The Golden Circle:
Clouds scud over whispering maples on Cartier Street where I’ve escaped the house because houses are not wild. Roses accost me from a hedge – stars wink and windows light up as people undress for bed. I’m not ready for sleep – it’s one of those wild nights where being inside drives me crazy – I’m out in the dark, listening to wind whoosh in the summer-big leaves, and singing Sylvia Tyson’s River Road, about running away from home. I sing it again, not caring that a stranger hears, and I’ve always sung this way; in the supermarket, on the bus. I sang myself to sleep the whole time I was growing up, and now my daughters do the same. My mother sang arias through the heating vents while she wrung sheets in our old washer and my dad sang Lemon Tree and Little Boxes and Big Rock Candy Mountain and everything Hank Williams ever wrote. It didn’t occur to me that there were people who did not sing, people for whom music was not constantly running over their tongues like juice from wild brambles.
As I wrote my novel, Annabel, I listened to songs while I caught the story as it floated, elusive, in images and scraps. I heard Antony and the Johnsons’ Bird Girl over and over until the song became my tears, and I played Josef Hassid’s aching violin recordings. I searched and searched for a name for the hidden girl within the boy born in my story, and I found her name, Annabel, in a song by a musician called Kat Goldman whom I’d heard play as she straddled an upturned bucket at The Free Times Café. “Annabel, Annabel…” she sang, “where did you go?” I hummed the alto part of Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine and wove it into the story until it became part of the longing and madness and sorrow and glory I wanted to convey about this boy who was also a girl in a world that refused to allow both genders in the same person. Music was a part of the book’s concept and execution – it was all of the book, really – it was all I could do not to just try and make the book one long song – in fact, I wish everything I wrote could be part of one long song.
So when I received an email from singer/songwriter Alison Goldfrapp saying my novel had inspired her to write track two, Annabel, on her band’s upcoming album Tales of Us, I wanted to hear her song right away, and she was kind enough to send it in a file for my ears only, before the rest of the world heard her sing it. I listened alone, in my writing studio, where I’d heard Antony and Kat and Josef and Fauré, my musical companions in the novel’s writing stage, and in the haunting atmospherics and pure emotion of Alison Goldfrapp’s Annabel I realized my work had entered a new place – it had become part of all music: it belonged in the communal air, not just in my body, or the writer’s lair, anymore. I’d handed Alison Goldfrapp an egg and she’d held it until it bore an infinitesimal crack, and out of that space escaped the longed-for bird girl in each of us, and the bird girl had her wings and could fly.
Is it a little strange that my inspiration for Annabel’s name, in the novel, came from Kat Goldman whose name contains the word gold, and now that same Annabel has inspired Alison Goldfrapp whose name also contains the word gold to create this new song, a song that somehow includes all the other music that inspired me? There is something golden about this whole circle of song, something shining, winged and free, and this makes me elated. I know Goldfrapp’s Annabel will be heard by people all over the world who have read or not read my novel. This lends me lightness. Inspiration and story are leaves in this wild night, the very night I write these words, a night of leaves blowing and whispering, wild and green, each leaf a tongue bearing its own song in the wind.
(A note on the accompanying image: I made this collage out of trees and music and atmosphere and wings. It includes images representative or reminiscent of the musicians who inspired and continue to inspire the story of Annabel: Gabriel Fauré, Antony and the Johnsons, Kat Goldman, Josef Hassid, Alison Goldfrapp and others. For me, story emanates from images such as these, and from the music inside them.)