These are not songs that I listened to while writing the novel, rather songs that would help put me in the world of my characters. Sometimes, if I hadn’t worked on the manuscript for a while, I’d put it on to get back into things. Or I’d listen to it on walks or doing the dishes, trying to work out what might happen next in the story.
In all there are 48 songs on the playlist, but below are ten that hold particular meaning.
“Little Bird” by Annie Lennox
The Family Way is a long book, and my editor wanted me to break it up into three parts. I liked that idea but wanted to give each section a title. I had the idea to name each part after a song. Annie Lennox is referenced at one point in the novel. She is one of the artists that Michael has discovered in his gay education. She definitely was part of mine. Her albums Diva and Medusa were such important albums for me in my development as a young gay man, and a song like “Little Bird” perfectly captures the spirit of Michael’s story.
“500 (Shake Baby Shake)” by Lush
This song is about the Fiat 500 subcompact car. It’s a great, fun pop song that my partner Greg and I turn up every time it comes on in our house. Although Miki Berenyi is singing about a car, she might as well also be singing about a lover, which is often how people feel about their cars. In the novel, Michael is obsessed with cars, particularly his old BMW he names “Baby.” I like how this song befuddles our feelings for animate and inanimate objects.
“Drag” by Day Wave
This song sounds like summer to me and listening to Day Wave—along with The Drums—makes me think of long afternoons on the beach and bike rides in Provincetown. P-Town is an important location in the book, and my main character Paul does start to feel like a bit of a drag on holiday. Paul is the responsible one, while Michael is playful. I feel like this song captures Paul’s thoughts about himself in this regard—he knows he can be a drag sometimes, and does not want to be.
“Alan” by Perfume Genius
When I created the character of Alan, I didn’t know much about him. All I knew was that he was Paul’s former lover and that his name was Alan. Sometimes it’s like that with characters. There’s no other name for them. Fast-forward to me editing the book last year and discovering this song by queer musician Perfume Genius. It was kind of spooky because I feel like maybe he and I were channeling a parallel muse when writing our projects. To me, the song captures how Paul feels about his time with Alan in only a few lyrics and a haunting melody.
“The Thing About Things” by Amanda Palmer
Part Two opens with the title of this song by Amanda Palmer. Truth be told, I’m normally not a huge fan of lyrics. I often don’t even know what a song is about, preferring to daydream to melodies than understand words. But Palmer is such a gifted storyteller. I will sit down and listen to one of her eight-minute songs every time it comes on because she captures life’s moments so perfectly in them. I discovered this song late in the process of writing too, but I felt there was something here connected to what I was trying to say about the meaning we ascribe to the inanimate objects in our lives.
“Liberation” by Pet Shop Boys
One day I’ll write more eloquently about Pet Shop Boys and their influence on my life. Like Paul, I came out around the same time that Very was released. I remember having liked the band when I was in high school in the 80s, but after coming out in the 90s I was looking for queer content wherever I could find it. A lot of the people I was meeting were enamoured with PSB and there were the rumours that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were gay (you had to read between the lines, but the message was there). On the days that I worked part-time as a sales clerk, I would sometimes eat lunch in my dad’s car in the hopes of catching “Liberation” on the radio. It was often played in the same hour as Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” and together these two songs would allow me to daydream about being a member of this new community I had discovered.
“Make Me Believe in You” by Patti Jo
I’ve said this multiple times, but Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance is my all-time favourite book. In The Family Way, I pay tribute to it and the other formative influences in my queer life (i.e., Armistead Maupin, Annie Lennox, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Ethan Morrden, Madonna, etc.). In fact, I named Paul’s two cats Malone and Sutherland after the protagonists in Dancer. This song, by Patti Jo, is one of several mentioned in Holleran’s novel. Out of all of the songs the men dance to, it is the one that keeps coming back and represents the lives and desires of his characters. When music started to become more accessible online, I remember searching for this song to have a better understanding of the world of his characters. Maybe one day, curious young readers will look up the songs mentioned in my books.
“Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline is the queen of heartbreak and there is some heartbreak in this book too. Like many gay boys, I developed a fondness for Patsy Cline at a young age. I don’t know why we are often drawn to the same influences, but we are. I could have included so many of her songs here, but I like the image of there being three cigarettes in an ashtray. Who exactly is this third person? And how did she take her man away?
“Last Dance” by Donna Summer
This song title is for the third and final part of the book. If you’ve ever been to Tea Dance at the Boatslip in Provincetown, you know that this song often closes out the party. Donna Summer is a diva that exists at the height of old-school gayness and big-time disco. This song can be seen as a moment of celebration but also a plea, and I think it sets the stage perfectly for the end of the book.
“Buddy” by Willie Nelson
Although this song is really about a man losing his girlfriend, there is still something extremely touching to hear Willie Nelson asking his male friend for emotional support. “Laugh with me, buddy… Don’t ever let me start feeling lonely.” It’s a wonderful song about friendship, and makes me think of the bond between Michael and Paul who call each other “buddy” in the book.
Want to hear more? Listen to the other songs on the playlist.