Season 5, Episode 11
Dave Eggers + Vienna Teng
Dave Eggers loves music so deeply that he tries to avoid understanding it too much. Preserving the mystery and the magic allows him to enjoy it purely as a fan.
“When I see a painting I can generally figure out how it was made, the same thing with a novel,” Dave says. “Which can sometimes take you out of the enjoyment of it, if you see a mistake or too much of the scaffolding.”
In the upcoming episode of SongWriter, the bestselling author, screenwriter, and founder of McSweeney’s reads from his recent book, The Museum of Rain. The understated and deceptively simple excerpt follows a group of children and an older veteran as they take a long walk in the California wilderness north of San Francisco.
Vienna Teng, photo by Karen Shih
Songwriter and pianist Vienna Teng grew up nearby, and knows the landscape well. But it was the story’s emotional arc, and the themes of existential vulnerability and intergenerational connection that really resonated with her. During the pandemic Vienna read the story out loud to her family.
“Everyone was just spellbound,” Vienna says. “I remember there were a couple of moments where I’m like, ‘I have to pause and collect myself before I read this next sentence because it’s hitting me in a way I didn’t expect.’”
After struggling with a few songwriting dead ends, Vienna eventually wrote a song called “The Riversitter (The Museum of Rain),” and recorded it in her home studio.
“To say I was floored would be an understatement,” Dave recalls. “It hit me like a truck. To know that somebody with her talent would take the time to compose a song based on a story of mine, and to do it with such subtlety and delicacy…it really knocked me flat.”
The Museum of Rain was originally published as a fundraiser for 826 Valencia, a non-profit Dave founded that helps teach young people how to write, and teachers how to teach writing. Vienna decided that the song should be a fundraiser for 826 Valencia as well – it’s exclusively available at Vienna’s Bandcamp page.
“I feel Dave Eggers’ love of kids, and commitment to kids, and understanding of kids come through so clearly in this book,” Vienna says. “So it makes sense to put this song out and have any financial rewards that come from it go back to that project, and keep more stories coming from whoever else may be finding their voice right now.”
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