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July 3, 2009

Book Notes - Peter Terzian ("Heavy Rotation")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

If you have ever read this blog, you know how enamored I am of the worlds of music and literature and exploring that part of the Venn diagram where they intersect. Whether it is musicians discussing books, authors and musicians interviewing each other, or authors discussing music, I am always fascinated by the effect music has had on authors' lives (and literature on musicians').

In Heavy Rotation, Peter Terzian has collected essays by authors about the seminal album of their lives, from Sheila Heti on the Annie soundtrack to James Wood on the Who's Quadrophenia. I can say without reservation that if you enjoy the Largehearted Boy Book Notes or New York Times Paper Cuts' Living with Music series, you will love this book.

In his own words, here is Peter Terzian's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives:

Last spring, when I was editing the first draft of Heavy Rotation, my mother came down with a rare inflammatory disease called Wegener's granulomatosis. No one knows what causes the disease; no one can guess how she contracted it.

She was admitted to the hospital in late March. Two weeks later, when a diagnosis was finally settled upon, she was physically immobile and mentally unresponsive. The disease advanced relentlessly, shutting down major organ systems. She died in the middle of April.

Over the next year, I listened to a lot of sad music. A lot of songs about loss. Some came up face-to-face with death. Some were about other kinds of loss, the vanishing of time and one's own life, an inexorable separation from a lover—but the emotions the songs called up were the same. All of these songs provided more solace than I can say.

Iron and Wine, "The Trapeze Swinger"

Please, remember me/Happily/By the rosebush laughing …
Please, remember me/My misery/And how it lost me all I wanted

I listened to this song the day after my mother died. I put on my headphones and walked to the elementary school near my parents' house. The playing fields behind the school are on a little hill, and I lay on the side of the hill—it was a Sunday, and there was no one around—and looked at the sky. That spring was beautiful, with warm, bright days.

Crowded House, "English Trees"

Although it's springtime and color is new/In Regent's Park I will mourn for you

Four years ago, my boyfriend and I took my parents on a trip to London. My mother had never been overseas. She had been afraid to fly, though as our plane lifted off, I looked over to see her contentedly fiddling with the TV monitor on the back of the seat in front of her. We did tourist things: took a boat ride on the Thames, went to the National Gallery and Westminster Abbey. Sometimes Caleb and I went off to go book shopping or to meet friends, and my parents made their way through the city on their own. On foot—it was a few months after the July 7 bombings, and my mother wouldn't ride the bus or the tube. They spread their American friendliness wherever they could; stopping to rest on a bench in St. James Park, they chatted with a Brazilian tourist, and my father snapped a picture of my mother and the young woman together. "Do you ever think," my mother said to me, "that you were born in the wrong place?"

Kristin Hersh, "Your Ghost"

I think last night/You were driving circles around me

At some point after my mother died, I stopped considering the idea of an afterlife. I could not feel the truth of it in my bones, had no sense of a parallel world where my mother would continue to be. She was only in the past now, in memory. But my father, who was never a believer, began to stay up into the night, watching cable TV programs about ghosts—"A Haunting," "Ghost Hunters." When I visit, he asks me to watch them with him. I express my skepticism, but I don't want to take away his hope of another life. "How much would you consider this kind of thing"—he points at the television—"a possibility? 40-60? 30-70?" I say something evasive, trying not to say "0-100." … And yet, during a visit, when I enter my mother's bedroom, or the laundry room—the parts of the house that most carry her imprint—my eyes quickly scan the room, looking in the corners, in the mirrors, for her transparent image.

The Innocence Mission, "Brotherhood of Man"

We are in the wind, planting the maples/We meet an older man who seems to know/I miss my dad

I thought I knew all the pictures of my mother. After she died, I found a large envelope on the shelf of her closet. Inside were all the photographs people had sent her over the years, Christmas pictures of far-flung relatives I couldn't identify. With these was a small cache of black and white snapshots I had never seen before, taken in the 1940s, when she was in her teens, in pristine condition. She had never shown them to me. She might have forgotten that they were there, or wanted to keep them hidden from the world, like a private part of the self. In one, she is in morning light, dressed for Easter in a new outfit. Her thick hair curls up from beneath a spring hat. She looks happy, excited about the day ahead—she may be about to go to church, and afterward there will be a family meal. I listened to this song on the way back from the framing shop.

Marissa Nadler, "Diamond Heart"

I look for you in the diamond trees/And the highway divine/Deliver me …
And oh my lonely diamond heart/It misses you so well

The narrator of this song, a woman, is separated from a lover. His father died when they were together, and they scattered his ashes in the snow. She is now traveling, meeting guys in bars, but she's thinking of and searching for the man she left behind. I can't relate to the particulars of this song in any way, and yet it takes me right to the bottom every time I hear it.

Iron and Wine, "Passing Afternoon"

There are things that drift away/Like our endless numbered days/Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made

I have a picture of my mother in my head. I don't know if it's a real memory, or a fictional one that was created by this song. But in this picture, it's a spring day, the windows are open for the first time in months, she is in my parents' bedroom, the room is pale green, it is quiet and neat, my mother is wearing her housecoat and her tan sandals that go thock-thock as she walks, she is going from room to room making the beds, she is making my parents' bed, the sun is shining through the windows, it is many years ago, I am still a teenager, she lifts her bedspread up to straighten it across the bed and for a moment it floats in the air before gently falling back to earth.

Peter Terzian and Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives links:

excerpt from the book

A.V. Club review
Modern Tonic review
Sound of the City review

New York Times Paper Cuts playlist by the author
Village Voice feature on the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks