So, when I start a new book, I start a new playlist, too, and I work on them concurrently. With Eleanor & Park, the playlists took the shape of mixed tapes for each character. (Because 1986.) (And because I like to overdo things.) So I ended up with four playlists — two mixed tapes with two sides each.
This is a SUPER-LONG post, with videos and thoughts for all four playlists. If you want to skip my director’s commentary and get right to the music, you can:
All my other playlists are on my Spotify profile, too. For Attachments – and for Fangirl.
Eleanor, Side A
The Good Times are Killing Me, Modest Mouse
This song, for me, is what’s playing in Eleanor’s head when she gets on the schoolbus in the first scene. She’s so past hope, Eleanor; she’s just moving through life, keeping her head up — and not because she’s rising above her challenges (nothing so noble as that). Just because there are no other options. This song is tough and flat and cynical, but it’s got a sneaky beauty to it, too. Enter Eleanor.
Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod, The Mountain Goats
If I had to choose one album to represent this whole book, it would be The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats. I forced myself to choose just one MG song for this playlist. This one tells the story of a boy coming home, trying not to wake up his abusive stepfather. (Which basically sums up Eleanor’s whole life.) The line that slays me in this song is: “Held under these smothering waves, by your strong and thick veined hand, but one of these days I’m going to wriggle up on dry land.” The boy in the song is going to get past this. He’s going to EVOLVE.
You’re the Good Things, Modest Mouse
More Modest Mouse. More sneakily beautiful cynicism for Eleanor. This song got me through the scenes where Eleanor is intrigued by Park, but doesn’t believe any good can come of it.
Don’t Let’s Start (Demo), They Might Be Giants
I love how tentative this version of this song is, compared to the studio version. This is Eleanor slowly turning toward Park on the bus, slowly opening up to him. Still so cynical.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t let’s start,
I’ve got a weak heart …”
Like to Get to Know You, Spanky & Our Gang
Eleanor has bursts of longing and hope. Here’s one. But she still doesn’t quite trust what she’s feeling. She can’t let go.
“Now I can’t promise that I’ll spend a day with you,
Can’t promise that I’ll find a way with you,
Can’t promise, no, I can’t promise that I’ll love you.”
A Feeling, Throwing Muses
This song is all about chemistry. It even FEELS like chemistry. (Like longing.) It’s perfect for Eleanor because it’s CHEMISTRY and LONGING plus a little bit of DOUBT and SELF-LOATHING.
“I never could see anyone besides you.
Believe it or not. (Probably not.)”
Drowning Man, U2
Finally a little abandon from Eleanor! Knowing Bono, this song is probably about Jesus. But I used it to write the telephone scene at Eleanor’s dad’s house. She lays it all out in that scene; she tells Park things she thinks she shouldn’t — and she’s so sure she’ll be hurt. This song feels like surrender to me.
“Take my hand,
You know I’ll be there, if you can,
I’ll cross the sky for your love . . .
Give you what I hold dear.”
There is a Light that Never Goes Out, The Smiths
If Eleanor & Park were a movie, this song would be in the trailer. This song IS Eleanor. When she falls in love with Park, it’s like she’s jumping off a bridge. She really believes it will lead to ruin — but she still does it. Every time she sees him, she wonders if she’ll be allowed to see him again, and whether she’ll be allowed to come back home. I can’t even quote one lyric from this song because they’re all so perfect for her.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about an Eleanor & Park sequel. I find myself thinking, “There is a light, and it never goes out, there is a light, and it never goes out …”
Out of Control, U2
So, when Eleanor falls in love, it goes like this: cynicism, reluctance, side eyes, fear, fear, fear, maybe, no, maybe, hope, cynicism, abrupt surrender, ABANDON. This song is abandon. It’s Eleanor losing herself in her feelings for Park.
Real Love, Regina Spektor
Eleanor and Park, coming home from their date. It’s the fragility and fear in Spektor’s voice that make this song Eleanor for me. (Also, it’s nice that it’s a John Lennon song. What with Eleanor’s love for the Beatles.)
Park, Side A
Love on a Farmboy’s Wages, XTC
So this is the song that Park is listening to on his headphones the very first time we meet him.
XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.
Park pressed his headphones into his ears.
Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he’d make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.
