“Music & Me” is a feature in which authors talk about their musical influences, their favourite musicians and their “musical guilty pleasures”. This week’s
victim guest is Ethel Rohan. Ethel is the author of The Weight of Him, a debut novel first published in the United States (St. Martin’s Press, February 14, 2017) and forthcoming in the UK from Atlantic Books, June 1, 2017. Raised in Dublin, she lives in San Francisco, California.
What are your earliest musical memories?
I remember packed pubs with my parents, three brothers, two sisters, and various aunts, uncles and cousins—ceilings of gray-blue cigarette smoke, drinks in various stages of disappearing, and live music from bands with lead male singers belting rebel songs like “Back Home in Derry,” and rousing ballads like “Dirty Old Town.” By the time I was seven I suspect I knew every word of “The Town I Loved So Well” and “Black Is the Color of my True Love’s Hair”. Even back then I was aware how music, and in particular song, could stir listeners and I very much felt its effects too. I loved when the audience joined in to sing and took to their feet to dance. The great fun aside, music and song are the first forces that most ignited in me a sense of fierceness.
Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?
I was and remain fickle, and greedy, at least in this regard. I’d obsess over any music that moved me. Bob Dylan, he got a lot of play. But I especially loved the music that could make me shout and dance hard. Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner. I wasn’t above headbanging, either! AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Guns N’Roses. Then there was New Romanticism. What’s not to love? Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Soft Cell, Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode, the Eurythmics. There’s no end. I have to mention QUEEN, too. QUEEN! The music that most influenced me growing up, and still does now, are those songs that let me know I’m not alone in my experiences, feelings, and needs.
Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?
Dare I admit I write mostly in silence? The days where I’m really struggling, when just getting a few words onto the page is a slog, those are the days I listen to music. And even then I prefer instrumental and meditation tracks. Maybe I don’t want lyrics to distract or (mis)lead me. I want the words and ideas to come organically from the story and its characters.
Is there one particular novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?
In my novel, The Weight of Him, the protagonist’s dead teenage son, Michael, was an aspiring singer-songwriter. One of the ways I got to know Michael’s character was by listening to music I felt he would have enjoyed, like HamSandwicH, Gavin James, Imelda May, and the Rubber Bandits. Turns out the novel’s protagonist, Billy, is more of a Christy Moore fan and his wife, Tricia, appreciates country music (Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck”)
I would listen to certain artists and songs thinking of this family, the Brennans, and imaginging all that certain music brought up for each of them, and all it also allowed them to escape from, too, if only for a few minutes.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
My oldest daughter has a beautiful singing voice. I could listen to her all day, every day. Aside from her, Sinead O’Connor and Adele are regulars. More current, I can’t get enough of Andra Day’s “Rise Up”
Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?
There is no such thing. I cast out guilt, musical and otherwise, some time ago. Guilt is such a useless, brutal emotion. I highly recommend getting free of its grasp. I also highly recommend this song from a young singer-songwriter right here in San Francisco, “Fall” by Ryan Doyle.