Season 1: Mixtape
Music is a huge part of my life, and a pretty big part of Alone: A Love Story.
In the web posts I wrote for each episode, I talk about the stories behind the stories in the podcast.
I also nerd out a lot when it comes to music.
So if you happen to be a big music nerd like me, here in one place are all the relevant stories behind the music in Alone.
Music mentioned in Chapter 1 - Not if, how
1. Blow Away - Yahenda
The Man With the White Shirt appears in the very first scene and then pops up in a few more flash-forwards in later episodes. Let's just say he's pretty important. Every time he shows up, you'll hear the same song, or variations on it. It's called Blow Away by the artist Yahenda.
Fun fact: Yahenda is The Man With the White Shirt, which is why I chose one of his songs to be his leitmotif. The lyrics to Blow Away always struck a chord with me, and the song just seemed right, you know?
2. The Scientist - Coldplay
We can't use commercial music in the podcast, but if we could, the leitmotif for The Scientist/Husband/Ex-husband would have been The Scientist by Coldplay.
Not just because I called him The Scientist, but because when the song came out in 2002 (the year we got married) I was obsessed with the way it felt to listen to it. I know that sounds cheezy, but there you have it. And even the lyrics so perfectly seemed to capture our artsy-girl/science-boy romance:
I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling your puzzles apart. Questions of science; science and progress, don't speak as loud as my heart.
It still brings me to tears and I'm not even a Coldplay fan, jeez.
3. Orbit - Michelle Parise & Yahenda
The leitmotif I use for The Scientist/Husband/Ex-husband in pretty much every episode of Alone, is a little song I wrote in 1999 called Orbit.
It's the only song I ever wrote for The Scientist/Husband/Ex-husband. Oh wait, I actually wrote another song about him earlier this year in the middle of a snowstorm in Charlottetown. That one was called Judas which you know, obviously.
I haven't written any songs since I was in my twenties, but there I was in February 2017, writing one...about him!
There on the 5th anniversary of the day the bomb dropped, trapped in an East Coast snowstorm with The Man With the White Shirt (agg, I know, I know!) and out came the song Judas - the lyrics, the melody, everything.
A little terribleanniversary gift to no one.
Meanwhile, in that same snowbound hotel room, White Shirt was making Orbit, my old song about The Husband, into a new real version. It sounds so weird now that I'm writing it out, but seriously, that's what was happening!
See, the only recording I had of Orbit was a crappy one on a cassette of me performing it at an open mic night at The Free Times Cafe in Toronto, in November 1999.
Nearly 20 years later, snowbound in the birthplace of Canada in 2017, The Man With the White Shirt took that recording of 25-year old me and built a whole song out of it. Because he actually knows how to write songs!
I re-recorded my vocals, and voila, that's what you hear as The Scientist/Husband/Ex-husband's leitmotif for the podcast.
Music mentioned in Chapter 2 - Why not?
4. Like a Hurricane - Neil Young
This chapter starts with me and The Scientist trying to be in a relationship and it's off to a tumultuous start, what with the nothing in common and the difficulty communicating. But we are also madly in love, and so totally, totally into each other. Which is why I quote Neil Young in the story, saying,
It felt different to love like this. It felt like a hurricane.
The appeal of Neil Young for me has always been how loose he is when it comes to recording. His unashamed approach to song production is based on how a take feels, not how technically perfect and polished it is. Kinda like my approach to life and love, you know? A wonderful parallel to my relationship with The Scientist in those early days.
Recording Like a Hurricane was no different. Crazy Horse only played the song once, and that's the take on the album. Neil did his vocals separately, but in one take as well. The song is a rambly, shuffley mess -- the beginning of the song is cut off, he sings flat for at least half of it, and someone even hits a mic stand somewhere in the middle.
It starts with arguably one of the greatest guitar solos in rock history, he sings for a bit in the middle, and then ends with non-arguably the greatest guitar solo in rock history. It also has one of my favourite lyrics in it ever -- I saw your brown eyes turning once to fire.
