When I first started thinking about my Kickstarter, I was excited to have a project to share with everyone. I was also wary of overloading everyone on social media with generic pleas for money. I get annoyed when I see, over and over, people asking me to buy something or support something. I didn’t want to be that person. But the fact remains that I do only have one month to raise $5,000 for my passion project: a fiction-music album with my partner, Peter Brewer, where actors read my fiction, Peter writes a composition to accompany it, and musicians play that music. I’ve always wanted to put out a project themed around my favorite May Sarton poem, “My Sisters, O My Sisters” titled Strange Monsters, a project about women and their voices. This is that project, and in an effort to encourage support while also giving a little something extra, I offer the first of these blog posts: a list of music that has meant something to me. I hope that you’ll explore some of these artists, or re-discover some of these songs, perhaps looking on them with a new light. And I hope that my own project, my own words, will mean something to someone, too.
And if it has, or does, or you suspect it will, please donate to our Kickstarter. Every little bit helps. Thanks.
I’ve spoken, albeit briefly, about my struggles with depression and anxiety. For me these have never been stronger than in the late winter of 2014. Several factors contributed to my depression’s worsening, but of course, as is often (I can’t speak to everyone’s. Usually?) the case with depression, no factor was directly responsible for it. The same goes for its lessening. We like the narrative of the cure-all, the revelatory moment, but these are rare and often short-lived. Therefore when I say that the writing of my story “Everything Beneath You” after a period of a literary funk helped the depression lift, I mean that it was one of many things that helped. Another was going back to therapy. Another was forcing myself to break out of my rut and challenge myself by starting—and finishing, after half a year, a novel. And yet another was discovering the band My Brightest Diamond.
My best friend introduced me to her music. There’s a reason we‘re best friends: I was immediately hooked. Her lyrics evoke the darkest of short stories. But her then-newest album, All Things Will Unwind, promised light in the dark. For the rest of the winter, I woke up each morning and sat on the couch and listened to it, to two songs in particular: “Be Brave” and “High Low Middle.” I borrowed lines from those songs and repeated them throughout the day, my mantras. Eventually, I felt okay again.
Everyone has family issues. Everyone inherits things—negative and positive—from families: disease, work habit, nostalgic objects. Depression, a penchant for negative thinking, fear. Good stuff, too—creativity, empathy, kindness, which my family has in spades—but Palmer’s song isn’t about those.
It’s tough to know you’re born with something, that it’s not something you can get away from because it’s inside of you. But it’s a kind of comfort to know that you’re not the only one.
I don’t remember where I came across Tracy Chapman, but this was the first album of hers I heard as a whole. When I first started listening to it, I was dating someone I knew wasn’t a great match, someone my family didn’t particularly care for, with good reason. But that was a lesson I needed to learn on my own. I listened to “You’re the One” over and over. Later, out of the comfortable bubble of college, when I realized my community wasn’t as comfortable discussing sex and sexuality as I had always been, I clung to the sensual vocals of “In the Dark”: half-moaning backup and slightly-slurred lyrics. Falling in love with my current partner, I played “I Am Yours” on repeat. I expect to keep finding connection with Let It Rain; it’s timeless.
The winter I lost my college best friend, my parents gifted me a record player and their duplicate records. My best friend had been my roommate for a brief semester. We lived in a house close to campus. We didn’t have an official breakup or an official fight; regardless of the reason, she packed up her things, including our kitchen table, and left. I went home to my parents’ for the holidays only to find myself wanting to be alone. I drove back up to an empty house. I plugged my record player into an outlet in the kitchen and listened to “Diamonds & Rust” while lying on the wood floor and, in no uncertain words, weeping.
I’d just taken a course on Bob Dylan, and I understood the song was supposed to be about him. Then I discovered an alternate version, nearly identical except for the final line: “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid” became “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, well, I’ll take the diamonds.” The song took on new meaning: Joan Baez had gotten over her heartbreak. Her sad acquiescence had morphed into an empowered ghost of anger at being mistreated, at being heartbroken.
I loved that. I borrowed her power. I moved on the best I could.
A year or so ago, I wrote a story called “Nostalgia.” It found a home in Interzone. In the story, a group of old high school friends now in their 20’s deal with the supposed-death of a friend they lost to undiagnosed mental illness years previously. That’s only a small part of the story. But it’s one of the truest parts.
I’ve always identified strongly with Pink Floyd’s story, specifically the Syd Barrett parts. Because our friend, too, showed extraordinary promise and never got to fulfill that promise. He’s not dead, but there doesn’t have to be death for someone to become a ghost.
“Wish You Were Here” has always been my song for him. I listen to it when I want to remember. I listen to it when I want to let the ghosts free.
As I was writing this post, I realized that all the songs I could currently think of that mean something to me mean something because they helped bring me out of a bad time. At first this struck me as sad. But then I realized that when I re-listen to these songs now, sure, I get sad for a second; sometimes I’m dragged back into the memory of when I first loved the song. But then I’m reminded that the pain was temporary, that the bad was temporary, that I clawed my way out. That the music helped.
Music is damn powerful.