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April 24, 2020

Rachel Vorona Cote's Playlist for Her Book "Too Much"

Too Much

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.

Rachel Vorona Cote expertly weaves cultural criticism, Victorian literature, and her own stories into her book Too Much.

Baltimore Magazine wrote of the book:

"In a writing style that's part academic, part personal essay, Cote exposes her own struggles with 'too muchness,' from her bisexuality to self-harm to body image, while synthesizing a woman's place within the cultural context of femininity. Consider it required reading for feminists of all genders."

In her own words, here is Rachel Vorona Cote's Book Notes music playlist for her book Too Much:

I puzzled over how to compile this playlist because I worried that it would quickly become redundant. After all, music is often the province of unruly emotions, and it would be easy enough for me to select tracks that, to quote Feist, reiterate the sentiment, “I feel it all.” I contemplated pairing songs with chapters, and that probably would have been the more practical way to proceed, but as my book makes abundantly clear, I do not always operate according to logic. Here, then, is a sonic hodgepodge that draws on various themes from Too Much and that I hope will offer some pleasure and texture to your reading experience.

“Geyser” by Mitski

There is no other way to open this playlist. Mitski’s “Geyser” is raw, bombastic affect: an explosion of desirous longing that can hardly be summed up by words. When I write about “too muchness” in the book I am often referring to the perniciously vague assessment of someone’s disposition, but in claiming the term for myself, it feels more akin to an inchoate intensity of feeling that lingers at the spokes of language. It might be a geyser, or a house swarmed by flames, or the tremulous, lonely call of a bird at dusk. No one captures the double helix of peril and pleasure quite like Mitski, and this is a twinned sensation that is familiar to anyone who both relies on their emotional vulnerability while also—sometimes—fearing it too.

“Make Me Feel,” by Janelle Monáe

Even in my thirties, I entangle myself in psychological knots where I become convinced that it would be easier not to feel so much, to not be so stridently sensitive. I love Janelle Monáe, as everyone should; they are a visionary. They also—if I may be a little cheesy—insist upon the pleasures of too muchness. What a gift to experience the emotional topography of our lives in such exquisite detail, to plumb every depth and know precisely, and lavishly, what a moment means to us. I am not always grateful for this, but I want to be.

“Portions for Foxes” by Rilo Kiley

If we’re honest, we often want to relate to songs like “Portions for Foxes” more than we actually do—or at least, this was the way I felt when I was in college and newly ensconced in Rilo Kiley’s discography. I wanted to be the sexily messy girl, the one who called you in the dark of night and commanded your presence with offhand charm and sensuality. Years later, when I had wandered my way into an extramarital affair, I realized that being “bad news” was far less enjoyable than my sophomoric visions had predicted. This isn’t a morality tale—I adore this song, and I want to cocoon inside Jenny Lewis’s voice. It’s just a small musing upon one of my personal self-delusions.

“Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush

I toyed with adding “Running Up That Hill” instead because a song about empathy would be fitting here—at base, that’s what I’m arguing for in my book. But it’s also a book about the Victorians, and the wild women who populated their literature, so how could I not include this homage to the exquisitely ferocious Cathy Earnshaw?

“Pills” by St. Vincent

I never want to make light of my privilege when it comes to mental healthcare. Access to good pills and better therapy has saved my life. And while I used to wonder if medication was a mask of sorts, a way to conceal the uglier parts of myself and conveniently deny the monster I really am, I no longer think that’s the case. On the contrary, the right “cocktail” of anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants enables me to summon the person I am always trying to be. That said, there’s something a little banal and silly about sitting down to morning coffee and pouring your daily pill regimen into your hand, and I love the jingle St. Vincent wrote as an accompaniment for the ritual.

“I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage

I will always be grateful to Shirley Manson for this song, which manages to lend gritty gravitas to the quality of being neurotic. I think that we tend to seek out texts that are validating code-breakers of sorts: this is to say that we look for self-explanation outside of ourselves, in hopes of attaining both legibility and reassurance that the way we are is not some freak anomaly and therefore is endorsed through its commonness. The sort of girl who was agitated by her various inclinations—the need to check the books in her locker multiple times before closing it, the fear that somebody she loved was angry with her—Garbage’s willingness to dwell in these queasy spaces was a balm to me.

