A WRITER'S WIT
When you try to unravel something you've written, you belittle it in a way. It was created as a mystery.
Born November 20, 1 936
The next realization that came to me, three years later, was that I was never going to be a proper minister—that is to say, I was never going to throw myself under the bus for any deity. While I’d been raised a Methodist, attended a private church college, and was now enrolled in seminary, I didn’t wish to be awakened in the middle of the night by someone who told me she’d just taken a bottle of barbiturates; I didn’t wish to spend long hours counseling someone who didn’t really want to change; I didn’t wish to write fifty sermons a year and orate with the inspiration ascribed to Moses or other Biblical figures. For those few years I wasn’t a very happy person, not until I’d given up these two illusions—both of which had been instilled in me as a child, in slightly different ways—which were intricately woven together in their demands. I would neither remain married nor would I remain a minister.
The one element that probably helped me through much of my life was music, whether I played keyboards myself, sang in an ensemble, or listened to music. It tested my intelligence—the learning, memorization, and performance of new music. It teased my creative powers: bending the score to make it mine, while still being true to the notes and musical directions provided by the composer. But most of all, music provided solace.
In this story, “My Long-Playing Records,” all three of these elements—marriage, seminary, love of music—converge like storm clouds to deliver much needed relief to the protagonist, Evan Wiseman. I chose “Evan” because it’s a name I might choose if I were to rename myself, and “Wiseman” because of its obvious irony. Story writing, for me, often provides a bit of wish fulfillment. Unlike me—I would take another five years to unburden myself of a wife and three years to let go of an archaic obedience to religion—Evan figures things out by the end of the story. His wife (unlike mine, who would try to hang onto our pitiful union) easily sets him free, “a kind of benediction, really” (175).
Finally, this story provides much of the thematic material for the rest of the collection: fatherless boys or those who’ve had ineffectual male figures in their lives (and how fatherless can you get if you give up G-o-d?), souls who struggle with religion, yet always, with a certain soundtrack of music in the background. Nearly every character is influenced by music, either by way of his or her performance or by way of recorded music, whether it be an LP, cassette, CD, or a digital file.
Wearing Bose sound-reducing earphones makes music sound as if it’s playing between my ears. That’s how I wish for this book to hit the reader—between the ears. To belabor the metaphorical talk, may the stories strike a chord in you, whether you’re old or young, gay or straight, white or a person of color. “My Long-Playing Records” is buried in the middle of the collection, providing its “spine,” if you will. You can read it first or in the content order. Either way, I think you’ll appreciate its properties as the title story.
A PASSAGE FROM THE STORY:
"He grunted, cradling me in his musky arms, and I hummed along with the ballad singer, a woman with a soft whiskey tenor. It was a voice I could never grow tired of, a warmth I could never reject, no matter how many times I heard the song, no matter how many times the red label made thirty-three-and-a-third revolutions per minute, the turntable clicking to a stop when the song was over" (167).
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11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records