But Seriously, How Do You Get to China? David Nilsen and I Discuss Tori Amos

  • little earthquakes
    In the next in our series of tangent-infused chats about our favourite 90s albums, David Nilsen and I decided to fight to the death about which was the best of Tori Amos’ records that decade. Sadly, I had to accept defeat from the off because Little Earthquakes is clearly the best one. Damn you, Nilsen.
    KGB: Here’s my Tori story. I first encountered her when Boys for Pele came out in 1996. 13-year-old me was extremely unhappy and angry; I had money for 2 CDs; I’d read a review of Boys for Pele that week which made it sound terrifying: it was exactly what I needed. Boys for Pele has been one of my go-to records for times of rage and angst ever since. Saying this, From the Choirgirl Hotel is technically my preferred album. But Boys for Pele is more significant in my own personal development as the kind of person who passively aggressively punishes people with my music choices. I’ll say it right away though—Little Earthquakes is so beautiful I can’t quite believe it exists. How had I never listened to it before? You have changed my whole life by nudging me towards it.
    DN: I’m glad to hear that, because I was afraid we were going to have to argue about it. She’s an incredible, generation-level talent, but I don’t think she’s ever equaled what she breathed into the world with Little Earthquakes. My Tori story starts how many of my musical love stories begin: with my friend Honey. Honey
    introduced me to so many of the foundational bands and artists of my life that it is safe to say I would not be the same person without her influence, even aside from our actual personal friendship. We would send each other mix tapes when I was in high school, and she included three songs on one of them from Little Earthquakes – China, Silent All These Years, and Winter. And that was that. Despite my awareness of her brilliant talent, I’ve always been reluctant to call myself a Tori fan, just because nothing she did after that first album a quarter century ago has ever quite rivaled it.
    KGB: It is unbelievable to me that Little Earthquakes is over 25 years old. It doesn’t seem dated at all. There’s something really timeless about it. Silent All These Years is a song that really stands out to me; it’s incredibly beautiful. Having come to her for the disturbing, often discordant rage of Boys for Pele, it’s the more delicate tracks that have really stayed with me, which is why I loved Little Earthquakes from the first listen. It makes me stand by my point from our Hole discussion about Tori rivaling Courtney for rare emotional honesty in her music. Me and a Gun,
    obviously, is a prime example.
    DN: Oh, totally. And that’s a great point. I concede the point on this one: she writes as gutturally honestly as Courtney. And with more poetic talent.
    Should we go through one of the albums?
    Also, you’re right about the timelessness. This could have come out last year. Stuff from the early 90s can date really badly, but this feels outside of time.
    KGB: Let’s get deep into Little Earthquakes.
    I’m listening to Crucify now.
    DN: What a song.
    DN: I take notes when I listen to albums for our discussions, and usually these are quasi-intelligent in some way. Beside the first three tracks on this one I just wrote “Damn.”
    KGB: I was reading up on this album today and saw that this song relates to her religious upbringing and kind of disavowing that. Does that particularly resonate with you? It made me think about what you’ve said previously about your own childhood. I hope that’s not unpleasantly personal.
    DN: I think we’re past unpleasantly personal on most things, right?
    And absolutely. I am such a sucker for people taking and twisting religious imagery in writing. This song hits that perfectly. I particularly love these lines:
    “Just what God needs, one more victim.”
    “Got enough guilt to start my own religion.”
    KGB: That second one is so sardonic. Sometimes metaphor can be really clunky in lyrics, but she’s flawless.
    DN: She really is.
    Did you have any sort of religion in your childhood?
    KGB: Football.
    DN: So yes.
    KGB: Supporting Ipswich has often felt like crucifying myself. But no religion, no. I went to a church primary school (most of what you’d call elementary schools here are linked to church, for some reason) so I know a lot of terrible hymns, but I
    proclaimed myself an atheist at the age of 7 while reading the dictionary. It means I am terrible at explaining biblical allusions in books that I teach at school.
    DN: I remember being surprised as a teenager to find out England is so much less Christ-haunted than we are. Such a fundamentally different soil you grew out of. Do you find a lot of our literature hard to feel, because of the role religion plays in our rural spaces?
    KGB: I think I get most of it, just from reading so much, but the strength of feeling surprises me. For example, when watching season 4 of Nashville (don’t judge), I was flabbergasted by the reaction against a gay character by Christian media. I really wanted to believe it was hugely exaggerated but I don’t know if that’s wishful thinking.
    DN: Oh god, I wish it was exaggerated.
    KGB: People with a strong faith and a willingness to be open about it are rare here, as far as I can see. It’s definitely a surprisingly massive difference between our cultures. I am listening to Girl now and I want to talk about the Sylvia Plath connection, please. Because I always want to talk about Sylvia Plath.
    DN: Yes, let’s do that.
    KGB: When I listened to Girl, I wondered if there was a link to Plath and then found an interview Tori did about the album which confirmed it. Those first few lines so strongly allude to Plath’s first suicide attempt, hiding in the crawlspace, and the whole idea of trying to become her own person is very reminiscent of The Bell Jar. The lyrics for the whole album wouldn’t look out of place in Ariel.
    DN: That Ariel link is a good point. I think you’re right. Also, what a hauntingly gorgeous song. I think that’s one of the biggest things that sets this album apart for me. She’s one of the best lyricists in music, and distinctly literary and dense in her poeticism, but this album is where she marries those lyrics to melodies best.
    KGB: Definitely; marrying serious subject matter to such delicate melodies is an art form in itself. Haunting is the perfect word to describe it. The momentum that builds in this song is enthralling too. It goes through such clear movements; it’s impeccably structured.
    DN: Yes. I don’t have something smart to add there. Yes.
    Her piano on this album is allowed its own space in a way it sometimes isn’t in the layering of the future albums. Sometimes it’s the only instrument in the mix, as in the beginning of the next track, Silent All These Years, which is just a breathtaking song. This is such an…American…song. Rural heartbreak and how it ties in with the religious hypocrisy that promotes and protects mediocre and volatile masculinity.
    Some of the best lyrics she’s ever written, too.
    KGB: And the Little Mermaid parallel, obviously.
    Don’t forget that.
    DN: Oh, good call. I don’t think I’d thought of that. I mean, there’s the mermaid line, sure, but I don’t think I’d thought about the silence parallel.
    KGB: I read that she read the story or watched the film with her niece and was really captivated by the idea of giving up your voice. Also, in the proper version of the story, the mermaid has to cut out her tongue and then walking on her legs feels like swords. It is weird that Disney skipped that bit.
    DN: I can’t imagine why.
    KGB: But I think that darker version of the fairy tale, with its physical anguish, makes sense of that song. There’s so often palpable pain at the root of Tori’s songs.
    DN: For sure.
    “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts? Boy, you best pray that I bleed real soon. How’s that thought for you?”
    What a series of lines.
    KGB: They look so simple written down, but when she sings them there’s so much more going on.
    DN: I love the point in the song, after the full orchestration is going and her voice is strong and full and high, and it all just drops off back to piano and her voice quiets and she begins the “I love the way we communicate” line. A great moment, musically. She uses her voice as an instrument really effectively. Tremendous emotional versatility depending on what the words need.
    KGB: Very hard to sing along to.
    DN: Ha. Yes.
    KGB: The combination of that voice and the piano is so deceptive though. They give the impression you’re listening to something really pretty, but the lyrics create a wholly different sense. I’m listening to Winter now and it’s so sweeping but with a palpable edge. I am kind of annoyed that you didn’t make me listen to this album a year and a half ago actually.
    DN: Yes. And like Elliott Smith, she can scream with a whisper.
    KGB: I was watching a few of her videos on Youtube today it seems like a lot of people are fans of both.
    DN: I can imagine so.
    KGB: I rather like it when she growls. It’s so incongruous with her angelic voice. It’s a great sound.
    DN: Agreed. Precious. What an angry, wonderful song. The piano is aggressive.
    These lines:
    “I wanna smash the faces Of those beautiful boys
    Those Christian boys
    So, you can make me cum
    That doesn’t make you Jesus”
    I mean, god damn. Such a middle finger to Nice Guy syndrome.
    Wait. Y’all don’t do middle fingers. You do some kind of reverse peace sign, right?
    KGB: We do middle fingers AND a reverse peace sign. Not at the same time, that would look like some kind of Brownie salute.
    I got kicked out of Brownies, incidentally.
    DN: Really? What did you do?
    KGB: Oh I don’t know. Something about a problem with authority, if you can believe that.
    DN: I refuse to believe that.
    KGB: Thank you.
    DN: But anyway, THOSE LINES.
    KGB: They are not quite so poetic.
    She really doesn’t like religion, does she?
    DN: One gathers not. What’s funny is she was a bit too off-the-beaten-path for Christians to ever get upset about her. They protested and ranted about others, but I remember nothing about Tori Amos, because they probably hadn’t heard of her.
    KGB: Maybe it was just all too pretty for them to pay attention to. The critique is often hidden under a beautiful melody, after all.
    DN: They were immune to beauty, in my experience, but maybe.
    So you mentioned Winter. Thematically, this might be the perfect center for the album’s tone and sound. Snow can be so ethereal, haunting, and sad even while it’s beautiful. It feels like the spiritual heart of the album. This song reminds me of Cynthia Cruz’s poems, especially in How the End Begins.
    KGB: I adore the softness of the questions, building into that orchestral sweep when she sings about change. It’s astounding.
    DN: For sure. Every note on this album is intentional and the intensity perfectly modulated.
    KGB: *Googles Cynthia Cruz*
    DN: The bridge about dreams on the shelf and being proud of me is heartbreaking.
    KGB: I notice a publication called Fourth and Sycamore really rated this Cynthia Cruz. What a coincidence.
    DN: haha
    KGB: This album is very clever. She just told us thing’s were gonna change and then Happy Phantom is literally completely different.
    DN: China. Musically beautiful, though it might be the only point where I feel like her metaphors strain a bit.
    KGB: Which metaphors particularly offend you? Maybe I can help.
    Is it china as both a faraway nation and a breakable material?
    DN: She just stretches the “China” thing too far. The Great Wall thing, and yes, the breakable material thing.
    “Maybe you got lost in Mexico”?
    KGB: Is Mexico on the way from China to New York?
    DN: Nope.
    KGB: I didn’t think so.
    DN: Do you agree about these metaphors, or do they not strike you as a bit thin?
    KGB: Yes, I do find it a bit contrived. I like the song from a musical perspective but it seems like a good idea that got taken a bit too far.
    Via Mexico, in fact.
    DN: Nicely done.
    The next three songs—Leather, Mother, and Tear in Your Hand—all feel a little forgettable compared to the best songs on the album. Not bad, just…meh.
    KGB: Do you think a lot of albums have a great first half and then tail off a little bit? I developed a theory about this a few years ago and I think it applies here. But then, those first few tracks are magnificent. I’m not sure how you could follow Silent All These Years.
    DN: Yes, I do, actually. What is your theory to explain this phenomena?
    Often the final track will be a killer, but much of the second half is often lagging on great albums.
    Joshua Tree is a classic example.
    KGB: Well, all albums have to start with 3 bangers. Everyone knows this. And the last 2 songs have to be memorable. But everything in between is just whatever else they had lying around. These days, it doesn’t actually matter, because unless you’re listening to vinyl, nobody listens to whole albums in order.
    DN: That sounds about right. I’m still pretty religious about listening to whole albums though, even with Spotify.
    KGB: I don’t know anything after track 3 on Joshua Tree. Point proved.
    DN: I wonder how far away we are from abandoning the album concept altogether and just progressively releasing individual tracks.
    KGB: I think that already happens, doesn’t it? I don’t know how, but Ed Sheeran (wait, don’t fall asleep! Come back!) occuppied positions 1-10 on the UK singles chart about a year ago. It was nearly as depressing as watching the news.
    DN: I mean, I think we’re functionally there, but we’re still feeding that process from albums and marketing those albums.
    And that Sheeran tidbit is painful.
    KGB: Do you think Tear in the Hand sounds like a Roxette song? I feel like I could sing It Must Have Been Love over this.
    DN: I’d have to listen to it again and see. Let’s bookmark that question. Speaking of great (almost) endings, how about Me and a Gun?
    KGB: Oh god, that song. It’s just brutal. Her voice, isolated from the piano, is almost too vulnerable to listen to. But there’s also that snarl to it, that urge to survive. It’s an astonishing piece of music.
    DN: Yes. One of the most raw and painful songs I know of. And doing it a capella just hammers all that in more brutally.
    KGB: It’s so intimate, and impossible not to focus on.
    DN: She said she’ll never talk about that night on that level again, after that song.
    KGB: The lyrical content is quite different in tone too. It lacks any of those metaphors we’ve talked about. Jesus takes another battering here too. I’m listening to it now and it all makes me wince.
    DN: What an emotional document this album is. It’s a work of literature.
    I have nothing intelligent to say about the closing track. You?
    KGB: Hang on, it just came on.
    It is very long.
    All songs should be 3 minutes, in my view.
    How do you follow Me and a Gun though?
    DN: I expect her to be buying a stairway to heaven by the end of this.
    KGB: Or wondering which way the wind blows.
    DN: Me and a Gun should be the closing track. Though I guess leaving your listeners there might be especially brutal.
    And I guess that’s where we should end our discussion.
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Hole’s Live Through This: A Discussion

