October 17, 2007

Book Notes - Kimberlee Auerbach ("The Devil, The Lovers & Me")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Kimberlee Auerbach's memoir The Devil, The Lovers & Me is the rare nonfiction work I read straight through. Auerbach structures her memoir through her first Tarot card reading, and the formula works surprisingly well. Auerbach effortlessly transports the reader from the tarot reading to her past and back again. Funny, touching, and often heartbreaking, The Devil, The Lovers & Me reads more like a first-rate novel than the excellent memoir it is.

Many thanks to author Hillary Carlip for recommending Kimberlee Auerbach for this series. Ms. Carlip's book may be called Queen of the Oddballs, but in my eyes she is truly the patron saint of memoirists everywhere.

In her own words, here is Kimberlee Auerbach's Book Notes essay for her memoir, The Devil, The Lovers & Me: My Life in Tarot:

I’m not a music person. I don’t play an instrument. I don’t go to concerts. I don’t know B-sides. When my ex-boyfriend brought up Pete Seeger on our third date, I said, “He sings, Night Moves, right?” stupidly confusing him with Bob Seger.

A stranger emailed me recently, telling me how much he liked my book and how much he enjoyed my music references. I was shocked, not to learn that he liked my book, but that maybe I was a music person after all. I hadn’t realized my memoir was a strange and quirky mixed tape in the making.

Chapter One: “She Bops” by Cyndi Lauper

In 1984, we moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Short Hills, New Jersey, where, lets just say, ironing Wrangler jeans and eating out of a strawberry shortcake lunch box didn’t win me many cool points. In an attempt to overcome my total dork status, I ran for vice president of my seventh grade class, using the slogan, “Don’t Dance Around the Issues, Vote Kim Auerbach for Vice President, She Bops,” not knowing that “she bops” means “she masturbates.”

Chapter Two: “The Rose” by Bette Midler

My father created Le Clic, the multi-colored disc cameras popular in the 80s, and made me the Le Clic girl. I traveled the world, appeared in magazine ads and danced around in a commercial with Matt LeBlanc, before he became famous on Friends. After the stock market crash in 1987, in an attempt to save the company, my father took me Tokyo where he met with Mitsubishi executives about distribution rights. I ended up in a basement karaoke piano bar, singing the “The Rose,” as eight Japanese businessmen stared at my tits.

Chapter Three: “Almost Blue” by Elvis Costello

I met Zach in 1991, during my freshman year at Tisch School of the Arts. I was a jappy girl from New Jersey. He was a hippie from Denver. I wanted him to love me, but he was still hung up on the redheaded girl who broke his heart in high school. Lying naked in his arms, my breath returning to normal, not five minutes after he gave me my first orgasm, he started to sing, “Almost Blue. Almost doing things we used to do. There’s a girl here and she’s almost you.”

Chapter Four: Shamanic Journey Solo and Double Drumming CD by Michael Harner

I was 21-years old when I smelled burning sage for the first time. My friend Clover was trying to help me find my animal spirit. She stuck earphones on my head, pushed play and instructed me to dig a hole near a tree in my mind so that I could slip into the underworld. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. I found myself in the middle of the ocean, hugging an enormous shark, who then proceeded to go down on me.

Chapter Five: Salsa

My mother divorced my father after 25 years, lost a lot of weight, moved into my building in NYC and start dating a succession of younger men. I was twenty-five, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, who I wanted to be, what kind of man I wanted to be with, while my mother was doing the same exact thing, only with more success. When we visited my brother in Costa Rica, where he was studying Spanish, he thought I was having a disproportionate reaction to her new mom-gone-wild persona, until she drank too much red wine one night and started salsa dancing with a 21-year old local boy named Juan P.

