Reflections on living the life literary by the Urban Sundog
Soundtracks, Real and Imaginary
I never write without music playing.
I haven’t done so since the seventies, if I ever did before that. For example, while I’m typing this I’m listening to Jefferson Airplane, from the sixties. Much like I did in the seventies, when I started getting serious about this game.
Does having music on while writing stimulate the creative faculties? I’m not certain one way or the other about that. I do know that I found it useful to listen to classical music while trying to write philosophy essays. There did seem to be something tangible there that helped me to order my thinking. But in general, I’d have to say …
Nah. I just like listening to music. A lot.
Because I do that, whether I choose to or not certain musical artists sometimes become the unheralded soundtracks for certain of my larger pieces of writing. For example, I got it into my head when I wrote a novel that is the first in the mystery series I’m starting to peddle, Sticks, Stones and Breaking Bones, that the soundtrack to the writing of this book, as with philosophy essays, needed to be classical music. So I created a pile of classical playlists and quite enjoyed them while drafting the original manuscript. Then I got to the editing stage and discovered a country swing number by Raul Malo made the perfect tune to play over the credits should the book ever be made into a movie. Go figure.
I bought a lot of music in the seventies, and didn’t really explore that option again until the last five years or so with I-Tunes. The option of only purchasing the songs you want off an album appeals to me immensely. Not to mention the vast array of artists to choose from you’d never find CDs by in Winnipeg music stores.
As a result, I usually indulge in nine new songs a week. Three on Monday for my wife, who prefers vocal and smooth jazz, with some latin and a little bit of bluesy swing thrown in for good measure. And then another three each on Wednesday and Friday that rarely anyone in the house ever listens to but me. While I’m writing, and, sometimes, cooking.
I’ve gone on a bit of a hunt lately, re-gathering digitally the best of what I used to listen to on lp in the seventies, but I also like to do what I call I-Wanders. Track down a song I like and see where the recommendations I-Tunes gives you for other tracks I might like may lead me. As a result, I’ve discovered a stack of new artists I wouldn’t have found otherwise since I started doing this writing thing full time three years ago. They have really represented the unstated soundtrack more than anyone to the writing I’ve done since sitting down to the first blank page of Reality Fiction One in 2011.
In general, some notable discoveries have been Amanda Palmer’s wonderful in-your-face street artistry; the techno-goth rhythms and dark sensibilities of Blutengel, Collide, and Ego Likeness; the disturbingly atmospheric Black Tape for a Blue Girl (great album covers); the opera-swing-metal merging of the Diablo Swing Orchestra; the B-film rockabilly delight of Horrorpops; the mysticism and eccentric flair relatively of Wendy Rule and Phoebe Legere; the noir minimalist pop of the Raveonettes; and the Tiger Lillies who are — well, they’re the Tiger Lillies.
But seven artists in particular have kept me going, happily joined by an eighth I only discovered this year, which proves to me that there are still gems out there to be found.
I started off on a Goth kick, and tuned into Jill Tracy, Rasputina and Emilie Autumn early on.
Jill Tracy’s horror movie soundtrack cabaret is highly appealing. The woman has a tremendous sense of style, with more than a touch of the sinister thrown in. I enjoy her stuff so much I even picked up the complete personal instrumental soundtrack she wrote for F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire classic, Nosferatu. I haven’t actually coordinated playing it at the same time as watching the movie yet, but I intend to.
Rasputina is just too cool for words. I mean, electric cellos? How can it not be great? her album of cover songs is good, but it’s her original material that really stands out. Actually, the name of the cello group is Rasputina, the central artist we’re talking about is Melora Creager. A great voice, a wonderful cellist, and a musical original.
I don’t know why more people haven’t picked up on Emilie Autumn, given the plethora of stories like Jian Ghomeshi’s outlined a couple of weeks ago here, and Bill Cosby’s which has arisen since. Her last album, Fight Like A Girl, should be the soundtrack of the movement. Of course, her statement on her previous album, Opheliac, where she said she wants to perform music that will offend everyone may have something to do with it.
But the fact of the matter is Emilie Autumn was a musical prodigy who proved herself equally proficient at classical music and pop through rock at an early age, and followed that up by enduring hellish episodes in her life that inspired amazingly intense and often remarkably beautiful music. She’s one of the few I buy whole albums by, not just specific songs.
After discovering these three ladies, I decided it was time to make a detailed study of the music of David Lynch movies. This meant building playlists by Angelo Badalamenti, Julee Cruise, and David himself. I’ve got a whole folder of playlists now called Lynchville. Let’s face it — has there ever been a better TV soundtrack than Twin Peaks?
And then I started writing things like The Twitchy Gal …
Trying to trace down David Lynch music led me to someone else I may or may not have discovered otherwise. Lana Del Rey does a mean cover of “Blue Velvet” on her Paradise album. And for those of you who may be beginning to suspect if you’re actually reading the books I’m posting on the Realficone blog, this fortuitous discovery led to the keystone moment that inspired my Theda Bara Novelletta, Thirty-One Across.
I’d never heard of Lana Del Rey. Even though she is by far the most famous of the people I listen to today. I discovered Lana Del Rey looking for David Lynch songs, and found “Ride”, which blew me away immediately, on the Paradise album searching for “Blue Velvet” led me to. Then two days later, her name came up as an answer in the Metro daily crossword puzzle.
So in this case, music did definitely inspire my writing. One hundred fifty pages later …
And I couldn’t be happier. Yes, she gets some weird press. But the truth is she writes brilliant lyrics with a powerfully assertive point of view, her voice is a lot better than most people will give her credit for, and the music is textured and layered, increasing in appeal the more you hear her songs.
I guess I’m a fan.
And then there’s Lou Reed. Good old, weird old, whacked out, drugged up, dead old Lou Reed. Who has been dead for almost a year now.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I once proudly wore my Sally Can’t Dance tee shirt regularly to a Winnipeg high school where if you mentioned the name Lou Reed everyone else thought you were talking about Lou Rawls. After Lou died, I made a concerted effort to fill in the gaps on my collection of his music, and now have put together no less than five eighty-minute plus playlists of my favourite songs spanning his five plus decade career, from the Velvet Underground all the way to Lulu, the joint effort he did with Metallica that was his last album.
I once wrote a poem where I decided I didn’t have the nerve to devote my life to art like Lou Reed did.
But it’s still fun to wonder what would have happened if I had.
So on the whole, I have to say I-Tunes is one part of modern technology that has actually contributed in a genuinely positive manner to my daily life. Not that you can find everything on I-Tunes. I still can’t believe you can’t find “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris there as of this writing. But while I was trying to locate another unique hit from the sixties that also isn’t available — “Fire”, by Arthur Brown — I did discover a cover of that song by an artist who is my new favourite discovery of 2014, for her own unique body of work. Lizzy Mercier Descloux. I was saddened to discover I didn’t know she existed until after she died. But her music lives on.
I wonder if someday someone will say the same thing about the writing I’m doing while listening to her.
Continuing the Grand Tradition!
Local writer Cathy Macdonald debuts her first mystery novel
Put on the Armour of Light
from Dundurn Press, at McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg
November 30, 2014, 1 pm in the Travel Alcove.
The launch will also feature an interview between Cathy and
local CBC Radio personality Terry MacLeod.
For more information on Cathy and her sleuth Charles Lauchlan, check out her website at:
and blog at:
REALITY FICTION AND BEYOND!
Continuing The Twitchy Gal with Chapter Thirty-One posted on Monday and Chapter Thirty-Two coming on Friday, November 28th at:
A plan is made! A plan is implemented! A plan begins to swirl madly out of control!