written by José Luis Perales and performed by the singer Jeanette in 1974, but it didn’t become a hit until it was used in Carlos Suara’s film Cría Cuervos (Raising Crows) which won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. I love that while it’s sung in Spanish, Jeanette’s name and childlike delivery make me associate it with the French chanteuses of the 1960s. I like all the mixtures happening here. The song, like so many heartbreak songs, is about someone leaving—and the lover, the speaker, the author—remaining. A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes is an important text in Vanishing Twins and I like to think that Barthes would have liked this song. My Spanish had gotten very good by the end of the book and I actually understood all the lyrics in this song which felt like a real victory.

Stravinsky “Agon - Pas de Deux”
It wasn’t until we started talking about Chantal Mouffe’s theory “Agonism,” that Eric and I made real breakthroughs in our relationship. Until we accepted that there was no such thing as true consensus, but that the struggle for it should be seen as positive. Agonism made me think of Agon, a ballet by George Balanchine. It is one of his many collaborations with Stravinsky, and written during the time when Stravinsky was shifting his musical compositions away from the diatonic scale he’d used previously, and toward a more complex, atonal twelve-tone one. The music in Agon is a struggle, too. The dancers don’t dance with it, per se, but around it, underneath it, through it.

Kate Bush “Moving” 1978
Moby Dick was another text that figured prominently into a certain kind of resolution for Eric and I, The Squeeze of the Hand section in particular which he encouraged me to read and which we both found erotic. The whale sounds at the beginning of Kate Bush’s “Moving” remind me of Moby Dick, and the album title from which “Moving” comes—The Kick Inside—has obvious pregnancy vibes, which makes it fitting for Vanishing Twins. This song makes me want to dance.

Kate Bush “The Saxophone Song” 1978
“Moving” continues right into the second track of the album, bookended by whale sounds. I didn’t have the heart to do surgery to this transition, to split these two songs apart.

Tchaikovsky “Swan Lake, Op. 20, Act 1: 5. Pas de deux”
The pas de deux between Odile (the Black Swan) and Prince Siegfried is perhaps the most famous section of the Swan Lake, as it contains the thirty-two fouetté turns Odile does on one leg. This is the grand finale of the book.

Leah Dieterich and Vanishing Twins links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Bustle profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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