i hear voices: my book has a soundtrack

MY 2011 BOOK “And I Shall Have Some Peace There” has a soundtrack—the proof’s right here. There’s no actress signed to play me—and not even a screenplay, truth be told—but yes, I have a soundtrack. I made it myself. Here’s why:

One of the characters in “And I Shall Have Some Peace There” is the wi-fi radio I bought for myself when I moved from New York City to Nowheresville, NY, so I could keep listening to “my” station (WFUV from Fordham University) even though I’d no longer be in range. It was my constant companion, a familiar voice in an unfamiliar new life.

As I was trying to sort myself out it (the radio) kept saying really important things—or so it seemed, in the neither-here-nor-there state I was in when I left my long career. It must be a sign!, I thought, over and again, as helpful one-liners kept spilling out of its speaker as if just for me.

And I wrote them down, week after week, and some became mantras, guides—and made it into the book. I paid a boatload of money to their authors and record companies for the rights to quote them, but it was worth every penny, as I hope you will agree when you “hear” them too, in the pages of “Peace.” At least listen to Tom Waits sing “Young at Heart,” and you’ll get the idea: Yes, you can. Don’t be afraid.

  • You can read a full explanation about why I included each song in a Q&A interview I did on the popular music and book blog Largehearted Boy, some of which is pasted below:



 “Young at Heart” (Tom Waits’s cover of Carolyn Leigh’s and Johnny Richards’s collaboration)

Though we all know the opening couplet, what I heard Waits growl most poignantly in my early dropout days were these lines: “You can go to extremes with impossible schemes/You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.” Yes, and (mercifully) yes.

“Ring of Fire” (June Cash; performed by Johnny Cash)

I confess to being a sucker for a horn section, if not the burning flames of illicit love. But neither the mariachi touch nor the song’s intended subject matter made “Ring of Fire” seduce me in a new way when I tried to explain to the reader—and myself—how I’d veered so far from the decades-long dream of a dropout life in the woods. My own “burning ring of fire” (yes, “bound by wild desire”) had been promotions and raises, the trappings—and trap—of success. The tether that had so long held me was mostly financial, its other shiny-but-searing edge: ego-fueling professional esteem. “And it burns, burns, burns.”

“Rebel Side of Heaven” (Langhorne Slim)

Thanks go to another radio station, tiny WKZE in Red Hook, New York, for playing Langhorne Slim from the start. I’d belt out “Rebel Side of Heaven”—“We ain’t going to hell/We’re going to the rebel side of heaven”—while driving country roads in search of some rhythm to my new life. He made it sound like do-overs are possible; all sins forgiven. The promised land lies just ahead!

“Bold as Love” (Jimi Hendrix)

I am old enough to have danced to Jimi in realtime (visual: water-buffalo sandals, batik Nehru jacket, peace symbol). Just the title “Bold as Love”—could I be that bold, ever?—was enough to rate its being scrawled on an index card and pinned up on the corkboard I used as a homemade self-help kit. Ideas that bubbled to the surface for books, businesses, blogs—mashed up with a few choice bits of beloved songs—became a crazy-quilt echoing the discussion in my head.

“Rise” (Eddie Vedder)

Eddie Vedder’s invocation to rise quickly joined Jimi on the corkboard: “Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically. Gonna rise up, throw out my ace in the hole.”

“You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes)

In case money could after all buy you love, I hired a matchmaker to try to add Mr. Right to the life in development. But a “we should have waited” mix of mishaps culminated when he defied a blizzard to meet prospective suitors rather than postponing the ill-fated appointments. Diana knew: “You can’t hurry love.” No prince for me.

“Satellite of Love” (Lou Reed)

Speaking of princes…I live surrounded by frogs, every native species, and in multiples. Apparently a 25-year-old organic garden with water features is pretty sexy. Around the time I read somewhere that the Number 2 male frog in a given territory is called the satellite male (and gets any females the dominant frogboy can’t handle), Lou Reed came filtering through the wi-fi with just the lyric.

