Words and Music
Well … it’s been a while. March brings some difficult anniversary dates for me and solitude has always been my best remedy. A week into April, things are beginning to feel different, better, brighter, in more ways than one. Anyone who has ever lived in the Midwest, namely Michigan this winter, knows what I’m talking about. I do love winter, but am so happy to say hello to spring. And to upcoming summer concerts!
In the past few weeks I’ve made plans to attend three fantastic concerts this summer, and am still reeling from the excitement of today. This morning my concert wing-woman Ann snagged us fantastic seats to see Jack White, and the high I’m currently on is amazing. I’m sure the thrill will mellow a bit over the course of the next few months until July, but the anticipation in and of itself is, in some ways, just as exciting as waking up the day of the concert. Because between now and then, for roughly the next ninety days, and then another twenty or so until we see Thirty Seconds to Mars and Linkin Park, I’ve got oodles of new and well loved music to listen to while I’m writing.
Words and music are inseparable to me. I’m sure it’s a result of teenage study marathons in my bedroom with one record album after another playing on the turntable. I had all the greats for a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. John Cougar Mellencamp’s American Fool. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Duran Duran, INXS, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin. Too many to name. Any free time between homework and the plethora of teenage obligations I must have had was spent writing for pleasure. Short stories, song lyrics, novel beginnings with high hopes. The constant in all of that, more than any specific writing tool, space, method, or habit was music in the air. I’m sure that’s why I must have a soundtrack playing in the background now when I write.
My playlist changes all the time. It changes depending not just on what scene I’m writing, but what mood I’m in that particular day or moment, and what mood my characters are in. And it changes with each novel I write. It’s funny that my current work in progress has already necessitated some Jack White as well as Thirty Seconds to Mars. Music addict that I am, after getting my TSTM concert tickets I immediately purchased and incorporated a ton of their songs into my playlist and they just flow seamlessly along with the writing. No need to purchase any Jack White, as I own almost everything the man has released in his various incarnations, and what I don’t have, my good friend Ann does; she’ll let me borrow in exchange for brownies (a blog post for another day: the great importance of coffee and chocolate as additional writing tools).
I realize that my passion for music, especially live music, isn’t something that is felt by everyone. That makes me feel even luckier. The love of music in multiple genres can be traced back to my dad, a high school teacher whose den was stocked with shelves of literary classics I devoured and two huge cabinets of musical classics he shared with me—sometimes against my will! I am a true product of my environment. Before starting my own collection, the music in the air of my childhood was The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Bob Seger (also a Detroiter, like Jack White, something my dad made sure I knew), Led Zeppelin, George Winston, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Roger Whitaker, ABBA … should I go on? The groundwork was laid before I turned ten. The common theme in every piece of music I fell in love with was the story inside. I know now that as I’ve aged, I haven’t really grown up. I haven’t really changed. Not so much. The best songs, my favorites today, are still the ones that tell a story.
Jack White is a great story teller. So is Eminem—another Detroit native and also in my current playlist. The stories don’t have to have a happy ending, a moral, a lesson, or even be complete tales. Sometimes the story exists without a single word; the words are there, hidden, spoken through the music. The stories are a glimpse, a hint at the human experience, at life through someone else’s eyes. They make us feel. That’s it. Just feel … something. Something powerful, insightful, impactful. Set against a really beautiful or rocking or haunting melody, could there be any better way to tell a story? And, to revisit the idea of live music, seeing the artists who wrote the story singing and playing their hearts out on stage is pretty much the best thing ever. The feelings stirred by those songs--those odd combinations of words and music organized into a three minute masterpiece we can’t get out of our head--those feelings are magnified a thousand times when we get to hear the artist tell us his story in person. Words and music.