It’s All About The Musical Notes

One of the habits I’ve let fall by the wayside, over the last couple of years, is my quest for new music.  To find new artists and songs that resonate and mean something — that just plain work for me — takes time and effort.  If you have an eclectic taste that wanders over many genres and styles, it takes even more time and effort.

Just like so many other areas of life, it is far too easy to let that musical search slide and live instead inside your own status quo.  It is especially easy when you already have an extensive library.  “Who needs new stuff,” it is too easy to ask, “when you already have so much that works?”

There are a lot of ways to find new music.  None of them, unfortunately, is quick, easy or certain.  Recommendations from friends is perhaps the most reliable method, but even that has a batting average that would make most major leaguers fear for their job.  It also can lead to its own musical/cultural cul-de-sac…

One of my old stand-by’s, then, has been a podcast from NPR called “All Songs Considered.”  Oh, the odds of finding there something that makes my regular musical rotation are pretty damned slender, but it has proven over the years still to be a good way to expose myself to songs from styles and artists I would never otherwise hear.

To put that in context, I am not one for rap, country, or gospel.  But, thanks to that program, I have found artists and songs in each of those genres that have touched me, and earned a place on my personal playlist.  I am not, I will reiterate, a fan of country music…but Trampled By Turtles is an awesome band, and I would never have so much as heard of them without the podcast.

At any rate, that long-winded introduction is there merely to set the stage for a different kind of post.  I’m not writing a post about writing, or the world. I’m not even writing one based on random drunk ranting.  No, instead I’m doing this post solely to call out a couple of new songs that just plain work for me…and to provide a bit of insight into how I hunt for new music.*

*Recommendations are always welcome, by the way.  I will give a listen to anything you folks want to share or steer me towards.

Okay, so…in the preceding paragraphs, I harped on the fact that I am not a fan of country music. I did that to set up one particular song.  Steve Earle is the very definition of a country artist.  His music has been covered by some huge names, across a number of genres, but at the core of it he is a full-on Dukes of Hazzard, deep south, country guy.  But…well…some things transcend boundaries.

His son — also a musician — died this past summer. J.T. Earle died from those twin demons that haunt so many artists: drugs and alcohol.  I can just barely grasp the love and courage — the sheer strength — it took to do this, but Steve went through his son’s music and recorded an album of them.  That album — named J.T., for his son — will officially release on Monday.  Listen to the song below, then, and go give the entire album a try when you can.  Even if the style or sound isn’t to your taste, the emotion and strength behind it have meaning to everyone:

The second song is one I found through a different source entirely.  It is still however a new one, released as part of an EP just a couple of weeks ago.  This song (and artist) is far more in my “normal” vein of music, but…well…I still had to get lucky to stumble across it.

For someone who writes often about the loss of youth and innocence, the entire freaking EP just plain connects with me.  Don’t look at the text on the video I linked below, by the way.  Just listen to the music.  The voice should be familiar to you.

And, well, because I am — behind the scenes — a serious foodie and cook, I just have to make this a three-course meal.

I’m, err, gonna go ahead and violate everything I talked about above.  Wandering pretty damned far from the planned path has pretty much defined my life so far, so why change now?  This is an older song, but from an artist that has been firmly in my library for a very long time.  It also happens to offer an outlook and tone that pretty much defined my younger years…

Err…so like all true French chefs, you have to make that a four-course meal. Hey, everyone deserves a dessert, right? Right?!

Even older, this song. Not much to it, other than the fact that you just never hear it anymore. Well, that and the oh-so-young memories I have that go along with it. C’mon, it’s freaking dessert — it’s not supposed to be good for you!

The Music

Okay, so we all know I don’t do nostalgia.

Err…

I don’t do nostalgia well, so I try not to do it at all.  Give me enough booze and a basically unlimited supply of music, however, and my thoughts occasionally take on a life of their own.

