Patrick Hilligoss March 2014 Multiracial Identities

The Music of Caucasia Caucasia is a novel defined by its strong characterization of not only the people such as Birdie and her mother, but also of the places and the time in which the novel takes place. The verisimilitude of the setting is due in part to the accurate references to the pop culture of the time, namely the music. The references to music are more than background details, they are a tool that Danzy Senna utilizes to create a subtext that the analytical reader can appreciate. In Caucasia the inclusion of specific references to musicians and songs serves as a tool to both enrich the setting of the novel as well as further flesh out the personalities of the characters. The music in Caucasia belongs to the 1970’s through to the early 1980’s, ranging from The RnB and Soul of Barry White and Earth Wind and Fire to the Rock of Oates and Hall and Country of Kenny Rogers. This eclectic range of music serves as a backdrop to one of the primary conflicts of the Caucasia, the identity crisis of Birdie Lee, a character whose experience with racial identity was common for the time. Birdie’s struggle can be simply seen in page “The last

group I had really loved on my own was Earth Wind and Fire” (224) where she lies about what type of music she enjoys the most, which she sees as “black music” because she understands that she will not be accepted by her peers if she claims that music, representing her multiracial heritage, as something she enjoys. Birdie enjoys the “black” music, but often references how she doesn’t hear it often. “I hadn’t been able to listen to black music for a long time. The music they played at Aurora was mostly folk music, skinny white girls with bad attitudes and bad voices who always sounded to me like they were imitating black women” (158) The brief of pieces of

a situation Birdie is all too familiar with and this change in the lyrics represents how she is tired with her mother’s emotional dependency and feels drained from the experience. baby. You know. The more I give. Birdie claims to listen to “J. and baby that’s no lie…” (158). Mona mentions that “Jesse’s an autumn. Geils Band. Don’t you think?”(221) which may be a reference to the song “September” by Earth Wind and Fire. Rock. Kim Carnes.black music that she hears represents how Birdie is losing touch with her black side with the time she spends passing as white. “Oh. the more I want” Those lyrics are misquoted when Birdie sings them “Oh. the more you take. some things I can't get used to No matter how I try Just like the more you give. The scene that preceded this was an interaction where Birdie’s mother had an emotional breakdown. Hall and Oates. one of the most prominent black musical groups of the era. Birdie wants a change and the reciting of Barry White in this scene represents the desire to be more in touch with her black roots and a desire for intimate relationships with other people. . The lyrics of the music referenced in Caucasia hold a deeper meaning due to the context of the situations in which they are quoted as well. The initial conversation with Mona reveals how Birdie is unable to remember the song by Earth Wind and Fire. no matter how I try. showing that while Birdie is losing touch a part of her black identity still shows through. showing how Birdie is not able to hold onto her identity as multiracial in this environment. except possibly as a reference to the feelings that she holds for Nick and she feels he may hold for her. yeah. there are some things I can’t used to. Birdie simultaneously reveals how she is losing touch with her black side in how she misquotes the lyrics.” (221) Hall and Oates big hit “You Make my Dreams Come True” an upbeat falling in love song completely at odds with how she feels at this point in the story.

and we’ll escape.The song “Love and Affection” represents how Sandy desperately desires a healthy romantic relationship. There is a song that captures Jim’s character in the story on page 224 “If you like pina coladas. a folk artist and a prominent political activist “She had pulled her realistic radio to the window.” (153) and Joan Armatrading “pausing only to rewind the Joan Armatrading tape at her side. with musicians like Johnny Paycheck “Take this job and shove it. meaning that while Sandy also has changed her identity.The mentions of music throughout Caucasia are used to define characters other than Birdie as well. She had been sitting like that for hours and playing the same song twenty times now-“Love and Affection”rewinding without even stopping the tape. something her time on the run has not afforded her. I ain’t workin’ here no more” (234). The style of music fits Sandy’s cover in New Hampshire while also maintaining an antiestablishment theme. The soundtrack of Caucasia is used to entice readers to read deeper into the material and fully immerse themselves into the culture of the era in which the book was written. Knowing the . and it played her old Joan Baez tape. while on the run she listens to music by Joan Baez. Birdie’s Mother has a surprising number of musical references attached to her character throughout the novel. she is comfortable with assuming this new identity and is willing to live her life there. Once she has entered a relationship with Jim in New Hampshire she begins to listen to more country. primarily with Jim and Birdie’s Mother. The escape being a reference to how Birdie’s Mother has been on the run and sees a relationship with Jim as an escape from her loneliness. in the dunes of the cape then you’re the one that I’ve looked for. and getting caught in the rain […] if you like making love at midnight. so come with me.” A sentimental song about a man and woman rediscovering love in the dunes and going to “escape”. typically with Folk songs and Country music.” (156).

statesman.musical references adds a layer of depth and believability to Caucasia. French poet.Victor-Marie Hugo. playwright. “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” . essayist. and gives further insight into the character’s personalities. and relationships. . and human rights campaigner. novelist. The context in which the music is used to emphasize the emotional weight of certain scenes and create a deeper meaning beneath the surface. visual artist.

September Earth Wind and Fire Love and Affection Joan Armatrading You Make My Dreams Come True Hall and Oates Escape Rubert Holmes Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Barry White . A History of Popular Music in America. Print.Works Cited: Senna. Sigmund. Print. 1998. Danzy. New York: Riverhead Books. 1948. New York: Random House. Spaeth. Caucasia.

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