    • Live Through ThisA few months ago, my Ohio-based friend David Nilsen (you can check him out here) and I compiled and discussed our favourite albums of the 1990s. Mainly the really angry/depressing ones. Being a teenager is hard. Up first was Hole’s Live Through This, in all its snarling glory.
      KGB: Live Through This came out in 1994. I was 11 and just emerging from the
      inevitable boyband phase that all girls must experience during their formative years. What this means is that I wasn’t aware of Hole at the point of the album’s release. I definitely knew who Kurt Cobain was because I remember exactly where I was when the news broke (in my dad’s car, on the way home from visiting a high school), but Hole didn’t come to my attention till 1998, with the release of Celebrity Skin. The title track was widely played on UK radio and on MTV, and I was a lot (ok, a bit) cooler by then, so I became a fan.
      Strangely, my love of Live Through This is a relatively recent development. Since having my daughter, I realised that male voices dominated not just what I heard on the radio, but also what we heard through my iPod, and I made a conscious decision to expose my little girl to more female voices. Hence Live Through This near constant  rotation in the last few years. How did you come to experience Live Through This? If you tell me you were cool  enough to be into it in ’94 I might be too intimidated to talk to you…
      DN: Don’t worry. I too came to it later.
      KGB: Phew. I didn’t even have any flannel shirts till I was about 25.
      DN: Ah, see, I did beat you on flannel. In fact, I still have one of my flannel shirts from junior high, and I realize now I was not cool enough to be wearing it at the time. I, too, came to Hole well after the fact. I was 12 when Live Through This came out,  and as an adolescent in an evangelical household, I had to sneak in any “secular” music I wanted to listen to. I was aware of who Courtney Love was in a vague sense, and by vague I mean “scary lady in rock band and somehow that Kurt Cobain guy is involved.” I remember hearing about Cobain’s death, and my first real exposure to Love was watching an MTV special a year later in which she was reading part of his suicide note and crying and telling him off in response to it. No one I knew liked Hole, and they were called Hole, which we Christians assumed meant something bad. As an adult in the early aughts, I finally got around to listening to their catalog, and
      fell pretty hard for Live Through This. It’s one of the most guttural, desperate rock  albums I’ve ever listened to.
      KGB: I feel genuinely distressed not to have had Live Through This in my life in the  mid-90s. In my angsty spells, it was Alanis Morrisette, Tori Amos, and No Doubt who provided the soundtrack and I feel like me screaming “go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to” from behind the slammed door of my bedroom would have been a really strong statement of my general misery and rage. It’s all very well discovering, as you put it, “one of the most guttural, desperate rock albums” when you’re in your 30s, but it generally just means my 4-year-old daughter asks for the Frozen soundtrack instead or, more commonly, I’ll be listening to Hole in my  classroom before school and my class of 16-year-olds just know to tread carefully. It’s quite a handy tool, actually.
      DN: There’s also that glorious “Fuck You!” on I Think That I Would Die. My anger albums in my teens were Rage Against the Machine and, by late high school, some Nirvana, some Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe the quieter rage of Fiona Apple. the misery of Morrissey and Robert Smith and Martin Gore. I would have enjoyed this album too if I’d had it at the time. Alas.
      KGB: I think one of the most appealing things to me about Live Through This is
      Courtney Love’s voice. Generally speaking, women sing nicely and it’s men who get away with not actually being very strong vocally. It seems like such a revelation to hear her just yelling, with no attempt to make it sound pretty. It adds to the “fuck it all” attitude of much of Hole’s music and I love it. It’s evident in the later Hole stuff, as well as Love’s solo material, but that unique style is most notable on Live Through  This, I think. She’s actually profoundly hard to sing along to, weirdly. I know I’ve made a sweeping generalisation about men and women and the response to their voices there, but I have been testing this theory for about 15 years and it’s definitely true.
      DN: No, I think you’re dead on. And that vocal quality matches Love’s entire persona. She refuses to be pretty, gentle, sanitary, likable. She’s furious, and she’s broken, and it all shoots out in really uncouth ways, and fuck you if you tell her that’s not okay. It reaches its most perfect distillation on Live Through This.
      KGB: I am applauding everything you just said.
      DN: I have never made a British person clap before. I feel like I’ve earned a cookie, because that is what they should be called. Biscuits are something else.
      KGB: That’s a whole other conversation. One which, incidentally, once caused me a lot of confusion in Memphis.
      DN: I bet. They take their biscuits seriously in the South. I only recently found out y’all don’t actually have an equivalent to our biscuits. I read a zine by two British women traveling by train through the South, and they were marveling about biscuits, and how strange they were, and trying to compare them to scones, which we also have and are quite different.
      KGB: Wait. What’s a scone over there? I am passionately devoted to scones. The proper ones.
      DN: I think they are actually the same, though I’m sure there is a discussion to be had about relative quality between English and American scones.
      KGB: More importantly, does Courtney Love like scones? And does she say it to
      rhyme with ‘gone’ or ‘stone’?
      DN: Well, we uniformly rhyme it with “stone,” so I would lean that way. Though I’m sorry to say I’ve never discussed scones with Courtney Love.
      KGB: We should write to her.
      DN: How do you say scone?
    KGB: To rhyme with ‘gone’. I’m not sure what the source of the difference in
    pronunciation is; usually these things are a result of the north/south divide in the UK but I think it’s actually to do with how posh you are. And I think posh people say it to rhyme with ‘stone.’ Also, there’s a big dispute about whether you put jam or clotted cream on first. That’s a divisive issue.
    Why are we talking about scones?
    I am listening to Live Through This and Rock Star just came on. It is my favourite and my best.
    DN: What makes Rock Star your favorite?
    KGB: I’m glad you asked. I am going to listen to it again while replying to fully
    explore my deep and emotional response to this song.
    1. The false start and when Courtney Love says “oh” and then giggles. It’s weird.
    2. The way her voice cracks when she screams “revolution” as the guitars start.
    3. The quiet-loud-quiet thing. I love it when Frank Black does it too.
    4. All the ‘Olympia-ah-ah-ah’ bits.
    5. Ooh, it’s just got to the fast bit when she keeps saying “do it for the kids.” I like this
    bit too.
    6. And then you think it’s finished and it comes back! With loads of feedback! It’s a
    wondrous thing.
    DN: From a sonic standpoint, I love the song, and for most of the same reasons you
    do. She does some stuff—like the false starts and the ah-ah stuff—that sometimes
    annoys me, but it totally works here. I feel split though on what’s behind the song. It’s all making fun of riot grrrl and shit, and…I like riot grrrl.
    KGB: I see this. But, given that we have just praised Courtney for her general ‘up-
    yours’ attitude, I wonder whether it’s then a bit churlish to take issue with her taking aim at a scene which, if I am correctly interpreting events which happened very far away from me when I was 11, accused her of being a sell-out.
    DN: Well-played.
    KGB: Why, thanks.
    DN: Also, good use of “churlish.”
    KGB: I use that word all the time. It’s probably what I’ll call my memoir. Which will
    be mainly focused on scones now.
    DN: I can’t even think of something witty to respond to that.
    My favorite song on here is probably Doll Parts. I mean, obviously we’re discussing
    the album because we both love it top to bottom, but I think that’s the song that has
    stuck with me the longest. It’s devastating. I can’t think of many other songs where
    you can just hear a singer’s soul bleeding out quite like this. “Someday you will ache
    like I ache” is one of the saddest lines in music, I think. And when you gather the context behind the song, well…
    “I love him so much it just turns to hate.”
    Quick: name a songwriter who is more honest and unvarnished and unapologetic than Courtney Love.
    KGB: Tori Amos.
    DN: More so, though? Actually more than Love? I adore Tori Amos. We both have
    her on our list. But I don’t know she’s more willing to be hideous and shattered than
    this.
    KGB: In fairness, you didn’t give me time for deep lyrical analysis.
    DN: True. My point is merely, damn.
    KGB: Is that because Amos’ songs, while often painful, generally sound a bit more
    pretty? Not always, obviously. But part of the expression of pain in Courtney Love’s
    work is the delivery, isn’t it?
