I met Rachael Hanel way back when–like WAY back when–when I was new to Mankato and she was new to my husband’s forensics team. As soon as I met her, I thought, “This woman is a force to be reckoned with” (Rachael has no idea I thought that). After she left the team, we didn’t have contact for many years–we were both busy doing our thing, which for her included journalism and an MA, and for me included a Ph.D. and a kid. Then, in 2004, we were brought together as part of the same writing group, and I thought, “Wow, this woman is even more powerful!” That statement has been proven true a zillion times over the last nine years, and her new memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, is proof positive of her tenacity, her spirit, and her ability to tell a really fantastic story. I’ve learned so much from her! I’m glad she’s here today.
I asked her to guest post about her musical muse (who also appears in BMUC), and why he matters to her. I love her reasoning.
One of the many pleasures I got from reading Kirstin’s Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was the many mentions of music. Not only is BMUC a great story, but it also offers that little “extra” bonus for music fans. I’d imagine many of her readers latch onto and identify with the great songs Gabe plays during his radio show.
For this guest post, I thought a natural topic would be the writer’s use of music. My book, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, does not mention any music per se. Well, there are references to the piano and organ, but my family did not listen to popular music. We didn’t have anything against it: we were just more TV and talk radio people, with the CBS Evening News and WCCO-AM broadcasting into our southern Minnesota house in the 1970s and 1980s.
It wasn’t until I was in high school in the early 1990s that I entered the world of pop music. My best friend, Heather, and I listened regularly to KJ104 out of Minneapolis, which was an alternative music station. Through KJ and MTV’s 120 Minutes, I discovered Morrissey.
My book doesn’t even mention Morrissey, but I consider him an influence upon my writing nonetheless. If you don’t know much about Morrissey, music critics like to refer to him as the “pope of mope.” I disagree with that statement because I think it’s a surface proclamation, but that can be saved for another blog post. Morrissey—a member of The Smiths in the 1980s and who later launched a successful solo career—is known for singing about misery, heartbreak, and rejection. From him we get song titles such as “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “The Last of the Gang to Die,” and lyrics such as “My one true love is under the ground” and “Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.” What people see as dark and mopey, I see as based in reality.
It makes sense that I latched onto Morrissey’s music in 1993 and haven’t looked back since. My attraction to him wasn’t conscious—I didn’t think, “Wow, I love how much he sings about death.” But for a girl who grew up in cemeteries, whose dad was a gravedigger, who wandered graveyards and wondered about the people buried there, Morrissey’s music is a natural fit.
It took me 13 years to write my memoir. Morrissey was a constant companion during that time. I can’t help but to think that his musical sensibilities filtered into my writing. His lyrics settled into me, soaked through my skin, became an integral part of me.
I wanted to use these lines from The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates” as an epigraph for my book, but Warner Bros. denied permission. (Boo, hiss!). I can’t think of anything better that perfectly captures the spirit of my book:
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry
* * *
We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, is now available from the University of Minnesota Press.