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.

Five Questions: Jodi Kendall

I have this theory that baby anything is cute. Puppies, kittens, piggies, scorpions…

Okay, any baby mammal is cute.

Hamlet is no exception. She is the runt of a litter and eleven-year-old Josie Shilling’s big brother sneaks her home from college over Thanksgiving. From the first moment the wee piglet enters the already cramped Shilling household Josie’s life is transformed. She convinces her parents to let her keep the pig until she can find a proper home for Hammie, and they give her until New Year’s Day.

Josie already has a busy life with four siblings, school, and gymnastics. Add in the rapidly growing pig that needs feeding, bathing, and exercise and Josie’s already full plate is overflowing. Can she manage everything and still find a safe place for her darling pig to live a long, happy life?

I can’t tell you how much I loved this story. Josie is a great character–earnest, sweet and awkward. The descriptions of her relationship with Hamlet are adorable, and I could really hear the pigs little grunts of contentment when they curl up in front of the fireplace. Add that it’s set during the Christmas season and this book just about explodes with fuzzy good feelings. But nothing is contrived, or overly sentimental. I think this book has Newbury Award written all over it. Everyone needs to read it.

Jodi Kendall is an agent sibling. This means she is another client of my agent, Alexander Slater of Trident Media Group. I’ve been following her publication story for a while now and I am so pleased to tell you The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City was released this Tuesday to great reviews. Here are her five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

It was actually my husband saying an off-hand comment like, “You know your childhood pig? You should write about that.” That seed started the wheels turning in my mind, and memories flooded back from when I was a kid and my brother rescued a runt piglet from certain death at a nearby farm. He brought it home on break during college, and it lived with us in our house for about six months.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser that’s a wannabe outliner. I usually only know a few things before I open up a blank document, and as I get further into the draft, I’ll have some notes with characters and opening problems and closing resolutions. Then I try to thread it all together. But so much of my process is an organic, surprising mystery to me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

As someone passionate about nature and human-animal connections, I absolutely love the work of Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, and Sara Pennypacker. I’m in awe of Leah Henderson’s beautiful debut ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL – Her writing has such a lush, lyrical quality to it, almost like music. Studying her prose has recently inspired me to develop the loveliness and cadence of each sentence when I’m writing and revising.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Most of the time, yes. While I was writing THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, I blasted holiday music. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, so I listened to Pentatonix albums on repeat.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading ENGINERDS by Jarrett Lerner, which recently published. It’s hilarious, and fast-paced, with short chapters and great voice. I imagine it’ll be a new, funny favorite book for reluctant readers.

Please check out this book. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will get all the feels.

Jodi Kendall grew up in the Midwest with her family of seven and their household of countless pets, including hamsters, ducks, dogs, rabbits an iguana and yes…even a farm pig! As a freelance writer, Jodi once followed  a secret nighttime transport of a manta ray over state lines, swam with seven species of sharks, got up close and personal with venomous snakes, and motored through a saltwater crocodile breeding ground. These days, you can find Jodi typing away at home in New York City, where she’s still an animal lover at heart. Jodi holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and is an active member of SCBWI. This is her first novel. Visit Jodi online at www.jodikendall.com.

Chelsea Sedoti: Five Questions

Hawthorn Creely is the true essence of awkward. She doesn’t interact well with her peers, she is the total opposite of her golden jock older brother, and she always says the wrong thing. She might be a little self-absorbed too, but she’s too busy thinking about how awkward she is to notice.

But then Lizzie Lovett, a girl who graduated with her brother disappears on a camping trip and Hawthorn’s focus narrows to a point. What happened? Did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? Obsessively following the story, Hawthorn decides to do her own snooping around, including finding out more about Lizzie’s boyfriend and what he might know.

Chelsea Sedoti writes a fascinating tale of obsession, mystery, and danger. Hawthorn gets tangled in a web of her own making and must learn some hard lessons to extricate herself. The marvelous thing about this book is that even though there is darkness and despair there is also humor and light. Sedoti does a beautiful job of balancing the two.

