Dennis Cooper’s Blog: Marilyn Roxie presents … The Music in Dennis Cooper’s Books

Originally posted on the previous incarnation of Dennis Cooper’s Blog.

It’s no secret that there are musical references in Dennis Cooper’s work. At times music has played a quite prominent role in his stories and the subject has been discussed before. But it was only after I become acquainted with his music journalism through Smothered in Hugs and had read Guide a few months ago that I stopped a moment to wonder just how much of the musical component in his books I had missed. I had been so intensely wrapped in my new interest in Cooper that I had breezed through everything I could get at the San Francisco Public Library at an unreasonable speed. So, I decided to read it all over again both to better understand my appreciation of his works as well as to tackle the project of cataloging the music in these books. Happening a upon a Guide-and-music-focused blog called The “Guide” Thing further encouraged me in this endeavor.


You can view Musical References in Dennis Cooper’s Books over at Rate Your Music and listen to the corresponding Spotify playlist here. Following the text below I have also selected a few music-referencing passages from Cooper’s books and added music videos to supplement them. Horror Hospital Unplugged was particularly enjoyable to take a closer look at for this purpose, because there are many references tucked away that I missed on first, second, and even third passes through, from the integration of lyrics in the background of scenes, to the atmosphere of the record store and bedroom shelves packed with albums.


I am already an obsessive list-maker and, relatedly, a library tech — imagine my delight at finding the best-of lists tucked away at the back of Ugly Man! — so I desired to fill this perceived gap as soon as I found out that someone hadn’t done this already. But I also felt it important due to the reasons why his writing, as a whole, is important to me personally and how I came to read these books in the first place.



I found out about Dennis Cooper around 2009 through this list of Richey Edwards’ Favorite Books, where Frisk was listed. [Richey Edwards: a member of the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers whose history was posted about here at DC’s in 2012] I had never heard of Cooper or this book before, and became intrigued. Shortly thereafter I read Frisk as an eBook and Closer as a check-out from my college library, without reading any summary or review beforehand – no clue what to expect. Afterward, I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be haunted or enthralled. Not until much later did I decide that it was perfectly okay to hold both in my head at the same time.


It is significant that I began reading Dennis Cooper’s books around the same time I was finally coming to terms with my gender and sexual identity. In short, I don’t identify as a man or a woman, but I do strongly identify with gay male sexuality. It occurred to me that the subject matter of many of these books reminded me of the content (rather than the writing style I lacked and still lack: the immaculate, enviable crispness of words Cooper often uses to great effect) of my own bizarre scribblings in my teenage years. Reading an author like Dennis Cooper has somehow made me more comfortable with my identification and creative modes of expression than more positive bastions of “hope” or “transformation”. This is likely not despite but because of the preponderance of devastatingly pretty boys in ethically problematic situations. So much of what “squicks” some people out about his books are exactly what has drawn me in, because I am somehow reminded of what both mixed me up and interested me about sexuality in my past and something that is at times uncomfortable to recognize that is still inside of myself. This is probably the reason why it took me about two years from reading Closer and Frisk to make the decision to go on to read more.


And here we come to music. It has not been unusual for me to follow an interest in a particular artist to their own influences and interests. This not only helps me better understand and appreciate the interest that I started with, but expands my own tastes. In the case of the Manic Street Preachers, getting into them greatly expanded my literary reference pool. Through Cooper I have, perhaps inevitably, circled back around to music again through my tracking of these references. Music has been long established as a lens that I can better understand the world through, especially in the realm of making sense of emotions. Dennis Cooper, through his use of music, makes it clear that it is not just a plot prop: he loves music himself, and so it isn’t surprising that it often plays a significant role in the world/s of his characters, including at times characters with music taste dissimilar to his own.


When I read Dennis Cooper, it doesn’t resonate at all with some sense of self-hatred or whatever else people who think his writing is invariably about “shock value” feel is there. For me personally, reading Dennis Cooper’s books challenge me to interrogate the concepts of chaos, beauty, masculinity, and lust, and on a more intimate side, there is a connection with my own sphere of self-identity and attraction. That he does not hesitate to integrate his kickass music taste when it is fitting to do so makes the journey through this dark landscape that much sweeter.

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