“Possession” by Sarah McLachlan

If Too Much’s “Horny” chapter had a theme song, this would be it. Sarah McLachlan’s tremulous, siren calls were ubiquitous when I was a teenager, and it seemed to me that she interpreted sex the same way I did (of course, this is almost certainly not the case because I was an especially naive thirteen and knew absolutely nothing about it). But what McLachlan does understand, and what she expresses so perfectly, is desire’s epic quality. Particularly for someone young and romantically idealistic, it feels like a mighty quest, or something profoundly ritualistic—it’s a feeling that seems suited to a darkened cathedral or, hell, Stonehenge. Listen to this song: however blasphemous it may be to say this, it’s precisely the sort of thing that ought to be sung in the halls of a subterranean monastery, or upon an altar. I think Fleabag would agree, anyway.

“Dreams So Real” by Metric

My partial motivation for including this song is to give a little love to Metric: god, what a band. But I think, too, of its chorus—“a scream becomes a yawn,” sings Emily Haines. Writing about too muchness often calls for parsing our louder, brasher moments. It means contemplating all the spillage and froth of big feelings. But too muchness has its mundanities, and its attendant exhaustion. Being Too Much can mean muddling onward, through the enduring internal buzz, hoping against hope that if we “shut up and carry on” long enough, perhaps we’ll finally achieve some stillness.

“Juice” by Lizzo

After one of my readings, someone asked me to choose my favorite Too Much woman, and while that is a complicated question for me to answer, I landed on Lizzo. It would be enough for her to write bops as tremendous and bouyant as “Juice,” but uniting them with her feminist politics, imbued as they are with empathy and conviction in bodily sovereignty—that’s the sort of work that will change the world.

“Everytime,” by Britney Spears

I remember the quick shock of hearing this song for the first time. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “I think she’s sad.” Four years later, in 2007, Britney’s so-called meltdown would become proto-viral content, immortalized as female hysteria of the aughts. I write about her in my “Crazy” chapter, an undertaking motivated as much by fascination as by the peculiar, lingering concern I’ve felt for this famous, beautiful stranger ever since it occurred to me that—while I could never know for sure—what she performed might not be too far afield from what she actually felt.

“Liability” by Lorde

Oh, this song. Whenever I hear it I’m beset by the twinned desire to cry in self-indulgent recognition and to wrap Lorde in a big sisterly embrace. She articulates so vividly the perils of intimacy when not everyone is willing or able to bear witness to your intensity. Any relationship is a conversation between dispositions and physiologies, and sometimes, tragically, that conversation leads to heartbreak.

“Talula” by Tori Amos

When I was in middle school, my best friend handed me a mixtape of Tori Amos’s music: a tiny package of deliverance passed between lockers, before first period. “Talula” quickly became my favorite, because, although I could not fully parse the lyrics, I sensed the wallop of their anger. In writing Too Much I sometimes found myself aggravated at how, again and again, we necessarily return to the same dreary story: so many of our social woes come at the hands of patriarchy. We need careful, textured analysis, but we also need the permission to be furious. I found that in Tori, and in “Talula.”

“Too Much” by Carly Rae Jepsen

What need I say? This song—this anthem—feels like a gift, and it is the natural and appropriate conclusion to this playlist. (I also recently wrote about CRJ’s music in the context of too muchness, if you dig that sort of thing.)

I'm a writer and occasional editor living in Takoma Park, Maryland. I write for publications like the New Republic, Longreads, Pitchfork, Catapult, Hazlitt, Rolling Stone, the Poetry Foundation, Buzzfeed, and Literary Hub. I also used to be a contributor at Jezebel.

I have a B.A. from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. in Literature from the George Washington University. I am—and will be in perpetuity—ABD at the University of Maryland, College Park, where I studied Victorian literature.

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