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Last month, I got to see Rae Spoon perform at the first ever Queer Pop—an event that showcased queer artists as part of Pop Montreal—an annual not-for-profit music festival since 2002. I huddled inside Le Cagibi situated on the corner of St. Viateur and Parc Avenue in the packed room, escaping that September day’s crispness. Fluffy Souffle, drag queen and MC for the night, had just introduced Rae Spoon; their presence was honest with humble sardonicism. I mention this because their music was like this. Also because in between songs they mentioned they were going to make awkward remarks about things, and they did, but it never felt contrived or forced. It wasn’t the kind of awkwardness that made you want to look away or down at your shoes. It was heartwarming and cute, and indeed, such endearing personality is at the heart of Rae Spoon’s first book, First Grass Spring Fire (Arsenal Pulp Press).
First Grass Spring Fire is a semi-autobiographical coming of age book charting the life of an unnamed narrator’s journey from Pentacostal prairie-lands through domestic upheaval, social anxiety, identity struggles, eventually to the beginnings of salvation in music. The book is rife with childhood loss, teen moms, a schizophrenic father, high school lesbian love, and queer ironies. From the outset, we are introduced to Spoon’s pathetic humour which sets the tone for the whole book. “I was nine years old,” the narrator writes in the first chapter, titled Billy Graham, “and the best option that’d been presented to me was an eternity of Christian contemporary music.”
The semi-autobiographical nature of the book works for a few reasons. Most ostensibly, those familiar with Spoon as a musician will be able to experience the same emotional charm of their music within the form of a literary narrative. Moreover, the book provides contextual material to enrich our understanding of their music. At the same time, however, the book’s nuanced insistence that it is not strictly biographical in nature liberates it from the shadow of Spoon’s music career and simply being a musician’s memoir or autobiography. While the presence of music and its essential influence on the narrator is certainly in the book, it only forms part of their mnemonic constellation that moves us to understand the narrator as human rather than a fictionalized extension of Spoon’s musical persona.
While there is a temporal trajectory in the book—that of an older, voiced narrator reflecting back on the past—it’s structured in non-sequential vignettes; the book feels more like reading a number of small short stories. Sometimes there are temporal jumps and it can make you feel like there are gaps or inconsistencies—which is more of a minor problem of not knowing where, or when, rather, you are in the overall narrative. Additionally, the book doesn’t focus on any climactic event; there’s no build up to any kind of narrative trauma. Rather than thinking through its teleological arc, however, Spoon emphasizes the immediacy of the narrator’s memories. The prose is concise without ornamentation; emotionally moving because of its raw honesty. The book holds together because it is an amalgamation of all the little things in life which hurt us, binds us, and propel us to move forward. While issues of gender and sexuality certainly underline the majority of the narrator’s existential despair, the book works because it pushes the reader to understand the humanity of the narrator rather than simply a trans* or lesbian narrative. It demonstrates the commonality of grief, loss, fear, pain, love, and longing. Although there are moments when the book feels like it’s border lining the clichéd, there’s enough wit and humour not to get hung up over it.
The book is a quick, but endearing read. Fans of Rae Spoon will likely fall in love again with First Grass Spring Fire—but knowledge of their musical endeavours isn’t at all required.
First Grass Spring Fire
By Rae Spoon
Arsenal Pulp Press
Paperback, 9781551524801, 137 pp.