In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Christine Hume’s Everything I Never Wanted to Know is both strongly personal and sociopolitical, a book as powerful as it is necessary.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
Provocative and intelligent … gives voice to the many ways females (and other marginalized people) are stripped of their power by (White) male misogyny. A thoughtfully disturbing, sharp sociological study.
In her own words, here is Christine Hume’s Book Notes music playlist for her book Everything I Never Wanted to Know:
So many women singing about toxic heteronormative relationships becomes the music we dance to and sing along with in our cars or kitchens. I am ambivalent about this: on the one hand, I want to hear about other, richer aspects of women’s lives and loves; on the other, these songs viscerally document rape culture. This other hand is a wish that our lives were not conditioned by fear of men and by havoc they wreak, by the fact that one in three women in the world will experience sexual violence. My book, Everything I Never Wanted to Know, is about misogyny in the form of suppression of knowledge about women’s histories, experiences, bodies, and freedoms. It is about the National Sex Offender Registry as a site of nonsense, distraction, and worsening of the epidemic against women and girls. These songs embody something of the spirit in which I wrote it. As with the book, I didn’t want the story-telling or the vibe here to be singular—instead it’s necessarily stuck, danceable, deranged, devastated, righteous, raging, dreamy, poetic, athletic, and audacious.
1.“Killer” FKA Twigs
“It’s dangerous to be a woman in love,” FKA Twigs sings, knowing we are living through a global epidemic of femicide and intimate partner violence; knowing the most common way for a woman in America to die is by the hand of a man. She follows this opening line with, “I’m walking quicker but you’re picking up,” succinctly characterizing the common feeling of being followed or stalked, the fear of no escape. This pop song alternates between the strength in boldness and vulnerability.
This haunting, autobiographical song, directly recounts devastating childhood rape that “happened like it happened millions of times.” Haze asks us to “imagine being seven and seeing cum in your underwear.” She details the rage and self-hate, the confusion and terror: “psychologically I was just as fucked as they come…so I created the other people I would try to become.” What she ultimately achieves here is not hindsight, but a change of heart, a transformation into a truer and freer version of herself. What James Baldwin asserted about “Black English” might hold especially true for the tremor, nuance, and power of Haze’s voice “A language comes into existence by means of brutal necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey.” This one pairs well with her “Battle Cry,” an ascendant rally that looks back from a place of power.
3. “Song 33” Noname
Noname sees right through the pain to the systems that engineer it, and she uses her voice in the service of sharp political commentary and revolutionary insight. Her pointed raps over a Madlib beat here lament that missing Black girls get ignored by police, the media and culture at large. The refrain, “One girl missin, another one go missin” references Oluwatoyin (Toyin) Salau, found dead in the summer of 2020, a week after she tweeted about being sexually assaulted. This track makes me want a list of other songs that keep alive historic fact and outrage like TLC’s “His Story,” which keeps alive the horrific death Tawana Brawley from 1987 (“They’re going to believe /His story over mine.”) and Sonic Youth in 1992 singing “I believe Anita Hill.” What others are there?
4. “Say Her Name (Hell You Talmbout)” Janelle Monáe
After a first version listing names of Black Americans killed by state and racial violence and a second instrumental version so that listeners could make their own tracks, in 2021, Monáe released this 17-minute version of the song featuring many vocalists chanting the names of sixty-one Black women and girls who were murdered by cops. There is a direct link between state and domestic violence. The title contracts “what the hell are you talking about?” and the song answers with a kind of gospel-inflected incantatory spell, saying her name and her name and her name, holding space for these women, reverberating with a special attention only available through audition.
5. “Armagh” Au Pairs
I grew up in the 80, listening to “girl bands” and female vocalists like Kleenex/LiLiPUT, The Slits, The Raincoats, Siouxie and the Banshees, The Pretenders, The Runaways, X (Exene Cervenka), and Salt-N-Pepa. Once I found these bands, I couldn’t get enough. This song of that era extends our memory of the IRA women prisoners staging a “no work” protest that evolved into a “dirty protest.” Prison guards were squeamish and offended when prisoners told them about their need for period supplies, but okay with violently strip-searching and sexually assaulting them. The visual I have for this song is menstrual blood smeared on the cell walls and poop plugging up peep holes. Armagh, the only women’s prison in Northern Ireland, closed in 1986.
6. “PMS” Doechii
Why aren’t there more songs—unapologetic and unabashed–about PMS? Or about periods and menstrual blood in general. “They ask me if I’m good; I say I’m PMSing.” This song flows (pun intended) as it urges us to shed (ditto) the shame and silence about our corporeal experiences. Also stop telling us to smile or expecting women to be “good” when patriarchy has made sure we are not at all. The whole second half of my book spotlights specific ways women have been alienated from their own bodies by a culture determined to discipline, degrade, and control us.
7. “Off Duty Trip” Raincoats
Punk, raw, audacious, with mind-blowing drums, this track is about a trial in late 70s England, where a solider is exonerated for rape. Cue the staccato guitars riffing and ringing out partial chords. The Raincoats mock the judge’s empathy for the solider-rapist—“save the professional” and “no jail for the professional”—and the legal system’s inclination to protect powerful men and preserve male power. True now as it was then: institutional privilege keeps rapists out of prison. What’s more: humans who land in in prison are too often criminalized long before they were even born. All the more reason to abolish prisons.
