December 10, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kelly Conaboy's memoir The Particulars of Peter, the moving story of the author and her dog, is one of the funniest books of the year.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Conaboy merges humor, memoir, and reportage in her winning debut about the experience of sharing one's life with a dog. . . Dog enthusiasts will especially delight in this book, but anyone looking for a good laugh will have a ball."
Since adopting my dog, Peter, I cannot hear a standard love song without thinking, tears in my eyes, looking extremely foolish, “Oh my god … this reminds me of Peter.” I feel like it must be that way for other people, too. Right? I hope? My book, The Particulars of Peter, follows us on my journey to try to get to know him the best I can, through our quiet moments together and through our journeys in various aspects of current dog culture. The book spends some time on music — dog dancing, listening to music created specifically for dogs, and listening to the genres of non-dog music that apparently dogs appreciate the most — which is lucky for this playlist, as it might have otherwise just been Aretha Franklin’s “At Last” 15 times in a row. Here we go.
“Can't Help Falling In Love” — Elvis Presley
Oh god, song one and this is already the cheesiest playlist of all time. It might as well have just been “At Last” 15 times in a row! However I do believe this is a poignant song for all of us out there who have participated in a “foster fail.” (For those who don’t know, a “foster fail” is when a dog who was once being fostered is, due to overwhelming love, adopted by their former foster.) I fostered Peter before knowing I was ready to adopt, and he convinced me instantly. “Like a river flows surely to the sea, darling, so it goes, some things are meant to be.” It’s true.
“Invisible String” — Taylor Swift
“And isn’t it just so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?” I can’t believe Taylor Swift wrote this song about a human man and not a dog. Please do not judge me, but I can’t even listen to it without crying because it reminds me so much of Peter, who I adopted when he was around three or four. Maybe Taylor was at least inspired by her cats? Do you think? Once, I included this song in a Peter-related Instagram story and a friend messaged me to say she sings it to her dog, too. So I feel it might be beneficial for Taylor Swift, and for all of us, if she released a dog-specific, or even a dog-and-cat-specific, bonus version. Yes? I hope she sees this.
“For Once in My Life” — Stevie Wonder
“For once in my life I have someone who needs me, someone I've needed so long. For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me, and somehow I know I'll be strong.” This is another one where I can’t believe it was not written specifically about a dog, and not specifically for my dog, Peter. This is exactly how I feel! When I hear it I always imagine it from my own perspective, self-centeredly, but I suppose it might be even more appropriate from Peter’s perspective. Sort of in the “who rescued who?” bumper sticker sort of way. Oh god. That’s even sweeter.
“Lost Boy” — Ruth B.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of canine freestyle, but it’s a dog sport focused on teaching dogs a series of tricks set to music, to give the visual effect of a beautiful dance routine with their humans. It is very good. There is a particularly sweet routine I’ve watched several times on YouTube set to this song, which is also a song I know very well from how it has played constantly, seemingly nonstop for many years, on the “Cafe” themed XM Radio station set to play permanently in my parents car.
“Funny Face” — Fred Astaire
While we were attempting canine freestyle, it was my dream that Peter and I would one day dance to the song “Funny Face” from the film of the same name. (Peter would be Audrey Hepburn, I would be Fred Astaire.) We have not yet and will likely never achieve this dream, but I still enjoy thinking about it. Peter would be the perfect Audrey.
“The Underdog” — Spoon
Spoon is my favorite band, and in a section of the book dedicated to figuring out Peter’s favorite style of music so that I might write him the perfect song, I interview the band’s singer, Britt Daniel, to get his advice. Spoon doesn’t have a song about a dog, but this one at least has the word “dog” in it, so it’s almost appropriate. This is probably their most well-known song, and has been in, like, superhero movies and stuff, but it’s actually also still very good. A great song. Thank you, Spoon.
