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April 21, 2021

Gina Nutt's Playlist for Her Essay Collection "Night Rooms"

Night Rooms by Gina Nutt

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.

Gina Nutt's magnificent essay collection Night Rooms is filled with views of life filtered through the lens of horror cinema. A moving and unforgettable book.

Refinery29 wrote of the book:

"In this viscerally provocative collection of essays, life isn't so different from a horror movie -- just be glad you have Gina Nutt as the Final Girl guiding you through... In writing both revelatory and intimate, Nutt probes the most frightening aspects of life in such a way that she manages to shed light and offer understanding even about those things that lurk in the deepest and darkest of shadows."

In her words, here is Gina Nutt's Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection Night Rooms:

The essays in Night Rooms splice personal history with horror film imagery. It’s a moody book filled with dreamy detours, lyrical interludes, movie night flickers, and reflections on “final girls.” Theme songs and soundtracks can hinge our hearts to films we remember. In that spirit, I’ve compiled the following playlist, which embodies the book’s emotional landscape.

David Pajo “Hybrid Moments”
This slowed-down version of “Hybrid Moments”—off Pajo’s Scream With Me, an album of acoustic Misfits covers—is like a beautiful lullaby with haunting vibes. It’s impossible not to melt into this song and it’s the first one that comes to mind when I think of a playlist for this book. I love the tension between the gentle tone and the horror-punk lyrics. That it’s a cover also feels true to the book’s approach, weaving horror films and personal narrative. In their own ways, the essays and this song are love letters to cultural ephemera (art, media, etc.) that resonated deep enough to ignite new creative work.

Pixies “Wave of Mutilation”
Water is a central motif throughout the book. Ocean waves, tubs, waterfalls, creeks, and lakes. A family vacation at a beach house. The emotional waves following family deaths or personal trauma. The slow, surfy feel in “Wave of Mutilation” mirrors the meditative lulls I pressed into, ebbing closer to reflection. These moments countered the momentum of images and descriptions and leaned toward an expansive, vast feeling, the sense of looking at a horizon.

Sleater-Kinney “Bury Our Friends”
I listened to a lot of Sleater-Kinney during the years I wrote and revised these essays. This song in particular was a beacon. The lyrics point to a glittering fascination with darkness, which hums through the book. There’s a push and pull between looking (at movies, pain, and memories) and looking away. This song sounds to me how it feels to acknowledge experiences and feelings without letting them define a life. I’ve always thought of the line “We’re wild and weary but we won’t give in” as a call to steel the heart, best my worst thoughts, and rally for another day.

Disasterpeace “Heels”
It Follows was the movie that pulled me toward the book and “Heels” was constantly in my ears while writing an essay about anxiety, which included the collection’s earliest seeds. Writing alongside the electric and gorgeously unsettling soundtrack, scored by Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace), I tapped into the initial energy I felt when I started writing these essays. This song’s fervent stretches kept me moving my pen or typing, writing with the momentum, trying to catch up to the notes. And in the slower moments I felt myself fall into more reflective lulls, or rereading before diving back in to renovate.

Slim Martin “Haunted After Midnight”
This song is strange and beautiful, especially with the eerie response meeting each of the chorus lines. This ultra-ghosty tune appears on The Numero Group’s You’re Not From Around Here album, which was a revision companion for me. The record is supposedly an unreleased soundtrack to an imaginary 60s noir. Nostalgia, longing, mystery, and occasional bleakness flavor the atmosphere of this song.

Death “Freakin Out”
Since death thrums through the book I spent some time listening to Death. More though, I connect Death’s genre-melding music—here punk and garage—with Night Rooms’ attention to, and fascination with, genre. These essays riff off horror tropes and familiar themes—house horror, revenge films, final girls—and borrow craft moves from poetry, like distilling full worlds into single paragraphs, as in prose poems.

Goblin “Suspiria”
Hearing the first few notes to the title track on Goblin’s score to Dario Argento’s Suspiria felt like a prompt to write about ballet, bodily autonomy, and covens. As the whispers and additional instruments joined, I fell into an associative flow, a lyrical trance. The layering of instruments feels similar to components of a ballet production—choreography, sets, costumes, lighting—individual pieces coming together to create a whole experience. Which is true of the book’s structures, all the parts—personal narrative, film imagery, cultural ephemera—on each essay’s stage.

Chromatics “Shadow”
Dreamy swells, echoing vocals, refracted pulses. This song nods to the shadows that can fall over a life and stretches them across a prismatic soundscape. Shadows of all kinds swim through Night Rooms. Here, I love how the tonal uplift and enigmatic lyrics play off each other.

Oingo Boingo “No One Lives Forever”
I wanted collisions of high and low horror. One essay describes watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with friends and the gruesome opening scene which includes this song. The genre’s vast offerings and reach are part of what makes it so interesting, and inclusive to so many sensibilities and tastes. Holding vastly different films on the same plane—mixing and matching slashers, black-and-white classics, and atmospheric newer films—felt organic to the ways I’ve come to know and love the genre.

Pile “I Don’t Want to Do This Anymore”
The first time I heard this brief, aching interlude I decided it was one of the saddest songs I’d ever heard. The piano’s ambling feel that doesn’t seem to stand still until the bridge. No lyrics, no voice, only a late-joining whistle. Anxiety and depression thread throughout the book and I love how this song leans into admitting a feeling, honoring an emotional life with equal parts intensity and calm.

Timber Timbre “Black Water”
This is another song I hear when I think of the book’s water imagery. Warbling tones create an underwater effect. The lyrics and title conjure life’s darker experiences and heavier moments. And resilient as ever, the chorus is like a life raft, reassuring, “All I need is some sunshine.”

Donovan “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
Several essays delve into morbid curiosity. Even without being the first and last song played in David Fincher’s Zodiac, this song has a mellow-creepy feel. Who is the Hurdy Gurdy Man? What conjures him? What’s his origin story? I am reminded of this song when I think of the essays about true crime, urban legends, MySpace chain letters, creepypasta forums, and dark tourism.

Ramones “Pet Sematary”
The film Pet Sematary appears in an essay that includes a Victorian taxidermy tableau and ways people memorialize passed-on pets. So the Ramones’ song for the film is apt. Pet Sematary is also a horror film that connects deeply, and early, with people. Whether you snuck the tape in the VCR at a sleepover, caught a censored version on cable, or a friend’s older sibling was negligent in their babysitting duties, audiences tend to carry this one with them.

The Everly Brothers “All I Have to Do Is Dream”
Somewhere there’s a horror movie I haven’t seen in which something horrible happens while this song plays. Or someone is writing it. Until then, we have Freddy Krueger, who is the first horror villain I remember “meeting” at the video store, a dressed-up mannequin stationed at the doorway to the horror room. The concept of an entity who attacks in sleep, the most vulnerable of spaces, remains horrifyingly ingenious to me. Krueger and this song make a cameo in my essay about sleep, death, and dreams.

The Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait” (acoustic outtake)
This version of “Can’t Hardly Wait” has a melancholy feel compared to its plugged-in siblings, with a slower tempo and different lyrics, which carry echoes of suicide. Several essays in the collection are about suicide, family history, and grief. I find comfort in this song’s imperfections and how sad it sounds. The static throughout feels like the muted patina that falls over the days in the wake of loss.

Joy Division “Atmosphere”
This song sounds how I feel when I walk through the gorges in Ithaca, New York, where some of these essays are set and where I wrote the book. These spaces conjure a cautiously optimistic feeling, a sense of acceptance, self-compassion, as well as curiosity about the world. The lyrics, Curtis’ voice, the rhythmic plods that feels like contemplative walking in a field of chimes. The balance of depth and lift reflects physical and felt landscapes, and sounds like emotional panorama Listening feels like taking in something possible, which is another way of saying resilient and hopeful.

Gina Nutt is the author of the poetry collection Wilderness Champion. She earned her MFA from Syracuse University. Her writing has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Ninth Letter, and other publications.

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