Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Matthew Fiander writes about Ringing in Your Ears, his new novel out from Main Street Rag.
If Ringing in Your Ears were a mixtape, the person I made it for in high school will find it decades later in a tote under the travel seat of a 1995 Corolla, the car they borrowed from their grandmother to drive us to our summer job lifeguarding at the public pool, the car they hadn’t seen until there it was, tags expired and engine dead, in the garage they were tasked with cleaning out weeks after the funeral.
In the car’s cab, the faux-floral-sweetness of their grandmother’s perfume, the stale smell of the cigarettes they thought they hid so well back then. Maybe there will be just enough juice left to light up the dash, to work the tape deck.
The first song will leave a taste on their tongue. They’ll recognize every note, the different drum fill in the second chorus, the ragged guitar solo, how the singer says “butterflies”. It will pull open hidden corners in the mind where images spill out. They’ll wonder if you could call them memories when they’d been gone for so long. If there was another name for that. A welcome exhumation.
The next song is familiar too, but the words are different than they remember, the tempo slower. Back then they considered this song obscure – I likely thought so too – but now they’ll recall how often they heard it on the radio, how it featured in those Sam Goody listening stations.
But I left room for true obscurity. No shortage of b-sides and acoustic versions. A deep cut from an indie-flick-turned-Blockbuster-rental-hit soundtrack. Nothing from their favorite band – I knew their favorite band, but not their middle name, not why they were absent two straight weeks sophomore year and came back quieter – but one song from the singer’s side project.
To show I could be mainstream, that I could fit in, I included the song with the DJ banter and cut-off ending, taped directly from the radio late one night. The hits, the deep cuts, the slow, the fast, the angry, the subdued. I wanted them to know who I was. Or who I wanted to be. I gave them options.
It will take five or six more songs, nearly all of Side A, before they’ll look to the tape case spine and find my name. They loved the tape then, but won’t know if they ever told me, if we ever spoke about it. Why, now that they are thinking about it, had I even given them the tape in the first place? What was the occasion?
Somewhere on Side B the songs will wash over them. They’ll return to the back of third-period geometry talking about the Smashing Pumpkins or cringing in gym class at the boys rapping awkwardly during warm-ups, trying to shock a room full of eye rolls with their cursing. The blurry music coming from behind their older sister’s closed door. The feeling of wanting to be on the other side of that door, curled on the bed with her, a genuine ache in their gut. They’ll think of someone, not me, they fell in love with but won’t remember why.
They will listen. All the way to the end. At some point, a face will emerge in their head. They will remember me. Parts, anyway. My mixtape is an artifact from a long-forgotten time. But one that will still break their heart, in the quietest, sweetest way.
Because holy hell, that first song. The place it brings us back to. The feeling it becomes.
Matthew Fiander is the author of the novel Ringing In Your Ears. His fiction has appeared in Story Magazine, Zone 3, Willow Springs, The Massachusetts Review, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, Reckon Review, and elsewhere. He has also published articles in The New York Times and Our State Magazine, and was a long-time music writer and editor for the online magazine, PopMatters. A graduate of UNCG’s MFA Writing Program and former fiction editor for The Greensboro Review, he currently lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter at @MattFiander.