Written by Fantasma el Rey
Heavy Rotation is a book that takes a look at twenty current writers and the albums that “changed their lives” as the subtitle implies. It also explores the reasons and times surrounding that particular album. The twenty authors are mostly the same age ranging from late thirties to mid forties, one or two may be a bit older or younger, but the majority lay there. They also cruise the vast musical spectrum covering Broadway musicals to ‘80s alternative and corny pop. The book is a good look at the connection between writers and their love for music and is the brainchild of editor/contributor Peter Terzian. An excellent and easy read that’s hard to put down as one can relate to the feelings and emotions that music brings even if unfamiliar with some of the albums listed.
Not all the albums written about are monster bestsellers or by bands or artists one would think would fill the pages of such a book. Shelia Heti recounts her fascination with the Annie soundtrack and how it led to an appearance on a local kid’s show hosted by some kooky clown and the odd disappointment she felt when she met her childhood idol years later. Alice Elliott Dark goes over how a Beatle became the father figure she tragically lost and had to deal with as a young girl as she glances back on Meet The Beatles. We also get a look how some bands can make you feel as if you know them and they could have been boys from down the street as Martha Southgate revisits her adoration for a quiet member of the Jackson 5 and their Greatest Hits album.
Heavy Rotation’s contributors also share how certain albums represent a small place in time. From a six-month stint in college where the B-52s’ self-titled debut ruled the turntable and seemed like it did for a longer time as Clifford Chase became engulfed by the band and began to understand himself a bit more through them. Or how Joni Mitchell’s Blue was played constantly at the annoyance of family members for three weeks before young Colm Toibin had to head off to boarding school where records weren’t allowed. Then there is Asali Solomon’s nearly complete dislike of Gloria Estefan before spending a semester in the hostile (to her) Dominican Republic and coming to find comfort in Estefan’s solo album Mi Tierra.
The writers also tell tales of how they became obsessed with smaller, lesser-known bands and compilations. Terzian finds complete fascination in a British band, Miaow, who only released a few singles and disappeared. Although years later he did manage to hunt down the band and thus begin his writing career while discovering the unreleased Priceless Innuendo.
Inside the 300 pages of Heavy Rotation we read the stories of how an album came to be owned, in what format (tape, vinyl, CD), and was just one format good enough. The pages pop with clearly painted pictures of where folks were in life, both mentally and physically. Kate Christensen has Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys to accompany her on New York City streets. There are reflections of how a certain off-the-wall show soundtrack can represent freedom in all its odd glory as a housewife Claire Dederer finds in the original cast recording of Hedwig and The Angry Inch.
Many tales are spun in different styles throughout Heavy Rotation to take us back to how and why a particular album can represent places and times in life. Some albums help people cope with whatever they were dealing with, be it a tragic loss or the struggle to be one’s self, including confronting sexuality. Others show how records and bands can set us on a new path with their wisdom as we connect with the lyrics and make them are own, bending them to see they tell the stories of our own lives. Most of us can say the same about music in our lives and tell our own stories about it and through it. This connection is what makes Heavy Rotation a book that is very enjoyable to read as well as the fact its contributors do a great job in sharing their world of music in the way they know best, through the rhythm and music of writing.