The Borne Bestiary
Read the First Chapter: WRONG WAY

Bones Worth Breaking: An Annotated Playlist

(courtesy of the author)


To mark the publication of his debut memoir, David Martinez and his editor, Ben Brooks, discuss the music and moments that shaped Bones Worth Breaking. The following is an eight-song playlist featuring music from Brazil and the U.S., songs that inspired David during his writing process and that represent everything from that special form of nostalgia known as saudade, to stoic reflection, reverence, and wonder.

Sujeito de Sorte, Belchior

Ano passado morri, mas este ano não morro

Ben Brooks: Belchior has this status as a kind of folk icon in Brazilian popular music, and you and I connected over his songs early on in this whole process, especially this one, Sujeito de Sorte. He sings, ‘last year I died, but this year I won’t,’ grammatically and temporally playing with these lyrics, and doing it in a way that reminds me of your use of time in this memoir. Talk a bit about your relationship with Belchior and a bit about this song.

David Martinez: It’s hard to only talk about only one song when it comes to Belchior! I didn’t really start listening to him until I was an adult, but he is one of, if not my all time favorite Brazilian artists. He’s from Ceará, which is where my family’s from. My mother saw him in concert, he even gave my grandmother gifts and she didn’t even know who he was at the time. So he’s been part of me and my life for a long time without knowing it. But something about Belchior, when you listen to him, it’s like, I don’t even know how to describe–

BB: It’s spiritual!

DM: It is! You know he was going to become a friar before he was a musician? And that’s another point of connection. I came up in a very religious household and so did he. He went to seminary, I went on a mission. So, with this song, I love this line ano passado morri, mas este ano não morro, I’d walk around singing it all the time. I wrote this book, then Mike died, then I rewrote the book, and the song kept coming to me. He has a lot of these songs about time, about coming back to ourselves through time. If time is a human construct, then it means everything is, you know, at the same time. It’s why I couldn’t write this book in a linear way, but instead in the way I remembered it, with this feeling of whatever was already is.

BB: E assim já não posso sofrer / no ano passado.

Caçador de Mim, Milton Nascimento

Vou me encontrar/ Longe do meu lugar/ Eu, caçador de mim

BB: I’ve always associated this song with your book, the searching for self. Can you talk about being a caçador de si (searcher, or hunter of self)?

DM: It was a very long process because I started the book in 2017, and even before that, I was ‘me caçando,’ looking, hunting for myself, for who I am. It’s been forever, it’s been painstaking, and long. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, ‘I’m going to figure out why I’m fucked up.’ I didn’t want to write a memoir. Because I wanted to protect people around me. But when I started writing, I had to make the decision, either I was going to dive in and really become a caçdor de mim or let it go and go head first.

BB: And that’s exactly the lyric, Abrir o peito a força, numa procura / Fugir às armadilhas da mata escura. That’s what you’re describing.

DM: Nada a temer se não o correr da luta / nada a fazer senão esquecer o medo

BB: Né? So do you feel now, after having written the book, did you find what you were looking for on this hunt?

DM: Yes and no. Yes, in that what I found was what I needed. No in that I haven’t stopped looking. It’s a continual thing. It’s not just looking at my traumas, it becomes examining myself, my behaviors, and examining my place in the world. I’m a teacher, and a writer, and what’s important to me in both of those fields is what I can bring to others to help them, to deal with what’s most human. But to do so intentionally, not just in default-mode. It’s an ongoing thing.

Metamorfose Ambulante, Raul Seixas

Eu prefiro ser essa metamorfose ambulante/ Do que ter aquela velha opinião formada sobre tudo

DM: The first time I heard this song was when I was a missionary in São Paulo. I used to wander that city, so enormous it’s been known to give anxiety attacks to people flying over the city (seriously, watch a video of it). We used to go down to the feira, there’d be a group of street vendors who set up different locations every day, and they always had pirated CDs. I had seen people walking around wearing shirts with this bearded guy (Raul Seixas), and he looked awesome, so I bought one of the CDs, and Metamorfose Ambulante resonated immediately with me.

BB: It’s an incredible song. The line that repeats again and again says, I’d rather be this mobile metamorphosis than have this old view of everything (loose translation). You’ve moved around a lot in your life, we get to see all of these places in your memoir, so I wanted to ask you, how has your own mobility, your own movement through different parts of the world reshaped the “old views” or “old opinions” that came with growing up in a conservative religious environment?

DM: You know moving around so much really did help me to see life from ways I would have never seen if I’d stayed in Idaho. When we lived in Idaho, with my Black and Indigenous mother and my white father, it was a bizarre thing, the feeling of standing out in this very anglo, white culture. I wasn’t going to do well there. And when we moved to Puerto Rico, all of a sudden, everyone was just as mixed as I was. That had a huge influence on me, just learning about things and places that were a reflection of my own history, of my family history. To me, stagnation is like sickness. Moving is life. A lot of the book is about choosing to look at myself and my world and learning that it’s the only way not to feel trapped in something that feels too small.

Losing My Religion, R.E.M.

