Author Playlists

Cleo Qian’s Playlist for Her Story Collection “LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO”

“…in honor of these girls, who can be brooding, sad, lonely, hopeful, angry, lost, fierce, loving, and wistful, I offer this playlist of diverse moods…”

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.

Cleo Qian’s LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO is one of the strongest story collections I have read in years, a book that astounds with both its subtlety and complexity.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“Bold and affecting. . . . explores aging, desire, cultural identity, and queer love among Asian girls and women. Qian depicts with honesty and compassion her protagonists’ complex inner lives. . . .  Necessary and poignant.”

In her own words, here is Cleo Qian’s Book Notes music playlist for her story collection LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO:

What kind of music goes with my short story collection, LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO? As someone who has random, and possibly bad, musical taste, I wasn’t sure how to structure this playlist. The girls in these stories are brooding and moody, lonely and sad; they are people who feel lost no matter where they are, constantly searching for connection and meaning. But on the flip side, they are also restless, desperate, fierce, and full of energy—to move around, shake things up, look for answers, and search for the sublime.

So in honor of these girls, who can be brooding, sad, lonely, hopeful, angry, lost, fierce, loving, and wistful, I offer this playlist of diverse moods:

Wye Oak – “Civilian”

This song moves from waiting and dreaminess and wistfulness to catharsis, shock, and then after-tremors. I love the ambiguity of the title, and how the song starts off with this slow, melancholy melody and a drumbeat building up anticipation, before the crescendo. There’s release in the throaty vocals soaring over the lines, “But I still stand in awe of superficial things” and the repetition of “mother’s, mother’s.” One part with the electric guitar makes me feel all the raw, painful shock of leaving the fantasy of childhood for real adulthood. This song will also always make me nostalgic for that one perfect afternoon in college with my first love when I first heard it.

Klischée – “You Want More”

This song is so fun, so catchy, so danceable, and so lively. There’s some great brass instruments playing. When I hear the lyrics I picture seeing a girl walking somewhere and wondering, “Who is that, where is she going, she looks like she knows!” This song makes you just want to get up and get out there! There’s no time to waste! The big blue world is outside, there’s that big Woop—let’s go!

Hyukoh  – “Wi Ing Wi Ing”

Even without understanding the lyrics you get the sense of a busy city, a youthful life, the alienation and excitement of being lost in the bustle of the big world and trying to find your place. The lyrics include the buzzing of a fruit fly buzzing around like it’s laughing at the narrator’s own sense of pathetic-ness. I love the sense of perspective, and the world-weariness and the twangy self-consciousness of Oh Hyuk’s voice, sometimes soft and sometimes hard, especially when he goes Tell me, tell me, please don’t tell and Ai ai ai ai ai ai ai.

Billie Eilish – “Getting Older” 

The muted, pondering feeling of this song coupled with its relatable lyrics about the questions and difficulties of coming into adulthood tie perfectly with the self-doubt and confusion of the characters in my book, especially in the story, “Chicken. Film. Youth,” who feel alarmed that they’ve become young adults and have all this responsibility for themselves. “I’m getting older, I’ve got more on my shoulders…I wish someone had told me I’d be doing this by myself.” Et tu, Billie?

Takeshi Kobayashi – “Glide”

This song was composed for Shunji Iwai’s movie All About Lily Chou-Chou, a movie whose heart of teen angst, desire for sublimation, Internet escapism and alternate egos, are strongly connected to the heart of my own book. This song, sung by the fictional singer Lily Chou-Chou—an object of worship for the teens in the movie—wraps you in a temporary, ethereal, limitless dream, and it is sad to leave.

The Fiery Furnaces – “Single Again”

I heard this song at Pitchfork where, to my delight, it was so different from everything else going on that I thought I had wondered into some kind of strange alternate reality dystopia. There are discordant sounds and instruments I’ve never heard before. There’s a beeping sound that makes me feel like I’m in a video game (like the story “Monitor World.”) And I have so many questions about the narrator, the woman who unapologetically says she was better off when she was single, who hated her violent husband and “laughed till I cried” when he died (!!) Love the revenge plot, love the anger.

Mitski – “Nobody”

I listened to this song during some very lonely years while writing some very lonely stories, and how much did I want to cry while hearing the lines “I’ve been big and small and still nobody wants me?” And how much did I feel those words, “Give me one good honest kiss and I’ll be alright”? Mitski makes alienation and loneliness almost comforting. I think Luna in the story “We Were There” would listen to this song on her long walks over the bridge.

Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Rain”

Those violins—they’re thrumming with the full force of living! This instrumental song comes crashing down with all the intensity of one really good poem, which distills the hard-won pain, joy, freedom, possibility, struggle, striving, and coming-to-terms with of human experience, in a single intoxicating hit. Maybe there are no lessons in life, only the feelings you have after the experience. RIP to one of the greats.

Shigeru Umebayashi – “Yumeji’s Theme”

This is the In The Mood for Love song. This is THE song of East Asian longing.

Cleo Qian is the author of the debut short story collection LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO (Tin House).

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