*sigh*

For no real reason, I kicked off an “80’s flashback” music-fest a few days ago.  Now, keep in mind, my real knowledge of musical theory and history began in the early 90’s with the whole grunge/alternative movement.  From there, it grew into old school blues and folk.  One of my favorite outings, in fact, was the National Bluegrass festival when it was held in Maine while I lived there. But…

But, it all started back in the 80’s.  More to the point, my deeply personal and emotional attachment to music, and to various songs, started back in the 80’s.  It hadn’t meant much, in fact, until the final years of that decade.  Until one particular morning, driving in my car.

I was on my way to the my friend’s graveside internment.  I had sat through the church memorial without falling apart, but…then…

On that drive, from church to cemetery, a particular song played…and I finally fell apart.  I still can’t hear that song, as a matter of fact, without reliving that particular drive.

My close association of moments and emotions with music — with specific songs — has done nothing but accelerate since.

I can’t help it anymore — things that matter to me get a soundtrack.  From the triumphant and celebratory songs of a hunting wolf pack, to the mournful soundtrack of Connor and Oz, to the wistful longing and nostalgia of my memories, there is a soundtrack for everything.  I have only to hear a few notes/lines of a song and I can tell you every single detail about the moment it evokes for me.

Remember that eidetic memory thing we talked about a year or so back?  Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about here.  Every memory I have is still…real.  I can tell you what I smelt the day my brother shipped off to war.  Just as I can tell you the song playing on the radio the day he came back.

I can tell you what I was wearing the day my sister died…

I can tell you what I had for breakfast the day I sold my first story…

I can tell you the song playing on the radio when she told me she had chosen to end the pregnancy…

*sigh*

I don’t forget.  At all.

If I tell you I forgot something, by the way, I’m lying.  I am, remember, a recovering Sales and Marketing weasel, so lying is second nature to me.  I’m very, very good at it.  As a matter of fact, I lie all the time.  Wait…

Ahem.

We’ll leave aside my life as a fiction writer, shall we?  That aside, I still lie…a lot.  I tell folks what they want to hear because it’s generally far, far easier than the truth.  The only place I tell the truth, when you get right down to it, is in the words I type.

This blog gets one brand of truth.  It is a truth that often makes my friends and family uncomfortable, by the way, but it is still a surface truth.  It is a truth of mind and thought.  It isn’t until you get into the fiction — into the characters and worlds I create — that you get to the emotional truth.  It isn’t until barriers come down, and the music starts playing, that the real truth comes out…

So, my question for you is this: what drives your truth?

I have a friend who can only express her thoughts and feelings through drawing.  “What’s wrong?” I would ask.  Her answer would invariably be soft and deflecting…then she would show me her drawing.  A drawing of power and emotion.  A drawing that told a story…that told the story, the one she could not put into words.

A guy I know needs a stove and knives to be himself…

Another friend defines himself through the beers he creates…

I define myself through the words…

How do you define yourself?  Who are you?

I would say that you can’t be a writer/artist until you can answer that question, but that would be complete bullshit.  It isn’t the endpoint that defines you as an artist, it is the question itself.

For me it is the emotions and memories tied to the music.  It is the questions that come from the music that define me as a writer and an artist.  It isn’t the answers, by the way, because I have no answers.  The me of today is a stranger to the me of that miserable drive all those years ago…but the one could not exist without the other.

So, anyway…I’ve wandered pretty far afield from my original thesis of an “80’s Extravaganza” of music and memory.  I’ve wandered from the memories that gave rise to this piece, too.  I’ve lost the thread on the concerts I went to, and the songs no one talks about anymore.  The dances and parties with songs whose meanings have changed as I’ve changed…

I may have lost the thread in what I’ve written, but it’s all still there, those memories I talked about:

Dancing to house music in a converted bunker in Berlin…

Smoking bowls on the beach at a Grateful Dead concert…

Sweating, almost fainting, from the heat in a mosh pit…

The long, slow kisses at a — honest truth! — Wayne Newton show in Vegas…

The day I met Stevie Ray Vaughn…

Music is my bane, then, but also my savior.  I can remember that terrible, terrible drive…but I can remember, also, every detail of the day I stood backstage at a show, watching Clapton and Sting play together…

{Musical Note — c’mon, was I ever gonna play anything but the song that was playing in the car on that awful morning?  And, yes, it still brings a tear.  Where the fuck do you think Oz and his death came from?  He is the written embodiment of the three suicides that have so deeply scarred my soul…}

How Do You Choose?

