Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Music of the Soul

Yesterday in the comments I said that listening to music helps set my mood for when I’m writing. Sometimes you need something energizing, sometimes something mellow, sometimes something life affirming, and sometimes something a bit depressing. There is little beyond the physical aspect of our emotions – crying when sad, laughing when happy – that so astutely reflects our mood as our choice in music.

I’ve always been a big fan of music, and my tastes are eclectic. At the moment I’m listening to Philip Fogarty. I have no idea what to call his style but I love it. The CD was a gift and it’s introduced me to a new artist I could easily see myself getting addicted to. There’s a title on the CD I could name a book after.

I know referring to music in books is a pop culture reference but it is an exception to my aversion to pop culture references that I’ll gladly make. Even if I don’t know the artist I connect to the music through the emotion of the characters. Most people pick music based on their moods. For years reading the Rebus novels I wondered what Jackie Leven’s music was like. I had an impression through the books and it wasn’t off. Of course, every artist has range. Jackie’s music isn’t all depressing or all cheery, but there’s something about it that connects on a deeper level. You know what it is I don’t like about most mainstream pop? There’s no substance to it. Anyone could sing it, it doesn’t convey any insight about life, human nature, our deep desires, dreams, fears…

That’s not what you’d say about musicians like Jackie or Philip here. The music transports you.

That is, for me, always what makes the difference between the good and the great. The sense that some understanding of what it is to be human has been conveyed, the sense that if the song goes on a little longer, if I listen a little more closely, I’ll begin to understand myself.

That doesn’t mean that all ‘pop’ music is meaningless or empty. It’s just a real rarity to find an exceptionally popular band that offer something more than catchy dance songs. For me, one of the bands that actually did this in the 80s was INXS.

Playing in the dirt
We find the seeds of doubt
Don't water them with your tears
Don't think about all the years
You'd rather be without

Eden let's me in
I find the seeds of love
And climb upon the highwire
I kiss and tell all my fears


Even after all this time, LISTEN LIKE THIEVES is one of my favourite albums.

This is the power
Since time began
Every single hour
That we have known
And from each moment
All that is left
Sleep of the innocent
Just one desire


By comparison, you couldn’t get me to listen to a lot of the other bands whose albums I used to buy back then.

For me, music has memory. There are some songs I can’t listen to without feeling as though close my eyes and reopen them and I’d be ten or fifteen or twenty years earlier, in another place and time, right at that moment. I’ve got Tom Cochrane and Red Rider on now, with Ashes to Diamonds. He’s got this one song that I guess appeals to the crime author in me, atmospheric and depressing as hell:


God I hate your needles and

Your dirty little vial of pills

I guess I love the sweat you put me through

I know I love your body

Like I used to love your mind

But now your soul's a slave

To all the things you use

I put you in the tub babe

With five big pounds of ice

If you don't get back up

I don't know what I'll do

I've walked around the room

Here nearly 37 Times

Can you hear me now

And am I getting through

Get up, get back up

Get up, get back up

I thought I heard you laughing

I thought I heard you scream

I thought I heard some wailing

Like lovers in heat

I thought maybe we'd been

Somewhere that we've never seen

Still you lie so still like

A china doll lost in a summer dream

Here I am way down here

Way down upon my knees

You're looking awfully blue

We were having such a good time

We were having so much fun now

We'll lock the door change the sheets

But how do I get to you?


Oh yeah, that song will be playing at some point in the new manuscript.

For some reason I listened to a lot of country music when I wrote the first draft of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. I can’t write while actually listening to music these days – I use it as a mood setter sometimes, but then I have to turn it off. Not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with how scrambled my brain feels this week.

I’ll leave you with lyrics from a song that is referenced in WHAT BURNS WITHIN, from the amazing Bruce Cockburn:


Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense
It's my beat
In my new town
Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must
It's my beat
In my new town
Ancient and always
The wheel's ever whirling
Today I'm riding
Tomorrow I walk
Step through forever
into this very moment
The heart is pumping
and the heart rocks


What are you guys listening to these days? Anything good I should be picking up?

8 comments:

Trace said...

Music has a huge effect on me, so I have to choose what I listen to pretty carefully. Especially while writing.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I need something that inspires 'psychotic woman' thoughts. Any suggestions?

Steve Allan said...

"I need something that inspires 'psychotic woman' thoughts. Any suggestions?"

Whatever my wife listens to?

Anyway, current writing music includes Tom Waits, the new Neil Young live album, The Shins, Goldfrapp, Flaming Lips, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Lily Allen (don't laugh).

angie said...

I'm a huge fan of Lucinda Williams - "Live @ The Fillmore" is amazing & has the widest range of her music. Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Neko Case (with and without her Boyfriends).

Psychotic woman thoughts? Um, Hole's first two albums are pretty psychotic/angry. Can't get much more intense than Courtney Love, although some of the pop shit that's on the radio now makes me wanna commit murder...

norby said...

Psychotic woman thoughts. Hmmm, I like Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Metallica, anything you can shout and punch the walls to.

Overall I listen to a wide variety of music. The one group I consistently listen to is Gaelic Storm. They are an Irish band made up of an Irishman, an Englishman, a couple of Americans and a Canadian. They are fantastic-I really can't say enough about them.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Portishead's second album is my mood setting tool for my current novel. I can't believe I'm still listening to it ten years on.

Psychotic woman thoughts? Easy: PJ Harvey, one of her early albums called Rid Of Me.

In one song she repeats a line that she stole from Captain Beefheart:

"Don't you wish you never met her?"

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, now I have some new music options to check out! Thanks guys! Most of these are new to me.

elisa said...

I just stumbled over this blog...funny, you made that entry on Philip's birthday. Hope he saw it - would have made for a nice gift.