Yes! There’s a song for every story in the collection.
Listen along on the Spotify Playlist, and check out some liner notes below.
1. Now They Would Behave – The Act We Act by SUGAR
You can lower yourself and bathe in the churning mood of this song, and only find true release from its agitation at the bridge. I find comfort in the relentlessness of Sugar’s music when I struggle with the weird energy of family relationships. In the opening story of my collection, that energy takes physical shape and becomes a dragon that must be controlled. The act we act is wearing thin for Darcy as she tries to counteract bad dynamics with a new ritual, but patterns are hard to break.
2. Ruby Throated – New Mistake by JELLYFISH
The bumbling cheerfulness of this tune pushes against its tale of accidental pregnancy and generational errors, and includes excellent visuals like polliwogs swimming from a pen and lovers on roller skates. In Ruby Throated, Calla is a weary NICU nurse, and Antonio is her patient artist who brings forth a flock of birds with his drawing pen. I think of couples navigating their level of commitment and future plans as practicing a magic of faith, like hummingbirds flying across vast expanses of water with no land in sight.
3. Things to Do While Listening to Your Brother on the Phone – Arsonist’s Lullaby by HOZIER
Don’t you ever tame your demons/But always keep ‘em on a leash is a shapeshifting challenge in any given moment in your life. In this very short piece, a sibling struggles to support her brother handle his.
4. Maps – Swim Good by FRANK OCEAN
One more mile t’ill the road runs out…Kick off my shoes and swim good/take off this suit.
5. Radioactive – Timeless Melody by THE LAs
In Radioactive, the narrator’s alcoholic sister finds comfort in the stories of helpless animals because she can’t face her own past. “I never say what I want to say” might be the truest thing about Rose. Is it the drinking that’s keeping her from speaking her truth?
6. It Grew to a Certain Size – Are You All Right? by LUCINDA WILLIAMS
7. National Treasure – To Be Without You by RYAN ADAMS
I wrote this story after I received a photograph of an older woman holding a monkey from the wonderful lit mag People Holding. I decided the woman was holding the animal as she cradled pain. “I feel empty, I feel tired, I feel worn.” She never really had her man and she lost her baby. The drinking and obsession here are of course coping mechanisms, and we’re left wondering why she couldn’t move past these losses and forge a more satisfying life.
8. Flight Helmet – Cure for Pain by MORPHINE
9. Nightshade – Jesus, etc. by WILCO
Bitter melodies turning your orbit around strikes me as a fantastic description of a teenager becoming aware of the authoritarian machines controlling her life. Everyone in Nightshade seems concerned about Laurie’s odd behavior at church, but their attention to her reveals an inability to recognize their own conformity.
10. Baby Dreams – Henry by SOCCER MOMMY
Fun fact: Many of these stories were edited on the sidelines of soccer fields.
11. Yes vs. No – Answering Machine by THE REPLACEMENTS
The desperate, sexual, jangly anger of this particular song has feels like the voice of the narrator’s brief love interest in “Yes vs. No.” He’s upset she’s rebuked him and when threatening letters don’t work, he begins leaving messages. “How do you say I’m lonely to an answering machine?/I hate your answering machine.”
12. Fat Girl Lament – Der Kommisssar by FALCO
13. The Girl and the Fox Pirate – New York by RICHARD ASHCROFT
14. Sexpot Mermaid – The City by THE 1975
The 80’s John Hughes soundtrack vibe of this whole album reminds me of adolescence in New York, where I practiced my tennis swing against a concrete handball wall of my junior high. When I was too lazy to walk around I climbed the chain link fence and tore my thighs to shreds. I tried to bake the confused desperation of teen relationships and the gritty possibility of sex on asphalt into this story.
15. Young Blood – Flesh Without Blood by GRIMES
The bridge of this song pulses with the underwater thud of a heartbeat, a wooshing through a vein towards the engine of all things. I’ve dissected sharks with fourth graders twice now, and there’s always something new to learn.
16. Our Grief is a Receipt of Our Love – Wednesday/No Se Apoye by MIKE DOUGHTY
I just want to stay this joyous hour/your sorrow is beautiful/to me tonight. This dreamy, experimental piece is weird and cold, full of fear of abandonment and loss of control. Don’t lean against the door—you might fall through.
