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(Child)Freedom Song

March 20, 2017

Two weeks ago, inspired by Nick Hornby’s book of essays 31 Songs, I got my writing class to each write down a favourite song. At home I downloaded them all, and then last week I got everyone to write about their songs: what they liked about them, and if they associated the songs with any particular memories. We all read out our responses, and after each one I’d play the track. It turned out to be a very special class, and reminded me how much our musical tastes say about who we are and where we’ve come from.  

31 Songs Cover_Nick Hornby

Here is my response, somewhat expanded:

Impractical Art – The Singer and the Songwriter

I first heard this song on the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time. It’s a fascinating program, which makes a point of appealing to a wide range of listeners, including those without children.

On this episode, My Best Friend’s Baby, host Hillary Frank interviewed Rachel Garcia, the childfree singer from The Singer and the Songwriter, and her best friend who has a small child, about the effect of the baby’s arrival on their friendship.

It was a delightful conversation: insightful, funny and moving. But the moment that really transfixed me was when Frank quoted and then played Garcia’s song ‘Impractical Art’: All my friends are having babies / But I just want a dog. It spoke so directly to my own experience*.

I’m at an age now  where more and more of my friends have small children, and while we still manage to see each other, I’m always conscious of the chasm that now separates our life experience.

People choose to remain childfree for many and various reasons, but in my case, it’s always been about having maximum freedom to make art, without distractions or heavy responsibilities. As I approach middle age, I watch many of my friends achieve a level of financial prosperity, even getting mortgages, while I, after twenty years of writing, am just as broke as I was at age twenty-two.

Of course I’m not the only one in this position. I’d encountered these sentiments plenty of times in books and articles, but never before in music.

The arrangement is very simple: Thu Tran’s plucked guitar, then a gentle swell of violins. On the line Time is on my side, Garcia’s rich, sweet voice soars and then trills downwards into a minor key, reflecting her oscillation between hope and doubt, self-confidence and uncertainty.

I paused the podcast, went to iTunes and downloaded The Singer and the Songwriter’s entire oeuvre. For a few weeks I played it around the house, letting the tunes grow on me, without listening closely to the words. (I’m like this with new music; I need time for the melodies to sink in.)

Then one Saturday, I put on their music while painting a wall – an activity that allows plenty of time for concentration – and found myself chuckling at the clever wordplay and self-deprecating wit present in all their lyrics. That was the day I truly fell in love with the band, when they went from being a pleasant background sound to an integral part of my collection and identity.

At this point, it would be impossible for me to choose a favourite Singer and the Songwriter song. But ‘Impractical Art’ will always be special to me, because I heard it first, and because it fulfills a need I didn’t know I had – an anthem for all the struggling artists eschewing parenthood to give our songs and plays and novels and poems and paintings a better chance at being born.

* with the caveat that instead of a dog, I want more cats. When singing along I usually make this alteration.

S and the S_image


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