Writers' Playlist: Love & Sex

1. "Baby I," Amy Millan

You know how a song gets tied to a body? It gets sewed into the skin with sterile surgical thread, so tight in your memory that the threads couldn't be cut by the best doctor at the university medical center? That even if the threads dissolve, the song is still attached, growing into the flesh like a graft? To the point where if you hear only the innocent opening guitar plucks of the song, you want to drive to a medical supply store, buy thirty old fashioned thermometers, bust them all open over a glass and pour that mercury into your eyes and ears? If you have never known this feeling, I do not recommend going out and looking for it.

[Amelia Gray]

2. "Raining in Darling," Will Oldham

Four years we passed things—letters and mementos, drawings and some unpleasant secrets—personal expressions sent to and from Bloomington. One of the last packages I received before he moved to Boston and in with me included a CD, his toothed handwriting "some WO for Jen" on the shiny disk. My three roommates were elsewhere, so I played it without the headphones. Even still, the honesty of the first song "Raining in Darling" embarrassed me. What is this weird shit? I thought. What is this weird shit about this guy moving to Boston and in with me? And then I listened again, and again over the weeks, eventually awed and accepting of how humbling it is for two weirdos to be in love. When you're that humbled, dishonesty isn't even possible anymore. And later that spring when his flight came in, he wore a plain white tee shirt and brought daisies wrapped in tin foil. He had a bad flu, and I caught it.

[Jen Pieroni]

3. "Joyful Girl," Ani DiFranco

When I first got together with my girlfriend, she lived in a tiny studio flat in the middle of the city. It was next to a hospital and sirens wailed past every few minutes. She worked 9-5 at her graphic design job but I could never get enough waitressing shifts, so I spent most days pacing around her floor and writing terribly pretentious experimental poetry for class.

In the evenings I would run a hot bath and soak with a glass of cheap red wine, reading Charles Bukowski and Adrienne Rich. I would prop the bathroom door open with a stack of books and listen to my girlfriend tuning her guitar or practicing for her band's gigs. I'd shout out, Sing for me, but she was shy. Occasionally she relented. Mostly she just put some music on instead.

When I first heard this song, lying in a too-hot bath, half-drunk and full of poetry, I thought it was my girlfriend fiddling with her guitar and playing a song she'd made up for me.

[Kirsty Logan]

4. "Lose My Breath," My Bloody Valentine

When I was thirteen, and before I knew much, or anything, about sex, I had an idea it consisted of people being quiet and doing something unholy in the dark, under the covers. I thought it was silent. I didn't know people looked at each other while they did it. When I first heard this song, still in a sexless context and being quite young, I came to an early knowledge of what it meant to be physically intimate. The song rolls and continues. It doesn't stop to think twice and it doesn't take a breath. It breathes heavy and it sings, and at slightly over three and a half minutes, it's hours too short.

[Trent England]

5. "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever," Maxwell

Listen for the hollow ache of a cello, then the bittersweet violin, then Maxwell's divine voice quickly rising into a falsetto.

No candles. That would be too much.

No foreplay—not needed.

Set iPod to repeat, bass low, treble high, volume loud.

Close your eyes. Fall into the song.

This is not the soundtrack for a quick fuck. There are stripper anthems for that. Time. You have to take your time. This is a song for hours, slow movement, bodies cloistered in darkness, thick, still air, slick skin, heartfelt whispered lies, cold glasses of water, moments of rest, heavy breathing, awkward moans, unexpected tears, sweat cooling, fingers tracing tired limbs, renewed interest and then. Slow movement, bodies cloistered in darkness, thick, still air, slick skin.

[Roxane Gay]

5. "The Warrior," Scandal, featuring Patty Smyth

I don't really know you because you go to another school. You ride horses and have pretty hair and smell better than anything. I think your name is Rebecca. This is my first make-out party and I snuck out of the house and rode over on a motorcycle like a bang bang bad boy in an afterschool special. Except I rode on the back and held on to a kid named Goliath and drank wine coolers. Patty Smyth is singing on the radio. She wants to know who's the hunter… who's the game? She is the warrior, but so are you, Rebecca. Kiss me, damn it, you say. Bad boys don't drink wine coolers and they know how to French kiss, but I'm hoping you can teach me. I put my tongue in your mouth bang bang style and for a while you and I ride something that is neither horse nor motorcycle but deliriously better, like a raft we lash together with our bodies.

[Jim Ruland]

6. "Mizukagami," Shogo Tokumaru

I have no idea what the words to this song mean. I like that about it. I feel like the song has a lot of potential for that reason. I don't trust translations of lyrics. The song has various short sections rather than being 'verse chorus verse chorus.' I like that about it also. I don't think anything really romantic or sexy could be as structured as most music. Maybe I am wrong. Is love like that? The chorus comes in? I don't know. I am stupid. The English language has some nice words that rhyme with the word 'love' but I don't think that's what love is probably. This song is great though. I really think so. I think Shugo Tokumaru is really great.

[Crispin Best]

7. "You Got Me (live with Jill Scott)," The Roots

We knew from the start that things fall apart, intentions shatter

April 2003: In the photo from that day—me on your lap, you holding the camera out in front of us—our cheeks are pink from the sun. We'd spent the afternoon at a baseball game, my first. Seattle was supposed to be rainy that time of year, but there'd been nothing but clear skies and sunshine since my plane landed. Your roommate was outside mowing the lawn. We had two more hours before we had to leave for the airport. I would fly two times to see you before you flew to see me. You were fighting the inevitable: moving cross country to be with me. We were standing in the living room when you put this song on the stereo. You'd included it on the mixed CDs you sent me with Otter Pops and books. There were other songs. "Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse," Minus the Bear. "Bonnie & Clyde '03," Jay-Z and Beyonce. "American Girls," Homie. But this was the one. You pulled me to you and we danced hips together through the rooms of your house. It's a long song; we could afford a slow journey. You led me to your bed, a tiny single on wheels. We made love for the ninth or tenth time that weekend and the bed moved with the music across the floor as your roommate whizzed by on the other side of the screened window. In an hour I'd be shedding tears in the front seat of your car in the airport garage. I wouldn't let you walk me into the airport. The waywardness of my emotions embarrassed me.

I heard this song in a bar recently. It was the Erykah Badu version, but still. I immediately thought of you. I took my phone out of my purse to text you. I began typing then suddenly stopped, remembering. I put my phone away and finished my drink instead. My friends were talking to me but I was singing along in my head.

Baby, don't worry. You know that you got me.

This song breaks my heart every time now.

[Elizabeth Ellen]

8. "The Frug," Rilo Kiley

I think Jenny Lewis is sort of like the Lorrie Moore of songwriting, because her narrators are at once hapless and hopeful, strong and vulnerable, terrified of love but victims of it anyway. For me, no other songwriter strikes closer to the reality of how complicated sex and love can be for women. "The Frug" rather perfectly encapsulates this. Amidst a list of minor accomplishments—she can do the frug, she can start a book, she can sleep twelve hours—Jenny also proclaims: "I can do a back bend/I will not call you back" and "I can take my clothes off/I cannot fall in love." But when she softly sings "I can hate your girl/I can tell you that she's real pretty," it seems plain that in spite of her insistence, the falling has happened anyway. Rilo Kiley songs like this one feel like my favorite short stories, the things I return to again and again because they make me feel less alone inside my own neurotic head.

[Angi Becker Stevens]

9. "Lonely Girl," Shaun Cassidy

Shaun Cassidy's eponymous record was my first.  My love for him was first. Sincere brown eyes, blonde, feathered hair.  I longed for him without humor.

I stared at his picture during the ride home. I stared at his picture when I listened to the record. I listened. I listened more. I was his lonely girl. He told me he would make my heart brand new. I wanted nothing more.

