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August 13, 2020

Cree LeFavour's Playlist for Her Novel "Private Means"

Private Means by Cree LeFavour

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.

Cree LeFavour's novel Private Means is a stunning and eloquent debut.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"LeFavour, author of the memoir Lights On, Rats Out, is an award-winning cookbook writer, but don’t expect a foodie novel. Fans of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble or Ann Beattie’s short stories will enjoy this wry, sophisticated, and intelligent rendering of modern, privileged city life."

In her own words, here is Cree LeFavour's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Private Means:

Stranger Me, Amy LaVere

What a vibe this song has. “You seem to think you can read my mind / and tell me about it like it’s story time” is a line that sums up what it can feel like to be alienated from someone you’ve been in a long-term relationship with. They probably can read your mind—or at least they once could. Private Means is about two lonely people in a relationship. The line “I may not catch myself this time” evokes the sense that each is in free-fall—away from each other. The song mixes the nostalgia and loyalty each still has for what they had in the past, back when the other “could do magic.”

Divorce Song, Liz Phair

One line in this perfect song has always stuck with me: “but when you said I wasn’t worth talking to / I had to take your word on that.” The song’s about how much two people can hurt each other and how the wounds they inflict become the pain they inflict on themselves (“I had to take your word on that”). Alice feels Peter has nothing to say to her—that she’s “not worth talking to”—and that, beyond her others losses, might be the sorest point of all for her.

Skinny Love, Bon Iver

I think of this song playing when Alice is in the bath eating apricots. She’s deeply sad—but she just can’t see how the life she’s chosen for herself, good as it is in all its appearances, can sustain her. The song always makes me cry, so I’ve added it to the list for the sheer mourning that it evokes. I mean, “who will love you?” pretty much nails it.

Brass in Pocket, The Pretenders

This song makes me think of Alice (finally) breaking the rules. She’s alone for the weekend and she’s sick of feeling invisible, sick of missing her dog, sick of herself. So she finds that independent, gutsy part of herself that wants a little attention. It feels like magic. One of my favorite movies, Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, uses this song to powerful effect in a karaoke scene. Scarlet Johansson sings it with her own breathy, sexy emotion. Every time I hear this song I think of her in that scene with Bill Murray watching adoringly. It’s the first time she manages to separate herself from her husband, to leave his presence behind.

Airborne, Wussy

What an intense song. It nails the dissonance of a long-term relationship, the conflicting feelings a person holds at once. At various points in the novel both Alice and Peter simultaneously hate and love each other. The “digging through the scrap heap” occurs literally and metaphorically throughout the novel as Alice wonders if she wants to stay married. As a couple the two are in danger because they’re so close to the edge, to wanting out. It’s a dangerous place to be because “When you’re living in a flood plain / it doesn’t take a hard rain to wash it all away.” And listen to those guitars.

Last Kiss, Pearl Jam

“Oh where, oh where, can my baby be?” This brutal and heartbreaking song about a girl’s death in a car accident is based on a true story. Eddie Cochran released the first version of it in 1961. It will seem unholy, to some people, to suggest that it captures Alice’s feelings about a lost dog. But there are all kinds of love in this world, more intense than you can sometimes imagine.

Goddamn Lonely Love, Drive By Truckers

Every time I hear the opening chords to this song my stomach shifts. There isn’t a better song about sadness and this one captures precisely what’s going on in the novel—“I ain’t really drowing / ‘cause I can see the beach from here.” Alice and Peter are making it work on the surface but each is, in their own way, drowning. The yearning of the line “I’ll take two of what you’re having and I’ll take everything you’ve got to kill this goddamn lonely, goddamn lonely love” encapsulates what the two want from each other—everything and more.

I’m on Fire, Bruce Springsteen

This one is also for Peter who has the burning desire that Springsteen grabs hold of here. He’s a psychiatrist who is obsessed with his patient (entirely forbidden, of course). He knows he’s out of bounds—and yet he can’t let it go. The lust he feels haunts him but also, perversely, sustains him.

Wave of Mutilation, Pixies

This song would cue up after Peter and Alice reach the culmination of their silent war. It’s about everything being broken, raw and ruined. It’s a quiet, repetitive song that evokes what it feels like to be destroyed—mutilated—by oneself and those we love.

Wake up Older, Julie Roberts

I wrote Private Means in part because I was tired of coming-of-age stories. It’s a book about grown-ups who are indeed getting older. Neither is sure if their marriage is over. “So I found me a stranger with his comforting danger” is the response each has to the pressure and boredom and loss they’re feeling. The song neatly captures cheating—"slept in my makeup, didn’t get my teeth brushed” and worse, “woke up older” in a hotel room as Alice does. Julie Roberts has a dark, husky voice, and this might be her best moment.

