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Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

Ought - Passionate Turn (2015)

Ought’s Passionate Turn is rock ‘n’ roll but it feels as much like a painting as a song. A painting or one of those photographs that makes the material world seem abstract. You know the kind: a tilted landscape, blurred bodies in motion, a reminder that everything we see is just shapes. There’s a heartbreak happening in the centre of this song, a melancholy sequence, but it manifests as impressions, one after another, a story in unordered pieces.

Part of the song’s ambivalence is in the way Tim Beeler Darcy sings. Chameleonic, swinging from proud to forlorn, angry to wry, it’s as if Darcy’s face and feelings aren’t quite in sync. The other part is Ought’s music: these rangy guitars, warm but discordant, with a fortitude passed down from punk rock. When its lyrics are traced out on a page, Passionate Turn is a song about a relationship that died in the distance between home and the road. But I can’t work out if it seems sad or happy, triumphant or trounced. And that’s the point, I think: that passionate turn, that moment of clarity, is neither a victory nor a defeat. It’s just the shape of things as they are.

Dexter Gordon – Love For Sale (1962)

Some friends came over for Halloween. We gave out candy until there was no more candy to give out. This always happens: every October 31, between the hours of 5:30 and 8 pm, approximately one million trick-or-treaters arrive at our door. There are lineups. Sometimes there are multiple simultaneous lineups. It is ludicrous and absolutely beautiful. We give whatever we can to 13-year-old Ghostbusters and seven-year-old vending machines, to grade-school Frida Kahlos and toddling, terrified koala bears. We buy boxes and boxes and boxes of candy and then we give it away, because we are grown-ups. This is the measure of a grown-up: to give away your candy, or most of it. You save some of the candy because grown-ups are entitled, on Halloween, to do this.

This year we sat around with pizza, pumpkin seeds and miniature chocolate bars, listening to The Hidden Cameras, Destroyer and lots of jazz. The jazz reinforced the feeling of being grown up. It always does. I listen to jazz in many seasons, many times of the day, and it accomplishes many things, but it always makes me feel like somehow I am getting life right, that I am sorting it out. Like all the great jazz musicians, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Clark, Billy Higgins and Butch Warren play a music that teases between order and disorder. They make and unmake sense of the world, singing a song as they break it into bits. The most common criticism of jazz like Love For Sale is that it’s “dinner party music” – and OK if it was, this Halloween, yet Gordon’s music isn’t “safe” any more than I feel “safe” and self-assured in the experience of being an adult. The secret to this swing is all the courage underneath.