The books I read for my thesis on Orpheus, John Lennon, and rock and roll in The Ground Beneath her Feet by Salman Rushdie

Writing my masters thesis was one of the most exciting periods of my life. Initially I wanted to write on James Joyce’s Ullyses (but who hasn’t?) or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or Pale Fire (again, who hasn’t?). Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer? Then I moved to more contemporary writers. What about Don DeLillo’s White Noise? Maybe Zadie Smith? I know, Salman Rushdie! But not The Satanic Verses. Everyone and their mother has written about The Satanic Verses.

I took Professor Avery’s class on post colonial literature. In it we read The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, and White Teeth (which was why I signed up for the class). I spoke with him about wanting to write on Rushdie but not his two most popular works. I loved them but I didn’t feel a personal connection to them, just his voice. Avery suggested The Ground Beneath Her Feet which he described as a history of rock and roll. After our meeting I walked excitedly to the bookstore and made the most important purchase of my academic career. From the very first paragraph I knew this was the book I would write on.

The more I read and studied, it evolved, into a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with John Lennon and Yoko Ono as Orpheus in a female character, Vina Aspara, while the male Ormus Cama filled the role as Eurydice.

My notes were complex: I compiled a character list, all the music notes together, notes from all the books and articles I read, similarities between Ormus Cama and John Lennon (before I decided to change my thesis to be about John Lennon and Yoko Ono as Vina, a working bibliography, a list of things to research, a list of things I had ordered and was waiting to arrive, random thoughts, and outline after outline. Oh, and all my thesis paperwork, those items that you fill out and somehow get lost at school and you need to refill them out. Always photocopy them and keep a copy. My advisors warned me.

I enjoyed every minute that I spent on my thesis, searching for books, reading them, taking notes, compiling themes. Library trips. Bookstore trips. I don’t know how many times I’ve read The Ground Beneath Her Feet. I listened to The Beatles and John Lennon nonstop. Nonstop. I got  “Happiness is a Warm Gun” tattooed on my back. (The song is anti-guns; Lennon saw a gun magazine with that declaration on the cover and turned it into a lovesong to Yoko.)

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I would get off work late on a Saturday night and walk past all the mod kids dressed up to go to a club on my way home. And then I would stay up writing and taking notes; hyperaware that I was up right until all the drunk mods were leaving the club. And I was sober, surrounded by books, notes, and pens.

 

The hardest part was writing a cohesive description of what my thesis would be about in two inches of blank space on a form.

The proposed title: Rushdie’s History of the Rock Icon in The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

The proposal:
Salman Rushdie creates his own literary version of the history of rock and roll in his novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Instead of using the more formulaic/generic history, Rushdie draws from mythology and popular culture. The main character is based on John Lennon, allowing Rushdie to explore the birth, growth, and death of an icon. Rushdie offers a complex study of what a rock star means to society and why fans need to identify with famous people. I have been reading cultural studies about John Lennon, the Beatles, the 60s music and Elvis Presley. I will also be researching celebrity culture, postmodernism, and more general books about the history of rock and roll, in order to explore Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet as a work of cultural study.

All of the contemporary books criticized Albert Goldman’s biography of John Lennon. It was filled with incredibly racist slurs and stereotypes against Yoko Ono. I refused to read it but my other advisor, Professor Geoffrey Green, rightly insisted I read it. He recognized that it was racist but because it was so widely referred to that I must read it. And I am glad that I did. I do not think I could have understood the rampant obvious racism in this book had I not read it myself. It was even more shocking to discover this racist book filled with slander was published in 1988.

One of my best friends knew I was stressed about finding a particular article. So she went and looked for it at the library. It was a far off, distant branch. She photocopied the article for me, but part of the page was cut off so she sat and filled out the missing words from the right hand side. (She ran out of cash and at the time the machine did not accept cards). Transcribing those articles was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. I still have the xeroxes.

 

Here it is, bound. Next to it is the copy published by Lambert Academic Publishing. They contacted me and asked if I would let them print it. There’s some legal jargon, I could potentially make some money off of it, but I have not. I was so excited by the offer and then feared I was signing away my rights. What if? What if? But then I realized I never considered trying to have it published. And really, how much money lays in the royalties of a small essay? But, what if someone discovered it and wanted to include it in a book of essays on Rushdie? What if it became part of the Rushdie cannon? That is a dream worth having.

 

Whenever I find The Ground Beneath Her Feet in thrift stores I buy it to give to friends. The latest person I gifted a copy to was La Lengua of Ribbon Around a Bomb.

While I enjoy telling people I have  a Masters, I have to admit, it was kind of more fun to tell people I was getting my masters. Especially at 1:45am over a shot of whiskey while the dj played Oasis.

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