Authors examine the soundtracks to their words

In Peter Terzian’s introduction to Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums that Changed Their Lives he writes that he came up with the idea for this book for a purely selfish reason: He wanted to bring music and literature together. “The best writing has voice has rhythm” he writes. “When writers get together the first question they ask each other is ‘What have you been working on?’ The second is often ‘What have you been listening to?’”

In Heavy Rotation Terzian has collected stories reflecting the power and impact music can have on individuals and their craft. His authors range from obscure to more well-known but they share a common interest in music and words.

The albums discussed in this collection are as different as the authors. Ranging from ABBA’s Super Trouper to an obscure New Zealand soundtrack amusingly titled Topless Women Talk About Their Lives (it came out in 1997 and the author was so affected by the album he still hasn’t seen the movie). The only thing the albums have in common is how much of an impact they had on each writer.

Some of the stories are amusing and reflective; others are sad and nostalgic. As a five-year-old girl in 1982 Sheili Heti wanted to be Annie. Meeting the actress who played Annie in the movie many years later Heti writes about feeling sad and diminished after encountering a woman who had obviously long outgrown the character of the red-headed moppet.

Clifford Chase’s chapter on the B-52’s self-titled album is a stream-of-consciousness depiction of a sexually and directionally confusing time in his life rather than a critical commentary on the album but other writers in the collection offer careful analysis of songs and artists. In James Wood’s chapter on The Who’s Quadrophenia he presents a detailed social commentary of the unique set of circumstances in post-war Britain that gave rise to the mods.

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay on American Primitive Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants (1897-1939) is perhaps the most compelling in the book — a lovingly detailed narrative of traditional country blues and the forgotten artists who laid down the roots of contemporary American blues.

We often associate particular songs albums or artists with life events and Terzian’s contributors share their stories in a way that reflects this common experience — regardless of the albums that influenced them.

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