Christine Estima is a novelist, playwright, and spoken word artist
Christine Estima’s story “Sarajevo Roses” was published in issue 32 of The Puritan.
Almost everything I do in life, from writing to walking to the subway in the morning, is affected by music. It’s hard not to get caught in its gravity, or its ability to pull your mood toward joy, melancholy, or even an indiscretion. That’s what I love about music—all the notions about life and the human condition can be conjured in just a few simple chord progressions. Sarajevo Roses features the opening verse and lyrics of a song that was popular in 2008, in which the piece is set: “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. I note in the piece that the name of the band is fitting considering Sarajevo is where the actual Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but the song itself is interesting in its ironic use of peppy, upbeat, anthemic chords suitable for a dance hall, yet the lyrics are rather sombre, sad, and morbid. The fist-pumping opening notes suggest a feel-good tune, but the lyrics talk about the cross-hairs of a sniper’s rifle, and about the metaphoric death from love’s bullet storm.
That’s the kind of music that I gravitate toward: the ones that employ irony. When the music suggests reflective, dismal, solemn sentiments, but the lyrics are sung sweetly as if the singer is smiling with joy, I dive right in. I love that shit. I eat that shit up.
In the song “Landfill” by Daughter, the lyrics are:
Throw me in the landfill
don’t think about the consequences
throw me in the dark pit
don’t think about the choices that you make
throw me in the water
don’t think about the splash I will create
leave me at the altar
knowing all the things you just escaped
Push me out to sea
On a little boat that you made out
Of the evergreens
that you helped your father cut away
Leave me on the tracks
Don’t wait until the morning train arrives
Don’t you dare look back
Walk away, catch up with the sunrise
’Cause this is torturous
Electricity between both of us
And this is dangerous
’Cause I want you so much
But I hate your guts
I hate you
The lyrics are disturbing to say the least, but Daughter sings them with an ethereal breathlessness, like she’s savouring each lyric as she would a lollipop. Listening to this multifaceted song whilst writing is an ephemeral experience and inspires everything from narrative to characterization to mood. It reminds me that even a three minute and thirty second pop song can tell a story with many levels, and if that can be done in such a short span, perhaps I can do it do too.
Another great example is the song “Enemies” by Hannah Georgas. The chorus is simply the refrain “Are you gonna make an enemy of me? Are you my enemy,” which at first glance could be mistaken for a call to arms, that a street fight is at hand, but it’s sung as if she’s full of hope, like there’s nothing in this world that can touch her. Then there’s “Give Out” by Sharon Van Etten which sounds like bittersweet swan song, but the lyrics suggest she’s trying to steer her lover toward an indiscretion, that she’s sexually dominant and enjoys it. She sings, “I’m biting my lip/As confidence is speaking to me/I loosen my grip from my palm/Put it on your knee […] It’s not because I always give up/It might be I always give out.”
And sometimes it’s the absence of lyrics that is truly moving. Lately when I write I’ve been listening to only instrumental music because singing along to lyrics can actually distract me from the story I’m trying to build. There are some great modern instrumentalists who create post-classical music that fuses classical with electronic beats to create something new and untapped. I like the work of Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, A Winged Victory for The Sullen, Chilly Gonzales, and Kiasmos. Setting the mood for writing is tantamount for me, so when I need to shut out the world, hunker down and just bang that shit out on the typewriter (I have two!), I listen to these guys and the jumble of thoughts in my brain miraculously unscrambles.
Christine Estima’s writing has appeared in VICE, Metro News Canada, CBC, Bitch Magazine, subTerrain Magazine, EVENT Literary Magazine, Grain Literary Journal, The Madison Review, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Descant, Room Magazine,Matrix Magazine, Exclaim!, NOW Magazine, The Grid, YYZ Living Magazine, Verge Magazine, AufBau, Canadian Theatre Review, and many, many others. “Sarajevo Roses” was longlisted for the 2015 CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction Prize. Visit ChristineEstima.com for more, or tweet her.