I had this picture of Park as an island of thoughtfulness in a sea of chaos; everybody else is screaming and being crass, and he’s listening to intellectual New Wave. This song – Love on a Farmboy’s Wages – is one of my favorite XTC songs, and it’s especially quiet and romantic. It’s from the point of view of a poor farmboy envisioning how he’ll provide for his beloved.
With Park — with all of my male heroes, really – I’m trying to portray someone who’s masculine, but still tender and full of big feelings. That guy doesn’t exist enough (for me) in fiction.
XTC = that guy.
“High climbs the summer sun, high stands the corn,
And tonight . . . when my work is done,
We will borrow your father’s carriage,
We will drink and prepare for marriage –
Soon my darling, soon my darling.”
Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap
I am a SUCKER for men singing in falsetto. Again, it’s the masculinity/vulnerability that gets me. (Is it a bad sign that I’m only two songs into Park’s playlist, and I’m already swooning?) (I SWOONED for Park.)
This song is all tension and anticipation — the way Park feels electrified by Eleanor’s presence, pretty much as soon she gets on the bus. He’s on alert whenever she’s on the page with him.
When I was making playlists for my first book, Attachments, I tried to keep the songs consistent with the 1999 setting. But I didn’t stick to the ’80s with the Eleanor & Park playlists — I went with whatever songs felt right.
Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division
If Eleanor & Park had a tagline, it would be “Love will tear us apart.”
This is the song that Park gives Eleanor on their first mixed tape.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I didn’t want to stop listening. That one song – is it ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’?”
“Yeah, Joy Division.”
“Oh my God, that’s the best beginning to a song ever.”
He imitated the guitar and the drums.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said. “I just wanted to listen to those three seconds over and over.”
“You could have.” His eyes were smiling, his mouth only sort of.
“I didn’t want to waste the batteries,” she said.
He shook his head, like she was dumb.
“Plus,” she said, “I love the rest of it just as much, like the high part, the melody, the dahhh, dah-de-dah-dah, de-dahh, de dahhh.”
“And his voice at the end,” she said, “when he goes just a little bit too high… And then the very end, where it sounds like the drums are fighting it, like they don’t want the song to be over …”
Park made drum noises with his mouth “ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch.”
“I just want to break that song into pieces,” she said, “and love them all to death.”
Under Your Thumb, The Vaccines
Park definitely embraces the idea of Eleanor before Eleanor is comfortable with the idea of Park. For me, this song is Park wanting her to let go and loosen up — and this is Park just looking for an excuse to say her name.
The Morning of Our Lives, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
After Park falls in love, all he wants to do is listen to pretty love songs.
Park played Elvis Costello for her – and Joe Jackson, and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
She teased him because it was all so pretty and melodic, and “in the same phylum as Hall & Oates,” and he threatened to evict her from his room.
This song (and this video!) really, really get to me. I have a hard time living in the present; I tend to be anxious and twitchy, always feeling like I’m not ready for the future, or that I’m not enough for it. This is the song I need someone to write for me.
“Tell her it’s okay (it’s okay, it’s okay)
Tell her it’s all right (it’s all right, it’s all right)
And our time is now, we can do anything we really believe in.
Our time is now — here in the morning of our lives.”
Androgynous, The Replacements
Neither Eleanor or Park is androgynous — but they definitely experiment with gender roles.
His mom sat on his bed. She looked like she’d had a long day. You could see her lipliner. She stared at a jumble of action figures piled up on the shelf over his bed — Park hadn’t touched them for years.
“Park,” she said, “do you . . . want to look like girl? Is that what this about? Eleanor dress like boy. You look like girl?”
“No . . .” Park said. “I just like it. I like the way it feels.”
“No,” he said. “Like myself.”
“Your dad …”
“I don’t want to talk about him.”
I think I chose this song because it feels like Eleanor and Park, especially Park. It feels like two people who’ve chosen to be in love, damn the torpedoes.
Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure
For a while I had an all-Cure playlist for Park.
Robert Smith always gets called Goth — but the best Cure songs are about falling in love. They’re hopelessly romantic and hopefully romantic, and Robert Smith is The Man, no matter how much makeup he’s wearing. (Park’s patronus is totally Robert Smith.) For me, this is the song that plays when Park and Eleanor fight, and Park can’t exactly figure out why.