Like a Hurricane is the reason I taught myself to play guitar at age 20, just so I could sing it around a campfire. It's still my go-to song around the fire, or when I'm jamming with my friends, and it always, always, makes me think of The Ex-husband. It did feel different to love him. It did feel like a hurricane.
5. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You - Led Zeppelin
I also mention teaching The Husband how to count out time signatures by listening to Led Zeppelin songs and slapping the time out on his thighs.
I can't remember which song we did this to, but if I was allowed to use commercial music in the podcast (against the rules!) I would have used Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You.
Because you know, FORESHADOWING.
Also, Jon Bonham, the world's greatest rock drummer, is basically at his world's greatest on this track. So good.
6. Underneath it All - No Doubt
After the wedding scene, there's a scene where we're driving up the Don Valley Parkway to our wedding reception with my veil out the window. The song playing in the car in real life at that part, was No Doubt's Underneath it All.
That CD was the only one in our brand new car. So we played it a lot.
Gwen Stefani wrote this song about Gavin Rossdale and their very mis-matched but hurricane-inducing romance.
There's times where I want something more, someone more like me
There's times when this dress rehearsal seems incomplete
I was sad to hear it when Gwen and Gavin, the poster-couple for rock love in the 2000s, ended their marriage because he had an affair. Man, you can't even be Gwen Stefani and escape the pain of betrayal! pfffft.
7. What's He Building? - Tom Waits
Did you catch the Tom Waits reference in the story about how I didn't like being pregnant?
"What's she building in there?" I always say. I just can't believe how much activity there is in my own body!
Tom Waits released an album in 1999 called Mule Variations and What's He Building? is just about the most bonkers song ever. I don't know why, but The Husband and I thought it was hilarious. It brought us much joy to ascribe it to the baby in my belly.
I'm not kidding, it really felt like she was building something in there.
Music mentioned in Chapter 4 - Impossible to see
8. Young Folks - Peter Bjorn And John
The Baby cried a LOT. That's what they do, I'm told. But we figured something out early on -- any song that started with a loud drum fill would instantly silence her. The kid liked percussion!
The song that was most successful in this regard was Young Folks, by Peter Bjorn And John so we heard it one million thousand times. Maybe more. It took me until this year to be able to hear that song again and not instantly have my body freeze up in some kind of crying baby PTSD.
Also in music news from this episode: you can hear in one section a bit of me singing Twinkle Twinkle to Birdie. That's from a little "album" of songs I made for her and The Husband as a Christmas gift in 2008. He loved it and played it all the time to her when I wasn't there.
Bonus music alert: I also talk a lot about going for MRIs in this chapter.
If you want to know why I hear music when I'm in the MRI, check out this short radio doc I did for Radio One's Spark (the show I produce.)
Music mentioned in Chapter 5 - The Bomb
9. Innamorati - Toto Cutugno
As I keep saying, I can't play commercial music in the podcast, but if I could, the music for this vignette would have been by Italian pop-star Toto Cutugno. He is alllll my parents and their friends listened to when I was a kid -- the same songs over and over on a little cassette player in our basement kitchen where they'd hang out.
Toto Cutugno was a star in the 70s & 80s who won a lot of Sanremo Music Festivals and even a Eurovision competition, which is a big deal to Italians and Italian-Canadians having basement parties in Mississauga.
10. Undun - The Guess Who
The title of the second vingette in this chapter is He's come undone, an obvious riff on The Guess Who's Undun, a classic Canadian jam that Burton Cummings just wails on beautifully (Sheeeeeeeee's commmmmmmmmme unnnnnn-donnnnnnnnnne!!) Apparently he learned how to play flute just for this song. Nice one, Burton!
The song was written by Randy Bachman, who got the idea from a lyric in Bob Dylan's Ballad in Plain D:
Of the two sisters, I loved the young
With sensitive instincts, she was the creative one
The constant scapegoat, she was easily undone
By the jealousy of others around her.
Oh, man do I love this beautiful and questionable Dylan song. No offence to The Guess Who, but Ballad in Plain D is just killer (literally-- I'm pretty sure he kills the sister in the song.)
I mean, if you lived your life and wrote only this stanza, you'd be complete:
All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight
I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love's ashes behind me.
Dylan is a master.
Anyway, shout out to Randy Bachman and his show Vinyl Tap, one of my favourite CBC Radio programs. Vinyl Tap comes up in a vignette called The Bear that I wrote and you'll hear one day if we get to make a Season 2 of Alone. Bob Dylan will appear too, in a vignette entitled It Ain't Me. Fingers crossed!
11. How to Disappear Completely - Radiohead
I quote Radiohead's How to Disappear Completely in the heartbreaking scene where my husband has just admitted to having an affair, and I run from the car to the cemetery gates. While standing in the snow I say to myself:
I'm not here. This isn't happening.
Which is a line from this most devastating song from Radiohead, one of my favourite bands. How to Disappear Completely is really the only song for the movie-version of the very precise pain of this very precise moment of my life.
Music mentioned in Chapter 6 - Static
1. Chandelier - Sia
Two years after The Bomb, In 2014, Sia's song Chandelier came out. When I first heard the lyrics I felt like time stopped.
I'm the one "for a good time call", phone's blowin' up, ringin' my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love
I'd already written this vignette about the blankness of going out all the time to numb myself, and the way that having sex with men I didn't love felt like slowly cutting out a difficult pattern with scissors.
And then here it was, for real in song, the exact way I felt. My exact approach to coping.
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Like, whoa man. I cannot even listen to this song without crying, still today.
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist, like it doesn't exist
I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
Music mentioned in Chapter 7 - Protection
2. Protection - Massive Attack
I named this chapter after one of my favourite songs ever, Massive Attack's Protection. Man, do I love this song, and this video. There is almost nothing more affirming than the lyrics to this song, and man, Tracey Thorn's voice! A gift from God.
This girl I know needs some shelter
But she don't believe anyone can help her
She's doing so much harm doing so much damage
But you don't want to get involved
You tell her she can manage
Now you can't change the way she feels
But you could put your arm around her
I know you want to live yourself
But could you forgive yourself
If you left her just the way you found her
3. Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey
In this chapter, I give the pseudonym "Irish Blood, Italian Heart" to my childhood and lifelong friend, That's a riff on the song Irish Blood, English Heart by Morrissey.
I love this song. Like, love love love it. I love Morrissey. His brilliant wordsmithing is a thing of beauty, and was a huge influence on me as a teenager.
The song is about UK politics and has nothing to do with me being defended by a very tall girl in a schoolyard in Brampton, Ontario in 1985.
But I like how it perfectly fits my friend -- the Italian side and the Irish side blended together to make a self-assured, loyal and sensitive person who is the kind of friend anyone would be lucky to have.
Music mentioned in Chapter 8 - Left and leaving
4. Left and Leaving - The Weakerthans
My city's still breathing, but barely, it's true
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you
Sparkled with broken glass
If you've never heard the song Left and Leaving, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds out of your life right now to listen to it.
Wait for the year to drown,
Spring forward, fall back down,
I'm trying not to wonder where you are.
5. The Heartbreak Rides - A.C Newman
There's a line in the big sad scene about moving out and our dining room table where I say:
They'd go through files, make lists and assign tasks, they'd pack and pack and pack, the boxes climbing alongside the heartbreak.
Something in the basic swing of things, led them to victimless crimes. The heartbreak climbs.
It just always stuck in my head, "the heartbreak climbs". So great. He's full of bon mots in this song, my second favourite being: California adds some casual bedlam.
Casual bedlam! Brilliant.
Music mentioned in Chapter 9 - Freedom
We've got a tie here when it comes to songs about freedom (the title of this episode)...
6. Freedom - Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar
7. Freedom 90 - George Michael
By the way, if you didn't see their performance of Freedom at at the 2016 BET Awards, man you have to. It is so good.