That’s me in the corner/ That’s me in the spot-light/ Losing my religion

DM: Mike and I used to sneak out of our room at night and watch music videos downstairs. We had a VHS collection, tapes I’d recorded of the good videos when they came on. Losing My Religion was one that we both loved. I would sing it as loud as I could and cry to it while driving around. Parts of this song always make me think of Mike even when we were kids, “…trying to keep up with you, and I don’t know if I can do it…” I also think I always knew I was going to lose my religion. There’s also all this about choosing our confessions, and that’s what so much of Bones is.

BB: It definitely is. I’m curious what’s changed or shifted about your relationship to faith through the process of writing this book.

DM: The one thing I’ve held onto, spiritually, is meditation. I faced so much doubt growing up in the Church about God’s love, whether or not I deserved God’s love. So what ended up saving me in the end was being able to just sit and watch my thoughts without necessarily engaging with them, learning to sit with silence and feel what comes out of that space. And generally what comes up for me, like we talked about earlier, is about time. This feeling of being now, being at peace, that’s my practice now. It’s different from being told to be quiet and pray and listen, and being told what you’re supposed to hear “from God.” Instead, it’s being still and listening for what comes up naturally.

Poema/Sangue Latino, Ney Matogrosso

De repente, a gente vê que perdeu/ Ou está perdendo alguma coisa/ Morna e ingênua/ Que vai ficando no caminho

BB: This song, Poema, is like a memoir in itself, this reflection on the past, and growing up. Talk to me about both of these Ney Matogrosso songs and what they mean to you.

DM: Both Poema and Sangue Latino are hymns. One of the chapters in the book is named after Sangue Latino (Latin Blood), and it comes from the line “…e o que me resta é só um gemido, minha vida, meus mortos, meus caminhos tortos, meu sangue latino, minha alma cativa.” “All that’s left me is a moan, my life, my dead, my crooked paths, my latin blood, my captive soul.” It’s like being stripped to the bone, and that’s beautiful because it reminds me of my core and who I am, what’s most important to me. Poema does too and has the same “cacoete” for me: “De repente a gente vê que perdeu ou está perdendo alguma coisa, morna e ingênua que vai ficando no caminho que é escuro e frio mas também bonito porque é iluminado pela beleza do que aconteceu há minutos atrás.” “Suddenly we see that we’ve lost or are losing something warm and naive that (is left on the path?) that’s dark and cold but also beautiful because it’s illuminated by the beauty of what happened moments ago.” That line never fails to hit me in the feels. It’s saudade and the beauty of impermanence, a reminder that we’re constantly losing the present. I think what we don’t realize so often is that we always have more naivety to lose no matter how jaded we feel we’ve become. And maybe that’s why it hits as it does, we’re always seeing that we’ve “perdeu ou está perdendo alguma coisa.” And speaking of the alma cativa, the captive soul, that’s how it was during my mission. I had to abide by these very strict rules (I was supposed to follow but didn’t!), and my entire life, people have tried to put me in check in one way or another. I think that’s one way I’ve managed to release that a bit is writing this book, to free myself, my spirit, from that expectation.

BB: Liberation.

…& On, Erykah Badu

What good do your words do if they can’t understand you?

BB: I was surprised and very pleased to see this on your list.

DM: I love Erykah Badu. I saw her Mama’s Gun tour in 2000, and it was magic. As she performed she first took off her turban, then her platform shoes, and eventually she walked out into the crowd. It was at the House of Blues, I was up in the front with Mike, and Erykah pushed me gently, to get me out of her way, but it was amazing to me. I joked that I would never wash my chest again.

BB: She’s another musician who’s tapped into the universe in a way most humans are not.

DM: Yes, I loved that. Her songs have this spiritual quality.

BB: This one has something chant-like, too.

DM: And going back to what we were saying about meditation, it has that connection to me too, and that this was a moment I had with Mike.

Never Catch Me, Flying Lotus, ft Kendrick Lamar

I can see the darkness in me and it’s quite amazing.

DM: This is one of my all time favorite songs. And the video for it shows a funeral for two kids. It always hits me. Like, there’s Mike and me again. No one around can see them dancing, only dying, and they drive away in a hearse at the end. The whole song, Kendrick’s whole opening, “step inside of my mind and you’ll find curiosity, animosity, high philosophy, hyper prophesized meditation,” that’s what the book is about.

BB: A fellow Gemini.

DM: That he is! I play this song all the time, sometimes I use it in class.

BB: I got hope inside of my bones.

DM: That’s it. That’s it.

Bones Worth Breaking book cover

Bones Worth Breaking

MCD × FSG, 2024

Bones Worth Breaking is a portrait of the unbreakable bond between brothers and a reckoning with the global forces that shaped them.

Nobody around David Martinez saw how quickly he was breaking apart except for his younger brother, Mike. They stood out in Idaho: Black and Brazilian American in a Mormon community that, in the years before David’s birth, considered Black people ineligible for salvation. The Martinez brothers were raised to be “good boys,” definitely not to get high, skateboard...

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