Author Playlists

A Playlist for the Anthology “The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature”

“The freedom of working in erasure and collage in which no rules prevail is mirrored in this Irving Berlin tune, sung and danced to by Astaire in Top Hat…”

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.

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature is a grand introduction into the creation of comics of all types, from cartoons to poetry comics to literary collage, offering vital glimpses into the processes of creators.

MariNaomi wrote of the book:

“This book is a good first step to unlearning what you think you know about comics, a medium so vast, it’s mind-blowing. It’s inspiring to see the processes of such diverse, talented artists, and to be let in on their creative philosophies.”

In their own words, here is the editors’ and contributors’ Book Notes music playlist for the anthology The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature:

Kelcey Ervick: Tina Turner & Ann-Margret, 1975 Medley
I hope that as co-editors of an anthology with 28 contributors, Tom Hart and I can be forgiven for choosing multi-song combos! My choice is a 10-minute medley of joy and juxtaposition that reminds me of everything I love about comics and collage.

In 1975, Tina Turner appeared on The Ann-Margret Show, and in a 1-minute opening bit that unfolds like a dialogue sequence in a comic, the host and guest are wearing frilly full-length Victorian-era dresses and fanning themselves at a table. Ann-Margret addresses the unexpected attire: “Tina you look so elegant and relaxed. I guess your fans will be surprised to see you this way.” After discussing all the work and rehearsals and travel that go into Tina’s busy schedule, Ann-Margaret asks, “Can’t you just picture yourself relaxing like this all the time?”

To which Tina replies, “You mean, ALL the time? No recording sessions?”
Ann-Margret confirms: “No rehearsals.”

“No planes?”

“No trains.”

“No dancing?”

“No singing.”

“No working?”

Together they lean toward one another, smile conspiratorially, and say: “NO WAY!”

I can almost see the speech bubbles floating in the air. The scene cuts, collage-like, to the two on a performance stage with hair down, wearing tight-fitting casual clothes, and making synchronous moves to the high-energy opening beats of “Nutbush City Limits.” Then the beat slows and they cover the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” by altering and shifting the perspective of the lyrics and adding conversational flourishes (Tina: “He had to heave me right across his shoulders”/Ann-Margret: “Now what does she mean by that?”). And onward the set continues with energy and exuberance—not to mention sexy feminist power. It’s an exhilarating set, and the behind-the-scenes preparation (alluded to in the intro bit) and the absolute stamina required for this 10-minute performance reminded me of all the labor and effort that Tom and I and Rose Metal Press and all our contributors put into our beautiful 300-page book. It’s a pleasure to share their choices for the play list here.

Thi Bui: “Temple” by Thao Nguyen
This song makes me cry EVERY time. Not because it is tragic (though it is), but because it does such a good job of painting a picture of a life in another time and place, told through the words of a refugee mother to her American daughter who can’t really know what that life was like or who her mother was.

Lawrence Sutin: “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” by Fred Astaire

The freedom of working in erasure and collage in which no rules prevail is mirrored in this Irving Berlin tune, sung and danced to by Astaire in Top Hat (treat yourself and check it out on YouTube).  The lyrics include my credo, “No words that can’t be spoken,” and my creative approach, “Like an unwritten melody, I’m free, that’s me.”

Naoko Fujimoto: “Give a Reason” (Animated TV Series Slayers Next’s Opening Song) by Megumi Hayashibara  

Though I’ve never completed the shows, it has my favorite lyrics since junior high. It gave me a strange strength when I felt doubt with my creativity. “この力を試してみたくて” – I want to demonstrate my prowess – when I created graphic poems. 

Deborah Miranda: “Fear Song” by Joy Harjo

This song is a ceremony for decolonizing our hearts, our souls, our historical trauma. It’s an acceptance and release of all that we California Indians have been, are, will be – scars of history, family, and all – and is fiercely brave and shockingly tender, all at the same time. I hope this is what my “Blood Quantum” drawings/writing tries to do, too.

Trinidad Escobar: “Make It Right” by SASAMI

Comics is often about figuring out how to communicate scenes and emotions to a reader, sometimes without words. Comics making can seem like a daunting puzzle. This song feels joyful although the lyrics are about mentally figuring out how to solve a problem or get to the root of a problem in a relationship. The melody of the song makes me want to find the joy in making comics instead of stressing over comics theory and perfection. I try to teach my comics students this hard learned lesson.

Here are a few lines:

Just wanna figure something out
No need to scream, no need to shout
What’s there to say when there’s nothing left to say?

Josh Neufeld: “Elmo’s Song” by Elmo (written by Tony Geiss)

What could be a more appropriate soundtrack for my piece on the costumed characters of Times Square? Sure, it works as an ironic accompaniment to the comic, but, as a parent, it gives me the feels. And the addition of Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus gives me the childhood feels as well!

Arwen Donahue: “Goose Snow Cone” by Aimee Mann

May, 2017. The day is closing, the farm’s spring planting season is well underway, and I feel a heaviness of limb that I haven’t felt since I was pregnant, fifteen years ago. I’ve been drawing comics about the presence of the past, the veiled geography that shapes my life. I turn on the radio and Aimee Mann is on A Prairie Home Companion, singing about looking into the face of a goose snow cone. It’s a song about the mystery of sorrow, the sorrow of being embodied, and the song disappears from my life when it ends, as A Prairie Home Companion will soon disappear from the radio. 

Lauren Haldeman: “The Edison Museum” by They Might Be Giants

Oh, They Might Be Giants. How I love thee. TMBG has long been such a major inspiration behind my work. They really informed me as a teenage kid, when I first started writing — exposing me to the idea that you could make a poem funny or odd, that you could make up a whole silly world with words. The song “The Edison Museum” does exactly this: it sets a scene, then it makes things strange, and creates a world that could exist in our own world but is really just barely inside another realm. It’s a simple song but it reveals such a magical narrative.

