Author Playlists

Bethanne Patrick’s Playlist for Her Memoir “Life B: Overcoming Double Depression”

“Readers might be surprised by the amount of folk on here. . . but since my debut memoir Life B: Overcoming Double Depression, has everything to do with my own roots, I knew I needed to dig deep and connect the chapters in my book with the songs that never fail 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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Bethanne Patrick’s Life B is one of the most striking and hopeful memoirs about mental health I have ever read. This is essential reading for everyone.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“Bracing . . . Riveting and remarkable in its portrayal of the author’s struggles, this will lend hope to others suffering from mental illness and those who love them . . . A standout.”

In her own words, here is Bethanne Patrick’s Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Life B: Overcoming Double Depression:

My introduction to music came early and mostly through my mother, whose love for American musical theater and global folk music has left me with a lifelong memory bank of lyrics to “West Side Story” and a strong preference for music with roots, music connected to place or identity or politics or an aesthetic or all of the above. Readers might be surprised by the amount of folk on here. . . but since my debut memoir Life B: Overcoming Double Depression, has everything to do with my own roots, I knew I needed to dig deep and connect the chapters in my book with the songs that never fail me.

The 17 songs here all form part of a (growing) list I keep of music that permits transcendence. Transcendence means something that takes you from our physical existence into the spiritual realm, and while some of these songs are lighter or heavier, they all make me think. They all bring me joy. They all transport me, the way music we love does, into a new space. Even during the times in my life when I was badly depressed, hearing a favorite piece of music could give me peace for a few minutes. Now that I am much healthier and much more present, I’m listening to more new music, especially bands from around the world, like Korea’s fabulous ADG7, that integrate roots-based instruments and traditions with contemporary sounds.

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel

Life B opens with my husband driving me to a psychiatric hospital for in-patient treatment. We are all searching for mercy, every single one of us, all the time; although I disliked being on a locked ward, I do believe I received mercy there, the kind that allowed me to move forward with the search for better health and better treatment.

I recently had my first-year creative-writing students listen to this, Gabriel’s masterpiece, twice: Once to see how it made them feel/what it had them envision, then again after they learned that it’s based on a poem by Anne Sexton about her life, depression, and suicide attempts. Because they didn’t like what they’d already learned about Sexton (she did have some seriously unsavory behavior), they were shocked to realize how much they felt for the “little Anne” in the song. It’s hypnotic and carefully composed, taking listeners on a wave-rocked ride through night seas through a chorus with the clever “where you’re inside out” that ends with “in your Daddy’s arms again.” When it comes to artistic appropriation done right, “Mercy Street” is number one.

“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison and “Fountain of Sorrow” by Joan Baez

As we grow up it’s difficult to remember that our parents aren’t necessarily all that old; in Generation Jones, many of us had parents who were still in their twenties when we were tweens. My mother was 27 when I was born and had worried about being too old to have a family! When I was 10, 12, 14 she was still so young and still so interested in contemporary music. We didn’t have a lot of money, but one day she heard “Imagine” by John Lennon, drove to the nearest record store, and came home with Lennon’s album plus Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” set. My sister and I couldn’t believe that our mom, who was constantly shepherding us to classical music concerts, had just purchased the kind of rock music that was forbidden to us. I’m not much drawn to the reediness of “Imagine,” but I remember hearing “My Sweet Lord” and thinking YES. Yes, this. Same with Baez performing “Fountain of Sorrow” on her “Diamonds and Rust” album that Mom bought a few years later. I had no idea who Jackson Browne was, but I did understand that the lyrics to “Fountain” contained the same kind of longing that I experienced in “My Sweet Lord.”

“Lost in the Supermarket” by The Clash and “Where Are We Now” by David Bowie

My chapter titled “Life During Wartime” is about the nearly four years my husband and I lived in West Berlin, before The Wall came down. Of course, that title is a nod to the Talking Heads, a band I started loving in high school. I didn’t start loving The Clash until college, when a classmate (and now a lifelong friend) introduced me to the wonder that is Joe Strummer. There are plenty of songs by The Clash that are cherish, but this one, almost a one-off, feels exactly like my early wanderings through several worlds at once: Marriage, Military, European, Cold War. Thank you, Joe, for writing about the terrors of late capitalism as I experienced the terrors of late Soviet communism.

To bookend Strummer, a true Berliner, David Bowie. Yes, I actually visited The Tschungel once, his bar/club of choice, but let’s face it, I’m no rocker. I was 22 when I landed at Berlin Tegel and had just had a very traditional wedding with lots of traditional wedding gifts; I thought if I didn’t keep the Wedgwood safe and the silver polished, I would be a failure. If I could do anything over in life, it would be those Berlin years – this time I still might not be a rocker, but I would absolutely pursue the classical voice lessons I loved taking and start going out on auditions for the corps at the Deutsche Oper, the way my teacher wanted me to. In “Where Are We Now” Bowie – achingly close to his life’s end – reflects on his and history’s late-20th-century changes. “A man caught in time/Outside KaDeWe.” If I confessed to the true amount of time I spent at that grand department store, symbol of Western excess, you’d be shocked. But the food halls!

