Cry Perfume and a Ritual Recommittal to Music

The songs, albums, and gigs that inspired a second book from Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz).

Cry Perfume is my second book, but it’s the first that grapples with my work as a musician — all the icky moments the artist-unfriendly industry inflicts, and all the ways music and its communities have given me reasons to live. I’ve played in bands since I was a kid, and started sharing my poetry not long after. Why didn’t I put music in my poems before? 

Mouthguard, my first collection, was written while I was in an MFA program. I’d decided to attend UMass Amherst’s — because I loved writing poetry, duh, but also because the student-teacher stipend seemed more reliable than the random freelance gigs I’d been cobbling together to support my playing-in-bands habit. In my application, I wrote about alumnus David Berman and local legends Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, and Pixies. (In hindsight? A punishing essay.) But once enrolled, I was wary of being “the music poet” among my cohort of writers. While my new band Speedy Ortiz got busier and buzzier, I was self-conscious about putting music in my writing, even though a bulk of my social life and joy came from playing shows. As both a writer and a reader, I consider lyrics and poetry to be totally distinct forms. I didn’t want my poems mistaken for songs, or to feel like an interloper in a community of poetry I admired. It was an irrational insecurity that I’d be seen as less legitimate if music was central to, or even mentioned in, my poetry. 

Luckily I’d shed these hang ups by the time I started writing Cry Perfume in 2016. What else would I do? I was touring 10 months of the year, spending the other months writing and recording songs, organizing around music industry issues, and seeing friends’ shows during my rare nights at home. I started to write poems on tour, sometimes in our van, sometimes in a venue’s bathroom, sometimes early mornings on somebody’s couch. And though I didn’t know what shape my next book would take, it was clear it would be full of music. When the pandemic began and touring went on pause, editing these poems felt like a welcome return to the road and the stage, even if only in my words and memories. 

As I gear up for another round of book touring, here are some lines from Cry Perfume, and the songs, records, and musical places that inspired them. 

Fake Blood on a Fake Fur Coat

On a dark ride with my devious nature
What can I manifest, filling hole after hole
Blue flame for power
Black flame for tender
Days of uncleanliness patterned like a remedy

This poem opens the book, and its use of color — blue, black, red — became a structural device for Cry Perfume, which is organized into five fragrance-indebted sections: Black Number, Violet Noise, Green Spell, Red Arsenic, Blue Hour. The decision to use color as a framework came pretty late in the editing process, and it was partially inspired by Soccer Mommy’s color theory. I gravitate toward artists who combine painful, dark themes with moments of brightness and vibrance, and Sophie did that masterfully on this record. Since much of my book grappled with bleak aspects of grief, I wanted vivid color to play a significant part. 

Crystal Thinking

Dream logic gets my sober companion drunk
Vomiting silver in the private beehive of our wagon
I went to the cemetery and played you a too-fast solo

My dad’s buried halfway between Philly and my mom’s house, so I try to stop by his grave when I drive up to visit her. In late 2019, I had to learn a whole bunch of guitar solos: first, filling in on guitar for Mister Goblin; then, Speedy Ortiz played as the house band for a tribute to David Berman, for which I crammed a hefty portion of tricky Silver Jews parts; finally, I played guitar on Squeeze’s “Another Nail in My Heart” at Boston’s annual Hot Stove Cool Music benefit. It was a lot of material to learn quickly, so I took practices where I could get them, including at the cemetery. In line with Jewish tradition, I usually leave visitation stones when I go to the gravesite. But I think a visitation solo is also nice, especially when I’m sharing one from a band my dad loved, like Squeeze.

Steal My Sunshine

How much grief is normal? 
What’s normal is losing
so many hours to interstitial nightmares

waking, wanting
to commemorate forever
(falling off the balance beam)

I’ve been losing friends to opioid overdose since I was 15. In early 2019, I started carrying Narcan to shows and posted about doing so. As a result, I was lucky to get to meet some harm reduction workers, some of whom came to my bands’ shows to distribute naloxone and other overdose prevention and safer drug use materials. Many people I love and am in community with use or have used drugs — myself included — and it’s essential for live music to offer support by including these resources at concerts.

The title of this poem is ripped from the LEN song. It’s not totally tongue-in-cheek. Thanks to a Stereogum oral history that came out a few years ago, I know the song was written at a rave, while Marc Costanzo was staring up at the stars. The recording session was like a MadLib of Canadian rockers; Deryck Whibley was there, as was Brendan Canning, who introduced the Andrea True loop. Shooting the music video, LEN broke an elevator, loading it with too much alcohol. It’s a song about friends hanging out, and the whole process of making it seems to have been about friends hanging out, and clearly some of it was substance-fueled. So I took “steal my sunshine,” as a phrase, to be an apt descriptor for what it feels like when a friend you love is gone suddenly — you’ve got these bright memories together, but you’re not gonna get any more, and that’s devastating. 

