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August 18, 2014

Book Notes - Wendy C. Ortiz "Excavation"


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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Wendy C. Ortiz's memoir Excavation is as beautifully written as it is powerful, and is one of the most moving books I have read in years.

Lidia Yuknavitch wrote of the book:

"The time has finally arrived when women are telling the truth--the hard truths, the messy, glorious, loud, tender, screeching corporeal truths--about their lives as they live them and not lived as we are asked to live them. Wendy C. Ortiz's writing will rearrange your DNA. Permanently, beautifully..."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Wendy C. Ortiz's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Excavation:

Much of my work—personal essays and definitely my books, Excavation: A Memoir, and the forthcoming Hollywood Notebook—often have an embedded soundtrack that shows up in lyrics I mention or place in the prose, all of which are really part of an overarching musical autobiography. This most notably comes up in "Mix Tape," an essay in mix tape form about the trajectory of the relationship documented in Excavation, which appeared in The Nervous Breakdown and was how Kevin Sampsell of Future Tense Books came across my writing.

(Interested in other music-related writing links? Here are a couple more:

"Listen" in The Coachella Review:

"The History of Led Zeppelin in my Pants" in Split Lip Magazine:!6-wendy-ortiz/c1d7b)

(one) Music Playlist for Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz (it could look different tomorrow!)

"She’s Leaving Home" by The Beatles
Mr. Ivers nurtured an appreciation in me for early Beatles that later gave way to a hatred of early Beatles. This is a song I listened to often, probing and investigating it, because he sang it to me and said the words reminded him of me.

"Little Girls" by Oingo Boingo
My first adult-supervised concert was Oingo Boingo at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Sick as it is, I memorized all the words to this song at a young age, half-conscious of its connection to my life.

"Lie to Me" by Depeche Mode
DM’s album "Some Great Reward" played constantly in my early teenage bedroom. Once I began applying song lyrics to what I was experiencing in my relationship with Mr. Ivers this song felt incredibly true and reflected the shaky angst I felt.

"Dirty Woman" by Pink Floyd
In the midst of my new wave + gothiness I took a left turn into hippie territory and "discovered" Pink Floyd The Wall. At fourteen, seeing the scene in the movie that this song is featured in, I knew something was maybe different about me. I was not a groupie—never was—but something about the Girl in Pink Pants turned me on, looked familiar, clued me into something about myself—that I then I tried to practice, document in my relationship with Mr. Ivers.

"Shake It" David Bowie
This song appears in the chapter "June 1987." It’s a song I still lean on for its upbeat weird new-wave-ness to get me through hikes. It’s not my favorite Bowie song by far but it was the 45 that played often that summer. Bowie crooning, So when you gonna phone me made my heart beat faster. Still does.

"Stand by Me" covered by John Lennon/ "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King
In "July 1987" I describe a confirmation party, and the first instance when I slow-danced with Mr. Ivers, who I was learning to call "Jeff." The song playing was Ben E. King’s "Stand by Me." I grew to loathe that song because it seemed to describe the opposite of what he and I were developing. In a scene from "Fall 1989" in Jeff’s apartment, what is not noted is that John Lennon’s version of "Stand by Me" played on his radio as we lie in bed together, and we both remembered having danced to the original.

"Dazzle" by Siouxsie and the Banshees
This song appears in the chapter "August 1987," a point at which my teenage hormones had reached a crescendo and had nowhere to be channeled. When I listen to it now I get a kick out of the big drama of the music and its orchestration. It can still leave me in tears but I will try to hide them from you.

"White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash
This song was popular on KROQ in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It played at the one of the four dances I went to in high school, just not the one I had asked senior upperclassman Dennis Monroe to. Or maybe it did. All I remember is that I wore a flowing red vintage red dress I fashioned into a toga and danced, singing every single line of this song as it blasted into the dark auditorium.

"Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" by Black Flag
While I was busy becoming a hippie my similarly-aged boyfriend was moving from metal to punk. I spent many afternoons and nights unconsciously taking in Black Flag lyrics and growing to love the music he and his friends tried to emulate in band practice. This song also speaks to the need, the intense need I felt through those years.

"Institutionalized" by Suicidal Tendencies
Somehow this young hippie acquired a copy of the first Suicidal Tendencies album and like many of her friends, got super into it. In Excavation: A Memoir there’s no direct mention of suicidality but it lingered in the shadows often. If my peers couldn’t relate to "Institutionalized" on a surface level, I couldn’t totally understand them, and, I imagined, them, me. I was never into Pepsi, though.

"The End" by The Doors
In the chapter "Fall and Winter 1988" Jeff gives me a gift of VW floor mats to encourage my dream of getting the bus I imagined. In 1989 I bought what would be my first car, a blue automatic Volkswagen bus that broke down on me at the ocean, on the freeway, everywhere. Didn’t matter. This song was on my lips a lot. I wanted to ride the snake. I knew the west was the best. "The blue bus is calling us," I called out creepily to my friends.

"Don’t Stand So Close to Me" by The Police (original 1983 recording)
Though it was the 1986 version that really brought Nabokov into my consciousness as I describe in the chapter "December 1986," to this day I prefer the original recording. It has everything: bus stops, a "young teacher," a "teacher’s pet" "half his age." To this day the song will start playing on the radio I call my oracle and the opening percussion still has the power to make me pause. Too bad that in reality there were no strong words in the staffroom.

Wendy C. Ortiz and Excavation links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Jordan Jeffers interview with the author
Los Angeles Times profile of the author

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
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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists