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Sing It: Music in 2020 CanLit
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Sing It: Music in 2020 CanLit

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Music runs through these glorious books, from opera to punk and many stops in between.
Here Goes Nothing

Here Goes Nothing

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

 

A smart, gritty examination of the lives of touring musicians

Here Goes Nothing, Eamon McGrath’s brave second offering and follow-up to 2017’s widely acclaimed Berlin-Warszawa Express, once again explores the world of touring musicians — but this time McGrath expands his scope and perspective from the inner dialogue of a traveling songwriter into the wider range of a multi-member touring band.

Told in two interwoven narratives that blur the lines between past and present, Here Goes Nothing

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The four of us had a superstition at the time that you could never clean the van until the tour was over, so by the time we’d sling-shotted around the Golden Horseshoe and crossed the border westward towards home, we were up to our necks in an ocean of garbage. It was the same in our minds as shaving your playoff beard. Stained blankets, liquor bottles, half-eaten bags of potato chips, old rotten food, filthy blankets, sleeping bags, and who knows what else, formed a cemented, solidified wall around your body as you sat in the seat.

 

Whenever we’d pull up to a venue, a river of beer cans and empty two-sixes would come rushing out of the shotgun side door as it opened, like a sacrilegious baptism. For every cardinal sin we’d commit before, during, or after a show, we’d have that sacred half-hour onstage every night to seek forgiveness. Despite the harrowing feeling of guilt deep inside me, for every poor, desperate gas station attendant running horizontal through the rain, I knew that there’d be countless times I’d be back in Ottawa, and all those cities that we’d passed through to get there, in no time, to be redeemed.

 

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Czech Techno & Other Stories of Music

Czech Techno & Other Stories of Music

edition:Paperback

From the author of 19 Knives and My White Planet comes a brilliant suite of stories built around music and travel. Whether it's a band coming apart at the ruins of Pompeii, or tours through Napoli's "volcanic dust and volcanic drugs and jackal-headed bedlam and mountains of stinking trash"; or a nostalgic stroll past the homeless in Victoria's inner harbour while "gentle Tunisian techno" rides the breeze, where the addicted populate park benches, as weighted as Shakespearean characters ... "lit …

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Fake It So Real

Fake It So Real

edition:Paperback

Fake it so Real takes on the fallout from a punk-rock lifestyle—the future of “no future”—and its effect on the subsequent generations of one family. In June of 1983, Gwen, a gnarly Nancy Spungen look-alike, meets Damian, the enigmatic leader of a punk band. Seven years and two unplanned pregnancies later, Damian abandons Gwen, leaving her to raise their two daughters, Sara and Meg, on her own.

The voices of Gwen, Sara and Meg weave a raw and honest tapestry of family life told from the u …

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Why Birds Sing

Why Birds Sing

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

 

A charming, deeply felt novel about human connection and finding music between the notes

When opera singer Dawn Woodward has an onstage flameout, all she wants is to be left alone. She’s soon faced with other complications the day her husband announces her estranged brother-in-law, Tariq, is undergoing cancer treatment and moving in, his temperamental parrot in tow. To make matters worse, though she can’t whistle herself, she has been tasked with teaching arias to an outspoken group of devot …

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“We’re the Warblers,” the tuning fork woman said. This time she wore suspenders over her lumberjack shirt. From afar she was probably often mistaken for a man, until she spoke. Her stockiness didn’t match her voice.

 

“Is that your band?” I asked.

 

The redhead stiffened and adjusted her lime cuffs, which glared brightly against her white arms. “We’re a registered organization dating to 1950. During our heyday we had over two hundred members.”

 

“We’re what’s left,” The old man added, toasting a cookie at me. He ate from a box in his lap.

 

“Why whistling?” I asked.

 

They stared. I stared back.

 

“Because it feels good,” the wrestler said. “And it’s free.” He gave a wide smile and shoved his hands under his armpits.

 

“Whistling’s not my profession,” I told them.

 

“We know you sang,” the teenager grinned.

 

“I still do,” I replied.

 

They shot each other knowing looks before turning back to me.

 

“We thought you could counsel us for our upcoming Biennial,” the old man said.

 

I asked for clarification.

 

“There are local chapters like ours across the country.” The redhead spoke slowly, as if I were a child. “We meet up every second year. There’s a competition and we need help winning. Because Jojo here, despite her family connections, never pulls through.”

 

“I thought you did this to feel good,” I said.

 

The redhead stood with her hands on her waist. “I want my trophy. Everyone steers clear of opera for the classical component of the contest. That’s our in.”

 

“Why would they avoid opera?” I asked.

 

“Well, It’s so…”

 

“So what?”

 

“Loud,” she said.

 

“She means over the top,” the teenager added.

 

“It’s the acting that’s unfortunate,” the old man said. “Do they not equip you lot with lessons?”

 

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The Subtweet

The Subtweet

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook Audiobook

 

“A timely and compelling look at internet fame and how fickle it really is.… You’ll likely devour it in one sitting.” — Ms. Magazine

Includes an exclusive free soundtrack

Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a no-holds-barred examination of the music industry, social media, and making art in the modern era, shining a light on the promise and peril of being seen.

Indie musician Neela Devaki has built a career writing the songs she wants to hear but nobody e …

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Neela Devaki was an original.

 

She was reminded of this fact shortly after she stepped out of her cab and into the Fairmont Hotel, the main site for the North by Northeast Festival. Zipping through the masses of musicians, fans and industry reps, she felt sorry for the chandeliers, which loomed above like golden flying saucers, forced to light up the dull networking that buzzed beneath them. But a conversation between two art students, draped in curated thrift wear featuring strategically placed rips and holes, brought Neela to a reluctant halt. 

 

“I was totally working on something like this for my final project. I guess originality really is dead,” one of the women sighed, taking photos of herself, duck-faced with a pop-up art installation.

 

Neela skimmed the artist’s statement. The frosted toothpick statues of penises were “a comment on the current global epidemic of white demasculinization.” Why not just hang a red and white flag that said Make Art Great Again? Brevity was the true endangered species.

 

“You should still do it. All the good ideas are taken anyways. Isn’t that kind of freeing?” replied the other.

 

Neela snorted. She would never offer that sort of “comfort” to a stunted peer. No wonder she was bored with most of the art she encountered.

 

She considered sharing with these young women that she always knew she was on the verge of invention at the precise moment when originality felt impossible. That instead of surrendering to despair, she would needle in and out and through her brain until an idea surfaced — naked, stripped of predictability and familiarity. That this process often required her to sing a phrase over and over for hours until the syllables carved their own unique melody out of hollow air. She was certain that the reiteration planted the words in her vocal chords so that when she sang them, they carried the imprint of her body. By embedding herself into her song, she muted any risk of passing off mimicry as art. Why wasn’t fully committing to creation more desirable than observing what everyone else was doing and doing the same?

 

But defending the sanctity of originality to strangers at an art exhibit would make her seem like an egomaniac. And no one listens to a cocksure woman.

 

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Music Lessons

Music Lessons

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

 

Bob Wiseman believes most things in life are universal or, as Lauryn Hill says, everything is everything. Bearing in mind that advice, Wiseman writes about finding the link between music and daily life, like what is common between Mary Margaret O’Hara, hiding around the corner with the lights turned off in order to record herself and his 5-year-old insisting he stop hurrying to her dance lesson and marvel at the fluff ball she is blowing toward the ceiling. Each entry is unique and compelling …

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Excerpt

 

Little girl asked if I could show her Mary Had a Little Lamb.

 

No problem.

 

Really?

 

Really, select a note any note.

 

She pressed F. We started ma/ry/had (F, D# C#), she worked it a few times.

 

She said I like to make things up.

 

That’s a sign of a composer. Let’s make something up.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

We played a little improvisation then changed her mind returned to Mary Had a Little Lamb. Kept attacking the notes vertically with her fingers and wrist in the same line like a knife stabbing. Asked her to try balancing a miniature plate on her hand which made her hands horizontal with the keys more pianistic but this was also a little exhausting. Took a break and made small talk, she has a lot to say. Wishes she could speak French but her school won’t allow it until she’s in grade 6. She said her parents both speak other languages and when she was younger in daycare she could count to 30 in Chinese.

 

Could I hear you count in Chinese?

 

I don’t remember anymore. You know what else? My parents were going to take me to China one time but they changed their mind at the airport so we didn’t go.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

Did you know the black notes on the piano are a scale that is used in a lot of Chinese music?

 

Really?

 

Really. Let’s make something up on the black notes, play anything just black notes and I’ll back you up.

 

Really?

 

Really.

 

Proceeded to make something slow, melodic and pentatonic. Her mother noticed from the kitchen and walked into the room listening and beaming that her daughter was doing this.

 

I said to the mother I heard you guys almost went to China. She looked at her daughter and then me,

 

We’ve never been to China. I don’t know why she makes things up like that.

 

Should I or shouldn’t I tell her? Kid’s a composer just practising making it up.

 

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People You Follow

People You Follow

A Memoir
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

“A journey down the rabbit hole of LA's most subtly toxic industry ... funny, brilliant, coy, playful, and wise.” — LENA DUNHAM, author of Not That Kind of Girl

Musician Hayley Gene Penner tells all in this harrowingly honest memoir.

Singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner's memoir takes a brutally honest yet humorous look at the dark, intimate truths we spend our lives running from. Like a map of beautiful mistakes, Hayley’s stories of questionable sexual encounters, artistic aspirations, an …

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Excerpt

Tal
Drinking the Kool-Aid

A couple weeks before I moved to Los Angeles, I found a drawing I’d made when I was six. It was at the bottom of a box labelled Goodwill? The unintentionally abstract illustration shows a long, sparkling, red convertible, with a somehow dripping Hollywood sign in the distance. A tall, dangerously thin, flowing-haired young woman leans against the shimmering hood, her hand holding a cellphone to her ear. At the top of the crumpled piece of construction paper I’d written Hayley, 21-years-old?.

I turned twenty-six a few weeks before coming to L.A.

I definitely did not have a convertible; I tossed a Honda Civic rental onto my buckling Visa. And my cellphone barely worked in the U.S.

I had been in L.A. for forty-four days. Tal’s company put me up in a sketchy basement apartment. If I hadn’t been living underground, I bet I would have been able to see the Hollywood sign from my window.

I pushed all the cheap furniture up against the poorly painted walls in the living room and devoted two hours every morning to P90X. I was determined to at least appear as though I’d made it, and that started with a rigorous workout regimen. My goal was to have at least a few people say they were worried about me when I went home to Winnipeg for Christmas.

Tal was this charming, vibrant, extraordinary writer. He almost instantly became my new favourite person. He was funny and tall and dark and took up all the space in every room, and I was convinced that if he thought I could make it, I could.

My first two months in L.A. consisted of driving to the studio every morning at 8:00 a.m. and spending four hours alone in Tal’s vocal booth before getting booted into the tiny, fluorescent-lit storage space in the back of the building. I would sit at a desk that was dwarfed by a horrendous neon mural and wait for him to pop his head out of his room, perhaps offering me an opportunity to write something with him.

It felt like a sort of long-winded audition, and I thought I was doing well. He would dip into my little incubator every few hours to see if I’d written a hit or to say, “Come on. We’re walking to the grocery store.”

He made me laugh on the way while casually lecturing me about songwriting and the industry and who to trust. Then he’d buy a watermelon, a pound of cold cuts, and a bag of almonds and we would walk back together. And he trusted me. He told me about the two women he was in love with, how deeply he loved them both, how he didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know about each other, but that didn’t make me think less of him. I felt welcomed into his inner circle. I felt like his confidant and friend. I saw him as a struggling man and I was glad he had me to talk to.

We would drop the food in the fridge, then we’d head outside, where I’d watch him play basketball alone with his shirt off for half an hour before we got back to work.

He had a two-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood and decided to rescue me from the Hollywood basement he’d put me in. I thought living with him would be fun. I’d get rid of my rental car and commute to the studio with him. He understood that I didn’t have money and couldn’t really make any, since I was officially a tourist, so he’d feed me and take care of me in a way that made me feel like I’d found a little home.

At the studio, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I didn’t need to use it. I just didn’t really feel like writing. I’d go and look in the mirror for ten or fifteen seconds, decide whether I loved or hated my body that day, then flush the toilet with nothing in it, run the tap to suggest I was washing my hands, and walk out. Maybe take an ass selfie for whatever guy was getting my ass selfies at that time. I somehow felt that by taking multiple bathroom breaks, I would at least seem productive. Like these pee breaks were the result of hard work and perseverance.

One morning of a long weekend, when most of the producers were with their families, it was just the two of us in the building. I came out of the bathroom and looked for Tal. He wasn’t in the common room or shoving cold cuts into his mouth in the kitchen. There was almost no noise coming out of his studio room, so I knocked without expectation.

He said, “Come in. I wanna play you a new song.” He opened his computer. I paused in embarrassment for him. On the screen a girl with long black hair was getting fucked from behind while she sucked off some Tarzan-looking dude in front of her.

Tal left the screen open long enough for the man in her mouth to finish on her rosy-pink cheeks and lips, sealing her eyes shut like he was planning on making her a papier-mâché mask. Then he said, “Oh shit. That’s embarrassing,” and closed his computer.

He pulled out a guitar to play the song live. He sang with his whole heart, all emotional and generous with the intimacy of his performance. It felt like an invitation into his private self.

We just sort of casually moved past the accidental porn mishap, though I guess I suddenly knew what he liked. And suddenly he knew that I knew what he liked. It felt like this weird shared moment actually brought us closer. Like walking in on somebody masturbating. You can’t unsee it — you can only decide together to pretend like you didn’t or, at the very least, pretend it didn’t leave a totally indelible imprint.

He took me for Korean barbecue, then moved me into his apartment. _

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How to Lose Everything

How to Lose Everything

A Memoir
edition:Hardcover

Christa Couture has come to know every corner of grief—its shifting blurry edges, its traps, its pulse of love at the centre and the bittersweet truth that sorrow is a powerful and wise emotion.

From the amputation of her leg as a cure for bone cancer at a young age to her first child’s single day of life, the heart transplant and subsequent death of her second child, the divorce born of grief and then the thyroidectomy that threatened her career as a professional musician, How to Lose Everyt …

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