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Bestselling author Audrey Niffenegger may write in total silence, but music played a huge part in her development as a creative force. From New York’s punk rock movement to the British art rock scene, she hopscotches across genres sharing eye-opening views on well-known songs and introducing some lesser known gems. Audrey, who is also a visual artist, wrote the The Time Traveler's Wife and her latest book is Her Fearful Symmetry.
EJ: Hi, this is Eric J. Lawrence from KCRW. I am here with author Audrey Niffenegger. Her debut novel was “The Time Traveler's Wife,” which was also made into a film, and her latest book is “Her Fearful Symmetry.” We'll be playing excerpts of songs she selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Audrey, thanks for joining us.
AN: Oh, thank you for having me.
EJ: What's the first song you've got for us?
AN: "Gloria" by Patti Smith. This is from her debut album, “Horses.” Horses came out when I was going into high school. Before I even heard a note of it, I saw the album cover -- the very famous photograph of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe. In that photograph, she's standing and she's looking out at the viewer. She's wearing this white shirt and she's got her jacket thrown back over her. She just looks so cool. I didn't even have to hear her sing or anything. I just knew that she was some kind of goddess of rebellion. And then, of course, when I finally got my hands on the album and put it on, I was just like, ‘yes, I'm just gonna live for this.’
Song: “Gloria” by Patti Smith
AN: There was a -- and still is actually -- a record shop in my town, Evanston, Illinois, called Vintage Vinyl. It opened when I was a high school student and we just used to go in there and flip through the bins and you would buy stuff based on the cover art. You would buy stuff based on something you had heard on the little college radio station. Later, of course, that same shop, still carrying the same things, still carrying vinyl -- has suddenly become almost like a museum, so when I go in there, I feel like I'm 10 billion years old. But the music is still there. That's the great thing about living in an age where recording technology exists, you can relive your misspent youth.
EJ: That was Patti Smith's "Gloria," as selected by our guest, Audrey Niffenegger. What's the next song you've got for us?
AN: The next song is "Manifesto" by Roxy Music. This album, again, came out when I was in high school and it was one of those things we played at parties. The persona that Bryan Ferry takes on in this song is someone who is undaunted and completely immersed in art. It's almost like a weird blend of political realism and decadent, party-boy, all night dancing. Just this vision of this, sort of, never-ending-nighttime-party-arty life. And, when I was in high school, that was really all I wanted.
Song: “Manifesto” by Roxy Music
AN: When I was a kid, I was strangely single-purpose. Someone said of me when I was three that I was just an adult waiting to get taller. All I wanted was to be the artist. I wasn't going to be a ballerina. I wasn't going to be an astronaut. I was always -- except for this brief aberration when I was going to be a jockey which was, even at the time, utterly ridiculous because you know, I'm 5'9". In my case, I just felt like I had one purpose in life which was to draw and write and sing and make things. And so, these pieces of music, I could tell there were other people out there and they were doing this. This was real and they had it. It was evidence that it was out there and if I just had some patience, I could get there.
EJ: That was a selection from Roxy Music, "Manifesto," the name of the song as selected by our guest, Audrey Niffenegger. Moving forward a bit, the next selection you've got for us is Tom Waits.
AN: "Goin' Out West." I chose this one because it has the immortal line, ‘I'm gonna do what I want and I'm gonna get paid.’ The persona that he adopts in this particular song is of this creaky, old, scarred, stuntman, who's offering himself to Hollywood. This whole idea, you know -- ‘I'm gonna do what I want and I'm gonna get paid’ -- it's sleazy and it's also independence. Nobody can stop him. I don’t know, it's just something about that whole attitude that I like very much.
Song: “Goin’ Out West” by Tom Waits
EJ: That was Tom Waits with "Goin' Out West" as selected by our guest, Audrey Niffenegger. The next song you've got for us is a stone cold classic from Stevie Wonder. Tell us about that.
AN: "Superstition" was the unofficial theme song of the book I just finished, “Her Fearful Symmetry.” The genesis of this novel had to do with a man who has obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia. He cannot leave his apartment. He's stuck in there with his boxes full of stuff and his loneliness. For a long time, whenever I was needing to think about the novel or just to make myself feel like ‘yes, this could be a novel’ -- because at the beginning, there's always some doubt of these things -- I would put on "Superstition" because it definitely evokes that whole, stuck in your own brain, hard to separate reality from unreality thing.
Song: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
EJ: Do you always write to music?
AN: I am so boring. I write in dead silence, usually, because as soon as there are words I start paying attention to them. But it would be very peculiar for me to try to do anything with drawing or painting without there being music on. When I'm trying to draw, it's really helpful actually to have part of my brain sucked in by music. I think partially it stops me from stopping myself from asking the questions that would make the whole process come to a halt. Whereas, when I'm trying to write, having other words floating around is too distracting.
EJL: That was Stevie Wonder with "Superstition," as selected by our guest, Audrey Niffenegger. What's the final track you've got for us?
AN: The last track is "Strawberry Fields Forever," by -- everybody knows -- The Beatles. Even though we've all heard this song so many times, every time I hear it, I just stop what I'm doing and I really listen, because it's a completely artificial creation. I suppose you could replicate this live somehow, but not really. It was this hot house flower of a song.
Song: "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles
AN: When I was a kid, I discovered Surrealism. And I didn't know, I didn't understand, I didn't even understand that you weren't supposed to understand. "Strawberry Fields Forever" was like that, like I kept thinking that the key to the song was sort of on the edge of my brain and if I could just listen hard enough I could would get it, and of course really it's a flavor, it's a smell, it's intangible and wondrous and wonderful.
EJL: That was The Beatles and their classic "Strawberry Fields Forever," as selected by our guest, Audrey Niffenegger. Well Audrey, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com
AN: Thank you
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject