I’m Listening…

I have a strange relationship with music. At least, I think I do. It’s possible you’re all like me but I’ve never really discussed this in depth with anyone except for my husband and he has a strange relationship with music so I can’t compare.

Music is amazing, isn’t it? Melodies and harmonies, all tangled with poetry to make something that speaks to us on an elemental level. It spans the breadth of human emotion from our fist-pumping highs of pure elation, to the kind of despair where you sit in the closet eating your hair, weeping softly.

That’s pretty normal, right? What’s so weird about me then?

For instance, I can’t stand live shows. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Live shows can be awesome, but the stir up an odd and uncomfortable feeling in me. When I really love a band or an album and listen to it obsessively it synthesizes into my very personality. It’s like I have an inside track to the songwriter’s intimate inner world. And then when I see the band perform live I am struck by how so many other people are intruding on that intimacy. Like I’m standing there naked and exposed. And the reality that it’s all in my head comes crashing down on me and I’m devastated.

I told Kosta about this and he paused and then said, “Yeah, that’s weird.”

Last September I went to Universal Studios in Orlando. They have a roller coaster there called the Rip Ride Rockit. It’s not for the faint of heart. The highest drop is 167 feet and it is more than straight down. But the brilliant part is you can pick your own heart-stopping song to be piped into your headrest and have a uniquely terrifying experience. It’s awesome.

I’ve only ridden it once. I listened to “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Cruë. Don’t judge me. I grew up in the 80’s and developed a taste for hair bands in my teens. (I never claimed it was good taste.) The combination of the roller coaster and the song was epic. The thudding of the drums beating in staccato time with my heart, the anticipation of the crunch of the guitars kicking in and finally that drop timed perfectly with Vince Neil’s first wail all worked together to give me a breathless almost two minutes of clean exhilaration that I have not experienced since.

That doesn’t sound so weird, does it? It’s not, since everyone who dares can experience it and have it suited to their own musical taste. Kind of genius, really.

But I have an on-again, off-again relationship with music. When I was in my teens and twenties, music was a huge part of my everyday life for one reason: the car. I would listen to the radio (when there was a station available that I like), I would listen to tapes and later CDs. When I was a senior in high school I listened to Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions I&II over and over, almost exclusively. And at top volume. But then teenagers have that affinity for loud music because of their own adolescent howl that is tucked behind their breastbones.

The car sustained me through my twenties and thirties as well, although when I moved to Florida I was suddenly bereft of any radio station that suited my tastes. And I admit that was when music fell away from me. I listened to old stuff but did not seek any new, and worse yet, I listened to NPR like an old fuddy-duddy.

And after I got married and we shared a car the CDs left me too. My lifestyle changed to one that was a desiccated wasteland where no music was ever played. And I let it happen without thinking about it much. Did I miss it? Not at the time, but I can tell you it has made in impact on my life because of that loss.

Until I went to the gym and realized that working out to a beat was way better than huffing along to the rhythm of my thoughts. (Trust me, the brain train jumps the track all the time and never in time.) I pulled up my iTunes and made a playlist of 90’s hard rock to take to my workouts. It did the trick for a long time until suddenly I was thoroughly sick of The Offspring and Blink-182.

Since I now have access to things like Apple Music and Amazon Prime I have whole catalogs at my disposal and I’m afraid I’m a little overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin or who to listen to. I’m not afraid of new music, but so much of what’s popular today really hasn’t changed from the pop I listened to when I was twelve. It’s a lot of bad poetry set to mediocre melodies that all sound too similar.

As Pink Floyd sang: “Hey you, out there on the road, always doing that you’re told, can you help me?

I feel it’s time. I want to bring music back to life in my soul. It’s been thirsty for a long time and I need your help. Since mixtapes are no longer a thing (and I am sad this is the case. I adored the hand written track lists that made them so unique), build me a playlist of three songs that have meant something to you in the last year. It can be any genre, it doesn’t have to be something you think I would like.  In fact, I’m more than ready to be open to new experiences.

Thanks in advance. I also wouldn’t object to carefully curated playlists complete with liner notes and cover art. (Oh, the tragedy of that disappearance!) But I understand that’s a labor of love and some of you might not love me… yet.

Hit me with your best shot. I’m listening.

12 Albums that Have Stayed with Me

My friend, Beth Gallaway, tagged me in a post yesterday to remark upon twelve albums that have made an impact on my life. I thought instead of just listing them I’d write a blog post about them and tell you what they mean to me. Here they are in no particular (or chronological order):

Don Quixote by Gordon Lightfoot

don quixoteAs a kid, my family always took a two-week camping trip in the summers. We would get the car ready the night before and Dad would be itching to get going at oh, 4 am or some ungodly hour. This being back in the 70’s and 80’s we had lots of cassette tapes we listened to. Mom had her favorites and Dad had his. But one thing they always agreed upon was Gordon Lightfoot. A Canadian folksinger, he seemed to have the right feel and fit to our road trips. When I was in college I rediscovered him and bought nearly all of his albums–they are that good. This particular album has a favorite of all of us: “Alberta Bound.” It was the perfect thing to hear while driving across the plains of the Midwest, anticipating that first hazy outline of a mountain range rising in the distance.

Favorite track: Christian Island


Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses

appetite for destructionI know, I know. Axl Rose is a misogynist with tremendous Mommy issues. But this was a tremendous album when I was in high school and the anger and rebellion contained in this album greatly identified with my angsty, teenage self. Of course, I was a total introvert nerd who didn’t do drugs, or even drink. But we all find trouble if we go looking for it, right? Even so, I can’t attach any bad memories to these songs. This was the first album that made me feel like a badass. And a little badass never hurt anyone.