“Queen of the Slipstream” by Van Morrison

I doubt I’ll have a funeral (plant me in an ecopod please, or whatever is earth friendly in the far future!), but if I do, I’d want this song played. Van Morrison, how I wish you weren’t such a dreadful person politically, but your music has a soothing vibe. Perhaps it’s the actual spirit of Celtic soul being channeled through an imperfect vessel. Anyway, Morrison’s serenade to a love who is aging, anywhere from 30 to 90, reminds me that my long and complicated but ultimately wonderful marriage is built to last. So am I. “You have crossed many waters to be here/You have drank of the fountain of innocence/And experienced the long cold wintry years. . . “ Sigh.

“Handle with Care” by The Traveling Wilburys

A group consisting of George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison? Who could resist? I love their entire first album but the word work in this one slays me. “Been stuck in airports, terrorized/Sent to meetings, hypnotized/Overexposed, commercialized/Handle me with care. . . “ It’s a paean to failure and the slipping-down kind of life and then Orbison comes in with his otherworldly tenor and says he still has some love to give. If Life B is about anything, it’s about hope. We all deserve to give the love we still have – and to get a little of it, too.

“The Weight” by The Band

Our family of four has a holiday tradition of watching “The Last Waltz.” It started so that we could see the stoned-out-of-his-gourd Van Morrison hop around in his purple Lycra jumpsuit. Then we realized how amazing Mavis Staples is, dignified in simple black clothing, grooving and not trying to be like any of the 1970s hipsters around her. And the weirdness of Emmy Lou Harris, filmed separately, but so young and so angelic!

So I didn’t truly “get” The Band’s great song, “The Weight,” until much later. I was paying attention to other things. One day while scrolling through YouTube I found a video made by a group I must tout, Playing for Change, that raises money for studio musicians and students around the world. They have quite a few different types of performance series, but the one with “The Weight” – it’s like going to church. It IS church, for me. Robbie Robertson kicks things off, all by himself, much older and plainer than he was in “The Last Waltz” but also much more attuned to the song’s deep messages of compassion and human connection. Some of the colleagues who play with him are well known, most aren’t, and there are African, South Asian, Arabic, Caribbean, European, and more people putting their hearts and souls into lyrics that speak to hearts and souls even when they don’t make syntactical or narrative sense.

“Higher Love” by Steve Winwood

A confession: I once listened to this song and only this song on repeat for an entire seven-hour drive. I’d never done that before, and I haven’t done it since, with any other piece of music. I was on my way to an event where I’d see not just one, not just two, but several former employers all at once, and I needed to shore up my defenses (or at least I thought I did; those employers were all very happy to see me and I’m even working for one of them again at present). “Things look so bad everywhere/In this whole world, what is fair?” Nothing. Nothing is fair in this world. From any perspective! I was still searching for answers about my mental health, still experiencing major depressive episodes, still wishing I could function more intentionally in all areas of my life. It might be as simple as this: I needed something to believe in. I’d lost my once-strong religious faith (which was in the Christian tradition) and didn’t know if anything organized would ever work for me again, spiritually. But when Steve Winwood and his call-and-response colleagues rocked out to “Bring me a higher love/It’s that higher love I keep thinking of” my heart soared.

“The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields

Our nephew played Peter Gabriel’s more orchestral version of this tune for his first dance with his new bride, and I love that version, too – but since I already have a Gabriel song on my list and because The Magnetic Fields wrote “The Book of Love,” I’m going back to their version, much simpler and scratchier and urgent, sung by Stephen Merritt in a kind of world-weary monotone against acoustic strumming to emphasize love’s conventions and cliches – then we get those unexpected and heart-squeezing refrains: “But I love it when you read to me/And you can read me anything.” I’m listening to it right now and tears are welling in my eyes. Love between married partners, love between a parent and a child or children, these kinds of love can last for a long time and get taken for granted. Neglected. Misused. Then forgiven. Recreated. Carefully nurtured into strong bonds and times of support for sadness and for joy.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” by Fairport Convention

This is not a deep cut when it comes to Fairport Convention; it’s probably their best-known song, performed by the late Sandy Denny in her trademark breathless yet pitch-perfect soprano (although I challenge you to find a more beautiful lead-guitar intro than yes-that’s-Richard-Thompson’s). Back in the ancient 1960s groups like this one, Steeleye Span, and Fotheringay believed that rock could meld with old English folkways, the kinds of music that came from real people instead of pageantry.

Don’t listen to Judy Collins sing this (all respect to Collins). Listen to Denny, who was folk music’s Janis Joplin, dead a few years after recording this from substance abuse and self neglect. She wrote this song when she was just 19 years old. She sings this song as if her life depends on it. In the final chapter of Life B, called “Family Albums,” my mother and I sift through thousands of family snapshots as she passes the banner of family narrative to me. Who knows where the time goes? We don’t. But as we considered which photos to save and which to toss, we were making something out of time’s passage.

Bethanne Patrick maintains a storied place in the publishing industry as a critic and as @TheBookMaven on Twitter, where she created the popular #FridayReads and regularly comments on books and literary ideas to over 200K followers. Her work appears frequently in the Los Angeles Times as well as at The Washington Post, NPR Books, and Literary Hub. She sits on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and has served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle. She is the host of the Missing Pages podcast.

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