“(Nothing But) Flowers”  (Talking Heads)

I’d never really taken in the phrase, “We caught a rattlesnake, now we’ve got something for dinner,” all the times I’d heard David Byrne sing it. Not until I nearly stepped on a five-footer on the kitchen doormat. (I am a 35-year vegetarian; the snake had nothing to fear.)

“The Boxer” (Paul Simon song; Bob Dylan cover)

Though I can identify many bird species, I have no ear for differentiating their songs. Is that one saying “cheer, cheer, cheerful, charmer,” or just “chir-lee,” as various guides strive to transliterate? Although I find bird sounds indescribable in English, I enjoy them anyhow. Which is where the line, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” from “The Boxer” comes in. Who needs the equivalent of human chatter when there is cooing, melody, and the drumming of a woodpecker?

“Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” (Johnny Cash cover of Carl Perkins)

Frogs and birds and snakes…oh, my. I simply wanted to be alone, but the stray cat decided he wanted to move in, and someone (and from the sounds of it, their expanding family) was living in the bedroom wall, scratching at night, as if maybe they had some message I needed to hear. All I kept thinking: “Everybody’s trying to be my baby.”  So…

“Anthem” (Leonard Cohen)

…I tried mouse-proofing (and snake-proofing) but what folly, the idea of anything-proofing. There is always another way in, a loophole or an actual gash; I have my share of Buddhist texts here littering the place that tell me so. And I have Cohen, imploring us to honor the flaw: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

“Angel From Montgomery” (John Prine)

I’m not sure there has ever been a more sweetly smutty phrase written: “When I was a young girl I had me a cowboy.” (And a fireman, and a pilot….) What I was actually writing about when this made its way into the book were my (now-unworn) career clothes, including designer leather jackets…from which my mind tripped to how maybe I could sew fringe on them and join the rodeo, since no other paying gig was coming together yet.

“Catch My Disease” (Ben Lee)

At first I went out every day: to the Post Office, the store, somewhere. Soon, though, days and even whole weeks passed between openings of the big metal farm gate. “Aren’t you lonely?” everyone asked. I’d pull a Ben Lee: “My garden is a secret compartment, and that’s the way I like it.”

“Old Days” (John Hiatt)

“Old days are coming back to me…But I had nothing to live up to and everywhere to be,” the just-out song on the album “Same Old Man” proclaimed. With an eye in the rearview mirror myself, this one competed with “Rebel Side of Heaven” for anthem of the moment. Same old woman.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” (Bob Dylan)

Knowing that we are all repeat offenders, I worried I’d fall back into another version of my same old life. Dylan asks what price, “You have to pay to get out of/Going through all these things twice.” Me, too.

“Tower of Song” (Leonard Cohen)

There’s no need to explain why someone in the liminal, or threshold, world of a life shift would latch onto, “I feel so close to everything we’ve lost.” As he has for me so many times since my teens, Cohen illuminated the heart of the matter.

“Heaven Right Here” (Jeb Loy Nichols)

It was the view out the window—the garden, the dramatic light on the bigger rural landscape beyond—that kept me mostly sane, and feeling this way: “Come on over to my yard/‘Cause right now heaven’s right here.”

“The Word” (Beatles)

At first, while I was sitting semi-lost on the floor alphabetizing my CDs and matching errant Tupperware containers with lids, the New York Times and Washington Post wrote about me as if I’d cracked the code to some life secret, the one of escape: “Say the word, and you’ll be free/Say the word and be like me.”

“Beautiful Boy” (John Lennon)

I suspect that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” is one of modern music’s most-quoted lines. I shudder to realize how often I have missed being in the moment.

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (Beatles)

I tried to keep stories of lost loves to a minimum, but a story of solitude requires some context. By quoting, “Over men and horses hoops and garters, lastly through a hogshead of real fire” to describe how it went with my last boyfriend, I thought people would get the idea straight away.

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