From Gaitskill to Chekhov, maybe

So it came down, finally, to three lines. Three lines I couldn’t stop writing and rewriting. I’m talking about the song drawn from/inspired by parts of Mary Gaitskill’s VERONICA. It was the kind of difficult place I’ve found myself in before, and in years gone by I would have tortured myself and possibly killed the song in its crib. Instead, this time I found myself a little like the poet at the beginning of Carole Maso’s first novel, GHOST DANCE, who stands disheveled in Grand Central Station, worrying over the final lines of a poem, but never trying to force it, simply knowing that it will come when it’s ready. Then, in the book, it does come and she is a strange kind of joyful (even though we realize, moments later, that her mind has otherwise come entirely undone – but that’s another story). I’ve had magical epiphanies like that, but usually it’s either so fast that I don’t have any idea how I wrote the words, or it’s so painful slow that it takes me a while to recognize that what I’ve written is right and feels true.

That was the case this time. The good thing is that it was never drudgery, but a kind of professorial obsession. I kept humming and muttering everywhere I’d go, looking at it from so many different angles, playing at it and – worse – writing really good stuff that simply had no place at all. That’s the worst danger, and it’s easy to get sucked in by all that pointlessly impressive writing. And after all that labor, what I have is so simple. And such a sunny melody – is that becoming a habit with me? These sunny, open melodies with unnerving lyrics?

Yet now I have to face what may be cheating: I can’t stop thinking about a Chekhov story I can barely remember – it was something about these men, stuck in the country, drunk outside at night, bored out of their minds. It seems weird to have two Russian-inspired songs, but I’m wondering more whether it’s cheating to write from a short story when the project is supposed to be NOVELSONGS.

But maybe I better shut up and let my muse do the deciding. Meanwhile, I’m finally premiering the VERONICA song – called WE WERE RIGHT – this Sunday at Echo Curio in Los Angeles. (I did a test version in Santa Monica a week ago with a dummy lyric for those three lines – hey, maybe that’s what got me so obsessed!) I do love the song, so wish me luck – not for the singing, but for me keeping my mind off Chekhov long enough to get through the set.


© Dudley Saunders