After I met my girlfriend, Amanda in 2001 we started visiting Europe every year. Prior to that I’d never travelled outside of the UK. Once I had a passport, I was a voracious traveller: Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Garda, Salzburg, Bruges, and everywhere in between.
Everywhere I go usually inspires a story, or at least some notes that might spark something a few months or years down the line. The idea of a woman who used to be famous recording an album while living on the top floor of a faded hotel overlooking a great river came to me after a tour of Italy and Austria. All those ancient buildings, surging rivers and eternal avenues had opened my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching my fiction. I knew the atmosphere of the story immediately; it’s what always comes first for me. A general sense of the tone and the air of mystery I want to convey with the setting. After that it’s about applying structure without losing that brittle sense of how you want the story to ‘feel’.
On a rather more prosaic level, the title, which eluded me for months came to me outside the car park of our local Asda. I’m not sure what it was about all those cars and the prospect of buying groceries led me to The Teardrop Method, but there you are…
I knew very early on that the character of Krisztina would be modelled on the reclusive Swedish singer/songwriter, Stina Nordenstam, who I’ve been a fan of since she released her first record, ‘Memories of a Colour’, back in 1991. That and the follow-up, ‘And She Closed Her Eyes’ were delicate things: jazz-infused, strange, imbued with an other-worldliness that still enchants me to this day. Her sixth album, The World is Saved, released in 2004 was her last to date. During those years, Nordenstam flirted with distorted guitars and beats, pop, and cover-versions. She’s reclusive, a reluctant live-performer; she doesn’t give many interviews and when she does, little of her interior process is given away; she wears wigs and changes her appearance. Somehow she’d faded into another life entirely, it seems.
Describing her music in anything other than basic terms is fruitless. She has a voice you either accept or you don’t; her song-writing is angular, brittle, frequently shot through with a sublime beauty that few musicians ever capture on tape.
She’s been missing in action now for 13 years, and few of her fans now expect her to return to recording. Her website is gone, the message boards lie fallow with little for fans to cling to in the way of news. A FaceBook appreciation page intermittently lights up with posts bearing old videos, but little else.
I knew I wanted to write about her, or about someone like her. I find that reclusive Salinger-esque quality endlessly fascinating. Musicians who operate outside of normal conventions also appeal to me: how does the process begin; how is it articulated to other musicians in the studio; how do you walk away from the creative urge and why; how do they live their lives when they stop being the person they never really were?
I wondered what might lead to someone calling a halt to their career and how they dealt with a tangential relationship to fame. I came up with Krisztina Ligetti, and relocated her to Budapest. A songwriter who has produced one record and then walked away from it all, only to be drawn back into the process by tragedy; something strange and impossible to ignore, and where that leads her.
Those of you who’ve heard Stina Nordenstam’s work will see the subtle similarities in Krisztina’s music and the way she conducts her life. The rest of it is fiction, rooted in a deep and abiding love for Nordenstam’s body of work. I return to it often for its wintry, spectral beauty. I hope you do to, or even better, find it for the first time. I envy you that journey. It’s certainly a perfect soundtrack for The Teardrop Method.
Right around the midway point of The Teardrop Method, we are introduced to another singer/songwriter, John Merriwether. John is in his late sixties and ailing from poor health. He was once a heart-throb of sorts in the late sixties, the creator of five opulent records where his rich baritone was set against lush symphonic orchestrations. Songs flooded with kitchen-sink dramas, angels at bedroom windows, sailors and their whores, philanderers in faded suits and funerals in the rain… Strange, otherworldly records. Since then he’s been similarly reclusive until now, releasing a new album called ‘The Bleed’, an unsettling, cacophonous piece of work, all raw nerves and trauma.
Anyone with even a tenuous grasp of music history would gather that Merriwether is very much inspired by none other than Scott Walker, the Californian who relocated to London in the sixties and never went home. I’ve loved this man’s work since I was small. My dad would get me to sleep at night while walking around the flat with ‘Plastic Palace People’ playing. It took me some years to realise that Walker was out there on his own; a wholly unique artist who produced five exemplary records at the tail end of the sixties and then took several years to return on his own terms in the late seventies, the early eighties and then in the nineties with Tilt, itself utterly unique and experimental, described as ‘an anti-matter collision of rock and modern classical music’. He’s gone further in the subsequent years, producing surreal and abstract lyrics set to angry percussion and blocks of noise and silence. He’s still very much out there on his own.
Like Stina Nordenstam, Walker is relatively reclusive. He does a round of interviews when a new record rolls around and that’s about it. Barring a brief song recorded for English music show, Later… Live, he hasn’t played live since a Walker Brothers reunion in the seventies, and at this point in his career, he really doesn’t have to. Again, that aspect of the reclusive genius producing intermittent works of strange, limited appeal interests me greatly. I suppose curiosity is what drives that ‘what if?’ question in a writer, and at some point during the process of the creation of The Teardrop Method, I realised I could include a version of Walker in the narrative. It allowed me to indulge in speculating on what drives that creative urge and what stymies it; and what happens in that downtime between the creative urge.
There’s a lot more to The Teardrop Method though. Besides being a love letter to the music that inspires me, it’s a speculative piece of fiction about stories and loss and how we recover ourselves from the wreckage of tragedy. I hope you enjoy it.
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