Sunday, October 28, 2012

tuned to the right key

First Spring Grass Fire 
- Rae Spoon

I'm always curious to read books written by musicians.  There's a tendency to believe that reading something penned by someone who makes music that I admire will give me deeper insight into the music itself.  Or at least into the person who made the music.

I've long been a fan of Rae Spoon.  The former Calgarian with the haunting voice continually makes some of my favourite music, be it acoustic cow punk twang or the more recent turn to electronica.  In the few personal encounters I have had with Rae at shows and festivals, I have always been struck by a sense of  enormous presence within a diminutive person, tempered with a slightly awkward shyness and an easy-going, keen sense of humour.

Naturally I was very curious to read Rae Spoon's first book, First Spring Grass Fire.  The slim volume of interconnected stories is a work of fiction, but the tales of growing up queer in a strict Pentacostal family undoubtedly has a lot of overlap with the author's own life story.  The oldest child in a troubled family, the narrator (also called Rae) tells, in a series of brief non-linear chapters, about incidents that shaped their upbringing - the religious fervour, the siblings born and lost, the increasingly combative struggles with a schizophrenic father, the increasingly certain recognition that they were born the wrong gender.

First Spring Grass Fire is written in refreshingly simple language.  There is real power behind those straightforward words, and often I was forced to pause at the end of a sentence, just to let the impact of what was divulged really sink it.  A natural storyteller, Rae Spoon has a way of getting under your skin with just a few simple words.  

There is a lot of humour in First Spring Grass Fire.  As a city not traditionally known for being an easy place to grow up queer, Calgary definitely takes a few well-placed shots.  But much of the humour is self-deprecating as well.  Teenaged angst, after all, is pretty ridiculous when you look back at it from the safety of years passed, even when that angst is muddled with the complexities of gender confusion.  Rae Spoon recognises this, and that is one of the many things that makes First Spring Grass Fire an immensely readable, funny, and moving book.

You should read it.


John Mutford said...

Sounds like a good mix of humor and emotion. I'm not familiar with his music, but you've intrigued me.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love their music, John, (I will have to introduce you), and their plain-spoken writing style is eloquent in its simplicity.