Favorite track: Paradise City


The Distance to Here by Live

distance to hereThis album saved me when I was going through a very painful breakup in 2000. I listened to this album over and over. It is full of aching, longing, but also love and hope. My anthem from this album is “Run to the Water” where the chorus goes: Run to the water and find me there / Burnt to the core but not broken.” It gave me the strength to be the phoenix and rise from the ashes. I got to see them in concert once. (Ha, I saw Live live.) However, it wasn’t the transcendent experience for which I’d been hoping. After a spring and summer of internalizing this album and making each song my own I was a little startled when I got to the venue and realized these songs weren’t mine. They didn’t belong to me anymore than any other fan in the audience. This is what happens when you live in your head too much.  Still, a great album.

Favorite Track: Run to the Water


The Bends by Radiohead

bendsWhere Live is a band that raises great emotion in me, I feel Radiohead is their intellectual counterpart. True, the lyrics are often cryptic and dreamy, but there is something very cerebral about Radiohead to me. I also feel this is as near perfect an album as one can get. Fake Plastic Trees? High and Dry? Black Star? Planet Telex? I dare you to name one song on this album that isn’t amazing. I feel Thom Yorke went on from here to be too cryptic and experimental. This album has the perfect balance of accessibility and weirdness that combine to something truly great.

Favorite Track: Fake Plastic Trees


Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar

enigma variationsThis piece of music is intertwined with a first date I had in my early thirties.  I had invited him over for dinner and he played this for me on the stereo. I liked classical music but didn’t  know much about it at the time. I listened to Mozart and Beethoven but had never heard of Elgar before. Of course, we all know one of his compositions, Pomp and Circumstance, which has been played at every graduation since its creation.  This particular piece is a series of variations on a theme, but what that theme was no one knows until this day. The particular variation we heard that night was Nimrod, or The Hunter. It is such an achingly beautiful piece that I got a little teary listening to it. Perhaps knowing that guy had such a sensitive soul is what caused me to kiss him later that night. It was later the prelude at our wedding.

Favorite Track: Nimrod


Enema of the State by Blink-182

enema of the stateI was first introduced to Blink-182 by my cousin Paul at a family reunion in 2001. When I got home I bought Enema of the State and listened to it over and over again. I think it is clear by now that I like crunching guitars and raucous music. Blink-182 were kind of immature, but they were funny and had catchy tunes, and boy could they rock. Hard and fast, each song is like a punch in the gut, but in the best possible way. I used to listen to music a lot in the car, and this was one of my favorites for freeway driving. I love all of their music, and love to see the way they matured in their sound through subsequent albums.

Favorite Track: All the Small Things


Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionI already told you about my love for this album in a previous postIt comes directly from my freshman year of college and it was my soundtrack to that year. It didn’t hurt that Soul Asylum was a band from Minneapolis, my hometown, where Dave Pirner was a god in the early 90’s. I still love this album from the first track to the last. There are some excellent deep cuts from this album: April Fool, New World, and 99%. It’s a wonderful gift to go back and discover new things about an old favorite that you haven’t heard in a while.

Favorite Track: Without a Trace


Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks

rainy day musicAnother band from Minneapolis, but I didn’t really get into them until I moved away to New Hampshire. I was homesick, didn’t know anyone and was looking for something to feel better. Enter Gary Louris and Mark Olson, the co-frontmen of the best harmonizing, poetical, folksy band since Simon and Garfunkel. This album got into my skin, brought me home, and made me remember home without feeling queasy. All of their albums are terrific, but this one holds a special place in my heart.

Favorite Track: Angelyne


Merry Christmas by Bing Crosby

merry christmasGood Lord, this is the best Christmas album ever! Of course, it holds strong memories of childhood as this was in heavy rotation on first the record player then the tape player. The first side is serious and solemn, the flip side fun and jazzy. Of course throughout are the lovely rich pipes of Mr. Bing Crosby.  My favorite Christmas movie of all time is Holiday Inn, the film that gave us White Christmas. My family and I watch it every year during the Christmas season and have many, many inside jokes and one-liners from it. Bing Crosby is in it, naturally, as is Fred Astaire. Sorry this got hijacked. I really do love the album. Especially how I can sing the harmony on “Silver Bells” because Carol Richards, who sings with him, is an alto.

Favorite Track: Mele Kalikimaka


Symphony #3 for Organ by Camille Saint-Saens

symphony #3I was first introduced to this particular piece of music by the film in the French Pavilion at EPCOT. It has the big boom boom organ that you hear at the end while the film cuts through vista after vista of gorgeous scenery, ending with the Eiffel Tower. I had downloaded the compiled musical score of French composers from iTunes, but I didn’t know my Saint-Saens from my Debussy at the time. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (who became my husband) told me exactly from whence that organ music came. Then he had me listen to the symphony, which is incredible. We even got to see it performed live last year at a church with a huge pipe organ. I nearly burst into tears and burst through the ceiling I was so moved by the great finish. Only listen if you want to be inspired, blown away, and ready to enact your plan for world domination.

Favorite Track: All of it.


The Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

sounds of silenceAnother influence of my parents. Of course I love the title track (and have you heard Disturbed’s cover? Amazing!), but I love this whole album, front to back. The poetry of Paul Simon, the haunting voice of Art Garfunkel, and the simple acoustic arrangements are sweet perfection. Of all their albums, this one is my favorite and I can listen to it again and again.

Favorite Track: April, Come She Will


 

There you have it: a small glimpse into my musical tastes. I find the longer I am alive  the harder it is to find new music I enjoy. I suppose that happens to all of us, though I don’t like it one bit. It makes me feel old. If you actually read this far and want to share new music with me, I’m all ears. Drop me a comment.

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.