July 25, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Robert Vaughan's ASKEWis a brilliant collage of a book both insightful and cleverly presented.
Nick Flynn wrote of the book:
"Robert Vaughan’s ASKEW works by association—one thought, one image, one moment tumbling into the next—yet the effect on the reader is a self emerging from the fragments, a self trying to make sense of the world as it skitters away, just out of reach. The effect is to bring us closer to what it feels like to be alive."
I started ASKEW, my 6th hybrid book, a year prior to the COVID pandemic. Most of the music I listened to was new, or newer to me, but some tunes came back as I wrote these pieces, too.
“Tilted,” by Christine & The Queens
All three sections of ASKEW start with lyrics to set the tone. The excerpt from this song starts off the opening section: Cacophony. Everything always seems too loud to me, especially vacuum cleaners and chipmunks.
“Farewell Transmission,” by Kevin Morby + Waxahatchee
The repeated refrain throughout this long sad song: the real truth about it is/ we will be gone/ but not forever. An overarch of truth was I lost two dear friends at the very beginning of the pandemic. And it brought back all the losses I experienced three decades ago when HIV and AIDS were so rampant. Shades/ echoes/ mirrors. Rinse, repeat.
“Describe,” by Perfume Genius
The YouTube video is a must see. Oddness, strange people flocked together in tableaus, performing ritualistic movements- dance, fights, choreographed in the most Balearic lighting. Then the calm last alms- bodies in orgiastic movement, legs, arms and torsos en masse on the carpets. How did we get here? How does anyone?
“No More I Love You’s,” by Annie Lennox
Many people didn’t think Lennox would make it as a solo artist, especially because as ½ of Eurythmics, her other half wrote most of the music. Boy, would she prove everyone wrong. This classic hit, turns the Disney expectations of love on its head. I wanted to capture this same essence in my poem, titled after this Lennox song.
“Troy,” by Sinead O’Connor
My poem, “The Graffiti Maze,” reflects the lyric of this song, in a direct and indirect manner. Characteristic to O’Connor’s music, this song has a terrific build. You can hear anguish, pain, lament, anger, and all of these elements I wanted to weave into this poem. And those last four words are her last four of Troy, which she repeats three times as the song fades.
“You Asked For This,” by Halsey
I love that Halsey is the opposite of conventional, and often pokes at the expectations of the hetero/ commonplace orthodoxy: what it means to be a woman, expectations to get married, have offspring (“go on and be a big girl/ you asked for this now”). I feel like some of my pieces in ASKEW take on similar issues and expectations and question, subvert, or mythologize/ murder them.
“So Done (feat. Khalid),” by Alicia Keys
I listened to this song, this album SO MANY TIMES while writing ASKEW. The “I’m living the way that I want” repeated mantra. Trying to convince the self of being independent. Of being the opposite of co-dependent. Does anyone really know how to love another? I’m working this out throughout the book, in almost each piece. Another shade of this same gemstone.
“The Funeral,” by Band of Horses
There are many pieces I wrote for ASKEW that reference sickness and death. “Ode to the Dead,” “Fragments,” “Victor Road Boys,” “The View,” “Solaris,” to name a few. I am fascinated by death and how, as a culture, we do not address aspects of illness or even actual death itself. I am not a big fan of funerals, but I am a huge fan of this particular song, it’s long lament and unusual POV.
“Cold, Cold Heart (PNAU Remix),” by Elton John and Dua Lipa
This is an intriguing song that strings two, possib"ly three Elton songs together, adds a modern DIVA to sing along with the classic licks, and overall has a feeling of nothing ever happening. Sort of the opposite of how I felt listening to "Rocket Man as a pre-teen. And then the vocoder or false instrument-as-voice. How do we fake our way through life, performing, dueting?
“Maps,” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This is a direct link to my dyslexia, and how not useful maps are, generally, for me. Also, I love the sexual ambiguity in this song, and decided to excerpt the lyrics to set the tone for the middle section of ASKEW, Aviary.
“The Breeze,” by Bill Callahan
Another song I have listened to on repeat a hundred times. Maybe more? So lyrical, and SO SAD. Evocative, and deep. I had a falling out with a best friend while I was at work on ASKEW. And this song was a boon, a daily access to the pain of letting go, of separation. We are now back together as friends, but this song still stings. It’s Callahan and his wizardry.
“I Can Change,” by Ezra Furman
One of my favorite TV shows of late was Sex Education. And as much for the music as the great writing, story lines, and conflicts. Many of Ezra Furman’s tunes, possibly as many as 15- 20 peppered the backdrop of scenes throughout all three seasons. I like how the chorus lyrics change from “Never Change” in the first, to “I Can Change” in the repeat.
“Indestructible,” by Robyn
Because so much of ASKEW explores impermanence, disappearances, subtleties, departures; it only seems fair that we set the bar with the opposite (mirror) so I have to include Robyn’s queer EDM dance song here. Also, a nod to all things permanent, grounded, available, solid. “I’m gonna love you like I’ve never been hurt before/ I’m gonna love you like I’m indestructible…”
"Lead a Normal Life,” by Peter Gabriel
“It’s nice here with a view of the trees/ Eating with a spoon?/
They don’t give you knives?/ ‘Spect you watch those trees/
Blowing in the breeze/ We want to see you lead a normal life…’
These lyrics set the tone for my third section of ASKEW, Demented.
“Life,” by Sorenius Bonk (feat. Signe Mansdotter)
Our challenges, our fears, our deep-rooted anxieties, superstitions, our worst nightmares. This song shades and skirts around some of life’s more perplexing darkness’s. As writers, we are told to “slow down where it hurts.” I love when music does the same. Want that pain, grief to pore from the beat, word, chorus.
“Touch,” by Shura
I’m fascinated by the concept of space, with oneself, or in partnerships. “I want to touch you but there’s history.” Such a simple premise in this song, with multi-layers. Part of my backdrop for ASKEW was I wanted this same exploration in my pieces.
“On the Radio,” by Chip Taylor
This is a very famous song, and so, covered by many renown singers. This is my favorite version. ‘On the radio, the DJ is asleep. He is asleep.’ Maybe we all are? Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
“The Ballad of El Goodo,” by Big Star
This is the last song we hear on Sex Education, with Maeve on a bus, to a flight, to America (from U.K.) It reminds me of any song that carries us through transition, from here to there. How many times do we pay close attention to the actual song of these transitory moments? I do. And I will. To new beginnings.
Robert Vaughan is the author of six books: Microtones (2012); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (2013); Addicts & Basements (2014); RIFT (2015), FUNHOUSE (2016), and ASKEW (2022). FUNHOUSE was included in The New York Review of Books (Aug, 2017). His awards include Micro-Fiction (2012), Gertrude Stein Awards (2013, 2014) and his stories were selected for The Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2019 . He is the Editor-in-Chief at Bending Genres and teaches online writing courses, and week long workshops at Cedar Valley and The Mabel Dodge Luhan House (NM.) He blogs at www.robert-vaughan.com.