In our Writers and Music series, authors discuss the music that has either been included in their most recent novel/poems or the influence music has had on their work overall.
Andrew F. Sullivan was born in Peterborough, Ontario. He has an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Sullivan’s fiction has recently been published by Joyland, The Good Men Project, The Cleveland Review and Riddle Fence. You can find him at: http://afsullivan.blogspot.com/
The first time I was thrown out of a bar it was at a Constantines' show. I spent the encore sitting on a mailbox, singing along, unaware of the slush that had been splashed on my face by passing cars.
You could feel the building shake from outside. You could feel it down your spine. The tension and release building up in every song, the hoarse words coughed and hacked into a microphone someone would need to wash before the next show. Like a shambling, enraged ghost of Springsteen lost in the wastelands of Southern Ontario, the Constantines were a wrecking force. No vocal cords were spared. No ear drums left undented. No one left clean.
Of course, they are gone now. Four albums. A few EPs. That’s it. Everyone gets older.
It`s all still there though. The tension and the release—the fear and desperation in songs like “Hyacinth Blues," the hand claps like a dire warning in “Some Party," the howls for something better, something purer, where “a tired man can exist” in “Blind Luck.” Those things don’t fade. They remain raw and weathered. They remain defiant and messy and busted. There is no gloss.
I still go searching for those moments when I sit down to try and put a story together. I want to open with a relentless assault. I want the reader to feel the bottom drop out, to feel all that controlled tension finally erupt into something wild and unhinged—something they can’t avoid. You can see the end coming; you can predict the reckoning headed your way, but you can’t prevent it. You can’t deny it or undo it. You can only play a witness. You can only watch.
That’s what we are doing when we tell stories. We are playing witness to each other’s truths, if that’s what we want to call it. We are being asked to acknowledge something real, something we can’t find in everyday life. And it doesn’t have to be pretty—it rarely is. And it doesn’t need to be an affirmation or a call to arms or a claim for some moral high ground above all the messy, broken stuff we’d rather not remember.
There is a reason we love to read about dystopias. There is a reason why we lie and spin stories filled with pain and suffering and loss. We are playing a witness for each other; we are trying to say something or understand something that the logical narratives of daily life can’t always uncover. We don’t claim these are universal truths or that they should carry any meaning for anybody else. We are just there to say this happened; this mattered—whether it is real or not. This was done. Every time I write, every time I read, I am a witness. The Constantines understand that. They want you to join in on that chorus in “Young Offenders.”
Young hearts, be free tonight.
Time is on your side.
Can I get a witness?
Even sitting on a mailbox in the cold with my ass frozen to the metal, I was a witness.