17. Cheerleader – Jungle by PARROT DREAM
The couple in Cheerleader is the same as in Ice Cream Truck. When Storychord published the latter, the editor paired. Parrot Dream’s lush song with it. Jungle’s mood evokes this second Paul and Gina story too.
18. Give Me Your Hand and I Will Pull You Up – Stop Talking by CHRIS PRICE
This story germinated from some strong visuals at a good friend’s 30th birthday party, including a fabulous polka-dot dress. Price’s frenetic commands in Stop Talking capture the energy of the narrator’s desperate need to control his ex girlfriend and see patterns in his life. I’m always seeing signs that there’s more to life than being next to grace…Stop talking about life/I’m already dead.
19. Wedding Season – Gold by THE SHELTERS
There’s certainly an old school sunny California sound to Gold but I hear a melancholy warning of sorts to the lines (“it’s all what you make it/everything I touch turns gold”) that accompanies the complexity of marriage like puzzle pieces clicking together.
20. I See the Way Your Eyes Follow Me at Target – Shadowboxer by FIONA APPLE
This song played while my first boyfriend and I coasted down a particular canyon road in the Rocky Mountains. He always drove a little too fast. The swaying of the car and Fiona Apple’s prep for a fight have been intertwined for me ever since. Midlife is like that too, in the ways we bob and weave with strangers and our desire.
21. Underwater – Seven Sisters by THE SHOUTING MATCHES
I’ve read so many stories about the loss of self for first time mothers, but fewer about fathers. I have a fair amount of sympathy for the dad’s bravado in “Underwater.” He’s really messing it up, yearning for a carefree youth he never really had, missing his pre-baby relationship: “I can’t find my lover,” as the Seven Sisters sing. He doesn’t recognize himself anymore and he’s afraid about how his daughter will turn out with him as a dad.
22. The Motherhood Gig – Star Witness by NEKO CASE
Neko’s thick, honeyvoice comforted me while I hid under the covers in the middle of the night, nursing my first son. She is a salve and a call to arms.
23. The Wolves Within – UFOs and Angels by FONTAINE
I had the privilege of living next door to the Fontaine’s main practice locale and had a rule that if I heard them playing on a Sunday afternoon I dropped everything to sit down to write as long as they were making music. I wrote The Wolves Within shortly after catching one of their Indianapolis shows at The Melody Inn. I think I’ve heard UFOs and Angels 200 times and I’ll never get tired of it.
24. A Tender Place – Even Here We Are by PAUL WESTERERG
25. Predator Swamping – Motherless Children by ROSANNE CASH
26. Old Growth Forests – Forever Young by LIL YACHTY, DIPLO
27. XOXO – Lake Michigan by ROGUE WAVE
28. Foot Licking Bandit – Viper’s Nest KAIA KATER
29. Pineapple Pattern Cut-Out Swimsuit, Girl’s Size 7 – I’m Hungry by THE SUGARCUBES
The Sugarcubes was one of the first cassette tapes I played in my Sony Walkman when I began jogging around the reservoir as a teenager. Listen, I’m hungry/thirsty for surprises/ready for experience; like so many young women, I’ve wasted too much time confusing types of hunger.
30. Narcissus and the Beaver – Good Times Roll Pt 2 by RJD2
The woman in this story is trapped in a life loop, looking for signs that she’ll arrive at some destination. She’s running hills, dialed into the seasons, but not asking the right questions. If the beavers do speak to her, they should tell her to listen more carefully to the music on her playlist: “Part 2 Are you ready/What do you want to hear?”
31. Tests of Agility – Favorite Waitress by THE MODIFIERS
32. New Wavelengths – Who by DAVID BYRNE + ST VINCENT
33. Hey Honey, You Can Play My Flute Anytime – Done by FRAZEY FORD
An anthem I sing under my breath on the regular: I was taking every hit from you, you drive-by son of a bitch and I’m done. You have more power than you know.
34. The Luster of Minerals – Under Your Skin by LUSCIOUS JACKSON
I never saw LJ live in the 1990s but they are one of my favorite bands of the era. Their confident groove soars the way I want the message of this story to lift women away from the negative consumerism around aging and beauty.