“I’m not proposing,” he said. “I’m just saying … I love you. And I can’t imagine stopping . . .”
She shook her head. “But you’re twelve.”
“I’m sixteen . . .” he said. “Bono was fifteen when he met his wife, and Robert Smith was fourteen . . .”
“Romeo, sweet Romeo . . .”
“It’s not like that, Eleanor, and you know it.” Park’s arms were tight around her. All the playfulness in his voice was gone.
“There’s no reason to think we’re going to stop loving each other,” he said. “And there’s every reason to think that we won’t.”
Heavy Like Sunday, Leona Naess
The thing I loved about writing Park was that he really believes in love. His parents are still in love with each other, so he has every reason to believe that true love prevails. That’s not how my brain naturally works. My parents got divorced and remarried and divorced and remarried (not to each other), and I always approached love very skeptically, always expecting it to end. Park doesn’t have that expectation. It felt nice to spend time in his head.
“And friends make better lovers,
‘Cause they look you in the eye
And they’ll put you in the middle . . .
Of a thousand whys.”
The Shining, Badly Drawn Boy
Another song for Park, trying to talk Eleanor out of the shadows. I think of them sitting in the snow at night, in the doorway of the elementary school.
They were sitting against the back door of the school, in a little alcove where no one would see them unless they were really looking, and where the snow didn’t fall directly on their faces. They sat next to each other, facing each other, holding hands.
There was nothing between them now. Nothing stupid and selfish just taking up space.
“Now I’ve fallen in deep, slow silent sleep
It’s killing me, I’m dying –
To put a little bit of sunshine in your life.”
Eleanor, Side B
Okay. I’m determined to write about this playlist without spoiling Eleanor & Park for you. But it’s going to be hard. Because this is Eleanor, Side B, and Side B is where things gets pretty intense in the book.
Two Dancers, Wild Beasts
It’s difficult, when you’re writing a very emotional scene, to maintain the same emotional energy and vibe the entire time you’re working on it. At the climax of Eleanor & Park, Eleanor feels hunted. Desperate. On the run. The scene took a long time to write, and I felt like my head had to be absolutely still while I was inside of it. Like I would just RUIN everything if I lost focus or shifted on my feet . . .
I listened to the album version of “Two Dancers” more than 200 times while I was writing — and even now, when I hear it, I feel like something horrible is after me.
“They dragged me by the ankles through the street,
They passed me round them like a piece of meat.”
Kill With Me Tonight, Devlins
(The only video I could find for this song is an anime tribute video. But I’m kind of digging it.)
You know how the world feels different late at night? How you think things that you wouldn’t normally think, during the day?
When something goes wrong, really wrong, late at night — it’s hard to remember who you are anymore. What your normal rules are . . .
In my mind, this song plays while Eleanor and Park are talking in his grandparents’ RV.
“Your dad will kill you,” she said.
“No,” he said, “he’ll ground me.”
“Do you think I even care about that right now?” He held her face in his hands. “Do you think I care about anything but you?”
“Hold me close, I feel it coming,
Far away and out of sight,
Hold me close, I know it’s coming . . . changes to our lives
So kill with me tonight.”
Same Deep Water as You, The Cure
This song is NINE MINUTES LONG. And an acquired taste. And probably a stupid song to put on a playlist like this.
But if you let “Same Deep Water as You” into your head, it will lull you into an achy haze. Which is exactly right for Eleanor and Park, in his dad’s truck, both scared to say everything they want to.
I want to pull out every lyric from this song and say, “THIS! THIS IS THEM! OH MY GOD! THIS LINE! AND THIS ONE! UGH, DON’T EVEN READ MY BOOK — JUST LISTEN TO THIS SONG OVER AND OVER AGAIN. IT MEANS THE SAME THING.” But I’ll settle on . . .
“Kiss me goodbye,
Pushing out before I sleep,
It’s lower now,
And slower now,
The strangest twist upon your lips.”
Um, this might be weird . . .
This song isn’t really about Eleanor and Park. It’s about Eleanor and me.
Writing Eleanor & Park was a brutal experience. I’m not even sure why I did it – it’s not like me to do something like this. To write something like this.
Generally, I’m not a big fan of “harrowing.” If something is described as “harrowing,” I am not down with it. I’m not reading it, I’m not watching it, I don’t care if it wins a Pulitzer Prize.
But Eleanor & Park?
Kind of harrowing. A bit harrowing. It would be fair to describe certain chapters as fairly harrowing.
And I was miserable during those chapters.
“Bad” is on this playlist because it’s a song that got me though my own harrowing adolescence. And I needed it to get me through Eleanor’s.
“If I could, through myself,
Set your spirit free —
I’d lead your heart away,
See you break, break away
Into the light . . .
And to the day.”
Don’t Let Me Down, Bruner
It’s getting impossible not to talk in a spoilery way about these songs. Maybe you should stop reading . . .
If you haven’t read Eleanor & Park yet, but you’re going to, please stop. Bookmark this page and come back or something.
This song flays me open. It’s completely unguarded. It’s what begging sounds like.
I’m not sure what Eleanor is begging Park for on their drive to St. Paul — understanding, maybe — but this is the noise she’s making.
This song is a Beatles cover, perhaps the best Beatles cover, by a woman named Linda Bruner. (The backstory is totally worth reading.) Her twist on the lyrics here makes all the difference:
“I guess nobody ever really loved me,
The way he done me,
He done me good.
And if somebody ever really loved me,
Then he does me,
He does me good.”
St. Swithin’s Day, Billy Bragg
When the movie One Day came out, I was sure this song would be on the soundtrack. (It’s an ’80s story that takes place on St. Swithin’s Day? COME ON.) Anyway, I was all defensive, like, “No, stop, don’t — that song is on Eleanor’s soundtrack.” But it didn’t end up mattering because they didn’t use it. Because they’re dumb.
(While I’m completely off topic, I’d like to observe that Billy Bragg is a stone-cold, weird-looking fox, and I want to make out with his accent here. And his posture. And his shirt.)
Anyway, in their last few scenes together, Eleanor begs Park for understanding — but she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t give enough to get it. (Now that I think about it, maybe this song should be on Park’s playlist . . .)
The album version of “St. Swithin’s Day” is more wistful, less angry, and I kept listening to it because it’s about the aftermath of a terrible good-bye.
“Thanks all the same,
But I just can’t bring myself to answer your letters,
It’s not your fault,
But your honesty touches me like a fire.”
My Love, Sia
One more wide-open, painful love song for Eleanor at the end of the book. Eleanor deciding to be vulnerable. Deciding that it’s better to love and to lose than to press her heart between the pages of a dictionary.
(Yes, I know this song was in the movie Eclipse. It totally worked there, too.)
Leave yourself behind
Beat inside me,
Leave you blind.
Blackbird, The Beatles
This was always the last song on this playlist.
This was always the end of the book.
I know that some people think the end of Eleanor & Park is depressing. (And I know it feels a little bit like a truck hitting a brick wall.) But in my head, the ending was always hopeful. It was always about something broken finally breaking free.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
Park, Side B
I end the book with Park.
Writing Park (whom I was more than half in love with) always felt lighter and more hopeful than writing Eleanor (whom I was also half in love with). So it’s fitting to let him have the last note, too.
I’m past being able to talk about these playlists without spoiling the story. So consider this your MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT.
The Cave, Mumford and Sons
Okay. I know that people have lots of Feelings and Opinions about Mumford and Sons, and maybe you’re sick to death of them. But the first time I saw this video, it hit me like a truck. I played “The Cave” to death when I was writing the scene where Park decides to help Eleanor escape. This song feels like someone forming a battle plan — I know, I will, I won’t, I need.
In this scene, Park is alone and determined to do what’s right for both of them. I think “The Cave” is probably about a breakup, but these lyrics still feel right . . .
“But I will hold on hope,
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck,
And I’ll find strength in pain,
And I will change my ways,
I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”
Kiss of Life, Friendly Fires
Eleanor and Park are in a truck — it’s the middle of the night, they’re driving through Iowa — and Park doesn’t know if he’ll ever see her again. Every nerve in his body is firing. His brain his shaking through his skull.
And Eleanor is asleep.
When I was writing this book , I wanted to capture how it feels to love someone. You love them with your head. And then you love them with everything else. When they’re with you, you vibrate. When they’re gone, you ache.
This song does both.
And God bless whoever wrote these lyrics because I love it when someone tries to describe a kiss and doesn’t care at all that there are no news ways left to describe one. “A thousand butterflies, from your lips to mine.”
