pulitzer prize-luminary commended author
Ashok was asked by Book Notes Blog to create a playlist, a soundtrack, to The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story. Here it is, along with full online text. In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their published book. Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others. In his own words, here is Ashok's Book Notes music playlist for The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story .
The Day My Brain Exploded is the true story of my survival from a massive brain hemorrhage – an atomic explosion within my skull -- provoked by an untimely orgasm, stemming from an unknown birth defect which proved to be a ticking time-bomb. As such, this is a story of destruction. But, in actuality, it is a story of resurrection. The songs which inspired my memoir, then, reflect birth, death, and the world of the living battling the trials underneath.
"Pop Goes The World" by The Gossip
My brain exploded.
So did my world.
"911" by Lady Gaga
Famed director Tarsem Singh is responsible for this innovative short film.
Dialing 911 could not have stopped the emergency of what had just begun: the end of Ashok 1.0 and the beginning of Ashok 2.0's catastrophic journey of the mind.
"Bedtime Story" by Madonna
Traveling, leaving logic and reason
Traveling, to the arms of unconsciousness
"Let's get unconscious honey," Madonna pleads to us in this techno-marvel. Considering I was now slipping in and out of consciousness, traveling past logic and reason, this song defined my state at this point, the early days of my hospitalization.
"Peek-a-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees
This dark and vivid tribute to S&M reflected my own experience with the devastating pain I was now facing. I had to start lusting for the skull drillings and restraints or else die from the fear. Among the best lines:
She has many guises
She'll do what you want her to
Playing dead and sweet submission
I think I actually sang that to one of the doctors.
Oh, yeah, one other thing. The title is also the phrase chirped by my brother to neighborhood gawkers while we were growing up Brown and Indian in All-White Small Town USA.
"Gett Off" by Prince
Obscenity enters. Caused by the hemorrhage, a torrential downpour of toxic blood flooded my system, and my mind kept falling drastically into unreal realms. My superego had vanished, and I had lost sense of time and place. The pain was escalating and I couldn't escape. To deal with the severity of it all, I began having extreme hallucinations, which were the only way out of the living nightmare. And, to put it midly, they were quite NC-17,
"Good Times" (television theme song)
My brother sang this to me while I was shackled to my hospital bed. I was a dying figure with my eyes closed, semi-conscious, restrained to my bed, visibly dead to the world. He probably thought I couldn't hear him. But I did.
"One" by Metallica
The joy -- if you could call it that -- from TV tunes was rare. Hospitalization was a terror, an incarceration. This song by Metallica tells everything. Based on the stream-of-conscious novel 'Johnny Got His Gun' by Dalton Trumbo, the clip is, quite literally, the book's film set to metal. Trumbo's classic was written as an anti-war manifesto, in which a soldier, after losing his limbs, sight, hearing, everything, is left rotting as a stump in a hospital bed. But the anti-war theme is lessened as the song/video applies perfectly to those of us whose minds were the only thing that mattered when our bodies and brains were destroyed. Kept in actual restraints, in intolerable pain, and never conscious of the real or unreal, I too was presumed to be benumbed, nothing but a motionless stump in the prison that was my bed.
"Today" by Smashing Pumpkins
"Today is the greatest day I've ever known" is the gem of a verse from this song. It is also the way I felt the day I left the hospital.
"Street Spirit (Fade Out)" by Radiohead
As delighted as I was to finally leave the hospital and return to the land of the living, something strange happened weeks later. I began running into walls, vehicles and people, slicing half my face while shaving, and more. I didn't know why. I then learned the shocking reason. The hemorrhage had left me visionless in half of both my eyes, leaving me with permanent, bisected blindness. My sight had faded out.
"Vacation" by the Go-Go's
Even though I had lost half of my sight, one thing was true. I was out of the hospital, breathing fresh air, enjoying sunlight and greeting humanity once more. After a long time, I was feeling optimism. So, to celebrate, I did what anyone else would do: I took a vacation. I felt free and healthy, and even -- yes -- happy. Things were looking up.
"The Perfect Drug" by Nine Inch Nails
Spoke too soon. To my surprise, sometime after my vacation, I began suffering seizures, one of which left me on a New York street corner, collapsed on a homeless man's newspaper. I was then diagnosed with life-long epilepsy, which was catastrophic. Trying to find the perfect drug to control my seizures proved to be even more catastrophic.
"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane
A year later I finally found ‘the perfect drug' for my epilepsy, and I started feeling some ease on my road to recovery. But then something happened to me, yet again: I developed 'Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome.' This was an extremely uncommon visual condition that left my sight skewed with hallucinogenic distortions, and brought me to doctors who wrongly diagnosed me as psychotic and schizophrenic.
"Natural Blues" by Moby
Oh Lordy, trouble so hard
Don't nobody know my troubles but God
Don't nobody know my troubles but God
Thus goes the thumping refrain of Moby's "Natural Blues," the beat-heavy electro-sample of the old negro spiritual "Trouble So Hard."
While learning how to live again, the unexpected, weekly terrors of seizures and the nightmare of epilepsy spontaneously combusted with the bisected blindness, Wonderland syndrome, and residual head pains of my craniotomy. The pain and fear of it all left me in tears on many days. Don't nobody know my troubles but God, indeed.
"No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige
Surviving all the distress and challenges, I made a vow to try to say goodbye to all of my drama, no matter how long it took.
"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" by Morrissey
At this point on my road back to life, I became keenly aware that all of my friends had moved on. They were now busy with big jobs, starting big families, getting big promotions, buying big homes, while I struggled just to smile a big smile.
"Killer/Papa was a Rolling Stone" by George Michael
Is there still a part of you that wants to live?
Finally joining support groups for the brain injured, I realized my disabled brothers and sisters did, indeed, want to live.
And together we would try.
"The Jump Off" by Lil' Kim
"This is for my peeps! Our presence is felt like a Black Panther movement!"
This brilliant anthem of solidarity by Lil' Kim showscases one truth:
My fellow survivor-warriors were now my peeps, and I was proud of it. Like the phoenix, I had been burnt to ashes entirely, and now I was flying again with their help.
"Alive" by Sia
I 'm still breathing
I'm still breathing
I'm still breathing
I'm still breathing
So Sia ferociously belts in this epic ode to survival.
My new brethren had shown me that my feelings of loneliness and jealousy of others should not own me, as I had done something greater: I had conquered death, as well as everything else that had come my way. One thing mattered, above all: I was still breathing. I was alive. . .
"Life" by Des'ree
. . . alive.
"Let It Be" by Beatles
The day my brain exploded was a day that exploded my universe. Trying to understand why I survived, and why I was chosen to survive, still confounds me. As does trying to understand why I traveled through hell, and why I was chosen to travel through hell.
Perhaps, as the song says, there will be an answer. One day.
"Keep on Movin'" by The Brady Bunch
Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on dancing all through the night
Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on doing it right
Gonna keep on, keep on , keep on movin' Gonna keep on, keep on, keep on groovin'
Keep on singing and dancing all through the night
As always, the Bradys said it best.
"TubThumping" by Chumbawamba
I got knocked down. But I got up again.