La Language

The latest in our series of authors writing about the place of our music in their life and times:

Francis Lam is an editor at Gilt Taste, writer,
and bon vivant who keeps an eye on culture, cooks and community.


A lot of music is important enough for you remember when you first
discovered it, when its sounds first hit you. But it’s hard for me to
say when I first discovered Rebecca Gates’s music, because I keep
discovering it over and over.

Maybe I could say it was the first time I saw her play, probably 15
years ago, opening for someone at a small club decked out like a
living room in Pontiac, Michigan. I was there to see the headliner,
but Rebecca’s voice carried words so strong I pulled little slips of
paper from my pockets to write snatches of them down. “Out ’til 3 am,
pillaging the drinks of friends”: so many right words, gorgeous
choices, language that says much packed into a perfect number of
syllables. After the show, standing by the bar, I asked her why she
looked familiar — did she live in my dorm? “Well, I’m in a band
called the Spinanes,” she said, graciously. Oh, right. Seen your

Or maybe I should say it was the night, a few years later, on my couch
after a hilariously depressing Christmas Eve I spent drinking
screwdrivers by myself and passing out reading old letters from
friends. I was still in a melancholy mood, and without really knowing
why, I drew the curtains, clicked off the lamps, and realized I needed
music for when the lights are out. I put on the first record I could
find that was “mellow,” which happened to be Strand. The waves came
slowly in, the first soft taps on the drums, and I started to feel
that calm stillness that only comes when a dark room takes your mind
off of your loneliness. I was winding down into a wash of soft
melodrama, mood music and everything. But then something happened: I
started listening. Not just hearing the music, but really listening,
with intention, as stories about the songs formed in my head. The
sounds, the chords, the jangle and jar and her voice, sugar-rimmed
liquor. I put on the record looking really for nothing more than a
dramatic soundtrack, and discovered, instead, glorious art.

From then on, I carried that album, and then the others—Arches and
Aisles, Manos, Imp Years, Ruby Series—with me everywhere I went, for
so long the print on the discs started to peel off and stick to the CD
wallet that became their home. I walked around New York with
headphones in, and I marveled at how they always changed the city I
saw—and how they changed, themselves. I knew every note of them by
heart, but something would still happen when they hummed in my ears. I
could still hear them differently; new words would appear that I
didn’t realize were there, melodies that were hidden would pop out and
carry me down the sidewalk. I would hear and then mishear lyrics, and
even the wrong words sounded right—“The small of your back taste,”
once became “the smell of your bad taste”—and every time it sent me
straight to my pen and notebook. Each of these were moments of

It’s funny and flattering that Rebecca asked me to write something
about her music, because in the time between then and now, I somehow
began making my living as a writer. It’s funny because now that she’s
asked me to think about it, I realize that, for years, her work has
made me want to be a better writer. It makes me love language more,
reminds me to live, really live, in language. It makes me want to see
more in the world, to always look closer. It makes me want to

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