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You Belong to Us

• Simon & Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

When I was a freshman in high school, I was sitting in religion class—I went to a Catholic high school at the time—watching a movie of some kind when Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water" came on. I immediately starting crying though I had no idea why. I knew every word to the song though I could not remember hearing it before. I was so curious about it that I looked it up and found out it was the number one song the week I was born. Ever since then I've associated this song with the time of my birth... and been a Simon & Garfunkel devotee.

• Adam Sandler “Ode to My Car”

After I found out who my biological mother was, I found out she had married my biological father two years after I was born and that they'd had four more kids together. I also found out that her family owned a restaurant and bar that she claimed "appealed to bikers." And when my biological mother visited me the first time, she told me that they held a karaoke night at the bar every week, sometimes with the whole family getting up and signing "Family Tradition." But when I finally did visit the bar, that was not the song she sang. Instead, to my great surprise, she leaped on stage like a teenager and belted out Adam Sandler's "Ode to My Car. Needless to say, it was one of the craziest experiences of my life.

• Badfinger “No Matter What”

I was on my way to visit my biological family the second time when Badfinger's "No Matter What" came on the radio. I'd loved that song for some time, and in order to deal with some of my nervous energy, I turned it up as loud as I could stand it and sang along as I barreled down the highway. As I was singing, it occurred to me that "No Matter What" is a hybrid—a cross between heavy metal and country. And since I'm a hybrid—part McCaffrey and part Tucker—this song has come to represent what it means to be from those two different worlds.

• Cher "If I Could Turn Back Time”

As I say in the book, my biological sister is a born performer—and a bit of a ham—who never passes up a chance to do a little karaoke. And the second time I visited my bio-fam, we went to a local bar for karaoke and wings, where she brought down the house singing Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" (even though I expressed my doubts about her being able to do it). And after it was all over, I couldn't but help think that Cher's words were fitting for such an occasion: I don’t know why I did the things I did. I don’t know why I said the things I said. Pride’s like a knife—it can cut deep inside. Words are like weapons—they wound sometimes. I didn’t really mean to hurt you. I didn’t wanna see you go. I know I made you cry, but, baby, if I could turn back time, if I could find a way, I’d take back those words that hurt you and you’d stay.

• Idina Menzel "Defying Gravity”

The fourth time I visited the bio-fam, I had just come from Manhattan, where I finally saw WICKED. After arriving in Tucker country, I realized that things were a bit hairy there. And that's why I listened to Idina Menzel's "Defying Gravity” OVER AND OVER when trying to maintain my sanity through all that madness.


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How to Survive Your Last Year of Graduate School

• Devo “Whip It”

In almost every one of these stories—especially this one—the main character has to fight to overcome the powers trying to oppress her. In the months leading up to the book’s publication, that theme made me think of Devo’s “Whip It,” especially the line, “If a problem comes along, you must whip it,” and I hope that’s what readers get out of this story: the only way to survive grad school is to completely whip it. (By the way, the S&M in this video is tongue-in-cheek.)

• Lee Anne Womack “I Hope You Dance”

The connection here is obvious because the narrator says, “you’ll always Leanne Womack it when it comes to selling out.” And, by that, I mean reconsider. Even though the narrator claims to have “sold out” after she smiles flirtatiously at her dissertation director and wears a skirt with knee-high boots to visit her department chair, I hope readers will get that she means it ironically and, of course, sides with Womack on this one.

• Murray Head “One Night in Bangkok”

Like many of us, this narrator gets through something difficult—in her case, grad school—by fantasizing about what she’ll do when she’s done. No, she doesn’t want to go to Disney World. She wants to party like she’s in Bangkok, much like this Murray Head classic.

 

Look Away

• Violent Femmes “Kiss Off”

The chorus of this song is basically what the teenage protagonist is trying to say in this story: “You can all just kiss off into the air.” I also like that both the song and the story revolve around lists: “I take one, one, one 'cause you left me/ And two, two, two for my family . . .”

• Nina Persson “The Bluest Eyes in Texas”

Even though this story takes place in the Midwest, not Texas, the song captures the same sense of pain and yearning as the story. And both are about a young woman who has made some bad decisions she’d like to leave behind.

 

The Lake in Winter

• Adrian Johnston “Adagio in G Minor

This is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard, and I can’t imagine anything more fitting for such a disturbing story. (The video clip I’ve included is from Welcome to Sarajevo, also one of the most harrowing films I’ve ever seen. Amazingly, the cellist in this scene plays to a huge crowd despite the fact that a war is going on, making it extremely dangerous to even step outside, much less attend a concert in public.)

 

Himmel und Erde

• David Bowie “Heroes”

One of my favorite songs of all time, Bowie’s heartbreaker is about two lovers meeting at the Berlin Wall not long before it came down. Since this story is about a young American woman who spends one day in East Berlin around the same time and is completely changed by the experience, it has a lot of themes in common with the song—like the idea of kissing “as though nothing could fall.” Of course, both are also about longing—longing for change and the will to enact it, but knowing that even change can’t erase what’s happened in the past.

 

Sliders

• Alphaville “Forever Young”

Though it’s only implied, this story is about a young woman whose life is on the cusp of adulthood. Not only is she about to become a mother—as we are told in the first line—but she also begins to learn, through the course of the story, that her heroes, like her grandmother, are more complicated than she originally thought. At the end of the story, the protagonist longs to go back to a simpler time, a time when she was both young and naïve, an idea perfectly captured in this Alphaville tune. (This video is unfortunately really dated.)

 

Missionary Work

• Elvis Presley “Suspicious Minds”

This is the only Elvis song I truly love and the only story in the book about adultery. I’m not too keen on stories about adultery because I think they’re ubiquitous. I wrote this story, hoping to make it unique by focusing on how the protagonist uses religion to avoid taking responsibility for what she’s done.

• The Eagles “Lyin’ Eyes”

Like the story, this is an incredibly sad song about a woman who married a wealthy man for all the wrong reasons. I feel an ache in my heart every time I hear this song.

 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

• Simon and Garfunkel “The Sounds of Silence”

This Simon and Garfunkel classic is about being afraid to speak . . . or even live. Just like the masses in the song talk “without speaking” and hear “without listening,” the main character in this story never lets anyone into her life. Simon says it best at the end of the song when he compares solitude to a disease: “Fools,” said I, “you do not know/ 
Silence like a cancer grows/ 
Hear my words that I might teach you/ Take my arms that I might reach you.” Just brilliant.

 

The Season for Giving

• Vince Guaraldi “Thanksgiving Theme”

Sure, the theme for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is an obvious choice because it’s about Turkey Day, but it’s also fitting because Charlie Brown always has so much trouble communicating with those closest to him, which is exactly what this story is about.

 

Night Five

• Night Ranger “Sister Christian”

This was the song that was playing in the background of my early adolescence, and as a result, I hear it whenever I’m writing songs about that time. It’s also appropriate since it’s about a young woman who has to decide if she’s ready to become an adult or still wants to hold onto her youth.

• Cyndi Lauper “All through the Night”

This was another song from my youth, but it captures a different aspect of this story: being young and longing to stay up all night, under the stars, with a lover.

 

Pictures of the Day I Was Born: A True Story

Badfinger “No Matter What”

I wrote the first draft of this essay in 2000, right after I met my biological mother. In the intervening years I’ve been working on a book about meeting my biological family, which includes a scene when I’m listening to this Badfinger song and realizing that this rough-around-the-edges number has a sweet heart. In a similar way, I’m also a hybrid—a person who came from two different worlds.

 

Shopology

• Cyndi Lauper “Money Changes Everything”

I didn’t like this song when I was young because it’s pretty dark, but over time, I’ve come to see its brilliance. In many ways, Lauper was right: when you have too much time and money on your hands, you can do some stupid things.

 

Joy to the World

• Frank Sinatra “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

This story started as a fake Christmas letter Dave and I sent to our families one year. It’s evolved since then, but it still shocks me how bitter and dark it sounds. If this story doesn’t scare you away from the “happy golden days” of grad school, I don’t know what will. (In case you didn’t get it, the song is meant ironically.)

 

The Other Man

• Carly Simon “You’re So Vain”

Carly Simon refuses to say who this song is about—is it Warren Beatty, David Geffen, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, or Mick Jagger?—and I love the universality created by her unwillingness to make it about just one person. In the same way, “The Other Man” is about more than just the “gay-best-friend” the story addresses; instead the “you” in the story represents all academics who believe they are smarter than everyone else.

• The Clash “Should I Stay or Should I Go”

The Clash’s punk anthem is about lead singer Mick Jones’ attempts to decide if he should stay in his current relationship or walk away from it, but it also fits the conflict of this story—in which the character is trying to decide whether or not she should stay in graduate school or leave it behind for good.

• The Indigo Girls—“Closer to Fine”

The third stanza of this song is about a woman being freed from the tyranny of her college professor, a “doctor of philosophy" who criticizes her work and seems to look down on regular life. I hope this story captures the idea that I’m just as uncomfortable with an intellectualism that is rooted in elitism and shuns the masses.