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May 31, 2012

Book Notes - Kate Bornstein "A Queer and Pleasant Danger"

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kate Bornstein's memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger can be loosely described by its subtitle, "The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today," but that does not do the book justice. Bornstein shares her struggles and triumphs in a conversational tone that connects directly to the reader in this brave and heartbreaking story of her life. Big issues like religion and gender are successfully explored in one of the year's most important books.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A nervy, expansive memoir from a pioneering gender activist."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Kate Bornstein's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today:

I've been telling people that it took me six years to write my memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today. I just love writing that all out. It says it all. That's a lie, it doesn't say it all. But it says a lot.

Anyway, it didn't take me six years to write the book. That's another damned lie. I started writing to my daughter back in 2004, when it was a solo performance piece called simply, "Kate Bornstein Is A Queer and Pleasant Danger." It was my plan back then to tour with the solo performance piece, become a star, and then my daughter would hear about it and she'd sneak into a performance and sit in the back and watch her father's heart fall bleeding to the stage because she (and my two grandchildren) are members in good standing of the Sea Organization. That's the most holy and respected order in the church. And because I left Scientology under somewhat dark, damned, and shame-filled circumstances, I have become persona non grata in their eyes. That's an understatement. I'm what they call a suppressive person, and that makes me completely and irredeemably evil—100%, 24/7 evil and no one in the church is allowed to talk with me. So, I was hoping my solo show would make it onto HBO, or maybe even Broadway, right? That's how I was thinking.

I've wanted to be a star for as long as I can remember. That, or a nun. Anyway… I built moments into the script where I'd look through the audience, to see if I could spot my daughter. I'd see someone who looked roughly her age, and I'd tell her she didn't have to come back and see me after the show, or ever—but that I was glad that she found it in her heart to break one of the most unbreakable rules in all of Scientology, just to find out what happened to her dad. Well, performing all of that lasted all of two performances.

You know how stress can mess with your body? Well, the stress of writing and performing that piece really messed with mine. Right in the gut. I'm talkin' gall bladder, liver, and large intestine. On three different occasions. Over a period of, well, eight years. And that's the truth. I'm an old lady, and I get to talk about this shit. Three thoroughly reputable psychics warned me not to perform the piece. They told me it was driving the trauma into my body. I'm not all that woo-woo, but when they're right, they're right. So I wrote the book instead. And the same three psychics told me not to do that. Sure enough, I was in and out of hospital for eight years—several times while I was out on the road, on tour giving college lectures. Woof.

Oh, I almost forgot. Between leaving the performance piece behind, and starting in on adapting and expanding the script into a book, I wrote another book: Hello, Cruel World: 101 alternatives to suicide for teens, freaks, and other outlaws. That one came out six years ago. See where my head was at? Well, while Hello, Cruel World was going to the printer—that's when I started in on writing the memoir part of this journey.

OK. Done now with that part of my writing life. Well, I thought I was done. And now this darling large-hearted boy wants me to re-live it all and then tell you—dear thing that you are to have stayed so long with me to read this far—about some music that "relates in some way" to my recently published books.

Okey dokey, doggie daddy. Here ya go. It's a 2-CD set, but don't worry, the second CD is one long, amazing mix and you'll love it. I promise.

CD One

"Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin

When I left the Church of Scientology, I was scared. Really scared, at the height of what I would years later find out was my PTSD. Scientology doesn't like people who leave. They have something called Fair Game—they believe it's their ecclesiastic duty to shatter people like me. Shatter, that's their word. Give this a google: Paulette Cooper AND Tony Ortega AND Operation PC Freakout. Scientology got Ms. Cooper locked up in fucking jail because she dared talk about them in her awesome 1971 book, The Scandal of Scientology. When I was a Scientologist, I met one of the guys who was mean to her. So I was scared what they might do to me. So I listened to this song, over and over and over. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. So, over the last twenty years I've been writing as much of me as I possibly could—all the freaky parts of myself, I wrote them down. And whaddaya know, I had nothing left to lose, and I found myself free.

