Author Playlists

Athena Dixon’s playlist for her memoir-in-essays “The Loneliness Files”

“The Loneliness Files starts from a place of absence and the journey is dissecting those empty spaces, those broken places, and recognizing when a life can be backfilled or repaired.”

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.

Athena Dixon’s memoir-in-essays The Loneliness Files is smart and wise, affecting and lyrical.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

“With lyrical, memorable prose, Dixon cracks open the fear of not being remembered. . . . Her story is not only relatable, but significant, as she creates a sense of comfort for anyone who feels a little lonely sometimes. An honest and captivating investigation into human connection within an increasingly digital world.”

In her own words, here is Athena Dixon’s Book Notes music playlist for her memoir-in-essays The Loneliness Files:

The Loneliness Files starts from a place of absence and the journey is dissecting those empty spaces, those broken places, and recognizing when a life can be backfilled or repaired. It’s also recognizing where things need to, or should, remain empty. I believe there is both power and trouble in loneliness–in the liminal spaces in which we float. And those spaces can be filled with a variety of things that bring us comfort and connection or we can get lost deeply in them. The Loneliness Files is about leaving and returning. About disconnecting and finding common threads. About how all the decisions in a life can lead to a very lonely end even if that was never the original goal.
In the writing of the collection, I held fast to my routine of finding a soundtrack of not only music, but also movies, television shows, and social media posts to help keep me on the path of what I was writing. These things kept me company and helped alleviate the overwhelming sense of loneliness I grappled with during the beginning of 2020 and the years after.

“Lonesome Mood” by The Friends of Distinction

The dissonance of this song hits loneliness perfectly, and directly, for me. There’s a sense of melancholy. The song is complex and layered just like feelings of isolation. What really stuck out to me the first time I heard it was the intertwining of the voices and how they in some ways both resist and attract each other– how they can work alone but also echo and fill in where the other may be lacking. And as the song builds toward the end, there is a sense of beauty, too. Things aren’t always harmonious nor are they perfect, but sometimes things have to be discongruent to see the heart of the matter.

“Blue Mesas” by Leon Bridges

Very early on in the creation of my playlist for the book, this song earned many repeats. It seemed tailormade to what I was feeling and what I wanted to explore in the essays. It asks a single question. How can a person feel lonely even when they are surrounded by those they love? That was a hard question to answer and it took quite a bit of thinking and finally understanding that feeling this way is not some internal flaw nor is it an affront to those who love you. I kept circling this fear during the writing of the book and while I didn’t come to a final answer, I was able to get at least a little bit of clarity on the matter.

“Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega

One of the working titles of The Loneliness Files was Sonder. The idea that everyone has a fully rich life that may only be a blip or blur in the life of another was so intriguing and recognizable to me. This track, the acoustic version, is a bit haunting. I think there is a dueling sense of needing to connect with the world and wanting to remain unseen. The woman in the diner is enjoying her ability to observe the actions around her, but there is also the jolt of her being on the outside of that very same world. All of it speaks to a delicate balance of being seen and unseen and the need for both to occur.

“Hypnosis” by Raveena

For a little while I was obsessed with flotation tanks. I thought they would be the perfect solution to the stress and fears I was feeling due to my relocation to Philadelphia from Ohio and the isolation that bred. Raveena’s song, even without any lyrics, really allowed me to sink into the feelings I hoped I would have in the flotation tank. I wanted to feel weightless and utterly disconnected from the world. This song is gentle, hypnotic (hence the name!), and I think it really did allow me to feel as if I was floating in a void widely free.

“Breathe” by Télépopmusík and Angela McCluskey

This song feels very similar to “Hypnosis”. But this time I think it speaks to the redundancy of the average day and the ache to disconnect. Perhaps to experience something new. The lyrics are sparse, really only a few repeated words and phrases, but it really puts me in the mindset of early 2000s commercials where everything is rushing a mile a minute and a solitary person is standing still in the middle of all the chaos.

