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January 23, 2013

Book Notes - Ashok Rajamani "The Day My Brain Exploded"

The Day My Brain Exploded

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.

Ashok Rajamani's memoir The Day My Brain Exploded is a captivating account of his rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"In this frank and witty account of his own brain "explosion," Rajamani describes in vivid detail the circumstances leading to the injury, and its devastating aftermath on both his family and himself, including chronic epilepsy and a freak form of blindness affecting the left-side of each eye. With disarming drollery, the author also recounts his racism-ringed upbringing as an Indian American in white-dominated suburban Chicago. Shedding much-needed light on a little-known medical trauma, Rajamani's sharp-edged prose is both informative and inspiring."

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

In his own words, here is Ashok Rajamani's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, The Day My Brain Exploded:

The Day My Brain Exploded is the true story of my survival from a massive brain hemorrhage – an atomic explosion within my skull -- provoked by an untimely orgasm, stemming from an unknown birth defect which proved to be a ticking time-bomb. As such, this is a story of destruction. But, in actuality, it is a story of resurrection. The songs which inspired my memoir, then, reflect birth and death, the divine and the profane, and the world of the living battling the hell underneath.

"Dying" by Hole

"You see the cripple dance," Courtney Love drones in this rock masterpiece of a funeral dirge.
This is where it all began after my brain exploded. I was dying.

"Bedtime Story" by Madonna

Traveling, leaving logic and reason

Traveling, to the arms of unconsciousness

Traveling, leaving logic and reason

Traveling, to the arms of unconsciousness

Let's get unconscious honey

Let's get unconscious

Let's get unconscious honey," Madonna pleads to us in this techno-marvel. Considering I was now slipping in and out unconsciousness, traveling past logic and reason, this song defined my state at this point, the early days of my hospitalization.

"Peek-a-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees

This dark and vivid tribute to S&M reflected my own experience with the devastating pain I was now facing. I had to start lusting for the skull drillings and restraints or else die from the fear. Among the best lines:

She has many guises

She'll do what you want her to

Playing dead and sweet submission

I think I actually sang that to one of the doctors.

Oh, yeah, one other thing. The title is also the phrase chirped by my brother to neighborhood gawkers while we were growing up Brown and Indian in All-White Small Town USA.

Good Times television theme song

My brother sang this to me while I was restrained to my hospital bed. I was a dying figure with my eyes closed, semi-conscious, restrained to my bed, visibly dead to the world. He probably thought I couldn't hear him. But I did.

"Today" by Smashing Pumpkins

"Today is the greatest day I've ever known" is the gem of a verse from this song. 
It is also the way I felt the day I left the hospital.

"The Perfect Drug" by Nine Inch Nails

Being diagnosed with epilepsy after both surviving the hemorrhage and leaving the hospital was catastrophic. Trying to find the perfect drug to control my seizures proved to be even more catastrophic.

"Natural Blues" by Moby

Oh Lordy, trouble so hard

Oh Lordy, trouble so hard

Don't nobody know my troubles but God

Don't nobody know my troubles but God

Thus goes the thumping refrain of Moby's "Natural Blues," the beat-heavy electro-sample of the old negro spiritual "Trouble So Hard."

While I continued my mournful search for ‘the perfect drug,' the unexpected terror of seizures and the new nightmare of epilepsy spontaneously combusted with the residual head pains of my craniotomy. The pain and fear of it all left me in tears on many days. 
Don't nobody know my troubles but God, indeed.

"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane

After finding ‘the perfect drug' for my epilepsy, I started feeling some ease in my road to recovery. That changed, however, when I developed 'Alice-in-wonderland syndrome,' a visual condition that left my sight skewed with hallucinogenic distortions, and brought me to therapists who diagnosed me as psychotic and schizophrenic.

"No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige

Surviving all the distress and challenges, I made a vow to try to say goodbye to all of my drama, no matter how long it took


"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" – Morrissey

At this point on my road back to life, I became keenly aware that all of my friends had moved on. They were now busy with big jobs, starting big families, getting big promotions, buying big homes, while I struggled just to smile even a big smile.

"Long Hard Road Out of Hell" by Marilyn Manson

I wanna live
I wanna love

But it's a long hard road out of hell.

Ain't it the truth.

Getting back to life wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

"I Remember You" by Skid Row

I was now Ashok 2.0. But I could never forget Ashok 1.0.

"32 Flavors" by Alana Davis

Two lines in this brilliant anthem, a bluesy remake of Ani DiFranco's epic, say it best:

god help you if you are a phoenix and you dare to rise up from the ash

a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you are just flying past

I had been burnt to ashes entirely, and now I was flying again.

"Life" by Desiree

Joy. Serenity. Optimism. I conquered death.

"Let It Be" by Beatles

The day my brain exploded was a day that exploded my universe. Trying to understand why I survived, and why I was chosen to survive, still confounds me. As does trying to understand why I traveled through hell, and why I was chosen to travel through hell.

Perhaps, as the song says, there will be an answer. One day.

But as for now, I will let it be.

"Keep on Movin'" – The Brady Bunch

Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on dancing all through the night

Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on doing it right

Gonna keep on, keep on , keep on movin'
Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on groovin'

Keep on singing and dancing all through the night

As always, the Bradys said it best.

Ashok Rajamani and The Day My Brain Exploded links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book (at The Atlantic)
excerpt from the book (at Salon)
video trailer for the book

Publishers Weekly 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

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" music lists

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