In The Reminders
, 10-year-old Joan uses her uncanny memory to help Gavin shed light on the final days of his partner Sydney’s life.
When I’m writing prose, the music I listen to falls into two categories: songs that fuel the writing and songs that inform the writing. These are imprecise distinctions, but it’s the best I’ve come up with.
While in the act of writing, I’m trying to ignore the very things I’ve spent my entire career as a singer-songwriter paying attention to — musicality and lyrics. I’m hoping just to lose myself in a mood, energy, or feeling that matches whatever the book is trying to be.
When I’m not physically at my computer typing out words, I listen to music differently. I’m absorbing lyrics how my characters might. I’m isolating lines that highlight a sentiment I haven’t found a way to communicate. I’m saying to myself, “I want the book to feel like this song feels.”
This list is a combination of those two types of songs.
“Two of Us” by the Beatles
I’m a mega fan of the Beatles, and I made my young protagonist and her father mega fans too. No one believes “Two of Us” is Paul writing about John, but given the timing of the song in the band’s chronology (near the end), one can’t help but find added meaning in the lyrics as the two men harmonize together like the old days. Paul sings alone on the bridge: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” The relationship at the core of The Reminders
, like John and Paul’s, is not only a friendship but a creative partnership and a shared journey into the past.
“Downtown” by Majical Cloudz
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“Is it really this fun when you’re on my mind? Is it really this cool to be in your life?” I picture this being one of Gavin and Sydney’s songs, something they listened to when they first got together that majically
captured what they were both feeling. There’s even a link to the Beatles in the first verse: “Singing to myself I want to hold your hand.” Now that Sydney is gone, the song takes on new meaning: “There’s one thing I’ll do if it ever goes wrong. I’ll write you into all of my songs.” Gavin does just that.
“Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett
It’s possible that on my deathbed this song will be playing in my mind. It’s the song I listened to most when writing. Courtney Barnett is a supremely talented storyteller. Her perspective is both carefree and world-weary, and hearing her voice for hours each day probably helped inform the character of Joan in ways I’m not even aware of. Thank you, Courtney.
“Anyone Else But You” by the Moldy Peaches
I didn’t listen to this song when writing the book, but I often thought of the movie it appeared in. Juno
is playful and quirky and funny, but it’s also smart and serious and emotional. I kept trying to strike that balance between light and heavy in my novel.
“Nightswimming” by R.E.M.
When I hear this song now, I think back to high school when I first discovered it. But when I listened to it back then, it reminded me of my early childhood. I guess it just exudes a wistful feeling. “Photograph on the dashboard taken years ago.” Also, I thought of Michael Stipe a lot while writing this book. Gavin used to be a singer in a band back in college, and I imagined his band sounding like R.E.M.
“Thunder Clatter” by Wild Cub
There are all these intricate percussive elements that enter, retreat, sweep to the other side, and vanish. This might be what Joan’s mind sounds like with all those memories vying for her attention at any one moment. Gavin is in here too, singing along to the lines: “I hear it all in the center of my heart. You’re the love of my life. The love of my life.” Thunder clatter, indeed.
“Memory Motel” by the Rolling Stones
I had never heard this song until very recently. I was working on this TV show called “Vinyl,” which takes place in the '70s, and I was familiarizing myself with music from that period that I had previously ignored. “You’re just a memory of a love that used to mean so much to me.” At first I thought, hmm, that’s a good line. Then, I imagined what Joan might think of a line like that. She would probably be offended. What do you mean just a memory? What do you mean "used" to mean so much to me?
“I’ll Be Alright” by Passion Pit
Gavin and Sydney are fans of this band. “I’ll Be Alright” is the sound of beautiful madness.
“Convince Me” by Val Emmich
Have you heard of this Val Emmich guy? Total hack, but he does have a few decent songs. Okay, I feel silly listing one of my own tunes, but it just so happens that this song really does capture the heart of the book. It’s a duet I did with Allie Moss (she’s great — check her out!). The song is a conversation between a realist and a dreamer who are trying to convince each other that their own outlook is the right one. The same battle of perspective occurs in the book with Gavin and Joan. I wrote the song in 2009. I guess I’m still unconvinced as to who is right.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a writer, singer-songwriter, and actor. He has had recurring roles on Vinyl
and Ugly Betty
as well as a memorable guest role as Liz Lemon's coffee-boy fling, Jamie, on 30 Rock
. Emmich lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his wife and their two children. The Reminders
is his first novel.