"On Broadway," George Benson

This music plays behind the opening scene of the film, All That Jazz, by Bob Fosse. It's my number one favorite film of all time. I watched that film with such longing: he was the boy I might have been if I'd stayed being a boy. I coulda been a contender… on Broadway. I was a good actor, I might've been able to do it. I dreamed of doing it. But being girl was more important to me, so that's the life path I took. But dreaming of being a star? Like Audrey Hepburn or Shirley MacLaine? That kept me going. And that brings me to the next song.

"Supermodel," Jill Sobule

Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a rip on girls who get caught in the beauty trap. Well, that was me. Eight years ago, I was a 54 year old man AND I was an 18 year old young woman and I was going through my last bout of anorexia. I learned how to starve myself in high school—Pennington Prep. Back then it was an all-boys school. I spent my life alternately getting skinny and getting fat. There's an online underground of people who live with eating disorders, and in this underground there's a word that gets tossed around: thinspiration. This song was that for me.

"I Know, I Know, I Know," Tegan and Sara

The first time I heard this song, I was watching Season One of Grey's Anatomy, a TV show that's become a guilty pleasure of mine. I went onto iTunes, and I've been buying Tegan and Sara music ever since. My editor for Hello, Cruel World, Crystal Yakacki, suggested we ask Sara to write the introduction to the book. I never thought she would actually do it, but she did and I'm glad we're linked in that book. This song talks to me about my need to be coupled, my frustration of being on the road so much of the time, away from my girlfriend, and my bone deep worries when she's on the road. And that's part of the insecurity that comes part and parcel with BPD, borderline personality disorder. Another part of this madness of mine is that I do indeed get suicidal from time to time, only now it's calmed down to what my Dialectic Behavioral therapist calls passive suicidal ideation. That's when I feel all "Hey, isn't it time for me to go yet?" But while I was writing the memoir, I had to write about all the times when I really wanted to kill myself. I think I need to take a break from this line of thinking. When I want to take a break, I play goofy music. Like the next track.

"Hitchcock," One Ring Zero

I used this track as the lead-in and curtain music to the solo performance version of the memoir. I adore One Ring Zero. I want to write an opera with them some day. My favorite album of theirs is Memorandum, a masterpiece of instrumental music, accent on mental. Which is how I feel when I listen to the next track.

"Don't Try Suicide," Team Dresch

My friend, Felicia Luna Lemus, turned me on to this song. She's a spellbinding author. We were femme buddies in New York City until she went through a bad breakup and moved to Southern California. Anyway, this is the song that made us feel a whole lot stronger about staying alive.

"Hallelujah," Rufus Wainwright

Confession: I first heard this watching the movie, Shrek. The words are by Leonard Cohen, and *his* words kept me alive ever since I was in college in the 60s and listened over and over to Judy Collins sing his song, "Suzanne."

I'm a cutter. I've been a cutter since my early teens. I don't cut myself out of anger or disgust any more. I've managed to incorporate my longing to bleed with my SM practice. Fifty Shades of Grey? Ha! When I'm being cut, I'm black, pure black. It's one of the few purities in my life, and with this song, Rufus Wainwright conjures what it feels like during and afterwards.

"Girl Anachronism," The Dresden Dolls

If songs were still on wax, I would have worn out the groove on this record. Listen to the words. Amanda Palmer knew me long before I came to know myself as well as I have by the time I finished the memoir. Walking through New York City, riding the subway, or the bus, listening to this song—it made me feel all fuck you, I'm fucked up but I'm still standing and strong and I can take it. I am secretly crushed out on Amanda Palmer. Curse you, Neil Gaiman. (No, not really—I'm equally crushed out on him, but don't tell him that.)

"Jersey Girl," Tom Waits

I grew up in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the 50s and 60s. Bruce Springsteen and I dated in high school. That's the God's honest truth. Well, we didn't date each other. We were both Jersey boys back then. Now that I'm a Jersey girl, I play this song and I imagine Tom Waits is singing it about me. Makes me cry happy tears.