Five Questions
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Several years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper about a missing girl. Though I didn’t know her, I became oddly interested in the case. I started following it closely, checking daily for updates. After a few weeks of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was so obsessed with the missing girl. I didn’t have an answer, but decided I should pull back a little bit.

But the incident made me think about putting a character in the same situation. A teenage girl who gets wrapped up in a disappearance that has nothing to do with her. Only this girl wouldn’t know when to stop. She would let herself get drawn in to the disappearance more and more.

And just like that, the main character in THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT was born. The rest of the story followed.

2.  What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I tend to fall somewhere in between plotting and pantsing.

If I begin without knowing where the book is heading, I get lost along the way. It’s not fun to realize halfway through that a good portion of your story doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know every single thing that’s going to happen in a book, the writing process becomes much less exciting. I miss out on the moments where the characters surprise me.

So before I start writing, I know how the book begins, I know how it ends, and I know the key moments that happen along the way. Beyond that, I just wait and see where the story and characters take me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite writer is John Irving, and he’s been influencing my writing since I was a teenager. That might seem odd—he writes literary books for adults, I write strange books for teenagers. But my favorite thing about his writing has always been how he blends comedy and tragedy. Life is never entirely dark or entirely light. Most of the time it falls somewhere in the middle. And sometimes humor is the only way to get through tough situations. This is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own books.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I generally don’t listen to music when I write. I get very influenced by the mood of music. So, if I were trying to write a lighthearted scene and a gloomy song came on, it would completely change the tone of the story. Rather than always trying to match the music to what I’m working on at the moment, I opt to write in silence.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski, an upcoming science fiction book about a competition to join a mysterious space expedition.

Chelsea Sedoti

Chelsea Sedoti fell in love with writing at a young age after discovering that making up stories was more fun than doing her school work (her teachers didn’t always appreciate this.) In an effort to avoid getting a “real” job, Chelsea explored careers as a balloon twister, filmmaker, and paranormal investigator. Eventually she realized that her true passion is writing about flawed teenagers who are also afraid of growing up. When she’s not at the computer, Chelsea spends her time exploring abandoned buildings, eating junk food at roadside diners, and trying to befriend every animal in the world. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she avoids casinos, but loves roaming the Mojave Desert.

My Writing Process Part 2

I have been furiously writing my new novel. It’s historical YA fiction with a fantastical twist. And that’s all I’m going to tell you right now. But I do want to talk a little about how I write.

I told you about my basic writing process long ago here. In it I talked about my “cowbell list.” It is the list of things I need to tweak or change or amp up in subsequent drafts.  I usually put it on a dry erase board in my office. This summer in Nuremberg I bought a real cowbell which I have now hung in my office.

But the cowbell has become intertwined in my writing ritual in other ways. That ritual is what I want to share with you today. I don’t always write at home, but when I do, you can bet I am doing this:

I go into my office and light candles. I love the soft light from them and I usually don’t have any other lights on in the room, except my computer screen. I have a couple of stinky candles my husband hates, but I love.

The second thing I do after lighting those candles is to ring the cowbell. It seems a little silly, I know, and at first I felt silly doing it. But now I have grown to love that noise. It is a signal to the rest of the house not to disturb me because I am about to write. Every time my husband hears it he calls, “Oh boy!” from the other room.

Sometimes I close my office door. That’s if the cats are being their usual rambunctious selves and are chasing each other all over the house. It’s awful to have them tear into my space and interrupt the lovely peace I have created. The husband I don’t worry so much about. He wants me to write as much as I want to and generally leaves me alone unless he comes to ply me with beverages and snacks.

