September 9, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
James Tate Hill's memoir Blind Man's Bluff is moving, funny, and ultimately hopeful.
BookPage wrote of the book:
"Disarmingly honest and funny…An inspiring, often incredible story that reminds us of the strength that come from vulnerability."
Blind Man’s Bluff chronicles the loss of my sight at age sixteen and the decade and a half I tried my best to pretend I could still see. This turned out about as well as one might expect. During those years, music helped me make sense of emotions I couldn’t articulate. In the songs of artists like David Bowie and Prince, I could still hear possibility. Their imaginations probably fueled my desire to become a writer as much as any books I read.
The following tracks convey some of the emotions found in Blind Man’s Bluff, although I hope, as the book enters the world, that I’ve gotten better at articulating those emotions myself.
Harden My Heart by Quarterflash
“I’m gonna harden my heart/I’m gonna swallow my tears.” This could be the unofficial anthem of all memoirs, no? Although we come to suspect, through Rindy Ross’s iconic vocals, that the titular heart remains quite vulnerable and many tears have gone unswallowed.
Life on Mars by David Bowie
Few if any have ever known how to tell the weird kids we’re not alone like David Bowie, and this song has always felt like the purest distillation of that sentiment.
Time to Pretend by MGMT
“yeah, it’s overwhelming/but what else can you do?”
Factory by Martha Wainwright
Martha Wainwright’s self-titled debut is one of the albums I’ve listened to the most times in its entirety, and I could probably pick any track as a concise expression of a few years of my life. But let’s go with “Factory” and its opening lines “These are not my people/I should never have come here.”
Haven’t Got Time for the Pain by Carly Simon
Oh, but we have so very much time for the pain, don’t we, Carly?
Private Idaho by The B-52's
Then there are the B-52's, bless them for all eternity, who can make isolation and alienation feel like a wild party.
One Night in Bangkok by Louise Robey
This Murray Head classic will always hold a special place in my heart for reasons revealed in the latter pages of Blind Man’s Bluff. Rather than the original, however, I am including the cover by Canadian actress and singer Louise Robey, whose debut album I found myself listening to constantly during one of the loneliest years of my life. Billed only as Robey, she starred on one of my favorite shows of all time, Friday the 13th: The Series (1987–1990), which had nothing to do with the movie franchise of the same name. Have I mentioned the book has a lot to say about nostalgia?
Let’s Pretend We’re Married by Prince
I could parse the words pretend or married in this track’s title, but I’d rather tell you what a revelation this song was when I first ventured from the lagoon of Prince’s greatest hits into the ocean of his entire catalog. Listening to Prince always made my small world seem so much bigger.
Brilliant Disguise by Bruce Springsteen
This song about a marriage crumbling under the weight of secrecy contains at least ten lines that break me in half. “God have mercy on the man/who doubts what he’s sure of.”
Numb by Sia
This song, like so much of Sia’s work, is pure catharsis.
Momentum by Aimee Mann
I could have picked any Aimee Mann song from the Magnolia soundtrack or Bachelor No. 2, and it’s so tempting to go with “Save Me” and its shout out to “the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone.” But let’s spin this upbeat number about “condemning the future to death so it can match the past.”
Long before I had ever heard of Kate Bush, I encountered her brilliant cover of “Rocket Man” on Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Not surprisingly, Kate makes the timeless flight all her own.
Grey Gardens by Rufus Wainwright
“It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present,” says Little Edie Beale at the start of this song in a clip from the movie Grey Gardens. It sure is, Edie.
Let It Die by Feist
In my younger and more vulnerable years, which is to say 2007–08, I listened to Feist more than any other artist. Submitted without elaboration, here is a thematically appropriate favorite.
Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime by The Korgis
The lyrics of this one might be a little on the nose, but I love this song and remember being shocked to find out it was released in 1981 rather than, say, 2005.
Love…Thy Will Be Done by Martika
Another divot in Prince’s pop footprint, this song features half a dozen moments when Martika’s vocals make me shiver. No longer being able to hide or run has never sounded more beautiful.
I drove all night by Cyndi Lauper
I don’t know if Cyndi’s voice has ever sounded more gorgeous than it does in this song. Turn up the volume and let the power of her four-octave pipes shake something loose inside you. Cyndi has a way of making all night seem infinite and far too short.
James Tate Hill is an editor for Monkeybicycle and a contributing editor at Literary Hub, where he writes a monthly audiobooks column. He has been listed in the 2019 edition of The Best American Essays and won the Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel for Academy Gothic.