Mixtape #8: Elvis Costello, “Beyond Belief”

a pile of blank cassette tape labels on a wood floor with the word MIXTAPE on top

What came first, the music or the misery? 
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

About the Mixtape project
Mixtape #1: Interpol, “NYC”
Mixtape #2: Violent Femmes, “Kiss Off”
Mixtape #3: Cyndi Lauper, “All Through the Night”
Mixtape #4: Towa Tei, “Technova
Mixtape #5: Teresa Teng, “The Moon Represents My Heart”
Mixtape #6: David Bowie, “Soul Love”
Mixtape #7: Modest Mouse, “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright”

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Mixtape #8: Elvis Costello, “Beyond Belief”
1989

The song swells. It’s all build-up, all verse, tense until the very end, bright and compact at two and a half minutes. I’m 14 years old and I listen to the tape under at night on my headphones as I write plays. When my friend’s dad asks me, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Lisa?” I say: “A writer. A playwright.” I’m not sure where I got the idea, but when I say it, I know it’s true. So in my room, surrounded by glasses of Hi-C Ecto Cooler, I write.

I take Edie: An American Girl out from the town library over and over again, which isn’t hard because nobody else ever borrows it. It’s a collection of quotes from Edie Sedgwick’s friends and family, a chorus of voices talking about her life, sharing their memories of her at wild parties, strung out on speed. I’m obsessed with a photograph of her in a leotard and black tights, bleached blonde hair chopped short, balancing on a leather rhinoceros while smoking a cigarette.

I want to be known for my beauty, my recklessness, but unlike Edie, I don’t just want to be the muse of some male artist. I want to be the artist. I write on pads of paper my father takes home from work. Plays and stories about a group of friends who are regulars at a New York City bar, writers and artists and musicians. They are 20 years old, an age far enough in the future that it seems both unfathomable yet reachable. They are all on the verge of something, like I want to be.

My alter-ego character is always be a girl who is smart but not recognizably pretty. She has an unrequited crush on her male best friend, who inevitably chooses the shinier, flashier, more beautiful girl in the group, my alter-ego’s friend. My alter-ego writhes in self-pity and rage, sometimes retreating to her apartment, refusing to see her friends. Sometimes the male friend will come to see the errors of his ways and realize the beautiful girl is in fact not as interesting or talented or smart as the alter-ego, and he’ll come running to confess his belated love. Sometimes it’s too late: she’s already left town and moved to California, or she’ll have found a shinier, more handsome man who truly appreciates her. Sometimes he’ll catch her in time, and the play will end the moment just before the kiss. At that age I’m already suspicious of happy endings.

I write many, many versions of the same story, like the Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read, where you’d go back in time to Ancient Rome or England during the bubonic plague, or into the future to a planet ruled by robots or a space shuttle orbiting the Earth. You could die and rebirth yourself with a flip of a page. I’d devoured these books, wanting to exhaust all the possibilities, wondering what I would do if I only had a day to live, if I contracted the bubonic plague, if I was suddenly thrust into the light and fully seen.

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