And then, I sit in my IKEA Poang chair, put my feet up, and plop my computer in my lap and write. This little ritual has been working well for me. It’s like I’ve opened a beautiful little portal from my creative self and it just comes pouring out. Usually.

driving-car-nightE.L Doctorow said that writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You have a destination in mind (most of the time) but you can only see as far as the end of your headlights. So you write to the end of your headlights and then drive a little further. I find this analogy extremely apt. I know where I am headed, but I can only write to a certain point to where I have to think again.

I don’t listen to music while I write. I can’t–it’s too distracting. But I do like to have a soundtrack for whatever I am working on. This time my husband, the classical music freak, collated a playlist for me. It’s very dark, atmospheric and moody: Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, the first movement from Schubert’s Symphony #8, Prayer of St. Gregory by Hovhaness, and others.

So when the time comes that I’ve gotten to the end of my headlights, I pull out that soundtrack, plug in my headphones, and think of the story while I listen. This is when I can really get mileage out of the music. It inspires me, it helps me to see further into the story. Then I can go back and write more.

That’s how it plays out: write, listen to my playlist, think, and then write again. It’s a pleasing little cycle that really works well for me.

However, please don’t think that everything has been easy in the writing of this novel. Parts of it have really flowed, yes, but there are parts where I get stuck. One portion of thirty pages I had to rewrite three times so I was going in the right direction. It was frustrating, but entirely necessary. I had to find the ways that didn’t work before I hit upon the one that did. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

I also sometimes tend to meander between big scenes. Like I got off the main road and took a few scenic routes on my way to the next big thing. I know when I go back to it in the second or third draft I may have to reroute myself, or trim the route so it more directly segues and flows better.

First drafts are a paradox of making the magic of telling a story along with the detritus of a brain dump. The second draft is all about winnowing out the chaff so you can find the real story inside of it, and the third and all following drafts is about tweaking and tightening so the story is smooth as a river pebble. I’ve heard some authors say they dread the second draft but I find it to be where the interesting work really begins.

I raise my glass to all you writers out there who are working on projects now. What is your process and how do you work best?

Vienna, Day 2

Last night we went to a concert at the Karlskirche to hear Mozart’s Requiem. The tickets were Kosta’s birthday present, and we were both excited.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

 

The music was outstanding and the choir amazing. The only bad thing about the concert was the wooden pews specially designed for back torture to keep you from falling asleep in church. Kosta was as transported as I’ve ever seen him.

2016-07-02 19.55.23

Interior of the Karlskirche

This morning started with breakfast at the hotel, which was wonderful and Austrian: meats and cheeses, fresh rolls, boiled eggs, and coffee with hot milk. It was delicious.

We decided to go to Schonnbrun  (the summer palace of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Emperors), which is about 6 km outside of town. Fortunately, there is an U-Bahnn stop right there. I was checking these details at the front desk when Kosta found me. He couldn’t find his driver’s license or his credit card. In a panic, we rushed back to the room and tore everything apart looking for them. We were trying to rack our brains, was there anyone who bumped into him the day before?  Was he pickpocketed?

I was just about to call the credit card company to cancel his card when the bastard put his hand in his pants pocket and drew out the very cards we were seeking. I wanted to throttle him, my heart was pounding in the back of my throat. At least all turned out well… my husband may be an asshat, but a sweet one.

We did take the U-Bahn out to Schonnbrun finally, and by the time we got there the lines to get into the palace were very long (over an hour wait), so we just walked the palace gardens instead and it was a delightful way to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon. It was still cloudy and a bit drippy from the storm from the night before, but it didn’t really rain in earnest.  We saw the Crown Prince Garden, the “Roman Ruin,” the Obelisk fountain, and we made the trek up to the top of the hill to the Gloriette, which has a spectacular view of all Vienna from the top.

Neptune fountain

Neptune fountain

 

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

 

Kosta and the labyrinth.

Kosta and the labyrinth.

After we took a turn in the labyrinth we headed back to town. We spent part of the afternoon partaking in a great Viennese tradition: afternoon coffee. We went to the famous Sacher Cafe at the Sacher hotel and had Einspänner coffees (espresso topped with whipped cream) and the supremely chocolate Sacher torte. It was delightful–ritzy without being intimidating, and touristy, but we are tourists, so who cares?

