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Author Emma Forrest got her start as a music journalist and last year published her memoir, a frank, and often funny, depiction of mental illness. Her wittiness and charm are on full display as she discusses the songs that have meaning to her, mostly because of their heartfelt lyrics -- from Bob Dylan to Blur. She is currently living in Los Angeles and working as a screenwriter.
For More: http://www.emmaforrest.com/
Watching You Without Me – Kate Bush
Isis – Bob Dylan
Jealous Guy - Donny Hathaway
Heard It Through The Grapevine – The Slits
This Is A Low - Blur
Anthony Valadez: Hi, I'm Anthony Valadez and I am here with author Emma Forrest who recently released her memoir, “Your Voice In My Head”. Today we are going to play excerpts of songs she has selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Hey Emma, what did you bring for us today?
Emma Forrest: The first song that I wanted to play and talk about is “Watching You Without Me” by Kate Bush, which is from her album “Hounds Of Love”. This is a really interior, fantastical, ‘inside your mind’, daydreaming rather then ever really being active, sort of a version…which for a little girl is actually more appealing.
I mean, all my girl friends growing up in England were obsessed with Kate Bush and a bit afraid of her as well. There is something quite witchy and frightening about her which I really, really love and the B side of Hounds Of Love…the A side had all the pop hits. It had “Running Up That Hill” and “Hounds Of Love”. But the B side is just complete craziness that's a riff on the poem “The Ninth Wave” by Alfred Lord Tennyson and it's really scary. It all sounds like drowning and terror. I used to listen to it a lot because I was so afraid of it and this is a song that I think just really showcases the daring of this woman. The fact that she was, basically, in a way doing sort of prog rock.
I also have to say, as a writer, something I really love about this album and about this song is that it's a response to a piece of art by an artist who lived hundreds of years earlier and that's something I'm always really drawn to and I think that call and response between artists between generations is gorgeous. I love that.
Song: Watching You Without Me – Kate Bush
AV: That was “Watching You Without Me” by Kate Bush. What's next for us Emma?
EF: “Isis” by Bob Dylan from the official bootleg album. “Things will be different the next time we wed” is a line in this song that has haunted me in ways both positive and negative every time I've ever really screwed up a relationship. I’m like ‘okay I'm like things will be different the nest time we wed!’
It's also the only time I've ever found Bob Dylan really sexy. I find him incredibly impressive and inspiring, but this song is so erotic. Especially when you put it through the lens of his relationship with Joan Baez, who he did treat so badly, and I do imagine him sitting there not being able to remember all the best things she said. There is also a great short story within this song. I know that very often in movies they say that its short stories that make the best adaptations of screenplays. I sometimes think of songs being adaptive as movies and this would be a great film.
Song: “Isis” – Bob Dylan
AV: You know I am curious, as an author what's your perspective on his lyricism?
EF: When I'm writing, whether its novels or a script, I definitely don't read other novels or scripts. I always come back to my favorite singer songwriters and so, obviously, I come to him a lot. It’s saying what you mean to say in as few words as possible. That is the purpose of a good song. I think sometimes songwriters today forget that. But I always come back to Dylan, just the purity…
AV: That was “Isis” by Bob Dylan, selected by Emma Forrest, part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So what's next?
EF: Next, is Donny Hathaway's cover of “Jealous Guy”, from his '72 live album. And what I love here is what I love in pieces of writing that I'm drawn to and acting performances I'm drawn to, which is a real sparseness and an elegance. You get so used to…you read novels where people are just showing off, that they're showing all the words they know in the history of their lifetime, and I'm much more drawn to, ‘Well, what can you say that you mean to say in as few words as possible?’
And you see that in music sometimes, and I think that's exactly what Donny Hathaway does with this cover, and it just drives me crazy.
Song : “Jealous Guy” -- Donny Hathaway
AV: That was the amazing Donny Hathaway with his cover of “Jealous Guy” from his 1972 live album. So what else do you have for us?
EF: Next, we have The Slits, the great British punk teen girl band and their cover of “Heard it Through The Grapevine”. I realize this is my second cover I'm choosing, and that does speak to something really important to me, which is the idea of alternate narratives.
Anytime I've come to a place in my life where I say to my Mom, who is my oracle, ‘I can't figure my way out of this…’ She's like, ‘you're a writer, just write a different version. Just make it happen a different way.’
And I think that's why I'm especially drawn to covers because if you listen, in this, I mean they're teenage girls and they're so rambunctious and exuberant they almost sound super excited that they're just about to lose their mind, and that he's going to leave them, they’re like ‘hurry up and get on with it’. That's how it sounds. If there's only a set number of a musical notes in the world, which there is, all that can ultimately change is the tonality with which you play them. And they just play this in such a completely different, out-there way, and I love it.
Song “Heard It Through The Grapevine” – The Slits
AV: That was The Slits with a cover of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. So, now we're down to your final record, by Blur. This one is called “This is A Low”. I'm curious, why did you select this song?
EF: I mean, in the memoir, I talk a lot about all these years of horrible, bi-polar manic depression and loneliness and feeling so lost, like I was never going to be ok, I was never going to get past it. I had always loved this song and once I got quote-unquote "well" -- because I don't know if anyone ever really gets completely well but certainly became happy -- I realized that part of becoming happy was this line in the song, ‘this is a low, but it won't hurt you.’
I'm now in a place in my life where I embrace what I am, that this is something that is going to live in me and I don't have to be afraid of it because that's the awful thing, I think, about depression is the fear it holds over you. And to be able to sort of come at it laterally and say, actually, this is a part of me, and I'm not only going to live with it, I'm going to make friends with it, that really sets you free. There's something about the song that I think is really special as well, which is that it's a love song to yourself. Those are rare. And it's about being alone, and finding comfort in being alone. He's listening to the shipping forecast on the radio -- this is sort of the brit-pop version of “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” -- because he's alone, listening to the shipping forecast and it brings him comfort, and he's alright with the sadness, because that's part of life.
Song: “This Is A Low” -- Blur
AV: Emma, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.com
EF: My pleasure.
AV: For a complete track listing and to find all these songs online go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject