October 13, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Amina Cain's A Horse at Night is a stunning exploration of reading and writing on an intense personal level. One of my favorite books of the year.
Sophie Brown wrote of the book at Astra:
"Fragments of moving image, performance art, paintings, etchings, and prints materialize and dissipate, and a dialogue between these impressions opens up like a portal of ambiences, coming into focus yet remaining out of grasp."
A Horse at Night is a meditation on writing and reading, but it's about living too. I didn't know how much I would write about my life while thinking about fiction, but they became intertwined. For me, the songs in this playlist get to some of the feelings in the book. They express what I wanted to get to when I was writing, or they were with me when I wrote. I've always been jealous that filmmakers get to play music in their films. A playlist is the next best thing.
1. "Black Snake" by John Lee Hooker
I've listened to this song and the album it is on, The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker, so much over the last five years. The feeling of it has gotten into my writing. Plus, this line is so good: "He's a mean black snake sucking my writer's tongue." Sometimes it is like that.
2. "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan
A Horse at Night is dedicated to my mother and this song makes me think of her. She played it for me when I graduated from college, and it was in my head when I moved away from Ohio, where I'd grown up.
3. "Something Within Me" by Odea Mathews
My aunt (Allison Miner), who I write about in the book, first discovered this song when she was working as a young woman at the Jazz Archive at Tulane University. At the end of her life, she sang it for an audience at a benefit concert held for her at the House of Blues in New Orleans. Odea Mathews sang it while she sat at a sewing machine, which you can hear in the recording.
4. "Mohabbat" by Arooj Aftab
Sometimes when I listen to music, I feel strongly that I wish I could write into what I am hearing. This song is like that for me. On her record Vulture Prince, Aftab reenvisioned Urdu ghazals in the writing of the songs, which I love, this relationship between writing and music.
5. "Vissi d'arte" by Giacomo Puccini
My husband Amar and I went to see Tosca at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma when we were in Italy. I write in the book about the trip, about experiencing new places alone and with another person.
6. "De Cara / Eu Quero Essa Mulher" by Caetano Veloso
This song makes me think of Chicago and some of the friends I met there. We listened to this song, and the album it is on, Araçá Azul, a lot. In the book, I write about those friendships and that period of time.
7. "If It Feels / Good, Do It" by Joan of Arc
This song too makes me think about my time in Chicago and the people I knew there. And it's another example of a song I would write into if I could. Maybe I have tried.
I've spent hours writing while listening to this record and this song, especially in the summer, my favorite season. It makes me think of Los Angeles and my life here, though I'm not as sad about it as Neil Young is in these songs. And it makes me think of my father, who loves the record too.
9. "Born to Die" by Lana Del Rey
While writing the book, I started to think about the cycle of life and about death. I've always found this song to be kind of genius, its bluntness, its lonesomeness, its sense of desire and euphoria. It's so honest. I want that for my writing.
10. "Horse" by Dirty Three
A horse for A Horse at Night and a song I've loved for a long time.
Amina Cain is the author of the novel Indelicacy and two collections of short fiction, Creature and I Go to Some Hollow. Her essays and short stories have appeared in n+1, The Paris Review Daily, BOMB, Full Stop, Vice, the Believer Logger, and other places. She lives in Los Angeles.