22 June 2011

Sylvia Plath's Playlist?

While Plath Profiles 4 is being put together - and it is, indeed, in the process of being put together - I needed a bit of an escape, hence this post.

If Sylvia Plath had an iPod of mp3 player, what do you think would be on her playlist? Here are a list of some possibilities, that for some reason or another, seem Plathian to me:

Haemoglobin - Placebo
Pounding - Doves
Sabotage - The Beastie Boys
Cold Hard Bitch - Jet
Itsumo - Feeder
Head On - The Jesus and Mary Chain
My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson
Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
My Little Empire - Manic Street Preachers
66 - The Afghan Whigs
I Believe in the Thing Called Love - The Darkness
Plainsong - The Cure
Ghost - The Indigo Girls
Beautiful - Christina Aguilera
Walk on the Ocean - Toad the Wet Sprocket
Closer - Nine Inch Nails
Scattered Black and Whites - Elbow
Bees - Belly
Found Out About You - Gin Blossoms
Street Spirit (Fade Out) - Radiohead
Round Here - Counting Crows
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses - U2
Say Goodbye - Dave Matthews Band
God Only Knows - The Beach Boys

Thanks for this digression... I am still very interested in discussing my post from the 1st of this month, on Plath and Lowell and nostalgia...


Anonymous said...

I think "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star would be more Plathian than the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," but nice Playlist, Peter.
Also, wasn't Plath fond of Sinatra as well? "Baubles and Beads" would be a nice addition.

The true missing gem that deserves the top spot on this Playlist, though, is "You Are the Moon" by The Hush Sound. The song is actually written about Sylvia (the lead singer is an admitted big fan of SP). Beautiful music, melody, voice, and music. Check it out if it's new to you.

Love your blog, Mr. Steinberg.

-Elijah Joon

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks elijahjoon for your comment and compliment. I don't recall all the commenters, but is this your first. I consciously did not include songs explicitly about Plath, in part because I dislike thing kind of thing. I did not know about The Hush Sound but may try to check them out.

Thanks for the Mazzy Star suggestion. "Fade Into You" is a great choice, fitting in tone to Plath's late poems.

Plath dressed as and sung Sinatra in summer camp, 1946! I do think she did like him, yes.

Amber said...

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

magiciansgirl said...

You need a few Beethoven fugues on that list! :-) I wish I knew more about what type of music SP liked - there's not a lot to go on in the journals, etc.

Elijah Joon said...

(This is Elijah Joon posting. Blogger's not letting me post under my Wordpress ID):

Thanks for your thoughtful and personal reply, Peter.

"You Are the Moon" is such a beautiful song by The Hush Sound and I think you will really enjoy it (even if you don't, which I doubt, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it anyway. You can listen to the song for free on Youtube, I believe).
I thought the song would fit this Playlist as it is not explicitly about SP, but its tones embody similar moods Sylvia's poetry evokes: beauty, wonder, melancholy, sadness, and all at the same time. The only way anyone would know the song had anything at all to do with SP is how it utilizes lines from her poems in its lyrics quite nicely (it doesn't use the really "famous" lines of hers, but lines that are harder to notice come from Plath).
It utilizes her poems' symbolism and imagery in an intelligent way that only Plath fans who are beyond mere surface fans of her work will detect and appreciate.

I've been a fan of your blog and work for a while now, but it's my first time posting in the comments section. It's nice to get a personal response too, so maybe I should have done so earlier. I quite enjoy it, and adds to my interest in visiting the blog to hear back from you.

In your opinion, Peter, do you think Sylvia would be a PJ Harvey fan as well? I kind of like to think so, as PJ is another artist who can immerse herself into, and likewise embody herself into, her art to convey a wide range of emotions, and her latest album "Let England Shake" also shows similar intense anti-war sentiment and political consciousness that Plath has shown since she was young and in her latter years through the "Ariel" poems.

I also seem to remember Sylvia, Anne Sexton, and especially Ted Hughes all expressing how poetry and the words, specifically, are as powerful as weapons. In that context also, PJ Harvey's song "The Words That Maketh Murder" on her new album makes this connection to SP even stronger, IMO.
Ooh, that's another great song candidate for the SP Playlist as well. LOL

Something I also want to bring up is that there's so much of SP's writing and Sylvia herself that is so full of life and wonder. It's a shame to have her image automatically and perpetually associated with "doom and gloom."
So on second thought, I like how you put the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" on the Playlist, LoL. I can see that. It's good to see some more upbeat songs to balance the more somber ones.
"Ooh La" by The Kooks made me think of SP for some reason whenever I hear it, and it even has a line about a pretty petticoat.
I can also see her liking "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes. What do you think?

Peter, I'm happy to finally be able to discuss in-depth Sylvia Plath-related things with someone extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic as you.
For example, great trivia info you shared about her at summer camp!

I'd love to discuss more things SP-related with you in the future as you are the foremost expert in this area that I have found.

