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Stop! Look! Listen! Alexander Carey's Listening Recommendation

Amongst those who know me, I’m not known as someone who can supply music fit for every mood. If anything, I select a song list entirely against the tenor of the evening, the moving vehicle, or the dish pit. Slow sad burners when the night is ablaze and the inverse. Not to be contrarian, but more so oblivious.  

Yet, when our friends wanted to split a Spotify family account, I declined. I have playlists for every month since 2019 and I revisit them occasionally, justifying the expense to myself. Despite the financial practicality, I know that sharing would lose those distilled memories. All this to say, I am, if not particularly wide ranging with my music I am particular.  

My roommate in university earned music social capital when he had a beer-paying role of plugging his iPod for a funk playlist at the bar we frequented every Saturday and was on a texting basis with the owner with a carefully curated selection of songs that betrayed the ironic skepticism with which we approached everything else, chiefly our studies. I was not asked, and have never been asked, for music recommendations, which is why I want to do so here when The Fiddlehead asked. Below are the sonic building blocks for my story “Sponge”, coming soon in an issue of The Fiddlehead.  

Joel Plaskett “Nowhere with You”  

“Sponge” is a story set in a universe I hope to write a collection around, or a hybrid novel-short story world called Summer Place. The story, for now, has a companion story in long con magazine called “Dear John” set in a fictionalized version of a now-closed Lutheran Summer Camp I worked at in my late teens and early twenties (and one summer in my mid-twenties, causing my unrepairable arrested development). Youth, and its fleeting nature, fascinated me before it should have, when I should have still been living in the moments. This song encapsulates that time well, when we had the agency to go nowhere and the freedom to do so.  

Taylor Swift “cardigan”  

She might well have written the Chapters scented candle version of a folk masterpiece with folklore, but it still smells like fresh pines in September to me when I close my eyes. I have been away from grad school and struggling musicians for long enough that I have no clout credentials to lose anyway. When Taylor sings “I knew everything when I was young” I believe her, and when she regrets that “Peter los[ing] Wendy” didn’t have to be inevitable, I don’t; we love an unreliable narrator. Summer and youth are obvious companions, and their brevity colour my story with support from this song. Where does our potential go when that door closes? And who is around to care? Perhaps only the person you were, emerging each Spring when the wind blows right.  

Bob Dylan “Girl from the North Country” 

The season was important to me when writing and thinking about my story, “Sponge”, and how my narrator felt about this transitory time meant to reflect that time when the nights are cool and the water steams in the morning in memory of warmer days. This song is the distillation of the feeling of being left behind, like the heat in the water the morning after the cooler nights. The migratory patterns of school and work were always tough on me, and this song asks you to look into someone who moved on with their life geographically, and most likely emotionally. I spent my second year of university unsuccessfully cosplaying Bob Dylan—only Robert Zimmerman can cosplay Bob Dylan. I recommend the Johnny Cash version, where a recently country-fied Dylan fumbles the lyrics live.  

DeAnn Carter “Strawberry Wine”  

This 90s country classic inspired the naturalized settings in “Sponge’—the creek, the pond, the forest beyond the sightlines. I still feel painfully wistful and wishful for when the “the fields have grown over now/years since they’ve seen the plow/there’s nothing time hasn’t touched.” Where I live, condos are a more likely culprit than naturalization in the destruction of sacred places. But the real-life death of the summer camp inspired me to first write these two stories, and condos are yet to fester and pimple on that land. Bless environmental protections, and the ribbons of wilderness still catching light in southern Ontario. Fallow fields forever. 

So those are my songs that inspired my short story “Sponge”. To say nothing of the insidious behaviour of a person in a position of power in that story, these songs more meant to capture the feeling of being trapped in the past. I don’t feel a strong need to plumb those emotional spaces. If you even check out one of these songs thanks to this writing, then I can tell my old roommate that I too am music curator. Thanks for reading!  

Alexander Carey’s fiction has appeared in long con magazine, The Danforth Review, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among other places. He lives and works in Niagara. 

You can find Alexander Carey's story in our forthcoming Issue 297 Autumn 2023. Pre-order the issue now:

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