Oppenheim loops the opening lines of a Jimi Hendrix song that tells the story of a man on the run to Mexico after shooting and killing his wife. Do you want to call him an outlaw or a wife-killer? Oppenheim deterritorializes the song and reverses the mood. Stuck on repeat, this swan song or lullaby seems detached on the surface but as it creeps on, goes darkly melancholic. Oppenheim’s voice fixates on a disintegrated temporality, lingering within the threat of violence. Unable to finish the song, to complete the heteronormative story, to slip into the narrative’s drive, the song arranges itself outside traditional notions of time, floating confrontation of fantasy. During the time Oppenheim recorded this vocal composition for gallery installations in the early 1990s, I would, after a late shift at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, sometimes hang out with her junkie husband, from whom she was separated. He’s dead now, but the suffering I imagine he brought runs through her voice.
9. “Dreams” Solange
The two ficto-documentary walking tours in Everything required endless walking, drifting through spaces with language on my mind, and this song immersing me in a meditative loop, a trance that opens up a space of muted hope, holding me in a limbo of possibility, a fog of continuity, like a trapped thought about childhood dreams forever verging, about to emerge, at once physiological and cosmological, suspending the next dream until the world is better prepared for it.
10. “Child’s Play” SZA/Chance the Rapper
I listened to “Child’s Play” plenty in the moments between writing, driving my daughter around. I have her to thank for introducing me to several of the songs on this playlist. Teens are the best at feeling deeply and experimenting with their feelings, and for my daughter, music picks up emotionally where language falls short. Exploratory and down-tempo, this track feels like a moody convo about memory. I love that it begins with ripping the heads off Barbie dolls, a good context for talking about gender expectations and the role of dolls, which is what the chapter “Icy Girl, Frigid Bitches, Frozen Dolls” revolves around.
11. “White Boy” Bikini Kill
The first thing we hear is a sample of a (presumably) “white boy” victim blaming. The intro motivates the unrelenting vehemence and post-punk feminist commitments that range from ferocious to sarcastic. Most of their songs are low-fi mini-manifestos against rape culture. Kathleen Hannah offers an antidote to what Melissa Febos (really, her wife) calls “beggin’-ass songs,” crooning ballads full of longing to be forgiven, to return to love (or the illusion of it), in favor of full independence and agency.
12. “Man” Quinnie
What this playlist is saying is fuck bro culture and also “fuck your soft boy scam” (no amount of nail polish could make you a good man”). Men who coopt feminism and femininity to disarm and betray us probably delight in a special song written just for them (bet you think this song is about you). This song keeps the idealism of love audible in the indie-folk vibe and cinematic sounds as she insists on confronting soft costumes for toxic masculinity.
13. “Tomboy” Princess Nokia
“My little titties and my fat belly” is a refrain that runs through my mind more often than I’d like to admit. Its joyful, in-your-face bravada is an anti-beauty standard anthem par excellence.
14. “Flow My Tears” Susan Philipsz
Susan Philipsz’s faithful cover of John Dowland’s madrigal “Flow My Tears” circa 1600, runs like Elizabethan ghost under the London Bridge near the Royal Exchange. It’s an installation, but you can listen on repeat in headphones as you wander your own town, thinking about all the sex offenders who live there, the ones on and off the list. Did you know that the sex offender industry and the registry particularly, one of the most ineffective means of stopping crime, is a billion-dollar business? Philipsz’s voice flows and accumulates like water, like capital, like tears, like names on a registry, like bodies ona bridge or under it, in the river where people notoriously disappear. Philipsz voice becomes an intervention, producing a proliferation of trajectories whose destinations are conditioned by slippage, profanity, madness, and excess. At the end of this song, there is no stopping the heartbreak that comes from loving money, everything goes into the river. “Flow My Tears” reshapes the narrative around a heightened awareness of our bankrupt investments and the accruing interest of human value, human voice, empathy’s navigational force.
15. “I Will Survive” Gloria Naylor
This is song came out when I was ten. Because I misheard the lyrics, I knew I was listening to something rarely spoken about, a frightening and mysterious adult secret. I had never heard the word “rape” in a song! I still mishear it: “Weren’t you the one who tried to rape me? Well, goodbye!” The rest of the lyrics seem to support my mishearing. I held on to its promise. Even if attempted rape isn’t the reason for the break up, it’s about learning when to exit a bad situation. “Patriarchy has always seen love as women’s work degraded and devalued labor,” bell hooks reminds us. We know better: it is the highest human pursuit, requiring immense strength, courage, and hard work. This playlist ends rallying us to feel deeply and also survive.
Christine Hume is the author of a lyric memoir, Saturation Project (Solid Objects, 2021), as well as three books of poetry–Musca Domestica (Beacon Press, 2000), Alaskaphrenia (New Issues, 2004), and Shot (Counterpath, 2010)–and six limited-edition chapbooks. Since 2001, she has been faculty in the interdisciplinary Creative Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University.