Cafe Sacher

Cafe Sacher

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

 

Einspaenner Kaffe.

Einspaenner Kaffe.

We then found our way back to St. Stephen’s cathedral and took the guided tour of the crypt, which was hella awesome. No pictures were allowed, but we did see the urns which held the internal organs of generations of Hapsburg emperors, a mass grave of plague victims, and an ossurary–a room of stacked bones of hundreds of years of Viennese citizens. It was creepy and glorious, and I am so glad we did it. We were the last ones out.

St. Stephen's Cathedra

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Our "crypt keeper" guide at the end of the tour.

Our “crypt keeper” guide at the end of the tour.

We rested a bit back at the hotel before we went in search of beers and dinner. The beers we had at the 1516 Brewing Company, along with some very peppery beef jerky. Then we wandered the back streets until we came upon an adorable restaurant/cafe called Frauenhuber. We had an authentic dinner (Schweinschnitzel for me and Beef cutlet with onions for Kosta) followed by Mozart Kaffe (coffee with a chocolate-marzipan liqueur and whipped cream). To. Die. For. The cucumbers in my mixed salad tasted just how my grandmother used to make them : with vinegar, onion, and sugar.

1516 Brewing Company

1516 Brewing Company

Cafe Frauenhuber

Cafe Frauenhuber

Mozart Kaffe

Mozart Kaffe

When we were presented with the check we were given a small brochure that talked about the restaurant. Apparently we walked ass backwards into the oldest coffee house in Vienna, where both Mozart and Beethoven had performed! Very exciting for my music-nut husband.

After dinner we had a stroll through the twilight, enjoying the delicious breeze and gazing in shop windows. It was a perfect day. Tomorrow, we leave early, pick up a rental car at the airport, and drive cross county to Salzburg. More pictures soon!

Q is for…

QQuinto Books

In London there is an area around Charing Cross Road that is loaded with used bookstores. It’s not as packed as it was when I first visited in 1995, but there are still a fair amount still around. Quinto Books is one of them.

Quinto Books

Quinto Books

I don’t mind mentioning that we came home from this vacation barely making our luggage weight because of all the books we bought. Not only did we spend a serious amount of hours in Blackwell in Oxford, we also spent the better part of a day knocking around Quinto’s and others like it on Charing Cross. Kosta was looking for history (Ancient Greek or WWII) and music books, while I was intent upon handsome old volumes of fiction and life in Tudor England. We each came away happy, as you can see.

Heaven!

Heaven!

Heaven part 2!

Heaven part 2!

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.

Soundtrack to a New Year

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionIf you’ve been reading my blog at all, you know I have earworm disease. But sometimes this is a good thing. Like this weekend. I don’t know what triggered it, but I caught a Soul Asylum song in my head.  So while I was cleaning out a closet I plugged in my earbuds and called up Grave Dancer’s Union.  Listening, I had forgotten how very much I love this whole album. Most of you who were around and listening to music in 1992-93 probably remember the hits of that record: “Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train.” My favorite songs are deeper cuts from this album, and as I listened, I could hear a lot of the things I wrote in my New Year’s post echoed back to me. Let’s take a look:


Track 4: Keep It Up

Though the rain weighs down your wings
Still the caged bird’s got to sing
Singing “Na na na na na na na na na”

Message: Don’t fucking give up.

Track 6: Get on Out

I gotta get on
I gotta get on out
All these worried troubled thoughts gotta get on out of my head
Gotta get on out of my head.

Message: Kick the anxiety out of the car at 80 mph.

Track 7: New World

And the fields burns away
The sky breathes it in
So why sit and wait
For the new world to begin

Message: Get off your ass and do stuff.

Track 9: Without a Trace

Standing in the sun with a Popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste

Message: Pretty face aside, your life’s possibilites are endless.

