Words and Music
Posted on October 8, 2009
by Catherine Austen
I wrote Walking Backward to the Weakerthans. Something opened in my heart while listening to their song, “Virtue the Cat Explains her Disappearance.” I have no idea why, but something in the song connected to my story in a way I don’t understand. (The song is about a lost cat, which doesn’t factor into my dead-mother novel.) If I wanted sad from the Weakerthans, surely Hospital Vespers would have better done the trick? No. That damned lost cat song just about killed me.
When I was in the drafting stage (which is short-lived, thankfully, since I rarely bathe and barely eat during that stage), I’d put my kids on the schoolbus and head straight to the computer. I’d write until lunch, ignoring the phone, email, and the 5-year report I was contracted to write at the time. Then I’d force a bowl of cereal down my throat while listening to Virtue the cat tell her sad story. I’d ball my eyes out and head back to the computer to write until the schoolbus arrived at 3:00.
As I shifted from intense drafting to revising (a significantly longer stage, in which I maintain good hygiene and get my weight back up), I expanded my lunchtime listening to several of the Weakerthans’ albums (Reunion Tour, Reconstruction Site, Left and Leaving). I’d grown superstitious: the writing was going so well I didn’t want to mess with the soundtrack.
Eventually, as revising turned to editing and polishing, I added the Walkmen to my playlist, then a couple tunes from the Wallflowers and the Weepies, until finally I ventured beyond the Ws and the book was done.
That was over a year ago and it’s still a mystery to me how the music inspired my words. I’ve thought of sending the Weakerthans a copy of Walking Backward with my thanks, but I can’t explain how or why the book connects to them. “Your cat song made me cry and I wrote this book,” is just too weird. I’ll keep it to myself and the three people who might read this blog.
Today I’m putting together a mixed CD to play in the background of my book launch party. I’ll include a Weakerthans tune, but not Virtue the Cat. It’s not that I’m sick of it. It’s that the last line still kills me.
Fascinating to read about the interplay between music and writing for you. Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to reading your book.