September 26, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
David Schickler proves himself an moving and provocative storyteller in his memoir of love and faith, The Dark Path.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"This tale contains equal amounts of irreverence and holiness, and their combination makes the narrative pure."
My memoir The Dark Path is about my pursuit of becoming a Catholic priest. Growing up I loved God and prayer. But then I fell in love with a woman named Mara and I also started to love writing fiction, and these loves challenged my path to priesthood. The conflict cost me. I drank, popped anti-depressants, and punished my body with karate as I tried to choose which way my life would go.
Music was in the trenches with me. The songs below could be my book's soundtrack. I put some on mix tapes for Mara, danced or sobbed to others. To me great prayers, love affairs and fiction share the same secret as great songs: they are meant to be reveled in, not understood. I still drive after midnight with the windows down, singing and adoring these songs.
If you want to know how it ended with me, Mara and the priesthood, please read The Dark Path. If you want to hear how it felt, or just hear some great music, give these songs a listen.
"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" by Bruce Springsteen
There is something eternally kickass about a guy roaring up below a girl's bedroom window in his car (like the guy in this song) and yelling “forget your parents, forget that other guy, come run away, I'm giving off sparks here because of how badly I need it to be You And Me.” This was also the first song that convinced me that life should be shot through with joy.
"Sitting Still" by REM
I heard this song in my freshman year at Georgetown (a Catholic university) on nights I hung out with four Southern friends. REM was their secular religion: strangely this song became part of my Catholic religion. The line Any type of lovemaking is a waste of time sitting still really hit me since celibate priesthood was my calling. Also the guitar riff and the blur of Michael Stipe's lyrics go great with a beer buzz.
"Need You Tonight" by INXS
I spent sophomore year praying with Jesuit priests, as I planned to join their order. Then I fell for Mara Kincannon, a New England knockout. This song taught me that I could dance… I could slink and seduce, like Michael Hutchence, and Mara dug it. Also, whereas Rosalita had Springsteen highway grandeur, this song simply said: We. Are Going. To Fuck. NOW. I was a virgin and needed a nudge and this song gave it to me.
"Flying Cowboys" by Rikki Lee Jones
Mara and I were head over heels. When we had sex she played chick rock music like Annie Lennox. Then we studied abroad: Mara was in Italy, I was in Germany, and I fell under this song's spell. It was chick rock and made me want Mara: but it's also about a lonely figure in a desert (Rikki Lee's voice is like a ghost prophet's) and that made me feel the Priesthood Ache. I felt torn between Mara and celibacy, and I was too terrified to talk to Mara about it.
"Debaser" by Pixies
Senior year at Georgetown, Mara felt my tension and knew it had to do with my faith. The strain was too much and we broke up. She began dating a Hawaiian guy. I swore off sex and spent time with Jesuits. When I wasn't at Mass, I wrote fiction and listened to the Pixies. I loved the song Debaser, about sliced eyeballs and Andalusian dogs. I wanted to write stories as free and wild as that. I decided that I would become a Wildly Artistic Priest like Andrew Greeley, that bishop who wrote bodice ripper novels.
"Greetings to the New Brunette" by Billy Bragg
After Georgetown I spent two years in Columbia's MFA program and went to long Masses in Latin at a Morningside Heights church. I was on my path toward becoming a writer priest.
But then I heard this song and couldn't shake it. It made me desperate to know what had happened to Mara, with whom I'd lost contact. The song is my favorite ballad ever: a love song from the gutter, where a street guy with no pedigree wants a woman out of his league. It's got Johnny Marr from the Smiths on lead guitar. I play it a lot on acoustic guitar (not too horribly).
"Am I Wrong?" by Love Spit Love
"Sit Down" by James
I sought out Mara, to tell her I still loved her, to tell her of my priesthood struggles. I was a mess: a depressed insomniac, limping with a leg ruined by a karate incident. I found Mara in Boston and bared my heart in a pizzeria Uno.
She was seeing a new guy, but confessed she'd been thinking of me a ton lately. We held hands. We didn't know which way our lives would go. She said she'd be in touch soon… to say whether it could be Her And Me.
I taught English in a Vermont boarding school that winter while I waited to hear from her. I had constant, gasping panic attacks, could barely walk from my leg's pain. Unable to sleep I drove every night to a frigid lake by the Canadian border and yelled at a God I was no longer sure was there. These were the songs I played over and over each night as I drove to that lake.
"Am I Wrong" had the lyrics: I can't stand/I can't see my way/I feel blind on my feet/I can't stay too long/Am I wrong?
"Sit Down" had the lyrics: Those who feel a breath of sadness, sit down next to me/Those who find they're touched by madness, sit down next to me/Those who find themselves ridiculous, sit down next to me.
Those lyrics contained almost everything I felt on those nights.
"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles
My father came to Vermont while I was in pain and anguish. At a Christmas dance the boarding school held, this song came on and my father tried to get me on the dance floor to shake a leg to it. We'd always danced our asses off side by side at family weddings. On this night, when I couldn't dance, my father danced for me. I will never forget it. Watching him made me decide I am going to heal from all this shit I'm going through.
This song contains something I love in rock and roll, something I call The Scream Before The Break, where, right after the second chorus, just before the guitar solo breaks, the lead singer screams like he can't contain himself, like it's all too much, like the pent-up energy of how much he feels and how much he loves has got to be let out right now. The other best Scream Before The Break is in the song Good Lovin' by the Young Rascals.
The Scream Before The Break is how I felt that night: I knew my life would change, that, priesthood or Mara or neither, some breakout joy was coming.
"A Gentle Sound" by Railway Children
"Flathead" by the Fratellis
Breakout joy did come, though not in the way I expected. As I said above, if you read The Dark Path, you'll find out how. But nowadays I often go running with these glad two songs pounding in my ears and I'm carried by an excitement that started back in my "Rosalita" days, and my love for God and women remains as charged and pulsing as ever, and I feel quite literally like a large-hearted boy.
David Schickler and The Dark Path links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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