“Up and Down” by Judy Singh

I thought quite a bit about how my life is so intertwined with technology–screens, algorithms, and social media accounts. At times it’s like not being in possession of your own mind. Responding instantly, liking without thinking, and being drawn to notifications is like muscle memory some days. I love that this song seems innocent, but it’s oddly dark beneath the surface. It’s dissonant, saccharine sweet in some ways, and very much of a different time. Yet, I love that she’s asking for her mind back and it makes complete sense in the modern world.

“The Star of a Story” by Heatwave

Even though this is a love song, it is closely tied to the idea of fandom to me. As a fanfic writer, I always place a bit of myself into the stories I write. I, and my readers, are the stars of the story and are able to build out the world just as we want it to be.

“End of the World” by Redline Graffiti

I write pretty openly about the desire to be coupled even if I am not sure what that will look like or if it will happen any time soon. This song touches on a big part of the desire to connect– not needing someone to save me but to just be there with me in the world. These feelings were amplified by the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was the end of the world as we knew it and it really started to hit me how alone I was. There was an almost desperate need to find someone to cling to in the fear and uncertainty of it all.

“Come Live With Me Angel” by Marvin Gaye

Many repeats! In my quest for mundane intimacy this song was everything I wanted. To be in the comfort of your partner in the everyday. No grand gestures, no over the top declarations. Just I love and want you and I want my time to be spent in your presence. And he sings, “When you want some solitude, sugar. You can have it.” Perfection!

“Road of the Lonely Ones” by Madlib

“I must’ve done something wrong to be left here with such a lonely song.” is repeated a couple of times during the runtime and it’s one of the fundamental ideas I wanted to tackle while writing the book. As 2020 wore on, I struggled to pinpoint what decisions led to me being alone in my apartment during a global pandemic. I kept thinking I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’d made a bad decision that spiraled. Or that there was some character flaw I was blind to that isolated me. I had to walk back through the last decade plus of my life to see not only the isolation’s difficulties, but also the necessity of the time apart in order to get a better view of myself.

“Videotape” by Radiohead

I never intended to write about death as a form of isolation and loneliness. The crushing number of deaths among my family and friends over the span of 2020 through 2022 forced me to. These deaths made me look at not only the physical distance I put between me and my home, but also the emotional distance I was creating as well. What I always labeled as my independence started to show cracks and beneath it was fear of not being able to handle my loved ones leaving this earth. “Videotape”, from the first time I heard it, always seemed like a song of memorial for those left behind and I started to really think of how I could create the same sense of grieving and dedicated the closing essays of the book to exploring those feelings.

“Sing of Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” by Kendrick Lamar

There is something about the refrain in the second half of this song that sticks with me. Tired of running. When thinking about the life I created, and the distance I’ve placed between me and the people and places I love, there is a sense of tiredness and surrender in the realization I have no real reason to flee.

“rises the moon” by Liana Flores

To be honest, sometimes I want to wallow in sadness and during the creation of this manuscript this song was often the anchor of that feeling. I listened to it on long train rides, while driving, in bed on Sundays in the darkness of my bedroom. This song isn’t necessarily sad, but it evokes a sense of melancholy that is hard for me to shake. There is also softness and joy in this song that speaks to the necessity of being alone.

“Strange” by Celeste

Celeste’s song hits the same notes as “Blue Mesas”. The questioning of how people can be strangers then friends and back to strangers is something to grapple with. I attach this song heavily to the opening essay “Say You Will Remember Me.” Sometimes there isn’t a falling out. Sometimes connections between people wither away and by the time we notice it is too late to bring them back to life.

“Find Your Way Back” by Beyoncé

Just as much as I wrote about death in the closing essays of the book, there is also longing for return and reconnection running parallel to that pain. What I love about this song is that it gives grace for the need to strike out into the world and the desire to return to your place of origin. My family has always been very supportive of me traveling any path that interests me and offering me a soft place to land on the occasions things didn’t turn out as planned.

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Athena Dixon is the author of the debut memoir-in-essays The Loneliness Files (Tin House).

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