Nick Potter: “Danse lunaire” by Carmen Jaci

I really enjoy the tension in describing the visual elements of comics according to their rhythm and musicality, transposing the energy of composed sound to the static layout of the page. When creating abstract comics, my goal is to make something as textured, humorous, colorful, and weirdly harmonious as Carmen Jaci does on this blissfully energetic track.

Matt Madden: “The Art of the Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach

Taking it back to the source, Bach’s endlessly creative variations on a simple melody are what inspired Raymond Queneau to attempt a similar approach in prose, resulting in Exercices de Style in 1947 which some 50 years later would inspire me to try to draw a comics page 99 different ways. And as if that weren’t enough, Bach’s techniques are a treasure trove of clever formal structures with applications beyond musical composition: my comic Drawn Onward from 2013 is structured as a cancrizan or crab canon—a kind of palindrome folded back on itself.

David Dodd Lee: “America is Waiting” by David Byrne and Brian Eno

“America is Waiting” is a mixture of found sounds, tape loops, and funky electronic instrumentation (a kind of sound collage, and so an early inspiration for my visual art). It echoes Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” in that Byrne adapted lyrics he’d heard on the radio and incorporated them into that song while in “America is Waiting” Byrne/Eno recorded an actual angry San Francisco radio host and surrounded the voice with an agitated (and, to my ear, beautiful) musical mood–layers of noise and electronica, harmony balanced on the edge of chaos. Bruce Conner, the visual artist, made a video to the song I used to be able to find online (not the one you can currently find on YouTube). It ties the rise of capitalism through the warring 40s, 50s, 60s to full-on industrialism. I love the paradoxical energy in the song–the funked-up danceable music paired with the hints of danger one can feel lurking in the words of the overly zealous radio personality. The song is timeless. It seems more relevant now, post-insurrection, than at any point in the past. It seems to have predicted our future…

Eleni Sikelianos: “Misirlou” (Traditional Greek Folk Song) 

You Animal Machine rises from my grandmother, whose father was a rembetika musician, and whose own vocation was a burlesque dancer. It’s a book steeped in music—a lot of rembetika (sometimes called the Greek Blues) and songs my grandmother performed to. Let’s start with the heat-raising “Misirlou,” a rembetika song with deep Eastern Mediterranean roots, that starts with quick thrumming on a bouzouki and is all full of glancing eyes and hearts. Its very skin is exotic. Recorded many, many times, as traditional Greek folk, as belly dance music, as rembetika, we could call it a rag song, like a piece of clothing that has been repurposed over and over. “The original author is unknown as is the root language version,” says SecondHandSongs. Armenian-American Dick Dale turned the melody into a throbbing surf song that slammed its way to the opening sequence of “Pulp Fiction.” There is almost nothing sadder or more stirring than “Misirlou,” depending on which version you listen to. Sadder comes, though, in Rita Abadzi’s “Gazeli Neva Sabah,” which tells us that each person must think about the hour of their death — but that is for another entry.

Bianca Stone: “At Least The Dark Don’t Hide It” Magnolia Electric Co. (written by Jason Molina) 

I think that my interest in poetry and comics coming together, more than anything else, is about contrasts. They bring the unconscious forward. And that is often felt in contrasts; the unseeable seen, however strange to appear. That which is in the “dark;” I love this song for its respect for the shadow; pain; that we work so hard to separate our pain, to divide the self, (word and image) which can be so destructive. In a way, poetry comics were always important to me because they mirrored the conflict between the shadow and the self. The poetry comic’s “don’t hide it” but also, just as the dark, they do. 

Alexander Rothman: “Riches and Wonders” by the Mountain Goats
My piece in The Field Guide to Graphic Literature was occasioned by the feeling of being newly married. “Riches and Wonders” was the closest thing my spouse and I had to a first-dance song at our wedding. I can’t think of anything that better captures the impossible mix of excitement, comfort, curiosity, and vulnerability that comes with binding your life to someone else’s. Nothing in this world is certain or forever—and still, as the song says, our love keeps the things it finds.

Aidan Koch: “Song of the Sleeping Forest” by Susumu Yokota  

Yokota masterfully layered and collaged tracks that have the ability to make any moment feel cinematic. Having been on heavy rotation for many years, I think there’s also a deep connection to the way I’ve thought about inspiration and fragmentation. We all carry our influences with us, some may be distinct melodies while others are deep and rhythmic. For every story I work on, I can usually name the books, paintings, and movies I was thinking about that helped to carry and inspire me. Like Yokota, I believe there are endless ways to bring these together into new and magical formulations.  

Tom Hart: Anything from Talk Talk’s album, Laughing Stock

Laughing Stock is 6 tracks long, and showed me what could be done with traditional instrumentation (in this case, drums, guitar, vocals, etc.) that could be electrifyingly original, heartfelt, transparently authentic, while being innovative at the same time. The 6 tracks weave between soft and loud, between structureless (sometimes it sounds like the drummer is setting up his drumkit, rather than playing it) to sort of structured, all with Mark Hollis’s tragic and beautiful voice even though his lyrics are almost inscrutable. This album is the complete breaking down and rebuilding of an artform, from a band who had already had massive hits (the ’80s pop hits “It’s My Life,”  “Life’s What You Make It,” etc.) and were exploring how you could express something new and deep in this medium they had already had so much success in.

Working on this book with Kelcey helped me do something similar, if somewhat secondhand, that is, learning that the usual tools of words and pictures can be put together in such shocking and unique ways as to be unfamiliar, direct, and uniquely powerful. I’m grateful for what this album, and this book taught me.

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