“Thunder Road” — Bruce Springsteen
Speaking of people who don’t have songs about dogs, do you know Bruce Springsteen does not have a single song about a dog? It seems wrong to me. He’s mentioned dogs, but never in a particularly fun way; they’re usually in some sort of distress, or howling on Main Street. In an attempt to fix this, in the book, I rewrote the lyrics to “Thunder Road” to be about Peter. (“Peter Road.”) I can’t really hear the song now without hearing my own lyrics. Perhaps Bruce would like to rerecord it? The “Peter Cut”? I hope after Taylor Swift reads this she sends it to him.
“Puppet On A String” — Ken Boothe
In 2017, the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow published a study that found dogs seemed to enjoy reggae music over a few other genres, like Motown, pop, and classic. “Enjoying” for a dog, in this case, means that they display positive behavioral changes, which essentially means they become calmer. In my own unscientific experimentation, I found Peter did, also, seem to enjoy reggae music over most other types. He particularly seemed to like this Ken Boothe album, Mr. Rock Steady.
“Lonely Woman” — Ornette Coleman
Conversely, he really does not like The Shape of Jazz to Come. He just does not appreciate the free jazz style at all. It’s not for everyone, I guess. He’s made it very clear that I am not allowed to listen to this while we are sharing the same space, and of course I would never want to do anything to upset him.
“Grace” — Jeff Buckley
If Peter could sing, I feel like he would sound like Jeff Buckley. I know you don’t really know him but, from what you do know, do you agree? Powerful but delicate. Strong and ethereal. Friends have suggested he might sound more like Lou Reed or Elliott Smith, which I think gives you a sense of how he is perceived, but I think Jeff Buckley is the correct choice.
“I Would Die 4 U” — Prince
However, in terms of a favorite artist, I think Peter would admire Prince the most. They don’t have similar energies, but I think Peter’s more demure energy would be attracted to Prince’s less demure energy. You’d probably have to meet him (Peter) to understand. “I Would Die 4 U” is chosen here because, of course, I would die 4 him.
“Talk To Me” — Joni Mitchell
“Come and talk to me, please talk to me. Talk to me talk to me, Mr. Mystery.” My first idea for the book was that it would be entirely about my attempt to teach Peter how to talk. My agent pointed out that this might be difficult because ultimately I would not be able to teach him how to talk, and what would the book even be about? A good point. There is still a chapter about my fruitless attempt, though, and I believe my angst, and that of many dog owners, is shown clearly here with Joni. I would also accept, “Text me, text me, pleeeeease just text me and tell me if you need anything while I’m out!”
“Heaven” — Talking Heads
Because knowing and loving a dog generally means spending a great deal of time thinking about his or her eventual death, I have a few chapters related to otherworldliness, one of which is explicitly about the idea that dogs are not allowed into heaven. That is why this song is chosen here, but also because of this lyric: “It's hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be this much fun.” I believe that accurately describes the experience of hanging out at home with your dog.
“Waltz (Better Than Fine)” — Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple needs to be on the playlist because she is a major dog lover, and because I am a major Fiona Apple lover. But also because this song, too, accurately describes the feeling, at least for me, of hanging out, seemingly doing nothing, with your dog. “No, I don't believe in the wasting of time, but I don't believe that I'm wasting mine.” True. Oh, and this lyric could also be about a dog: “If you don't have a point to make, don't sweat it. You'll make a sharp one being so kind.” And I sure appreciate it!
“Peter’s Song” — Elton John
Admittedly I didn’t know this song existed until just now when I Googled “Peter Song,” hoping there would be a song called something like “Peter Song.” And there is! “Peter’s Song” is an Elton John b-side, which is is why you maybe have not heard of it either. The lyrics are surprisingly relevant, speaking of the hovering spectre of death. “Times like these, they're gone too soon. Swifter than an echo bouncing off the moon. We'll be OK if we believe that every breath we take becomes a memory.” Jesus. Let’s end with this lyric, instead, which is equally if not more relevant. “To wonder and adventure, growing up comes later. Right now that world belongs to you and me.”
Kelly Conaboy is a writer whose career includes stints at the Cut, the Hairpin, Gawker, and Videogum. Most of those websites no longer exist. (This is not because of Kelly.) She's been published by The Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. She and her dog, Peter, live in Brooklyn, NY.