Natalie Beach’s essay collection Adult Drama is an auspicious debut, a captivating book about identity and coming-of-age.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“Beach’s voice is a synthesis of whip-smart cultural commentary and vulnerable self-reflection as she searches for an identity she can call hers — contractor, shopgirl, estate-sale junkie, memoirist. Adult Drama is an unflinching self portrait by an artist who’s done with telling any story that isn’t hers.”
If the true measure of a person’s coolness is their taste in music, then I am a loser. I’m bad at music. I rarely seek out new artists, I never remember the names of bands or albums, and I can’t pick out the lyrics in a song unless I read them or they’re sung by John Darnielle. I don’t find this cute or quirky. Particularly embarrassing is the fact that my father was a rock critic and co-wrote a book about Toad’s Place, the iconic concert venue in New Haven. Over the years I’ve tried to overcome my music deficiency, but my brain and ears refuse to cooperate. I wish I wasn’t like this. From my perspective, it seems like the rest of you listening to a song is Remy the rat experiencing flavor in a transcendent synesthetic symphony of lights and movement and emotion…while I have the pallet of the dullard brother rat, horking down garbage.
That said, I do like music, particularly when I write. This is mostly to keep up the momentum, the way a riding crop urges on a race horse. Considering that finishing my book Adult Drama took me two years longer than anticipated, I needed all the urging forward I could get. Here’s what I listened to.
“Bad Self Portrait” by Lake Street Dive
A self deprecation anthem! The refrain “I’m taking bad self portraits of a lonely woman” is an extremely funny joke to me. But importantly, the song is more than a joke, and actually a fantastic self portrait of the character at its center. As a writer engaged in my own form of self portraiture, this song does it for me on a lot of levels.
“Extraordinary Machine” by Fiona Apple
“But I’m good at being uncomfortable / So I can’t stop changing all the time” is my version of The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell found dead.
“Lazy” by David Byrne
While I was supposed to be grinding out this book, I made the foolish mistake of taking a class on Kathi Weeks and the feminist case against waged labor. The class, taught by the great Sophie Lewis through the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, was life-changing. Unfortunately though, the last thing my professional life needed was an articulated politics against deadlines. Anyway, one night when I should have been writing I got stoned and watched Spike Lee’s concert film for the David Byrne’s show American Utopia. Since then, “Lazy” —a fast-paced manic bop extolling your own sloth–has become something of a duet sung by the Bartleby and Girl Boss who live on each of my shoulders.
“So Emotional” by Whitney Houston
But let’s be honest, what I’m really watching is the Sasha Velour lip sync. A perfect song and a jaw-dropping interpretation. I return to this performance when I need to remind myself that real art exists.
“Strange Currencies” by REM
Strange Currencies was the original title of the book. So many of the essays are about juggling minimum wage gigs, making rent, and just trying to navigate the “strange currencies” of semi-formal, scammy economies, and what this constant hustle does to your sense of self and your relationships. Plus, the song is about attempting, in maybe a gross and toxic way, to win someone’s love with language, and unfortunately that’s relatable to me.
CVNT by Sophie Hunter
If I could do it all over again I’d walk down the aisle to this song. Or at least put it on the warmup playlist my college soccer team made each season. It gets me going! The nerve of this song, the feminine braggadocio! And here’s a smaller brag: Sophie Hunter is the younger sister of a dear childhood friend. What a treat for me to see someone I used to do Easter egg hunts with put out such a banger. It’s an excellent reminder that we can know a person their whole life without knowing their whole stories. Divas walk among us
“Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen
After my dad read the book he emailed me “I learned a lot about my eldest daughter. For instance: I never knew you had a hang-up about your butt!”
“So Far Away” by Carole King
“One more song about moving along the highway. Can’t say much about anything that’s new.” The fact that the great Carole King feels that anxiety is a huge relief to me. Carole says newness is overrated, I remind myself while writing about marriage, sex, and death.
“Walk Through the Fire” sung by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast
I warned you at the jump I have no taste! Ever since I watched the entirety of Buffy in the months after the 2016 election, this depression anthem from the musical episode “Once More With Feeling” has reliably been one of my most played songs. (Side note: the one good thing about Spotify stiffing artists is I don’t need to worry about lining Joss Whedon’s pockets.) God, poor Buffy. How many times can one girl be expected to save the world? It’s a feeling of exhaustion and terror I tried to capture with my clinic escorting essay “Abortion Abortion Abortion.”
“Let Her Go Into the Darkness” by Jonathan Richman
A great “live and let live” song. Jonathan says “no more drama!”
“Peace Frog by The Doors
Being from the Elm City means that whenever this song comes on you’re obligated to scream the line “blood in the streets in the town of New Haven!” Anyway, I love my home city. New Haven made me who I am. And defund the New Haven Police Department.
“Church Girl” by Beyonce
Highly recommend timing your first book around the release of a Beyonce dance record. I should put the whole album on this playlist, but “Church Girl” is my favorite. Man, it looks fun to be able to dance.
“Dance Music” by The Mountain Goats
Speaking of dance music. I’ve always gotten a kick out of how zippy this song is compared to the darkness of its subject matter. I aspire to write short essays with the punch of John Darnielle’s short songs. I love the way he leaps through time, from childhood and the Watergate hearings to some sort of adolescent meltdown. I wish it didn’t take me 16,000 words to cover the same space.
“The Steps” by Haim
Last year I was lucky enough to see Haim perform at the Hollywood Bowl and for a few hours I think I understood what the rest of you get out of music all the time. Those are some cool sisters. Ever since, Women in Music Pt. III has become one of my go-to writing albums, alongside Tapestry and Nicholas Britell’s soundtrack to If Beale Street Could Talk.
“Work It” by Missy Elliot
In the essay “Distressed Denim” I wrote “Oh, how much better life would have been if at that impressionable age I had listened to more Missy Elliot!” But “more Missy Elliot” is good advice no matter what age you are. To me, no one combines raunch and disclosure and ecstatic horniness with mastery of craft like she does. As fucked up as these days are, I am privileged to be on Earth at the same time Missy Elliot is making music.
Natalie Beach is a writer and producer for film and television. She was raised in New Haven and studied at the Educational Center for the Arts and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives with her husband in the shadow of Dodger Stadium.