Grammy Award-winning songwriter Mary Gauthier wrote a brand new song in response to her friend Odie Lindsey’s new novel, Some Go Home for the most recent episode of SongWriter. Below is an edited version of the conversation Mary and I had about that experience, and about her perspective on the South, suffering, and grace.
Ben Arthur: How did you first connect with Odie?
Mary Gauthier: Odie did a beautiful expose on me for the Oxford American. He has a collection prior to this, of short stories, and I devoured them. Written from the perspective of different characters, most of them veterans, or people affected by the wars in the Middle East. I connected with him when I was writing with veterans and their families through the SongwritingWith: Soldiers program.
BA: Odie came to writing in a surprising way – can you tell me about that?
MG: His story is immensely interesting to me. He was a grunt in the Middle East and a care package came over addressed to “Any Soldier.” It was a box of the complete works of Vonnegut. It ended up in his hands and from there he knew -– it was like a light bulb screwing in! -– that he wanted to be a writer.
BA: Another connection that you and Odie share is a fascination with the South, something that shows up in both of your work.
MG: I’m from south Louisiana, from places that border Pitchlynn, Mississippi [where Odie’s novel is set]. And I know those characters. I know the personality types. The history of that troubled, troubled part of America is in my genes.
BA: For the SongWriter podcast you had to write a song in response to Odie’s book; how was that process for you? Was it easy?
MG: Every page I turned I was starting to sweat! Like, “Oh God, Oh God, I can’t fail. I don’t know what I’m doing!” But I saw that the title of the book, he pulled from a Jerry Jeff Walker song, so I went to the Jerry Jeff song, gave it a listen, and realized that’s not his strongest song. But it was a good song. Why wasn’t it a great song? And it occurred to me that maybe we could pick up where the book left off…and I had the idea: Meet me in the meadow/You can look up at the stars/Lean into the wind/Dream again/Find out who we are. This song is me imagining after the book ends, what is she [the main character, Colleen] going to do?
BA: The book, and your song, is about the trauma that Colleen is coping with, then.
MG: It’s so, so hard to carry the trauma. That trauma is still in her body, and it’s making decisions for her…I’m talking about suffering. At the end of our suffering we do find grace, if we’re lucky. And I think that the same holds true for Mississippi.
You can hear Odie Lindsey read an excerpt from Some Go Home and the brand new song that Mary wrote in response on the newest episode of SongWriter. You can also hear a song Ben Arthur wrote for a live online show with Mary and Odie last year, “After the War,” and you can follow him @MyHeart on Twitter.