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Portrait of a Young DJ: Guest Post by Sophie B. Watson

"Music was proof of another life-form in the universe…people somewhere who spoke my language."

Book Cover Cadillac Couches

As soon as I got my first Sony Walkman as a late teenager I was hooked. I was a Sony WalkWoman. Headphones for every walk, no matter how small (even around the living room). Music just made the whole living thing fifty thousand times more romantic. With sunglasses on, like blinkers on a horse, I could ignore my actual world and be transported into a different dimension altogether, a much sexier one. Music was proof of another life-form in the universe…people somewhere who spoke my language.

When I was younger and weirder I loved some songs so achingly much I contemplated tying my friends up, duct taping their mouths shut and blindfolding them so they would be forced to really hear the music and love it like I did. Oddly, nobody volunteered for this. But, sometimes, I could convince a fellow listener to lie on the ground, be very still and close their eyes. I wanted my people to listen and I mean listen carefully to each sound coming out of the speakers. Or I’d drag friends to a gig and watch them like a hawk to make sure they didn’t get distracted and start talking or scoping hotties. God forbid they should order a drink during a song and miss some guttural noise that could mean oh so very much. They had to hear what I heard: every nuance, croak, rasp, moan, every single squeak of the guitar fret. So they too could be saved. Saved by anything from the classic guitar flirtation in the opening of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to the breathtaking tenderness of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time”.

I started writing Cadillac Couches in its current incarnation in 2003 and I approached it the way I knew how to cook food. Get a big pot and jam in all my favourite ingredients. I wanted to write a buddy adventure story with young women. It seemed to me buddy stories in movies and films were usually about boys or men. Most importantly the novel had to be bursting with music. Why not put some of my favourite musicians, musicians who had blown me away countless times from the stage into another stratosphere, actually into the story. Who said I couldn’t? And it’ll come with an album, a CD of fabulous songs of my choosing, I whispered to people who I trusted, sure that the CD was such a genius idea and that any problems of copyright and finance could be overcome with moxie and hutzpah.

By the time my turtle ass reached the finish line 9 years later (not all of those years were spent writing the book, some of them were spent purely listening to music in anticipation), iPods had hit the scene, the vernacular had changed, and the word playlist came into play. I could make a playlist and people could go to my website to hear the songs.

Cadillac Couches’ main characters Annie, Isobel and Finn are addicted to music too. They grew up taping songs like Adam Ant’s “Stand and Deliver” and later Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” from the radio by holding up the tape player to the speakers as close as possible and hoping the phone wouldn’t ring or their parents interrupt to wreck the precious recording. At the end of the story, DJ Annie from the future shows up in the after-afterword to give us her special mix for the book. An alternate title for Cadillac Couches could be A Portrait of a Young DJ. (I hope you’re not thinking, oh God, Just hang the DJ, please hang the DJ, like Morrissey warbled with such sexy melancholy.)

I often have arguments with my husband about which of us introduced the other to various musicians—our music collection has become one big and beautiful iTunes jambalaya. But in fairness to me I do credit people who introduced to me the biggies. Dad: Dylan and Costello, my mom: Piaf and Brel, my brother: The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Killing Joke, Blondie and all the cool punk stuff. Julie’s brother brought me the Violent Femmes in his Austin mini blasting up the highway all those years ago. Oh the Violent Femmes. Such rapturous angst. Such biting, angsty commentary. I still love you Gordon Gano, very much.

Looking back, my favourite part of my love education was mixed tapes. Mixed tapes are a love letter for your ears and were integral to the whole wooing process of my twenties. My first boyfriend (like his music collection) was ridiculously hip. Before we knew each other I used to notice him riding past me on my walk to school everyday on a white Vespa—a mod-prince on a white horse. On one date he picked me up in a cool black car and introduced me to growling, smokey Tom Waits!!! I knew he and Tom were the ones after that. I showed off a little and brought him to the Edmonton opera house to Carmen especially to hear “Love is a Rebellious Bird”. I wore a long Spanish flouncy skirt the colour of aubergine and gypsy hoop earrings. Later I made him close his eyes to listen to “Lakmé” in the bathtub. Then to finish him off: “La Wally” from my favourite movie Diva. Such crazily beautiful music that might make him think I was amazing for introducing him to it. And I’ll never forget when that girl in high school girl introduced me to R.E.M.’s B sides and hearing them sing “Ain’t Got no Cigarettes.” Nothing could have impressed me more.

Ultimately, Annie, Finn and Isobel want to do more than talk about music amongst themselves—they yearn to bridge the fan/musician divide. Their adventure starts when they pretend to be rock journalists to hang out with the fabulous Dan Bern and continues through dingy karaoke bars until they take the ultimate action and pick up their own guitars…

Sophie B Watson

Sophie B. Watson is an award-winning freelance writer who has been published in several magazines, including Briarpatch Magazine, Canadian Dimension, Canadian Living Magazine, Legacy Magazine, and Sustainable Times (among others). She holds a degree in English and French literature from the University of Alberta as well as a master's in creative writing from Bath Spa University. She has been a library page, a waitress, a substitute dj, a bookseller, and, most recently, the editor of Cork University Press. Cadillac Couches is Sophie's first novel. Read more about Sophie (and her aquatic larks) on her blog or follow her on twitter at @SophieBWatson.

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