My little sister wanted to listen. I refused. Shaun and I needed to be alone. She didn't get it. I hated her.

She complained to our parents; our dad told me to let her listen or he would return the record. I put the record back in its sleeve and offered it to him. He handed it to my sister. She took Shaun. She's still kind of a bitch.

[Lauren Becker]

10. "You Made a Man out of Me," Otis Redding

This is a more obscure Redding. I'm choosing it for a few reasons: 1. I like the possible hard-on entendre. 2. If you're a woman I like the possible strap-on entendre. 3. Baby, ain't nothing can step to Motown. This is what you play while you're cooking together barefoot in the kitchen sweating out August and sniffing into hair behind an ear, that space between a jaw and a collarbone. Live your life like every day is that scene when the kid walks into the tree house carrying the watermelons and finds everybody grinding in Dirty Dancing. Like it's middle school and you've just figured out how to do what with it. Live every day like this with the person you're going to die next to. My honorable mentions in backwards countdown style like the tv show "3-2-1 Contact": 5. "Summertime" by Joplin; 4. Motown, more. The Flamingos, etc.; 3. "Oops" by Tweet. Be a stripper, in your life; 2. "Salty Dub," King Tubby and Soul Syndicate, because it's just so hot; 1. "Footsteps In The Dark," sampled by Ice Cube for "It Was A Good Day"

[Nicolle Elizabeth]

11. "Spanish Flea," Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

Put aside that this was the "bachelor intro" theme on the Dating Game. Years ago, a friend asked me, "So, do you and [your boyfriend] do it to "Spanish Flea"? He then pantomimed for me what that would look like, thrusting and grunting to the rhythm of Alpert's trumpet while humming the tune to himself. Besides being funny this made me realize, for the first time, that anything can be a sex song. It just depends on how you like to have sex.

[Amanda Nazario]

12. "Rumors Are Flying," Les Paul & The Andrews Sisters

We bought suntan lotion and beach mats at the South Beach Walgreen's (you called them "maths" because your English was exploratory). They charged us $15 for one of those blue cabana things and we lay there and read the funny pages. A plane flew by trailing a MARRY ME banner and we smiled and discussed where we would live. We split the iPod's earphones (you left, I right) and then for a while we listened to this. The next morning we packed and took a cab in the dark to the airport and went back to our separate lives. Six thousand miles didn't seem like a great distance. Back then. Until, suddenly, it was.

[Ben Loory]

13. "Sweet Thing," The Waterboys

This is a cover of Van Morrison's Sweet Thing with the Beatles's Blackbird added as a coda. Mike Scott's not kidding around with his anxiety of influence, borrowing from some heady mentors to create a new piece that is totally his own. There are a number of versions of this song with most of them including amazing fiddle arrangements, if you like that sort of thing. Scott also makes a subtle and excellent lyric change from "you shall take me strongly in your arms again" to  "you will take me warmly in your only arms again." Perhaps most notably, certainly love-wise, is how the combination of these two songs brings both toward a more complete lover's expression.

[M.T. Fallon]

14. "Astral Weeks," Van Morrison
I had three CDs when I moved to San Francisco in 1990. I showed up without a job, without a place to live. Eventually I rented a studio apartment off Haight Street. I played Van Morrison's Astral Weeks over and over, like it was a declaration. It seemed to contain everything I needed to know about: longing, hope, innocence, creativity, despair, mystery, but mostly love and sex, sex and love. The first song, the title song—that drifting bass line, the slow build and burn of the lyrics—started many a day and ended many a night. If I ventured in the slipstream/Between the viaducts of your dream…To be born again/From the far side of the ocean. Then I found a job. I met someone. Sunlight streamed inside the apartment. My typewriter stayed on the kitchen table. I took long walks and started to feel like my life had finally begun.
[Andrew Roe]

Read other stuff from these writers in the archive.

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