In the middle of this episode, at the end of the vignette Young Again, I say:
And so I tell the stories with relish, as if I need to prove to my married friends that I'm constantly turning lemons into lemonade. Sometimes I am, don't get me wrong, but here with this familiar crowd, I feel like even the best of my new experiences are still just more lemons.
It feels like there's nothing sweet about the life I've constructed in the fallout of my marriage, not compared to their lives. All I feel here is partnerless and glaringly alone.
No one loves Beyoncé more than Alone producer Veronica Simmonds, and I love her too, so we are not comparing ourselves to Queen Bey.
Buttttt I just want to state for the record that I wrote almost all of Alone more than three years before Beyoncé released her visual album/tour de force Lemonade.
Again, I am in no way comparing myself to Beyoncé! And I know that Lemonade is about so much more than just her husband having an affair. It is an incredible and important work of art that has opened up discussions about so many things that we all like to pretend aren't real.
Thank God we have Beyoncé in this world being beautiful and complicated and unafraid of making people uncomfortable.
8. Young Again - Paul Banks
Everything in the vignette titled Young Again, highlights the way my life suddenly felt bifurcated, or as I call myself in the podcast: part-time parent, part-time partier.
Right around the same time this story takes place in 2012, Paul Banks, the lead singer of the band Interpol, released a solo album with a song on it called, you guessed it, Young Again.
When I first heard it, there in the opening moments of New Me, the lyrics and his deadpan, sarcastic, morose delivery felt just like I did.
'Cause I am young again, thanks a lot
I feel young again, rah rah
9. Lotta Love to Give - Daniel Lanois
There's a big scene that takes place on Canada Day 2012. I'm at Wasaga Beach with The Girl with her Mom's Name Tattooed on her Arm. She also has a million more tattoos all over both her arms, ny the way, not just her mom's name.
Anyway, after she poses the question, "What are you fighting for?" you hear me say:
I'm quiet. This is a real f*****question I haven't considered. But I'm considering it now, here, Wasaga Beach, first of July.
That's a little nod to the wonderful Daniel Lanois and his song Lotta Love to Give...
Fireballs bursting in the sky
Wasaga Beach, first of July
You said to me, hey, I got a whole lotta love to give
I f***** love this song. I also love Wasaga Beach, which is on Georgian Bay in Ontario, about a 2 hour drive north of Toronto. I've gone there every summer of my life.
Fun fact: Wasaga Beach is the longest freshwater beach in the world! A good place to sit and think about life-changing questions.
Music mentioned in Chapter 10 - Forza
10. A Me Me Vene A Risa - Gerardo Casiello & Raffaele Pinelli
The song I use in the first part of this episode, is called A Me Me Vene a Risa, by Gerardo Casiello & Raffaele Pinelli. The title loosely translates to "It's making me laugh" or "To me, it's a laugh". The song sounds much more melancholy than you'd expect from one with the word laugh in the title, but that's Italians for you! A people of contrasts.
Calabria is the birthplace of my father and home of the Parise family. It means so much to me, this place.
You hear an instrumental version of the song Calabrisella Mia, as I talk about my dad and his cousin with the exact same name.
Calabrisella Mia is one of the most famous traditional songs of Calabria. The lyrics are from the point of view of a man who is totally besotted with a "Calabrisella" named Nina.
11. Swim Good - Frank Ocean
If I could use commercial music in this podcast, then the whole thing would have ended with a decidedly un-Italian song, Frank Ocean's Swim Good.
I'm going to guess that there isn't one song I've listened to more in the past five years.
I'm about to drive in the ocean
I'ma try to swim from something bigger than me
Kick off my shoes and swim good, and swim good
Take off this suit and swim good, and swim good, good.
It's hard to even explain why this song means so much to me, or how I relate to it. I guess because he so rawly translates that listless, restless feeling of loss. The way you feel like you're just driving around endlessly in an unknown world, no clue what's going to happen next or what to do with the way you feel right now.
I hope you enjoyed this mixtape and all my stories behind the stories and music in Alone: A Love Story.
Swim good, everyone. Swim good.