Chapter Six: “Give Me The Beat Boys” by the Doobie Brothers

We snuck into the lobby of the Plaza Hotel like bank robbers, my nana inconspicuously tucked away in my mom’s purse. My nana had been dirt poor her entire life and had always envied the rich, so it wasn’t entirely surprising that her last wish was to be scattered in the fanciest hotel in New York City. The truth was I didn’t really care what my nana wanted. I hated my nana. I hated her for not protecting my mother as a child. I hated her for letting my mother be sexually abused. But I kept my mouth shut, like a good girl, and set up the guacamole and chips. My brother turned on the radio and my mother fingered through her mother’s ashes to the song, “Give me the beat boys and free my soul.”

Chapter Seven: “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls

Driving out to the tip of Long Island, radio blasting, my mother belted out “I Touch Myself” like a porn star. We were visiting her friend Shirley for the weekend. It was a set-up. Shirley was housing a hot Argentine painter named Marcos and thought I might like him. I figured it would be a good chance for me to let loose, have some fun, maybe even have a one-night stand, something I had never done before. I wanted to be wild like my mother. But instead of embracing my inner whore though, I ended up getting crabs, and became convinced the Universe was punishing me for trying to be something I wasn’t.

Chapter Eight: Silence

Shortly after September 11th, a big, black woman named Malvina took over my body. She pulled me out of bed, put me on a diet, kicked out my abusive, freeloading ex-boyfriend, upgraded me from a studio to a one-bedroom in my building, painted my living room red and then left me to start my new life. Sitting alone on my couch, looking around in disbelief, I was overcome by the most beautiful sound in the world: silence.

Chapter Nine: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack

My boyfriend Noah and I were at a two-day couples’ workshop in Upstate New York, listening to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” People were sitting on beanbags, boxes of tissues were scattered across the carpet. I tried not to laugh. Roberta Flack’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, but listening to it with a bunch of strangers, being asked to remember the first time you laid eyes on your “beloved” had to be the cheesiest, most ridiculous, Stuart Smalley bullshit I had ever experienced. I took a deep breath and thought about dead pandas.

Chapter Ten: “I’m Ready” by Tracy Chapman

We were watching a woman writhe around on the floor to the song “I’m Ready,” by Tracy Chapman. Everyone was silent, riveted. “Isn’t she amazing?” Noah whispered. When the song ended, the entire audience rose to their feet, applauding louder and more enthusiastically than they had for anyone else. I turned to Noah. “What’s so special about her?” “Kimberlee, she doesn’t have legs.” I looked back down at the stage, and sure enough, she didn’t have legs. I couldn’t understand how I could have missed something like that. I wanted to crawl under my chair. I was jealous of a legless woman.

Chapter Eleven: “Spooky” by The Classics IV

(You should probably know that my book spans the course of a single tarot reading with a tarot reader named Iris. Each card in the spread gets its own chapter in the book, and in each chapter, the lesson of the card sparks a memory from my past.)

After my reading, I excuse myself to the bathroom, sit on the toilet and stare at the blue walls, still thinking about the World card. As I head back to the living room, Iris taps me on the shoulder. I jump. “You scared me,” I say, and laugh. “You spook easily. Spooooky,” Iris sings. “And you sure like to sing,” I say. “I’m a singer,” Iris says, and walks ahead of me, continuing to sing, “with a Spooooky little girl like you.” “Professionally?” I ask. “I believe we are what we do… I happen to sing,” she says with a little twirl.

Epilogue: “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell

“Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell is the epilogue’s epigraph. The first card in my spread is the Fool, which represents being present, being here and now, but it’s in reverse, which means I have a hard time relaxing and relinquishing control. By the end of the book, I learn to embrace the unknown. I learn to surrender. I feel like the Fool again, not knowing what will happen next, but this time I don’t mind, I actually like it.

“Round and round and round in the circle game.”

* Oh, and if you want to know the song that got me through the writing process, it’s “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I walked around my apartment, down the street, in the library, repeating, “You only got one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” On occasion, I busted out my white girl rapper hands.