Scott, this piece is one in a series you’re writing, inspired by the French composer Eric Satie’s Gymnopédies, composed in the 1880’s. This particular story had the effect on me as a reader of looking at an old, intimate photograph. A melancholic feeling followed me after I read it. Can you talk about how this particular piece of music became the inspiration for so many tiny stories?
Well, I’ve always loved the music. Maybe more to the point, I’ve always been interested in the music and its affects. A lot of people put Satie in Brian Eno’s family tree. That makes some sense. I love Eno, too. But I think that the Gymnopédies, as music, are kind of off on their own. You can’t hear rigor in them, but they seem formally rigorous in a way that most ambient music isn’t.
I’m not sure why I decided to start using the term. After I wrote the first one, the “Houston Gymnopédie,” I thought I’d write a couple of others and that would be it. But I kept going. I’ve got something like twenty-five of them now. As I wrote on my blog a while back, maybe part of the reason I began naming them after American cities was to combat any particular associations of rainy Parisian scenes. Just in terms of form, what would a written Gymnopédie be? I guess that’s been the question.
Can you tell us about how music/art effects your writing beyond this series?
In the old days I’d have been known as a guy with a record collection. So it’s an enthusiasm. And I think it does tend to get into my writing more than other enthusiasms—sports, for example.
Sometimes I’ll have an unofficial soundtrack for things I’m writing (The Ramones, Tom Waits and Will Oldham have each taken their turns in the Gymnopédies). Generally I’m with Amanda Nazario, who’s on record as saying this: “I hope what I write can satisfy people the way a good pop song can.”
Your physical details both light the story and ground the reader in the moment. For example, the line, “The fray in the hems of our jeans would leave coin-sized puddles on buckled floorboards.” Can you talk about memory, both real and imaginary, and the role it plays for you as a writer?
That’s a nice thing to hear!
It’s interesting that you hit upon memory. There used to be a vague line in my head between memory and invention. There isn’t anymore. I tend to trust the little bits of things memory tosses my way. In the case of this story, the “Seattle Gymnopédie,” I think I use what you call ‘imaginary’ memory to shape and explore.
The narrator is interested in the radio DJ who plays nothing but pieces from the 1920’s, and how that DJ “works hard” to set the stage for his listeners by sharing pertinent historical information with each recording—clearly a labor of love many of us can relate to. Can you talk about your own endeavors as a writer/editor and the aspect of doing what you love?
This is one of those ones where the question is going to be so much better than the answer. I do relate to the DJ’s passion! I relate to his hope that he’s enabling others to share it. Strangers. People he’ll never meet.
Confession: I almost didn’t send this one to SmokeLong because of the DJ. I thought about Dave Clapper reading it and going, When was there ever a DJ like that on the radio here?
You are the editor of Wigleaf, the creator of the Wigleaf Top 50, and a writer. What else is Scott Garson?
It’d be fun to hand the laptop over to my wife and see what she’d have to say.
But no—can I offer a word about the Top 50, since that’s coming up soon now (May 1st)?
Darlin’ Neal—whose story “Red Brick,” from SmokeLong, was selected for the first Wigleaf Top 50—is this year’s Selecting Editor. She’s awesome. I’m feeling super lucky that she’s signed on to do it.
And this year’s Long Shortlist—I’m ecstatic about it. ’08 was a pretty amazing year in the life of the very short story.