Please welcome CJ Hauser, teacher, musician, and debut author of The From-Aways (on sale today!) to the Book Club Girl Blog! Her novel is a gorgeous literary beach read, following two women who move to Maine in search of family and find more love, heartbreak, and friendship than you'd think one little town could hold.
I live in Tallahassee, Florida these days and one by one I have found fellow music-makers.
I knew I was going to be friends with Gary Sheppard the night I heard him talking about the genius of Emmylou Harris out front the local bar. We got to talking, and when Townes Van Zandt came up we attracted the attention of the guy who runs the local record store. We wound up sitting in that record store til two in the morning, passing a guitar around and singing. Gary has a lonesome-sounding-voice that’ll just about break your heart.
Our friend Alex heard about our night in the record store, mentioned that he played a little too, and asked would we want to come over to his place and play together sometime? Sure enough, we did. That night, we all took out our guitars and cracked some beers… Alex started playing riffs that went a mile a minute and singing like a cowboy. Gary and I looked at each other, disbelieving, then back at Alex. We flipped him the double bird. That’s how good he was.
Here is one of my favorite sentences I have ever heard:
I hear you have a hootenanny at your house. Can I come?
Singing songs and making music with other people is addictive. The addiction can start small, an innocent Beatles sing-along at the end of a wonderful house party…but then one thing leads to another and soon you find yourself getting together with a group of women to harmonize to old time tunes and referring to yourselves as The Ladies in White Dresses. Maybe you promise each other you will never tell anyone that you do this, ever, because it’s sort of embarrassing?
But it doesn’t matter if it’s embarrassing, or if you’re good or not. Because nothing feels that same magical way as making music with people you love.
In The From-Aways, Quinn Winters starts a band with her roommate Rosie. Quinn can play the guitar pretty well and Rosie has a sweet low voice. The good thing about writing fiction? Your characters can have all sorts of skills that you do not. I am neither a good guitar player nor a good singer. But I do both anyway.
Quinn writes original songs, and her lyrics appear scattered throughout the novel. After I wrote the scraps of lyrics, I got excited, so I worked out melodies and chords too. Quinn’s three songs from the book appear in a special P.S. songbook section in the back. There are full chords and lyrics so anyone can learn to play them.
The other night I set out to record one of Quinn’s songs from the book, "No Medicine," but it didn’t sound right with just my voice in there. So I called Alex and Gary.
Can I ask you a favor? I said.
They came over and learned it on the spot.
Listen: my song is not good. It is nowhere near the wonderful thing I imagine Quinn creating in the book. But by making it real I got to sing it with my friends, and we had a damn good time doing it. Beers were drunk. The shit was shot. We laughed our asses off every time we messed up (were you singing living? Naw, I was singing leaving. Aw shit, I was singing waiting). I learned that it is impossible to get two southern men to sing the phrase “some things you have to live with” which is all well and good because “some things you got to live with” sounds better anyway.
This kind of fun is what making music is about, I think.
So here it is, "No Medicine," written by the imaginary Quinn Winters and sung joyfully if sloppily by Alex Quinlan, Gary Sheppard, and myself.
If you play music, badly or amazingly, I would so love for you to take a crack at this song or any of the ones in the book! Record yourself! Make an audio file or even a video! Send it my way (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll post it to my website. The more raucous and joyful the better. Get in the hootenanny spirit.
Alex Quinlan & Gary Sheppard: writers, friends, music-makers
CJ on the front porch, caterwauling