When I hear music, I see images; images of places I have listened to the music before, coming in flashes, trains and woods and streets, or the faces of people with whom I’ve heard it. I see the curve of their spines as they sit across the bed from me, or their bodies in motion, a tiny flit of movement caught like a still in an old film reel; these old haunting presences, caught forever on the beat of a moth’s wing.
I see as I listen to Anima by Thom Yorke or Apollo by Brian Eno, carparks dotted with endless rows of immobile shining cars, windscreens glinting white, baked in heat, too hot to touch, torture to sit inside, that blast of hot car smell, burn searing against backs of thighs, and I am an adolescent again with my cousins in Chicago, off to the cinema or the mall or a water fun park, and all is foreign and large and tremulous here at the centre of the universe.
I listen to Moses Sumney’s lilting moan on Aromanticism and I am wandering through the hot streets of Oaxaca, waiting in vain for love or adventure to find me around some corner, ducking off the high, flood-proof paths, into the way of traffic, out of the way of leering men and howling street vendors, listening hard, my eyes trained on the gleaming cobbles or tilted up to the cool, green hills surrounding.
I see listening to YoYo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suites the entirety of the sky as though I were a ghost lost gloriously in it, curving and looping, darting between the planets and the stars, all that darkness and pockets of sudden, bursting light.
When I listen to Solid Air by John Martyn, I see the train tracks I crossed in a small town in Texas, wandering alone for the day, pausing halfway on tip-toes, straining to see their end.
As I listen to System / Layers by Rachel’s I see myself step inside, the shadows sudden and dense after the hot bright world; there is someone here, somewhere in the back, follow the sound; and there, again, through the back door screen, a train far off, right to left, passing.
Listening to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, I see the view from another train, heading up to Beacon, a small town north of New York for the day; industrial wastes passing, telephone poles, passing, too quick to focus, swip, another, swip, their wires in loose curves up and down up and down directing me on, almost playful, their swooping motion, up and down, like a creature travelling alongside me, alongside the slow curve of the Hudson river, going the other way.
What I see is often from a train, because I feel as I listen I am being carried on the way to somewhere, moving and unmoving, the linear motion layers of song, notes streaming, wheels turn following tracks, like when I listen to Kind of Blue or In A Silent Way by Miles Davis and am forever on the subway, up high, travelling into Manhattan from Brooklyn, sunlight piercing in rhythmic streaks the carriage, illuminating walls, poles, yellow plastic seats, the pure bursting joy of it, as I pass between the sharply angled metal railings of the bridges, and lost among the notes that conjure motion, sky, buildings, my mind skips across the oceans to a small stain of cum and crushed strawberries on white sheets with the window open in a hot Granada afternoon.
All the visions I know so well and don’t, the music I cannot make, tremble to adore, taking me along, all these places, known and not, sights unseen from times when I was not alive, I catch them as I listen, places that are more often than not beautiful for being nondescript, unnoted, all the forgotten in-between places, waiting or passing places, where almost all my life seems to find itself living, the chipped counter of a two-star restaurant, the mottled ring on a coaster in a small dark pub in the city, the mud-splattered base of a telephone pole, all the cats’ eyes along the edges of roads, shells dropped along the black sea bed, and as I listen to Billie Holiday, Charlotte Day Wilson or Jonny Greenwood, or maybe Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, ‘5.15’ by Bowie maybe, or ‘Digital’ by Joy Division, or Chet Baker, say, his Almost Blue, all in those resigned keys, the notes tell me that this is the way of life; that things may not go how I hope, that I’m being carried along, to where I don’t know; that everything, even this, ends eventually, and that most things end badly, but gently, slowly, in a way I don’t even have to know – only need glimpse if I listen closely.
(c) Lucy Sweeney Byrne
About Paris Syndrome:
I went to visit the grave of de Beauvoir and Sartre and felt as though, when I saw it, I would be truly moved. It was a sunny day in September – hot with a soft breeze, pleasantly sweaty, in the quiet scented air of Paris on a weekday afternoon. We were lightly hungover, in that drowsy warm way, where everything blurs a little, the whole day vignetting in memory even as we lived it.
In these eleven stories, debut author Lucy Sweeney Byrne invites us to experience travelling the world alone as a young woman, with all its attendant pleasures and dangers.
The staff of a boat moored in Brooklyn rebel against their tyrannical boss. A drifting writer house-sits in the wilds of Donegal in the midst of a health scare. In a Texas dive bar, two former lovers try to salvage a friendship from their intense connection. And in Mexico, a frustrated artist navigates a city both dangerous and alluring.
Whether set in New York, Oaxaca, Havana or back home in Dublin, the result is by turns sharp, fearless and heartbreaking. Laced with biting humour and devastating observations, Paris Syndrome introduces a unique literary talent.
Order your copy online here.