In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Amy Lee Lillard’s collection Dig Me Out has music at its heart, feminist punk and Riot Grrl anthems that fuel the women it follows.
Karan Mahajan wrote of the book:
“Damn! I’m jealous of the sheer brio and adventuresomeness of these stories . . . This is a firecracker debut with a rock n roll wildness at its heart.”
As a young person in 1980s and ‘90s Iowa, music was a voice for the turmoil inside. I could be the quiet good girl around my family and teachers and people in the world. Then I could go hide in my basement room and thrash and stomp to the prog weirdos and the grunge gods screaming from my boom box and feel release. Later, as a young adult in Chicago, surrounded by unattainable money, self-medicating with booze, squashing myself into the shape of a normal girl, I spent hours on the fledgling internet, discovering the punk masters and the Riot Grrrl rulers and the strange indie gods of the early 2000s, and felt peace.
All that to say: music pumps alongside blood in my veins. When I poke holes into myself to find the stories within, the music comes out too.
In my story collection, Dig Me Out, each story is named for a song. Specifically, in some stories the titular song is a soundtrack. In some, it’s a ghostly backdrop. In some, it’s a stray thought that gets to the heart of the matter. And that conversation, that connection, is what I leave to the individual reader.
These are stories about the women who won’t smile. They’re angry, aching, animal. Across past, present and future, around the Midwest and the world, these women demand you witness as they work to break through, to defy, to become. It won’t be pretty, and it won’t be safe, but it will be real. And loud.
Bang Bang, Nancy Sinatra
This song came roaring into my consciousness when it played over the title credits of Kill Bill. The quietness of the instrumentation and the soaring despair of Nancy Sinatra’s voice was the perfect backdrop for that story of warped love and revenge. I chose it for the title of my story, “Bang Bang,” for similar reasons. In the story, a young girl and her adult self hit animals on the road while coming to terms with how sex and violence permeate their lives. The song, with its threat of ferocity behind the pretty voice, provides a soaring soundtrack.
Head Like a Hole, Nine Inch Nails
Over thirty years after this debut, no one sounds like Nine Inch Nails. This song is dark and dirty and glorious, and evokes the menace beneath the surface of us all. In my story, “Head Like a Hole,” a middle-aged woman, worried she might be losing her grip on reality, finds a growing hole in her yard and convinces her husband to stand watch at night to discover the culprit. The two of them remember their youthful nights at clubs, dancing and dying a little and desperate for one another.
Oh Bondage, Up Yours, X-Ray Spex
A British punk band from the seventies headed by a young black woman with braces? Sign me up. This song is the ultimate fuck you to all forms of oppression, and laid the groundwork for many angry women punks to follow. In my story, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours,” a gender-bending figure in 1920s Chicago leads a salon for misfits and creatives, and provides an intoxicating blueprint for their immigrant servants.
Caribou, The Pixies
The strangeness of this song is deeply compelling. And haunting, with its call to repent our own bodies. In my story, “This Human Form Where I Was Born,” drawn from the song’s lyrics, a woman reeling from her breakup breaks and reassembles her body to feel whole again. We can often feel deep detachment from our own bodies, particularly when they’re in pain; this story channels the call from the song.
Double Dare Ya, Bikini Kill
The ultimate Riot Grrrl anthem, telling us to live fully out of the bounds the world makes for us. I was the right age for Riot Grrrl when it emerged in the early ‘90s, calling to teen girls who needed to rage. But I wasn’t cool or connected enough to be aware of the movement. As a young adult, and even now as a middle-aged one, I’m obsessed. In the story, “Double Dare Ya,” an elderly woman finds secret powers come with age. I loved the idea of pairing punk with octogenarian women who have placed their families first their entire lives, daring them to finally start living for themselves. It’s a revolution, old-woman style now.
I’m Gonna Die, Future Wife
Future Wife was a project by Young Jean Lee, artist, singer, playwright and more. The show dealt with mortality, to spoken word stories and music, culminating in this genius song. We’re gonna die, and it’s going to be painful, and sad, but it’s the truth. So we might as well live. In my story, “We’re Gonna Die,” an American tourist visits Dublin and is haunted by millennia of dead people. History is not gone, and history is our future. The prospect of death should push us to live.
Bull in the Heather, Sonic Youth
Every song has a million interpretations, and people on the internet think this punk gem from the masters of Sonic Youth could mean everything from S&M fantasies to unkillable despair. I think it’s about time, and the gambles we make with it. In my story, “Bull in the Heather,” a middle-aged woman in a future society enters the Life Elections, contending for her chance to continue her life. Framed as an election night speech, she must curry the favor of the system, and those citizens who would bet on her loss.
We Used to Wait, Arcade Fire
The lyrics to this song are incredibly poignant and pointed; we used to wait for letters to arrive, and that small thing could keep us alive. From this song I created the story, “We Used to Wait,” in which a young woman receives letters from her husband during World War II. But instead of the letters keeping her strong, they haunt her as she finds solace in her best friend’s arms.
Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Smiths
I’m not the man you think I am, sings the narrator of this song. It was the perfect accompaniment to my story, “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” where a traumatized and pregnant war medic takes off the wilderness, and a one-night stand tries to track her down.
Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney
I love this song with a fiery passion. As I brought my collection of stories together, I knew it was the only possible title, unifying stories of women digging in and out of holes and bodies. Out of my body, out of my skin; that’s a rallying cry for everyone in the book. In the titular story, a woman falls for a work colleague who no longer speaks, but channels Sleater-Kinney songs.