"Pink Prada Purse (full version—explicit)," Our Lady J

Our Lady J is exactly who I would have liked to have been when I was her age. She fills me with wonder and not a little bit of longing. Plus she sings about carrying a gun in her pink Prada purse. And she's so beautiful she can get away with doing just that. I've got a thing about fantasy serial killers. I even wrote a show about it called "Strangers In Paradox." I want every artist on this mix to get together and write the opera of that one. How cool would that be?

"Moon River," Audrey Hepburn

How could I not add this track? I am Holly Golightly. Well, I'm less Holly from Blake Edwards' film than I'm Holly from Truman Capote's book. Wild thing. Scared girl. Running all the time. Looking for daddy. Waif. That's my borderline personality disorder archetype: The Waif. So was Princess Diana.

"New Depression," Mx Justin ViVian Bond

Mx Bond and I have been girlfriends for… well, for a long long time. V has always been three steps ahead of me in my journey to not man/not woman. To me, Mx Bond embodies the very best kind of girl a boy could ever grow up to become. Kickass, fierce, smart, and drop-dead gorgeous. Well, this song kind of sums up life for most of us living underground these days. Hey! Here's a great quote for you, from Hannah Arendt:

"I am more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible today only on the fringes of society, where one then runs the risk of starving or being stoned to death. In these circumstances a sense of humor is of great help."

Mx Bond sings life on the queer fringe better than anyone I know.

"Staying Alive," Bitch

I first heard this when I was sitting down to write the final draft of the memoir. Putting together all the pieces of my 64 year-long life was daunting. I had this track on an endless loop on my iPod, and now on my iPhone. I must've listened to Bitch sing this into my ear twenty times before I realized it was a cover of the Bee Gee's song. Poor Brian Gibb, gone too soon. I think Bitch did him a great honor with this cover. And she helped me stay alive. Listen carefully at the very beginning of the track, and you can hear Bitch whisper, "Go!" Well, here's an easter egg for you: that's why "Go" is the name of the first chapter in my memoir. Thank you, Bitch.

"I'm a Believer," The Monkees

Needed a smile, and this song never fails to make me smile.

"Let's Do It," Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg

Growing up, I listened to Ella Fitzgerald do this awesome Cole Porter classic. I used this rock cover as the last track of my pre-show mix for my solo show, "Kate Bornstein Is A Queer and Pleasant Danger." I still use it as the last song on any of my pre-show mixes. The song ends on a downbeat, and when I hear that I'm ready to walk out on the stage cuz I wanna fall in love with my audience, and I really want them to fall in love with me. That's part of my borderline baggage, too. Oh yes. In the immortal words of Miss Roxie Hart in the Kander and Ebb musical, Chicago…

"I'm a star! And the audience loves me. And I love them. And they love me for lovin' them. I love them for lovin' me. And we lo-o-o-o-ve each other. And that's cuz none of us got enough love in our childhoods. And that's show biz, kid."

So yeah, let's do it. Let's fall in love.

End of CD One.

CD Two

"Siri Is Burning," a mix by DJ Sveta

During the last few months of writing, I was on tour a lot. That meant trains, plains, automobiles, and three buses. That meant writing as I traveled—long stretches of sitting as the sky flies by the window, or the trees, or the billboards. I wanted music that took me on a longer journey than just one piece. I'd met Sveta several years ago. Siri Is Burning is one of her more recent mixes—you can find it here: The piece is sexy and funny and compelling and seductive—just like DJ Sveta herself—and it goes on and on until you're done and you're left wanting more. It's everything I wanted the book to be. And that's what I wanted this piece about my music to be. So that's why DJ Sveta brings the curtain down on this mix. Mwah!

"Epilogue," by One Ring Zero

Right, I lied again—that wasn't the last song. But this track is only 39 seconds long.

OK, buh-bye for now. Hope you enjoy the listen.

Kiss Kiss,


Kate Bornstein and A Queer and Pleasant Danger links:

the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

EDGE on the Net review
Kirkus Reviews review
Lambda Literary review
PopMatters review
Pride Source review
Washington Blade review

Boston Phoenix interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Mother Jones interview
Salon essays by the author
Village Voice review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists