John Henry Fleming’s forthcoming story collection, Songs for the Deaf, is full of haunted characters: haunted by the deaths of loved ones, memories of lovers, knowledge of truth. The range of characters—aliens, bigfoot look-alikes, cloud readers, floating girls—lends itself to satire, creating a new mythology out of crises of faith.
Most importantly, though, these stories are fun.
I thought about middle schoolers singing opera and Jesus playing basketball.
And by the time I reached the end of the book I just sat on my couch going:
In a review of Songs for the Deaf, Jeff Parker says, “All music worth playing is worth playing loud, and the volume on Songs for the Deaf should be turned all the way up.” I couldn’t agree more. In this spirit, I chose songs best blasted at a volume normally reserved for Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin (judge me as you will).
Check out the playlist here. You can pre-order a copy of Songs for the Deaf at the Burrow Press website. (It’s available in March.) You can also subscribe to have all four Burrow Press books, including Songs for the Deaf, mailed right to your house.
“Gallows” by Brown Bird: Much of the quiet tension in “Cloud Reader” comes from the stubbornness of two men unwilling to admit that they aren’t really all that different. “Gallows” touches upon the same idea.
“The Wind” by Cat Stevens: “A Charmed Life” is a bittersweet story. The protagonist keeps traveling, through hold-ups and mistaken identities, and eventually ends up exactly where he needs to be, despite not knowing exactly where he’s headed.
“Can’t Keep Johnny Down” by They Might Be Giants: Three lines in this song essentially sum up JHF’s “The Day of Our Lord’s Triumph (with marginal notes for children)”: “Outnumbered a million to one/All of the dicks in this dick town/Can’t keep Johnny down.” Or, in this case, a pseudo-Jesus who becomes a religious figure after defeating his enemies in a game of pick-up basketball.
“Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam: I remember hearing some version of this some when I was a kid and being floored by the tragedy of it. To this day it’s still one of the saddest songs I can think of. It suits the mental state of the guilt-riddled protagonist in “Weighing of the Heart.” He drives and drives and drives so that he can become an expert driver and atone for the slip that ended his wife’s life.
“Two Feet High and Rising” by Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash’s fictional family almost drowns. The water gets higher and higher. As the dysfunctional fictional family in “Chomolungma” climbs Everest, the air gets thinner and thinner, their own disingenuousness sealing their fate.
“Far, Far” by Yael Naim: The woman at the center of “In the Shadow of the World’s Greatest Monument to Love” yearns for more. She thinks often of her first lover, a boy she knew in high school. She hopes and hopes for something to happen to her, hopes for love returned.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Ingrid Michaelson: I learned something new from “Xenophilia.” Turns out aliens are aphrodisiacs.
“Charlie Boy” by The Lumineers: In “Coward” a man spends years living in the wake of leaving war of a willful injury.This song gets at the heartbreak of war.
“Hey Brother” by Avicii: In “Wind and Rain,” a young man sits at his comatose brother’s hospital bedside and recounts the night that put him there. He speaks of wind and rain and the hope he has that someday they’ll both be able to live outside that tragic moment.
“Somebody to Love” by Queen: In “Songs for the Deaf,” a kid’s operatic voice moves bullies to compassion, but doesn’t woo the town’s only deaf resident. The kid makes it his mission to connect with the deaf girl—and I thought, you know, if any operatic voice (outside of actual opera) could make this story’s deaf girl hear, it would be Freddie Mercury.Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?