So that’s my soundtrack for life this week. I hope it inspires you the way it does me. Or that you can find your own, whether it’s new to you or your heart’s old favorite. Music has the power to transport us, and we might as well go somewhere fun, right?

 

Shrieking Ear Worms

I’ve always had music running through my head, regardless of whether the radio was on or not. I never realized that some people (probably the majority of the sane ones) don’t have this problem. It finally dawned on me when I was in my late 20’s. For some reason I kept asking the same friend, “What song do you have stuck in your head?” To which the reply would come, “I don’t. Freak.” Actually, she didn’t call me a freak. But it was totally implied in her tone.

It was a stunning revelation to me. What do you hear in your head then? Surely not SILENCE? That would be…well holy cow, that would be refreshing.

But this, sadly, will never be. My brain is wired to have a constant soundtrack running from the moment I wake up until the moment I sleep again. Sometimes it even carries over into my dreams. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is, but to be honest I mostly don’t even notice it. Usually I can tune my inner DJ to what I like. But there are a few special songs (and by “special” I mean “from hell”) that can make me weep because they just won’t leave me alone.

The Top Ten Worst Songs to Ever Be Stuck in My Head

And I hope you appreciate the considerable risk I am taking with my sanity by listing them all here together for you. I also hope you appreciate what a dinosaur I am by hardly listing any music from this century. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Any of the Music from Les Miserables

lesmiserablesWhen I was 20 I went on a study abroad tour. While in London my friends and I saw the stage production of the musical Les Miserables. I bought the double disc original cast recording and listened to it a lot over the next few years. It was especially good for that three and a half hour drive between college and home. I could listen to the whole thing without interruptions, and really belt it out in what I am sure was a total crackballs voice. I was in concert choir in high school but I have one of those voices that is good in a group but should never ever solo. Ever.

A few years ago when the movie version of the musical came out I took my mother to see it, and the music all came back to me. And then it lived in my head for, I kid you not, a fucking month and a half. There was so much of it that my brain could jump around from song to song, motif to motif, and never, never, ever stop. And the volume and intensity kept gaining over that month and a half until I was sure everyone could hear it blasting through my brain case at top volume. In Spinal Tap terms I was at 11.


2. “Alcohol” by Barenaked Ladies

stuntThe Barenaked Ladies are true bubblegum – poppy, quirky, and often humorous. But every band writes a clunker once in awhile, and this one was a massive, steaming dump left in the middle of their album Stunt. When you think about it, it is really difficult to write a terrible song. Mediocre is easy, but to truly descend into song hell you have to strive for it. Mission accomplished: it has that perfect balance of an inane, repetitive tune paired with banal lyrics about drunks. Yippee. Let’s get that one on the hamster wheel, shall we?


3. “Dead Horse” by Guns ‘N’ Roses

use your illusionsSometimes (sometimes???) my brain does a funny thing: It will take the musical bridge in a song and then segues into what it considers a similar bridge so the earworm is segmented. (Like an earthworm, but more disgusting.) It starts you out with one song and then seamlessly blends into another, so you don’t even realize you began with Barenaked Ladies “Alcohol,” and end up with Guns N’ Roses “Dead Horse.” Sound impossibly incongruous to you? Not for this wing nut.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse,

And I don’t know why you’ve been bringing me down…”

Preach.


4. “Santeria” by Sublime

sublimeThis one has truly driven me to the brink. I wasn’t all that fond of it when I first heard it back in my college days, and when it started to burrow, I realized I grew anxious listening to the radio, as even the first few notes of the intro could embed itself, boring holes in my gray matter until I was a screaming, frothing wreck. The worst part is that I can’t even understand what the song is about. Bradley Nowell, (who died of a heroin overdose in 1997) wrote the lyrics deliberately cryptic. I fucking hate cryptic. Just say what mean, asshat. It doesn’t make you deep, or clever, or mysterious, or sexy, or more interesting when I can’t understand you. It just makes you an asshat.

