A Luciérnaga’s Playlist

Manuel Paul López
“We are photons released from a dying star / We are fireflies a child has trapped in a jar”
—Nick Cave
“…vibrational absence…that when a species leaves the planet they take all of their sounds with them. Their heartbeat, their breath, their footfall, their fluttering, their gallop, their cries, their songs, all of it, gone…silence…”
—CAConrad from Commonplace with Rachel Zucker

In November of 2017, my book These Days of Candy was published as part of the Noemi Press and Letras Latinas’ Akrilica Series. I mention These Days of Candy, because I was recently asked about the longish verse play of the same name in the book and why I included the music that I did as a playlist. To begin with, the book title itself was inspired by the Beach House song “Days of Candy” from their 2015 album Depression Cherry. For this post, I’d like to share some thoughts about the songs that were on that track list, and why they were published with the play, something I’ve never thought of doing.

Like many, I enjoy writing to music. As a matter of fact, music is almost always playing in our home. Even when we’re out of the house, our local jazz station KSDS 88.3 is left to fill the air for our little dog, Luka the Interminable Love Monster, because he loves jazz as we do too. Anyway, the songs included in the “These Days of Candy’s” playlist began as part of a larger batch of music that I was listening to at the time, somewhere between 2014-2015; and as what typically happens, I begin to exclude songs that really aren’t helping me anymore during the generative stages of a longer work. Sometimes tunes become more distracting than anything, or they simply no longer supply the necessary electricity, or chispa, that I need while writing. As this list of songs began to manifest itself into something more than the typical background playlist I use to write with, I cut the number to about a dozen or so songs to see what would eventually happen. In time, the music and the storyline, a cuentito about a luciérnaga named Elías the Doom Boy, emerged. Both song and text congealed, at least in my mind, and the music became an important, almost inextricable aspect of the story, like a soundtrack is what I’m trying to say to you now.

First, a tiny backstory. As disjointed, feverish, fractal, and/or proliferative (my love language btw) as the story might feel to some, it originally began as a relatively linear quest narrative about a young, unassuming protagonist, who as mentioned above, also happened to be a luciérnaga. In short, “These Days of Candy” is an ode to the magical fireflies I saw for the first time in a field just outside of La Libertad, El Salvador one late night in 2015. With my good friend, Julio Delgado, we watched them admiringly from the road, enchanted by their dazzling choreography, knowing it wouldn’t be too long before they were gone. It was a beautiful witnessing, and I’ll never forget it.

Like most youth, Elías the Doom Boy, our reluctant hero, likes to spend time hanging with his homies: Mouse Pad Becky, Gigabyte, and Lourdes, while caring for his beloved abuelita, Mama Flesh and Bone. In time, and at his abuelita’s behest, ETDB finds himself on a journey with the craggy Don Felipe to learn the ways of the ancient luciérnagas, a mission that also includes a monumental visit with the illustrious Mr. Signal. Thus begins the journey of a lifetime, a bug’s life, brief and buoyant, a luminescent sky journey, at once diminutive and majestic. Both teacher and apprentice leave the land of luciérnagas affectionately known as Hard Bent Tube Sock to embark on a trek that will confront dangers, such as the carnivorous, blood lusting rip raps, the Moaning Malevolents, the Lost River, the pesky Seesaw Twins, and not to mention a whole list of existential questions that constantly chomp perniciously at their tiny ankles along the way.

I’ll spare readers of any more details about the play, or how it was constructed, but I think I should mention that I had a lot of fun writing it. The steady disorientation, the delirium, the joy and grief, and the constant ‘what the fuck am I doing’ that I experienced as a reader-writer—that hold, is what excited me. ETDB, Mousepad Becky, and the bunch became my friends during that year of my life. I couldn’t wait to sit down at the keyboard to learn what they’d have to say next. Their acute sensitivities to a world quickly passing them shone light on my heart, for sure.

As mentioned above, these songs eventually plugged themselves into the storyline. They accompanied our tiny protagonist during specific moments in his journey. I needed to be precise, because my little hero and his beloved community deserved the attention, as he bravely crossed the blazing, desert sands towards something larger than himself, which as it turns out, was always within him in the first place.

I hope at least one or two of these tunes are new to readers. After so many years and so many listens, I still think they’re pretty cool. In any case, for one moment in time, as brief as ETDB and the gang’s life, and as fleeting as my own, this music meant a lot to me. I walked and jogged with these songs; I sat in silence over a keyboard or a book with them; I rode my beach cruiser with them, often thinking as ETDB does when he says:

Where does it come from do you think?
the glow.
That predisposition to live a calm life as light diminishes
to a wink

To close, I was surprised to learn that two of my favorite poets also published poems during that time illuminating the life and times of the firefly when I grabbed their books: David Shapiro’s beautiful “The Firefly Sermon” from his collection In Memory of an Angel (2017) and John Yau’s equally gorgeous “Firefly Promises,” published in his collection Bijoux in the Dark (2018). Not to mention Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ evocative “Fireflies” that came out a couple of years later on their 2019 album Ghosteen.

Fireflies were in the air for some reason or another. I’d love to hear what the impetus was for Shapiro, Yau, and Cave. Hopefully someday I will. Until then, here’s the list of songs that found their way into and part of the revelatory glow of a luciérnaga bustling with love.

To be continued...

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