(Also, THAT KEYBOARD BUILD at 2:09. And THIS VIDEO. THE DANCING. THOSE FRECKLES.) (Here’s another great version.)
goodbye to sun?
The wails inside
that life has died.
But all you need is a
kiss of life.”
My Invitation, Sarah Slean
So, yeah, I only know this song because Pacey and Joey danced to it at prom (AND OH MY GOD, BEST FICTIONAL PROM DANCE).
Eleanor and Park. Still in the truck. Parked somewhere. Possibly Albert Lea, Minnesota. How do you tell someone that you love them? And how do you tell them good-bye?
Every single word of this song is worth writing on your algebra book, but especially:
“You are what they call the human season,
You are all the alphabet in one,
You are every colour of confusion,
You are all the silence I’ve become.”
Falling Slowly, The Swell Season
What do you mean this song has become a total cliché? And that of course I’m using it on my playlist because everybody uses it on their playlists?
Eleanor and Park in a truck, heading north from Albert Lea, Minnesota. And there’s nothing worth saying anymore.
“Take this sinking boat, and point it home,
We’ve still got time.
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now.”
Once I Was, Tim Buckley
So now we’re getting to the point in the book where it’s all-Park, all-time. As Eleanor leaves his life, she leaves the book, too.
There’s this idea that women don’t need men to save them. That it’s anti-feminist to want to be rescued . . . but I think people who love each other rescue each other over and over again. I think that Park saves Eleanor’s life — and that Eleanor makes Park’s life worth living. And that it’s OKAY to want to be a knight in shining armor. Because sometimes we need that guy. (Or girl.)
There’s no such thing as handsome princes, she told herself.
There’s no such thing as happily ever after.
She looked up at Park. Into his golden green eyes.
You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.
This song is Park’s song, on the way back to Omaha. He wants to be everything for Eleanor. But everything he’s tried to be has already been.
“Once I was a soldier,
And I fought on foreign sands for you.
Once I was a hunter,
And I brought home fresh meat for you.
Once I was a lover,
And I searched behind your eyes for you.”
(P.S. Tim Buckley is Jeff Buckley’s dad. They both died tragically young. If this cover by Jeff Buckley doesn’t break your heart, it’s the proof you’ve been waiting for that you are indeed a robot.)
Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell
And now we arrive at the best love song ever written.
Park, waiting in Omaha for a letter. For a phone call. For something.
“And I need you more than want you.
And I want you for all time.”
Roslyn, Bon Iver & St. Vincent
But Eleanor doesn’t write. And Eleanor doesn’t call.
This song makes me feel like my skin is stretched too thin and too tight. The lyrics, like most Bon Iver lyrics, are a big ball of ? for me. But THE WAY IT FEELS.
He kept writing her letters months after he stopped sending them. On New Year’s Day, he wrote that he hoped she’d get everything she ever wished for. Then he tossed the letter into a box under his bed.
“Wings wouldn’t help you . . .
Wings wouldn’t help you down.”
I’m a Better Man, David McAlmont
Probably the worst thing anyone ever said to me about this book is: “I get why Eleanor loves Park. But what’s in it for Park? What does he get out of this relationship?”
First, I took off my rings.
Then I shouted, “LOVE!”
You don’t love someone because there’s something in it for you. You love someone because you can’t help it. And because of who you are when you’re with that person. Love is transformational. Park is more Park with Eleanor. Loving her brushes the earth off his bones.
If you’ve read this far into this post, I hope you’ve read the book. (Because spoilers.) And if you’ve read the book, you know that the ending isn’t clean and neat and wholly happy. But Eleanor and Park are both transformed by their love for each other. They are saved. They are new.
What does Park get out of loving Eleanor?
“If I could catch a star before it touched the ground,
I’d place it in a box, tie ribbons all around –
And then I’d offer it to you,
A token of my love and deep devotion.
The world’s a better place,
With you to turn to.
I’m a better man,
For having loved you.
And now, at last, I face the future unafraid,
With you here by my side, how fast the shadows fade –
And there is hope inside my heart,
Cause I have something wonderful to live for.
The world’s a better place,
With you to turn to.
I’m a better man,
For having loved you.
And as I am today,
That’s how I’ll always stay.
A better man for having loved you,
A better man for having loved you.”