A collection of interconnected personal essays on the way musical favorites connect and disconnect us.
This isn’t the first recent book to make connections between seemingly disparate recordings or to have a playlist introducing each essay. Yet it is a book that could only have been written by Greenman, a novelist (The Slippage, 2013, etc.) who has also collaborated on memoirs by visionary musicians Questlove and George Clinton. Nobody else could connect the same songs to the same experiences that the author has, and one of the underlying themes is that one’s relationship with music is as deeply personal as any of one’s other relationships. In most of these essays, Greenman focuses on those other relationships, offering the music as the reader’s internal soundtrack and sometimes barely alluding to some of the songs listed. This approach works best if the readers are familiar with those songs, or willing to seek them out, for the author’s taste is eclectic and his experience deep. They are also essays by a writer writing about language who recognizes that “language has limits, particularly when it is charged with expressing complex emotions,” so that “songs seemed like a better way to go. They have one foot in language, but that foot is tapping.” Yet most of the thematic connections he makes among songs rely mainly on lyrics (the tapping foot is harder to articulate), and many of the essays seem to follow a similar template. They are about relationships with a friend, past or present, and readers soon realize that almost all of these friends are women—and that the boundaries between such friendship and the desire for something more almost always have blurred, at one point, at least for the author. Often, one friend or the other, or both, wants something that the other can’t give her or him, and musical resonance doesn’t necessarily deepen with the passage of time or pages.
The collection’s promising evocation of “communication and disconnection” leads to more repetition than illumination.