Sad Ass Songs: Sooze Lanier
Sad Ass Songs is a weekly column where I ask some of my favorite writers to tell me about their favorite sad songs. They send me songs and then I send them questions and then I post their answers here and then we all cry a little bit.
This week I talked with Sooze Lanier, author of The Game We Play (Curbside Splendor, 2014).
The Song: “Goodbye Lucille #1” by Prefab Sprout
Mark Cugini: Your characters have the best names I’ve ever read in a work of fiction. Why?
Sooze Lanier: Either they are just that good and you have impeccable taste, or you aren’t that well read. Seriously though, when in doubt I just go for a name that sounds good.
MC: Why is this sad ass song resonating with you at the moment?
SL: I just love “Goodbye Lucille #1” so fucking much. All the time. It’s not just a passing moment. I am passionate about it. I’m also a sucker for anything involving heartbreak. This song brings me back to those days of all-consuming crushes that would maybe go somewhere for a sec until you find out this person just isn’t that interested, or they do something shitty like kiss your best friend. Ugh those days were so devastating.
The thing about Prefab and particularly the stuff from Steve McQueen (Aka Two Wheels Good) that’s so great is that Paddy McAloon writes these songs that could easily become trite and melodramatic, but they never go there. His songs all have an undercurrent of sarcasm and yet Paddy is 100% serious about all of it. It’s a fine line to walk and Prefab doesn’t strike this balance any better than in this song. It’s a song that pokes a little fun at its earnestness.
MC: Wow, that’s really funny, because I think someone could say the same thing about The Game We Play–a lot of your characters end up in some shitty situations, but there’s definitely a funny-yet-earnest tone to the way you handle their narratives. If I got one takeaway from your book, it wasn’t that our mistakes make us more shitty, but that our mistakes make us more human. Is that the sort of sentiment you’re trying to illicit from your readers, or am I like, way off base here?
SL: Oh weird, I haven’t thought of my collection that way but I see that about the earnest v. funny thing.
I don’t really go into any story with a mission. I’m not trying to give some schooling or have some takeaway, but I take your point and I am happy you read it that way. Along that line: Does anyone really think that our shitty actions or mistakes make us shitty people? Fact is people act like assholes all the time, but I try to remember that that doesn’t make them an asshole. In life I fail to remember this frequently but I always hope to write with this same kind of empathy in mind. This is not an original thought, but if you approach story with empathy you shouldn’t really have a character that is just a straight up 100% shitty person, and hopefully you’ll have one that is as close to 100% human as possible.
MC: What’s your favorite lyric in this sad ass song? Why?
SL: I just looked over the lyrics and, “What are you twenty-one?” made me lol. The song is actually pretty ridiculous when you just read the lyrics so I’m about to go crawl under a rock and wallow in a bout of self doubt.
Is this song even sad?
This gets back to why I love it so much. It’s all about Paddy. The line that really gets to the heart of it is when he belts, “You’re not the first though it hurts.” The performance (of that line in particular) transforms this kind of silly 80’s pop ditty into an earnest song about first heartbreak, and it is miraculous.
MC: Speaking of miraculous, my favorite story in your collection is “Felicia Sassafras Is Fiction,” where the main character is a main character of a short story that is disappearing because the author of said story is too distracted to finish it. It reminds me of that Grace Paley story “Wants,” except it’s as if the main character never even planned on returning the library books in the first place. I could ask a really convoluted question about “theme” here, but instead of going that route–do you ever feel like no one actually gives a shit?
SL: Is the main character distracted? I think she’s just lazy. I fear that people think I’m lazy sometimes. People have a tendency to brag about how busy they are but I feel like writers who talk about how hard they work are usually liars. I’m like: Shut up dude, you just spent all weekend watching Netflix. No shame, I did too, but lets not lie about how we spend our time. I also know that no one actually really gives a shit what I do with my time. Only I care what I do with my time. Felecia totally came from a place of feeling like, Welp, fuckkkkkit! If no one else cares then I don’t either. Sometimes that’s the best liberation. It takes the pressure off of living to realize that no one else gives a fuck and you can just do whatever you want. That feeling can also be terrifying.
MC: You just went on a tour with Halle Butler and it seems like you two had a really fun time. What was the saddest thing that happened while you guys were on the road?
SL: Halle and I had a blast on tour. The saddest thing about tour aside from the state of my liver now, was having to deal with some pretty heavy shit after our reading in Baltimore. This woman came up to me and said, “Are you the one who read the story about incest? Your story made me puke.” She didn’t mean it in a good way. My story actually made her puke. Look: I’m a big girl. I’m not going to cry if you don’t like my story. What did me in was having to stand there pretending like I was ok while someone said their experience trumped mine, that being sensitive to their truth was more important than me having the courage to talk about mine. The last thing I want is for another person who has gone through maybe similar experiences as me to be in a situation where they re-live trauma, but I’m also just trying to have a conversation. Just talking about this shit is hard. I understand shit is hard. It’s hard for me too, but all I have is language and I’m just trying to do the best I can. That fucking wrecked me.
Listen to the whole playlist right here: