Mixtape: Ten songs that helped to shape The Unexpected Son

The Unexpected Son was written over the course of 15 or so years. There were four phases that produced three distinct versions of the book. The first version was a collection of interviews and journal entries. It was unimaginative and clinical and proved to be little more than a framework for what would come later.  

During that period, I started to curate a selection of songs that reflected the mood of my writing and served as guide when I struggled to find my way.  

These ten songs were the most frequently visited during the bulk of the writing.   

Roger O’Donnell “What’s It Like There” Piano Formations 

Best known as the keyboardist for The Cure, Roger O’Donnell’s solo material has visited a variety of genres. The sparse landscape of “What’s It Like There” allowed plenty of room to shape my memories in.  

Cassandra Wilson “Time After Time” Traveling Miles 

Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is one of my favorite songs, but her version already belonged to a different period in my life. Cassandra Wilson’s smokey take on the song is filled with a melancholy magic that transformed the love ballad into a conversation between me and my father.  

The The “Love is Stronger Than Death” Dusk 

I could be mistaken, but I remember reading somewhere that “Love is Stronger Than Death” was Matt Johnson’s response to the AIDS epidemic. Released in 1993, while I was in high school and trying to make sense of everything, the song captured a hopefulness born of sadness and loss that I could relate to. Johnny Marr was in in the band during this period.  

Goldfrapp “A&E” Seventh Tree 

Following the stomping electro sounds of SupernatureSeventh Tree’s somber mood was something of a left turn for Goldfrapp. There’s something glamourous and light in Alison’s vocal. It’s like Nick seeing Daisy in The Great Gatsby for the first time. The curtains and a sense of danger ruffling in the afternoon breeze.


Röyksopp “What Else Is There?” The Understanding 

“What Else Is There?” feels like the butterflies in your stomach when you’re about to make a life-changing decision. I tried to avoid writing The Unexpected Son, but I also felt drawn to it. 

Heather Nova “Heart and Shoulder” Siren 

I adored Heather Nova’s 1998 album Siren. “Heart and Shoulder” was a song that was destined to belong to someone or something in my life and it eventually found a home here. There’s something confessional about it. A character forgetting their head and going with their heart.  

Caroline Lavelle “A Case of You” Spirit 

I fell in love with Joni Mitchell after hearing other artists perform her songs. I love the warm electronic sound that producer William Orbit layered behind Caroline Lavelle’s vocal. I love the lyric, “I am a lonely painter; I live in a house of paints.”  

Red House Painters “Michael” Down Colorful Hill  

“Michael, where are you now?” The song’s narrative has no connection to my father, but the wistful way Mark Kozelek sings my father’s name is perfect.  

Tori Amos “Cool on Your Island” (Live) Royce Hall Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA 4/25/05 

There’s a sense of fleeting hope in “Cool on Your Island” that I find to be incredibly beautiful and tragic. It’s just one of those songs that takes me to a thousand different places.   

Boy George “Il Adore” Cheapness and Beauty 

There were hours where I’d play “Il Adore” endlessly on repeat. It embodies everything that I hoped that The Unexpected Son would be. It is anger, confusion, joy, and love. A celebration and a mourning.   

Listen: Apple Music Spotify