Random writing, today.

I’m working on the fantasy series I want to write.  Unfortunately, the series I have in my mind is…well…it’s at least two different series.  Two different ones, but both do I want to write.  Both have characters I like, and stories I believe in.

How do you choose?

The worst torture the Romans could ever dish out was simple: line up the entire the family, then ask the father which child lived and which died.  The father always gave the Romans whatever they wanted.

So, for me, which story lives, and which dies?  Into which story do I plunge the dagger?

Okay, so no story every really dies…but putting one off for a couple of years (at the minimum) feels a whole lot like killing it…

Like that father, how do you choose?

No, really, how do you choose?

The story not of the young kid who wields a magic sword to become king, but rather the story of the sword so dedicated that he seeks out the last survivor of “his” family…

Or the story of the bitter immortal — the “angel” exiled for his part in the lost war in heaven — who wants nothing more than the grey numbness of oblivion…

I love Connor and Oz.  Err…well…Connor is a great character, and a great narrator, but it is Oz who I actually love.  It is Oz who is my favorite character.  But their time is coming to a close.  Once their third story is written, that’s it.

Hell, if I’m honest, there never should have been more than one.  Somewhere Peaceful to Die was written to have no sequel…but I couldn’t let those characters go.  The Silence That Never Comes and The Flicker of Ghosts came (are coming) because I couldn’t let go of those two characters.  But the time has come to finally let go…

So what fills the blank?  The stories of devotion and innocence that drove my youth?  My take on the Belgariad and the Chronicles of Amber and the Lord of the Rings?  Or…

Or…

Or, a more deeply personal tale?  A tale built on experience and reality?  A tale of a weary life lived among those far younger?  A tale of bitterness and loss amidst the joys and innocence of youth…?

It would help, of course, if one had a character that stood out more for me than the other…but both call to me:

Finntan’s hope, the innocence of his life, and the dedication of the magic items that dedicate themselves to him…

Versus the world weary insouciance of Runae…versus the concept of the once-great wanting nothing more than the forgetfulness of death…

How do you pick which child lives and which dies?

How do you choose between the hope and love that you wish the world was, and the bitter pain that you know the world actually is?

I tried conflating them, I really did.

Yeah, it was worse than you think it was.

Those two cannot be combined.  Not in any way.  I tell either Finntan’s story, or I tell Runae’s.  I can’t combine the two…not any more than I can plan out to a third series!

*sigh*

This is why, of course, writers get paid the…ahem…small bucks.

If I had wanted to get rich, I would’ve been a plumber.

Musical Note — the song below is one I love. It is a song that has not specifically been a part of anything I’ve conceived or written, but rather has elements that touch on everything I’ve written (not to mention having the best song line ever: “If you’ve never stared off into the distance / Then your life Is a shame”)…

Musical Addendum

A friend of mine just got on me to expand the repertoire of songs I use on these posts.

Oh, she understands the soundtrack I use when I’m writing, but she also knows my library is a whole hell of a lot larger than the videos I link here…

Fine. I’m still going to keep with the writing theme, however. In fact, the two additional songs I’m throwing on this post both come from the “soundtrack” for Connor and Oz.

One friendly reminder, by the way: I love dissonance. I love finding the parallels and truths in things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. The two songs I am linking here are firmly in that dissonant camp of having nothing to do with each other. When you look deeper, however…

A song about being on the biggest stage of your life, about stepping up and putting everything into that one chance. {Edit — a friend once told me that when he stepped on the ice for the first shift of his NHL career, this song was going through his head}:

And, to be as dissonant as possible, the alternative soundtrack to the final scene of Somewhere Peaceful to Die (because, well, what could be more dissonant than innocent kids singing Oz into death?):