    DN: Yeah, for sure. I’m not even saying she’s a great lyricist from any poetic
    standpoint. Just brutally, shamelessly honest. What are your feeling on Doll Parts?
    KGB: I like every song on this album. This will sound ridiculous given that I’ve just
    said Rock Star is my favourite, but Doll Parts isn’t shouty enough for me. As I type,
    Violet has come on (again) and the raw rage of that really grabs me; Doll Parts, while obviously brilliant, doesn’t grab me by the ears and spit venom in them in quite the same way. And, clearly, having venom spat in my ears is something I actively seek out.
    DN: As one does. Violet is fantastic, for sure. Maybe my second favorite, though
    ranking these is probably pointless. I hear you about the angry songs. That’s her bread and butter. I think in some ways that’s why Doll Parts hits me so hard. She throws anger so much and so well, and right in the middle is this song she’s just…broken. Small. Barely breathing. And she doesn’t hide, and she doesn’t use anger falsely to protect herself. She just shows us the wounds, just like she shows us the venom on the other songs.
    KGB: I love Violet. My daughter’s middle name, entirely coincidentally, is Violet, but
    I tell people it was inspired by the song. It’s not technically true but hopefully it will
    imbue her with a little of Courtney Love’s attitude. A little. Like, 6%. I have to live with her, after all.
    DN: Right. And you don’t want her writing about you in a song with all that pent up
    teenage angst.
    Let’s talk about the thread throughout the album addressing consent. That wasn’t a
    thing people were talking about nearly as much in 1994 as today.
    KGB: Yes. Obviously on a track like Asking For It, that’s really overt, particularly in a
    period when, as you say, consent wasn’t being widely discussed.
    DN: Asking for It is definitely where it’s most overt, and the song is well ahead of its
    time, though the riot grrrl acts Courtney had such a problem with were also beginning to talk about it.
    There are other songs that address it here and there though. Violet hits on it in the very first verse. Jennifer’s Body is entirely about a real-life story of a woman who was kidnapped and kept as a sex slave for years. That’s quite a bit of the album that deals with consent.
    On another note, I love the cheap shot on Kim Gordon in Plump. I love Kim Gordon,
    but Courtney Love going after her feels like a very Courtney Love thing to do. The
    sections in Gordon’s Girl in a Band that discussed Love were pretty entertaining.
    KGB: What I find interesting is that, while the album obviously addresses these issues of consent and is filled throughout with a kind of visceral rage, it’s never struck me as a record about victimhood. Perhaps it’s the almost total lack of delicacy present, but the overall message seems, to me at least, to be one of strength. As you said before, it’s a massive ‘screw you’ to aggressors of any kind, physical or those critical of her music or life. It’s eerily prescient; Love’s life has been raked over so unflinchingly basically since the minute Live Through This came out (and before). Reading the lyrics was a weird experience as I noticed glaring parallels with another heroine of mine, Sylvia Plath, and I’ve spent the 24 hours since constructing a complex thesis comparing them. The “celebrity” marriages, obviously, but the differing responses to them interest me. I may force my all-girl class to do some linguistic comparison of Live Through This and Ariel.
    DN: One line I love from this album is from Gutless: “I don’t really miss God, but I
    sure miss Santa Claus.” Because I totally get that. As you know from my other writing, I grew up hella religious, and then left that in my twenties. I don’t want to go back to that life, but I do miss the comfort and hope of believing in the impossible as a kid.
    KGB: I spend a lot of time perfecting my Courtney Love howl.
    DN: I have never even attempted it. How is yours coming along?
    KGB: It’s pretty good but quite painful. And scary to anyone around me.
    I have always liked the line “I want to be the girl with the most cake.” I like the
    metaphor of excessive yearning and, more importantly, I really like cake.
    What’s your stance on how well Live Through This has aged? I’m guessing we’ll agree that it hasn’t dated.
    DN: I love that line too, especially together with the next line: “I love him so much it
    just turns to hate.”
    Oh, it feels as fresh as ever, I think. There are albums I love from the 80s or 90s that I can definitely say are of their era and show it in some ways, but I love them anyway.
    This one feels like it could have come out last year and been just as fresh as 1994.

