Aimee Mann's Album, 'Queens of the Summer Hotel,' is inspired by 'Girl, Interrupted' NPR's A Martínez talks to songwriter Aimee Mann about her album: Queens of the Summer Hotel. It's based on the book, Girl, Interrupted, which chronicles the author's stay in a mental institution.

Aimee Mann's Album, 'Queens of the Summer Hotel,' is inspired by 'Girl, Interrupted'

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It takes a very special talent to write pretty songs about drama and dysfunction. But Aimee Mann has made a career of it. Her breakout hit with her band 'Til Tuesday was about a toxic relationship.


'TIL TUESDAY: (Singing) Hush, hush, keep it down now, voices carry.

MARTINEZ: On the soundtrack of the film "Magnolia," she earned an Oscar nomination for a song that sounds a lot like a cry for help.


AIMEE MANN: (Singing) Save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone.

MARTINEZ: And her latest record is inspired by Susanna Kaysen's bestselling memoir, "Girl, Interrupted." It chronicles Kaysen's stay at a psychiatric hospital in the late 1960s. And we should warn listeners this conversation does touch on Kaysen's suicide attempt.


MANN: (Singing) I know what you think. This happens to other girls.

MARTINEZ: In the 1990s, "Girl, Interrupted" was made into a movie starring Winona Ryder. And before the pandemic, Aimee Mann was tapped to write the music for a theatrical version. I asked Mann, who has been open about her own struggles with mental health issues, why they came to her.

MANN: You know, I just released a record called "Mental Illness," and I think that probably made them feel like I was, you know, in the right wheelhouse.


MANN: (Singing) So you fall, bit by bit is all.

MARTINEZ: How did you, Aimee, decide to approach this?

MANN: I read it through and just immediately started making notes of scenes where - because it's not really plot driven. It's very episodic. And I think that the writer wanted to kind of be like an anthropologist observing people. And so there were a lot of possibilities in characters that I felt like would need their own song.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, and that sounds exactly like your lane.

MANN: Yeah, that is exactly - that's exactly my alley. And I think more and more as I go along, it's interesting for me to try to put myself into the mindset of other people.


MANN: (Singing) Picture yourself there in the snow turning blue. Get used to that being you.

For instance, there's this place where she talks about her own suicide attempt, and she's kind of just ruminating on the mindset that she had almost like what ingredients for her needed to be present in order for her to actually do this. And so that was the passage that turned into the song "Suicide Is Murder."


MANN: (Singing) 'Cause suicide is murder. You've got to have motive, means and opportunity.

MARTINEZ: The songs came fast, it sounds like. I mean, if you're going through the book underlining things, it seems like the inspiration came pretty quick.

MANN: It came really fast, yeah. I mean, I had a lot of ideas about songs immediately. And there were, you know - and then some songs that were more sort of offshoots of, like, my experience because I actually had about 20 years ago spent some time in a treatment center for, I guess, my diagnosis with PTSD. So I had some experience, like, being in a facility that was very similar. I definitely drew on that.


MANN: (Singing) When nothing keeps you together.

MARTINEZ: Aimee Mann says the PTSD relates to something that happened when she was very little. She was kidnapped by her mother and one of her father's employees, and it took her dad more than a year to find her and bring her home.

Is there a danger at all for you as a songwriter to tap back into something that might have been very, very painful and maybe a low point in your life?

MANN: Not really because it's different looking back on something that's over. It's also just always interesting to me to - I don't know - to try to be compassionate to the characters and the situations. I don't know. That always seems like a positive thing.


MANN: (Singing) You're lost and the water's high. They said to swim and you wondered why.

MARTINEZ: I was reading an article about your first solo album back in 1993, and you were quoted saying that the album had three themes - despair, defeat and revenge.

MANN: (Laughter) That's hilarious.

MARTINEZ: I was thinking how, you know, writing a pop song about the ugly side of human psychology has kind of been your life's work, Aimee. I mean, where does that come from? Where was it sown?

MANN: Well, honestly, I think that I just felt like all the songs that were interesting to me had those elements - I mean, maybe not revenge. People's problems are interesting. And the songs that are interesting to me and were interesting to me when I was growing up, you know, always had sort of an undercurrent of something. Like, John Lennon's vocal, like, he always sounded completely tortured. And, you know, I mean, it was frankly intriguing. And I think that you hear certain people and you feel like maybe there are people who would understand me out there because I feel like on some level I understand them.


MANN: (Singing) There is a girl out with the tide, empty as the sky. I see you.

MARTINEZ: My wife had not heard your music. When she heard your voice, she said that woman has the kind of a voice that sounds like she's been through things.

MANN: Oh, that's interesting.

MARTINEZ: And I was wondering if you've heard that before or if you've ever gotten that sense when it comes to what you're doing now with "Girl, Interrupted." Because there's a point where Susanna, the main character, realizes the value of getting her feelings out, writing them down in her journal, and then publishing a book to help other people understand. Her work in "Girl, Interrupted" and your work, it sounds like they might not be that dissimilar.

MANN: Well, I wonder - I mean, it's not necessarily therapeutic in the way where you write a song and then you don't feel bad anymore. But, you know, it's like - it's got an alchemy to it where you start with this crappy feeling or unfortunate circumstance and you are able to turn it into something else, you know, a song or a book. And that is just so magical.


MANN: (Singing) People get crushed and broken. People lose and they grieve. But I see you.

MARTINEZ: Well, I'm sure lots of people have heard your music to help them get through their things. Aimee Mann, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

MANN: Thank you so much.


MANN: (Singing) I see and I believe.

MARTINEZ: The album is called "Queens Of The Summer Hotel." If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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