Playlist for Notes from a Swing State

I might be trying to distract myself from hard Brexit developments (!!!), but I just wrote up this playlist to go along with my new nonfiction book: Notes From A Swing State. I am a popular culture junkie, and songs come up quite a bit in the book, all having some personal or political meaning in the essays.

  1. Moon River

Ok, so this is kind of corny, but in the book I write about the enduring appeal of Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and one of the most lovely moments in the film is Holly singing ‘Moon River’ on the fire escape. Hepburn’s singing is charming, and it is a shame she was overdubbed a few years later in My Fair Lady. Having said all this, the essay in the book talks about the dodgy treatment of people of color in the book (by Truman Capote) and the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I call for better models of survivors where their trauma isn’t explored at the expense of people of color. 

2. She’s Leaving Home

I cannot listen to this song. If it comes on in the supermarket, I have to run out, because it reminds me so strongly of my first miscarriage. I write about miscarriage quite a bit in the book, because though I have been pregnant six times, I have only had two children. The first sign that I had miscarried (the first time it happened) was a line from ‘She’s Leaving Home’ that kept running through my head ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’ The song was apparently based on the story of a teenage runaway that Paul McCartney saw in the newspaper. 

3. Life on Mars

‘Life on Mars’ is one of my favourite Bowie songs. I heard his music a lot growing up, as well as seeing him in his role of the Goblin King in the movie Labyrinth (1986), where he was bizarrely charismatic. Let’s be honest, who didn’t have a crush on Bowie after seeing that movie? But Bowie’s lyrics are dynamite, and they also have the capacity to include and open up meaning, which is why he has such a wide and diverse fan base. ‘Life on Mars’ meant a lot to me personally, when I listened to the story about the girl “hooked to the silver screen” as a teenage girl trying to work out wtf had happened to me. 

4. Happiness is a Warm Gun

One of the strangest things to get used to in America is the gun culture. I write about the culture of violence in a few essays in the book. I just came back from a trip to the UK, and I can tell you it feels remarkably different over there – and by that I mean it feels way safer when police don’t have guns! The title of ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ was reportedly inspired by a feature in a gun magazine about a father and son enjoying shooting together (though the actual song is about drug use).

5. Awful

Violence against women and girls, especially women of color, is systemic, and how do we survive in a world that is primed to exploit and abuse us? I write about this in a couple of the essays, and how education for girls on sex, sexuality, and the world can be so lacking. Hole’s song ‘Awful’ ponders how dangerous it is to be a teenage girl, not because you might get pregnant (sigh!) which is what many adults seem to be hysterical about, but because it’s a moment when you might be extremely vulnerable to being exploited. The song though is also very hopeful about the positive influence of art: “If the world is so wrong, you can take it on with one song.”