Author Playlists

Luiz Schwarcz’s Playlist for His Memoir “The Absent Moon”

“My memoir The Absent Moon intertwines my family’s story with the story of my bipolar disorder and my love for books and music.”

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Luiz Schwarcz’s memoir The Absent Moon is a poignant of depression and post-war trauma.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“A Brazilian writer and publisher memorably chronicles his Jewish upbringing in São Paulo as an only child plagued by depression. In this beautifully composed narrative, Schwarcz investigates the undigested trauma from his postwar childhood, a time shadowed by the long-lasting guilt and depression of his Hungarian Jewish father, András . . . ‘For years now I’ve been living in a world of few words, in an ambiguous silence,’ he writes. ‘It can be as soothing as it is oppressive and addictive. In this vacuum, my manias create alternate realities, always much more imaginary than concrete.’ Imaginary or not, these stories will resonate with anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, mental illness, and/or generational trauma. A riveting literary memoir.”

In his own words, here is Luiz Schwarcz’s Book Notes music playlist for his memoir The Absent Moon:

My memoir The Absent Moon intertwines my family’s story with the story of my bipolar disorder and my love for books and music. The narrative is centered on my father’s history—a Hungarian Jewish refugee, he survived the Holocaust and eventually fled to Brazil after escaping the train that was taking him and his father to Bergen Belsen. Burdened with the enormous trauma of saving himself and leaving his father behind, per his father’s command, he became a haunted, depressed man. I believe I probably inherited depression from my father André but I was also deeply affect by his guilt and suffering. The book explores intergenerational trauma and the transmission of mental diseases, but it is also a story of heroism during the war. The playlist I made has depression as its theme but it is much more than sad songs.

1) Paint It, Black – Rolling Stones

“I want to see the sun bottle out from sky / I look inside of me and see my heart is black”. One of the classic rock and roll songs about depression. Simple and direct–vintage Rolling Stones.

2) I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Al Green

In my experience, loneliness is more a state of mind than a fact. On this track, Al Green makes that sensation feel tangible and real.

3) Years of Solitude – Astor Piazzola and Gerry Mulligan

I like listening to songs without words—they can feel so much more powerful, and this rare meeting of Piazzola, the great Argentine tango composer, and Gerry Mulligan brilliantly aims directly at the heart. As I mentioned in my book, I value the ability to show love in pure wordless expressions. As someone who often finds words to be inadequate in fully describing my depression, tracks like this can be very comforting. The end of the song can mean that people like me, with a kind of addiction to solitude, can find happiness in it.

4) Way to Blue – Nick Drake

This piece, by a talented musician who took his own life, is so beautiful. In the song, Drake is trying to find “the way to blue.” In my opinion, “blue” means more than sadness, and that is what Drake was searching for.

5) The Goal – Leonard Cohen

The lyrics of this beautiful poem say it all. I recall in my memoir that being a goalie on my school’s soccer team as a teenager helped me escape from my early signs of depression. In this case, the word “goal” has two meanings. By focusing my energy on protecting my physical goal and therefore my team, I felt a reprieve from my perpetual loneliness. In soccer, it was easy to pinpoint a goal—to win for my teammates—but as I discovered with my developing depression, other goals in life were more elusive.

6) Coisas do mundo minha nega – Paulinho da Viola

Coisas, written by this great samba composer and singer, is one of the most beautiful and meaningful songs I have ever heard.  I’m drawn to the idea that there is always more to discover in life. (“Things are in life my dear, and I still have to learn them”). Da Viola sings about looking for a song “without melody and words, in order not to lose its merits”—a quest that showcases the liminality of words. Even though I am a publisher and writer, I love the idea of pure expression without language—words can feel weak when you feel so wounded by life.

7) Concerto en sol mineur, BWV975 II Largo – Alexander Tharaud (cds baroque or concert italiens)

Please just close your eyes and feel the music. There is nothing to say, apart that Bach is my favorite companion for sad moments.

8) Canto chorado – Os originais do samba

This song is part of the epigraphs of the book and explains the complexities of bipolar disorder in comprehendible language. “O que dá para rir dá para chorar” (“All that makes you laugh can make you cry”): In this track I hear an accurate portrait of bipolar disorder, in which you can change from one mood to another—from mania to melancholia—and still suffer with both. I dislike the notion that people with bipolar disorder are creative genius largely because of their disease. Mental illness is not a gift. Ultimately, it can cause great pain to people and the ones they love. We do not need it to create great things.

9) The Chain – Fleetwood Mac

While researching other accounts of bipolar disorder online, I read that many people gravitate to this song because it expresses the specific notion of lost and disturbed time due to mania and melancholia: the line “If you don’t love me now you will never love me again” sums it up perfectly.

10) Je t’aime moi non plus – Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin

A funny story about this track—more than fifty years ago, I played this song while having lunch with my parents, not knowing the singers were pretending to make love. In my book I explain how in my mania I would collect CDs of all kinds—including this one by Gainsbourg and Birkin—and constantly play them as a way to counteract my sense of loneliness.

11) My Way – Brooke Benton

My preferred version of this classic standard diverges from the Sinatra version that my father loved. I bought Benton’s CD after it appeared in Billboard, but I had never heard the Sinatra version—or even the French original—before. For me Brook Benton’s take was so much better. This is music of the soul that is meant to be sung out loud: “I did it my way”.

12) Beethoven’s Adagieto of Seventh Symphony – Carlos Kleiber Deutsche Gramophone

My favorite by Beethoven who also struggled with bipolar disorder. Sad, a bit tender, and sometimes energetic, this is the most profound movement of a symphony ever made, in my modest opinion.

Luiz Schwarcz was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1956. He began his career as an editor at Brasiliense and later founded Companhia das Letras, in 1986. In 2017, he received the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the author of the children’s books Minha vida de goleiro (1999) and Em busca do Thesouro da Juventude (2003), and the short story collections Discurso sobre o capim (2005) and Linguagem de sinais (2010).

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