Codeine, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Private Means isn’t full of codeine, but wine and martinis make their appearances. This song speaks to the longing for oblivion both characters feel as they slog their ways through their busy, if lonely, summer. I love this song for its soft, dreamy, quality. “I wish we knew how to fight but we don’t” rings in my ears. My characters, like a lot of couples, don’t know how to fight which means that when they finally do it’s more ugly than it should be and hard to return from. But, as the song makes clear, even in oblivion there’s still love even if “got no answers of my own.” The fiddles alone in this song can break your heart.

No Time to Cry, Iris DeMent

How is it that when your marriage is aging and your kids have left home you get the triple hit of watching your parents fail and die. It’s like the background dirge that plays through the middle years. Alice and Peter, however aware they are of it, are powering through the sullen grief of aging and dying parents.

Amoreena, Elton John

This song is about living in your head—existing in a fantasy because it’s so much better than reality. Like so many of the songs on this list, it’s about longing and reaching toward something that once felt vital and real but comes to exist only in the mind. It’s about missing the purity and ease of early love—a thing my characters remember but have lost track of.

Dying of the Pines, The Gourds

When Alice and Peter’s finally hit the crisis that’s brewing, this song is would be playing in the background of the aftermath. “Just make sure and get out of my way” says it all. This is such a sad song, and one of my favorites in the list—partly because it’s all emotion. The lyrics are strange but it’s Kevin Russell’s mournful voice that’s so evocative.

Sea of Heartbreak, Roseanne Cash

There are so many versions of this song and I like most of them. It evokes the regret we feel when we’ve fucked up our relationship and can’t see the way back. “How I wish you were mine again” is a feeling Alice and Peter experience only in flashes—but it hums quietly throughout the novel. Bruce Springsteen’s background vocals here don’t hurt at all.

Walking on a Wire, Richard and Linda Thompson

This mournful song sweeps me along with its understated despair. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows the feeling of “walking on a wire,” doing what you can to keep things from blowing up but feeling the constant tension the fear of “falling” causes and the ways that tension exhausts. This is from the Shoot out the Lights album, one of the best of its decade.

Out of Touch, Lucinda Williams

Love how she kicks this song off with that guitar and then we get her gravelly, hardcore voice. There’s nothing girly or soft about it. The song is about feeling wrong—out of touch but together. The song captures the ugly mourning of being stuck in a thing, knowing it’s all wrong, but not being able to do without it.

I Misunderstood, Richard Thompson

Love the rawness and simplicity of this song. Thompson presses down on the word misunderstood to make it sound like “I’m missing this too.” That’s how I’ve always heard it. And then that line, “I thought she was saying good luck, she was saying goodbye” is a killer. The restraint in his darkly thrashing guitar solo underlines the emotions.

Wicked Game, Chris Isaak

This song has become a cliché, but for a reason. When you fight and cheat and hate each other you either make it or you don’t. And your heart is broken but it’s so powerful. This song is about those moments when you can’t help your love—"nobody could save me but you”—even if it’s so damn painful. And it’s a wicked thing because it’s so potent and inescapable. I love the dreamy, distant sound here.

Waiting on June, Holly Williams

Ultimately, for all their loneliness and trouble, Alice and Peter have a great big, surprisingly enduring love. As anyone knows who has been married or together with someone for a very long time, life isn’t complete without that person after a while. Private Means is a novel about the rough spots in a one of these long marriages but what makes them matter is how much is at stake. Because when the kids are gone, as they are in my novel, there’s still a couple who will grow old together if they can. I saw Williams perform this song live and could not stop weeping.

Back Down South, Kings of Leon

We have friends from the south who, whenever this song begins to play, immediately get up and start to dance - and everyone else can’t help but get up too. This song would cue up the moment Alice and Peter drop their daughters at the airport and get back in the car to drive home. It’s not a happy song but “back down south now” offers going home as a way of finding refuge. At this moment in my novel the summer is over—it’s Labor Day—and Alice and Peter are alone again, just the two of them to take their future or leave it. But it feels like they might just take it, engage the moment and, if only metaphorically, “dance.” “If you wanna go, I’m gonna go” is a way of saying I’m in, will you join me, whatever might be ahead?

More Than This, Roxy Music

If the novel had a theme song, this would be it. A mash-up of mourning, longing and desire, the song captures the reality of the immediate present and how, “more than this, nothing.” This is it. Life. “Like a dream in the night, who can say where we’re going.”

Cree LeFavour is the author of several cookbooks, including the James Beard Award nominated Fish, and of the renowned memoir Lights On, Rats Out. She has Ph.D. in American Studies and taught writing at New York University

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