There’s No American Beach You Like

Just a regular monster with many sick beats. 
I take braids from she who shouldn’t.
I build a nest of small fingernails. 

I directly refer to a lot of pop musicians in this book — Ariana Grande, Alanis Morissette, Little Mix, the Beatles. Usually those references are innocuous, nods to songs I’m enjoying. But the “sick beats” here were Taylor Swift’s from “Shake It Off.” She applied to copyright the phrase “this sick beat” in 2015, which struck me as a bizarrely terminal endpoint to an obvious appropriation. This isn’t a Taylor Swift poem per se — I wrote it more broadly about white musicians whose work is treated as revelatory once it includes appropriative elements. It’s a charge I could levy at a lot of artists I grew up loving (ahem, Gwen Stefani), but as I get older and gain further understanding of white supremacy’s insidiousness in music, I get more and more pissed off by it. 

Oh God I Just Watched a Man

set different metals on fire and that was his whole “set.”
Moreover I’ve seen him do it all before!
I’ll never be alone, too many people
do it badly and I’m too self-ashamed to do bad. 

I’ve lived in a handful of cities known for their noise scenes, and sometimes you see a real stinker of a set — a guy screaming into a headset mic tucked between his toes while he somersaults around a VFW hall for 50 minutes, or something along those lines. The barriers to entry for live performance felt drastically gendered for at least the first decade I was playing shows, with a lot more forgiveness toward amateur work from cis male performers. In my own bands, I felt I had to go a million extra miles on guitar to get anywhere. It made me averse to playing solo — I’d seen too many low-effort sets, and I want to feel my performance is worthy of an audience’s time. So I’m scared to play solo! I put all my eggs in the playing-in-a-band basket. And maybe it’s all a greater metaphor for fear of being alone. 

The Lance Goes Through

I started crying to songs that made me cry
Piling boulders atop my fretful parts

Every night it’s night again
Every morning is a rune

One of the themes that recurs in Cry Perfume is my ritual recommittal to music, a lifelong relationship that takes work like any other. When you monetize your passion, you become jaded toward it — or so my therapist likes to tell me. Working in music has sometimes left me feeling burnt. And I’ll be in a cranky mindset where I don’t want to hear anything new. And then I’ll listen to some great record that snaps me into place, reconnects me to my heart, and reminds me of the beauty of songs and how lucky I am to have a life that’s full of them.

Despite my book’s title, I’m not a big crier. In moments of grief or stress, tears don’t come for me, no matter how much I wish they would. But music has sometimes helped me access those emotions. Touring with Sammus, I’d cry without fail every time she played her song “1080p.” Aimee Mann’s “Video” is another track that routinely gets me, and if it comes on in a car, I have to pretend like I’m not watering up. Those are both sad sounding ones, but sometimes it’s a bit more mystical why something gets me. ”Porsche” by Charli XCX should not kickstart waterworks. And yet. 

You can order Cry Perfume from publisher Black Ocean, your favorite independent bookstore, or over at Bandcamp, and you can catch Sadie on her book tour this spring:

3/6: Olympia, WA @ Orca Books w/ Lisa Ganser 
3/8: Seattle, WA @ Open Books (signing only)
3/9: Seattle, WA @ AWP – Third Place booth (signing only) 
3/9:  Seattle, WA @ Sonic BoomCry Perfume Seattle launch w/ Richard Chiem & Sullivan Forderhase
3/9: Seattle, WA @ Obliterat AWP Offsite Circus at Spin Cycle 
3/10: Seattle, WA @ AWP – Black Ocean booth (signing only)
3/10: Seattle WA @ Seattle Beer Company w/ Black Ocean, Saturnalia Books, Barrow Street Press & Letter Machine Editions 
3/12: Sacramento, CA @ Wild Sisters Book Company w/ Aaron Carnes
3/14: San Francisco, CA @ Green Apple Books on the Park w/ Lio Min, Amy Berkowitz
3/15:  Fresno, CA @ Sour Milk
3/16: Los Angeles, CA @ Stories w/ Sarah Rose Etter, Morgan Parker
3/17: San Diego, CA @ The Book Catapult w/ Neon Mashurov, Gin To
3/18: Los Angeles, CA @ Junior High w/ Jamie Loftus, Harmony Holiday
3/19: Joshua Tree, CA @ Furstwurld w/ Alexandra Martinez 
3/25: Amherst, MA @ Juniper Festival w/ Shastri Akella, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Callum Angus
3/29: Philadelphia, PA @ Tattooed Mom w/ Kelly Xio, Geoff Rickly, Alina Pleskova, Hazel Avery, Aeon Ginsberg, Anna K Crooks 

Sadie Dupuis is the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of rock band Speedy Ortiz. She’s also the producer & multi-instrumentalist behind pop project Sad13. Sadie heads the record label Wax Nine, has written for outlets including Spin, Nylon, and Playboy, and holds an MFA in poetry from UMass Amherst. Mouthguard, her first book, was published in 2018.

(Photo Credit: Jordan Edwards)