How are you doing in these strange times? Where I live, it’s week three of a declared state of emergency, in the middle of this global pandemic (COVID-19). Wherever you are, I hope you’re doing okay, and finding ways to keep your spirit up and your heart full and your body moving. Music’s good for that.
I’ve got a playlist of songs for my new collection of short stories, Swimmers in Winter, that I’d like to share with you. It might even take your mind off current troubles, remind you of the past, give you a chance to dream—all the ways music can transport us.
The songs I’ve included here are connected for me to the stories in my book. I don’t listen to music while I’m writing, but I do listen before and after. While I was working on the stories in Swimmers in Winter, back when we could all still wander through a city breathing the air as if we were free, I’d take walks between writing sessions and sometimes listen to music, including these songs.
I chose these songs because I can remember how each one seemed to contain a mood or perspective or situation of a character in Swimmers in Winter as I was writing her.
I find that songs, with their combination of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics, can convey experiences in a way that isn’t always possible with the structure and language of prose. Maybe you’ve found this too?
If I’m struggling to write the different dimensions of an experience, and I hear it in a song, and I keep listening to it, the song can immerse me in that experience, even root me in it. What I’ve realized, over time, is that if I hang out for a while in the music, maybe playing it on repeat, I’ll eventually find a way to express at least a trace of that experience I hadn’t been able to figure out how to convey before, with the only instrument I’ve got, the writing itself. Does music do that for you?
If you listen to the songs on this playlist, you’ll come across a few of my favourite songwriters. They’ve got the breathtaking concision and stamina of poets when it comes to language. They’re also great storytellers, and I’ve learned a lot from listening to these songwriters about how to tell a story and how to tune it.
Tanita Tikaram – You Make the Whole World Cry
Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
Estelle with Janelle Monáe – Do My Thing
Sinéad O’Connor – Mandinka
Lucinda Williams – Still I Long For Your Kiss – Alternate Version
Tanita Tikaram – Out On The Town
Big Thief – Masterpiece
Lucinda Williams – 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Big Thief – Shark Smile
José González – Let It Carry You
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Guts
James Vincent McMorrow – True Care
Alejandra Ribera – Led Me to You
Låpsley – Love Is Blind
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
I hope you enjoy this playlist. Take good care and keep singing, keep playing, keep dancing. Keep writing. We’ll get through these uncertain, unknown times.
Sharp and stylistic, the trifecta of diptychs that is Swimmers in Winter swirls between real and imagined pasts and futures to delve into our present cultural moment: conflicts between queer people and the police; the impact of homophobia, bullying, and PTSD; the dynamics of women’s friendships; life for queer women in Toronto during WWII and after; experiences of economic precarity and precarious living conditions; the work of being an artist; and dystopian worlds. These are soul-searching, plot-driven character studies.
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Faye Guenther lives in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in literary magazines including Joyland and she has published a chapbook, Flood Lands, with Junction Books. Swimmers in Winter is her first collection of short fiction.