Don’t do heroin, kids.


5. The Mexican Hat Dance

mexican hat danceDa-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM… such a simple little tune, just a few notes. Sometimes these are the worst because they are so perceptively small. The tiniest of earworms, no bigger than a dust mite when it goes into your head, and feeds on your sanity until there is nothing left in your skull but an engorged, twenty-foot long behemoth that weighs forty pounds and burps wetly as it digests what was once your brain. Soon to be worm poo.


6. “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago

chicago 17Anyone who knows me understands that I loathe bloodless music. Sappy lyrics, trite sentiment, and wimpy orchestration leaves me wanting to slit my wrists. During Desert Storm they blasted Poison over loudspeakers at the enemy to drive them crazy. Chicago, John Tesh, or Air Supply would make me surrender unconditionally just to Make. It. Stop.

I wasn’t even sure what the trigger was at first, but I knew I had it in my head after every phone conversation. What the hell was that about? Then it hit me: my ringtone! Ringtones, as you can imagine are the bane of my existence – a soundbite of music on repeat, a ready-made device of torture. I thought I had circumvented that problem by not using actual music for my ringtone: wind chimes. Great idea, right? But what if the first six random notes struck by those chimes sound almost exactly like the guitar intro to “You’re the Inspiration”? One wouldn’t necessarily notice, given the different mediums (chimes vs. guitar) or the key change. I’m still looking for a non-obnoxious, non-musical ringtone. If you have any suggestions, please let me know, but for God’s sake, text me, will you?


7. “Hey Ya” by Outkast

speakerboxxxI don’t even have to explain this one.

 

 

 


8. “The Hook” by Blues Traveler

fourOne interesting thing about me (I’ll tell you the other one at a later date) is that I married a man eighteen years my senior. We are disgustingly compatible except in two areas: politics and music. As far as music is concerned he is a snob that only listens to Classical. I admit this has been a very good thing for me–I have become acquainted with Brahms, Bizet, Smetana, Elgar, St. Saens, just to name a few favorites. But when it comes to me sharing music with him, he is totally uninterested. I can probably count on one hand the times he has actually listened to a song that I chose.

One of these instances happened just last week on vacation. We were talking about writing and the art of hooking a reader in the first few pages. This made me think of pop songs and the hook all the successful (earworms) have. Which obviously, brings me to Blues Traveler. Their song is ironic and funny, and goddammit, I haven’t been able to shake it since.

The worst part is that I don’t actually know all the words and my brain is making up placeholders. For example, in the middle of this particular song is the line:

“I’ll do as I’ll decide and let it ride till until I’ve died”

which I can’t quite seem to remember and my brain makes it:

“I’ll do and I’ll sigh and let it rot until I die.”

And then, the HOOK BRINGS ME BACK. I ain’t tellin’ you no lie.


9. “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt

tragic kingdomI don’t mind No Doubt or Gwen Stefani all that much. But this song in particular is one that can be stuck for days, and usually not the lyrics… just the peppy little ska intro. Just that little bit. On continuous loop. All my waking hours. For days on end. Kill me.

 


10. “Telstar” by the Tornados

And finally, a completely instrumental song. The Tornados recorded Telstar in 1962.  I must have been in elementary school when I first heard it, and I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. It sounded like a Disney-fied version of what outer space should be.

To be honest, I forgot about it for decades. And then… my husband and I were binge watching Mad Men, and one of the episodes (Season 2, Episode 10, “The Inheritence”) closes with this song. While I still totally dig this song, after being set on repeat for, oh, 500 hours, it wears a little thin. Still, I’d take it over any of these others.


So there you have it. You now have the ultimate power to send me to the loony bin if you choose. There are some less than kind people out there who find my earworm affliction entertaining. I have actually had people try to plant things in my head for their own amusement. Those people are now dead.

You’ve been warned.