Keep up the great work on the blog!

-Elijah Joon (Blogger's not letting me post under my Wordpress ID)

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Too funny. I love that you speculate Sylvia might have been hip enough to get into some Beastie Boys, the perfect melancholy of the Gin Blossoms, the smarts of Toad the Wet Sprocket, or the lovely fuzzy cool of Jesus and Mary Chain. But oh! I'd have to believe she had better taste than to go so mainstream as Kelly Clarkson or Christina Aguilera. Bleech.

Gosh, I guess I'm pretty much revealing that I was a music journalist in the 90s, huh?

Peter K Steinberg said...

Amber & Kim: Beethoven: yes! I love me some Moonlight Sonata and of course, we know Plath was a fan of the Grosse Fugue.

Julia: Do you not see some of Plath's The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit in Aguilera's "Beautiful"? I also think that given her portrayal in some books, like Bitter Fame, that Aguilera's spot on. She's got mad pipes, though, no?

Elijah, your comment warrants deeper consideration given its length and thoughtfulness and questions. Not that the others weren't valuable or thoughtful.

I wasn't moved by "You Are the Moon", though whether it was doomed to fail due to my pre-existing bias or because it wasn't a good song remains undetermined. I'd suggest the former though that might peg me as closed-minded. Perhaps though it was my unfamiliarity with it though that precludes me from being excited by it.

I hadn't actually given much thought to the list ... so I'm not so sure about PJ Harvey. Rather, I like that people such as yourself, Kim, Amber, Julia, and maybe others are suggesting other artists and songs because it was something to which one can personalize and build as each person sees fit. And it was also something to post while I am putting together Plath Profiles.

As for being enthusiastic about Plath, yes I am. As for being knowledgeable and/or an expert? I don't know, I have monographic and other textual resources which greatly aid in the appearance of any such knowledge and/or expertise. I also don't take compliments too well: anyone can do this, most just don't.


Anonymous said...

This is fun! I think we need to distinguish between 1) imagining Plath as a young woman in today's society, and 2) as the 79-year-old she would have been today, had she lived.

In the first instance, Peter's playlist is perfectly conceivable and the absence of Beethoven reasonable. But a near octogenarian chilling out to the latest tunes with her iPod or mp3 player, banging her head back and forth?! I simply can’t imagine Plath having one in her old age. She liked Old England, didn’t she? Her old radio might still be sitting on the bookcase, perhaps, so that she could regularly listen to the BBC news to keep herself informed. Or at most she might have an old cassette or CD player that doesn't quite function properly.

But I think she would have been more interested in audio books (eyesight slowing fading!) and radio interviews with writers and the leading thinkers of the day rather than contemporary pop music (unless it was of a subversive kind or geared to the inner experience of women). But who knows?


Melanie Smith said...

I think some early Tori Amos, certainly some PJ Harvey. It would be interesting if I Had time to go over the decades since her death and see what songs from each Plath might have enjoyed.

Some specifics:
Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain album
Kate Bush

I wonder what she would have thought of the performance art ness or imitation of by artists like Gaga, I personally find her annoying.

Peter K Steinberg said...

~VC - Thanks for your comment! Who knows indeed?

Melanie, early Tori Amos, I could see that.


magiciansgirl said...

Melanie, you mentioned my favorite album, Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain - maybe I love it because I love Plath! :-) I'd still like to know what kind of music besides Sinatra and classical she used to listen to...I know Ted preferred classical

Peter K Steinberg said...


There is one reference in the Journals to jazz musician Tommy Dorsey (161). I believe she regularly visited the Totem Pole, a club nearby in Newton (the next town over from Wellesley), and saw Dorsey there a number of times. I seem to recall ticket stubs or programs/bills for this in her high school scrapbook at the Lilly Library. I think of Plath's story "Den of Lions" which is set in a dance hall based on Ten Acres, a place Plath frequented, too. Of course this is a loosely fictional recreation of a journal entry (see entry 11, on pages 13-15).


Peter K Steinberg said...

In the area of speculation about what Plath might have liked, there is the coincidence that on the morning Plath died, nearby on Abbey Road, The Beatles were recording "Please Please Me" LP. Would Plath have liked The Beatles? We all know her poetry was to "shake it up baby now", but...


magiciansgirl said...

Are you, in fact, trying to tell me that Yoko Ono killed Sylvia Plath? Thanks for the totally esoteric fact - no one but you would know this!

Anonymous said...

lol, i like this post..so we can joke and smile a bit.. and u know what! i would have seen Sylvia listening to Nirvana. and quite so often ;)

just like i do.


Anonymous said...

Interesting insight and reference about Tommy Dorsey, Peter.

-Elijah Joon

wee.little.actress said...

Oh, I think that Plath would be all about Kate Bush. Especially the "Hounds of Love" album. Joni Mitchell, too. Their songs have the same kind of mythical gutsiness that is so unique about her writing.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.