6 Degrees of Separation: Less Than Zero to See What I Have Done

less than zero.jpgI have been a monumentally lazy blogger in recent months, since going back to work for the new school year and setting myself the ludicrous goal of reading 365 books in 2017. It’s time to have a word with myself, starting with linking up with 6 Degrees again; hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, it’s a monthly challenge to link 7 books in a chain, starting with a particular title. This month, it’s Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, which I read, along with Ellis’ other novels, a few years ago.

From Less Than Zero, I’m going to link to (probably) Ellis’ most notorious work, American Psycho, a book which freaked me out more than I’m really willing to talk about without a trained counsellor on standby. Even if I think of Patrick Bateman as Christian Bale, it’s still something I prefer not to return to.

This is compounded by the fact that I very stupidly read American Psycho on holiday, which brings me to my second link, based on other highly inappropriate beach reading. On the same trip, I read Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, which was one of the most colossally boring books I have ever forced myself through, made all the worse by the fact that my husband was reading Danny Wallace’s Yes Man on the sunlounger next to me and having a great time.

Shalimar the Clown, as I recall, contained about a billion pages of conflict between India and Pakistan, which I’m sure is extremely fascinating and important; it’s just not really appropriate for a poolside in Mexico. Recently, I read Dorit Rabinyat’s All the Rivers, which links to Rushdie’s work in its use of a complex conflict; All the Rivers is about an Israeli woman and Palestinian man who meet in New York and fall in love. It has been banned in Israel for this depiction of a taboo relationship.

The banning of books brings me to my next link, as I have discovered that another recent read, Beloved by Toni Morrison, has also been prohibited, this time in the USA. I read this at university but revisited it last month and was mesmerised all over again; Morrison is really a phenomenal writer (I finished Song of Solomon last night, which was equally excellent).

From Beloved, let’s go for something else that’s creepy and claustrophobic, as well as being another favourite of mine: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Like Morrison, Jackson is an author whose complete works I’m making my way through. I love this book’s depiction of Merricat and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of most of her relatives.

For my final link, I’m opting for Sarah Schmidt, following a domestic murder theme, and See What I Have Done, which is a fictionalised account of the Borden murders. As with a few of the other books I’ve chosen here, it’s creepy.

Next month’s starter book is It by Stephen King, which I will absolutely and completely not be reading, so expect a link with no relevance to the actual book at all. There’s a clown in it, right?

Review & Ramble: Crush edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton


Crush brings together the nostalgic, cringe-inducing experiences of a selection of writers discussing their formative celebrity crushes. It’s a cute concept, but also one which allows for real emotions: some contributors experience sexual awakenings while watching Star Wars, while others are woken up to gender roles thanks to Little House on the Prairie. Some accounts are very short (Stephen King’s takes up under a page) while other imaginary love affairs require a page count closer to a novella (clearly Brian Austin Green is a tough guy to get over – this one was one of my favourites, actually; it’s extremely funny). 

Celebrity crushes are surely one of the great unifying themes of human experience, aren’t they? Reading this book inspired me to recall some of my own, which range from the reasonably normal (Robbie Williams up to and including Everything Changes) to the obsessive (former Ipswich Town captain Matt Holland, who I once met and found myself so overcome I genuinely nearly cried), to the faintly embarrassing (look, fancying Zach Morris was way too obvious so lusting after AC Slater was fine at the time). At the age of 14, I had a sweet imaginary romance with Taylor Hanson and aggressively fought anyone who said he looked like a girl. In the mid-90s, I was obsessed with the largely fogotten TV show Seaquest DSV and its young star, Jonathan Brandis, about whom I once had a very nice, chaste dream in which he was my boyfriend and I was a marine biologist (incidentally, I Googled Brandis yesterday and discovered that he died in 2003, so clearly my commitment wasn’t that intense). Even now, as a mature 34 year old, I will pretty much only watch films that star a hot man called Chris. I love a good celebrity crush. I don’t care if it makes me seem shallow or overly concerned with appearance or fooled by the trappings of fame: in real life, I am none of these things, so sometimes it is rather pleasant to let my mind wander towards a well-sculpted pair of cheekbones.

Crush gave me a pleasing opportunity to dwell on these serious matters (and Taylor Hanson), as well as raising many rueful smiles in reaction to the writers’ mortifying experiences. It was one of those books I read and think, “I want to write something like that” (sorry, you just read it) and possibly force my students to write. Unless that’s just too weird. And also I don’t know how many times I could read about Justin Bieber without losing the will. Be warned: my new conversation starter (obviously after “what are you reading?”) will be “who was your first celebrity crush?” I have a strong urge to discuss this in the comments…