Cheers

A warm afternoon, sitting in the sun and listening to music.  Well…and…

Look, I’m sitting in the sun with music blaring in my ears — of course I’m writing, too!

I wasn’t thinking about doing a blog post today, however.  No, today was for stories.  But…

But, there’s always a but, in my life!

I can’t listen to music and not get ideas.  Yeah, yeah…I still have that bit of flashfiction I promised early last week, but that ain’t where this is going.  I still have the image in my head, and I still want to write the piece,* but that ain’t gonna happen today.

*I’ll stake out the parameters now: 400 words, from an image of snow softly falling in the streetlights…

Now, what pulled me away from my first love — from longform storytelling — was a song.  A song that…evoked.

I’ve talked more than once about the ability of music to evoke in the listener emotion and memory and feeling.  From sadness to joy, from nostalgia to hope, from the bitterest regret to the purest hope, music can — and should —  make the listener feel.

Er…kinda like all art…

The writerly aside is, by the way, the same as it ever has been on these blog pages: if your story does not make your reader feel, you’re doin’ it wrong.

Now, I’ve talked before about nostalgia…and about my general aversion to that particular sin.  But, well — yep, there’s yet another but in my life! — that aversion applies more to that brand of nostalgia that makes you…well…sad.  The nostalgia that makes you think back and want.  The nostalgia of what could have been.  The nostalgia of what you have lost, and what you never had.

There is, however, a good kind, too.

There is that nostalgia that makes you think about everything you have done…about everyone you’ve loved…about the world as a place of experience and fun, rather than one of lack and loss…

There is that nostalgia that reminds you of friends who are still there, rather than of those long past…

To make up for the 1,600 word monster-post of last Friday, I’ll keep this one short and close it out here…with, of course, the song that made me think about the ”good” nostalgia.  Forget the specific names and events noted in the song, and just let yourself feel the emotion behind it all.  For me, it brings the memories and emotions of pints of Grimm in the backroom of the brewery…

Of giant margaritas — with extra tequila, of course! — with Sally and Pete and ‘Stina…

Of long nights of stiff drinks and shitty pool at Snug Harbor…

Sorry For The Interruption

Oh, dear God did I need this!

So, yeah, this morning’s post was pretty random and spur of the moment.  It was also written when the temperature was still in single digits.  Those single digits, I should add, have been a freaking high for the last several weeks.  After 25ish years in cold climes, the past couple of weeks mark the first time ever that I’ve had my pipes burst from the damned cold!

But now…

But now!

But now, the sun is shining and things are warming up.  Yeah, the air temperature is still 36 degrees, but you have to remember that I live at five thousand feet.  At this altitude, you quickly learn, direct sun adds 10-20 degrees to the temperature.

So…I’m sitting outside.  I’m sitting outside in shorts and a t-shirt.  I’m also following the greatest wisdom in the world*: I’m drinkin’ wine and eatin’ cheese.

*Thank you, Oddball!

Think back, dear reader…

Think all the way back to this morning…

Remember when I talked about sitting outside as part of that bit about writing?

Oh yeah!

That’s right…I’m sittin’ outside, with my wine and my cheese, and writin’ my ass off.

Oh, and below…for a musical note?  There ain’t many bands who could take a thousand-year-old poem and turn it into a kick-ass song!

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…}