Friday, April 11, 2014

Music While Writing

One of the questions I've been asked a few times in interviews for To Touch the Sun is "What music do you listen to while writing?" It's funny cause I never gave it a thought before. I listen to music frequently but I never really popped anything on to inspire me in the writing process.Well, actually years ago I was working on a novel about a psychic and at the same time had picked up the album "Gold Afternoon Fix" by The Church. On it is a song 6:07 song called Grind which is haunting and melodic and I completely fell in love with. The mood was perfect for the mood of the psychic. So I was often listening to this album and that song in particular while writing this novel (a novel I never got around to finishing).

When answering the question, it doesn't help that I can be so indecisive. Answering a question regarding a favorite anything is impossible because...well I love too much. My tastes are too varied and while I may be obsessed with something one day that doesn't mean it won't be put aside the next for something else.

I have a vast collection of CDs. I'm sure there are those whose collections are larger but mine is large enough for the CDs to be squirreld away in various spots in my apartment.

Blade stands guard over some of my collection
My CD collection increased dramatically when the Chicago Sun-Times closed the suburban offices of Pioneer Press where I worked as an editorial assistant, and moved the operation downtown. The Diversions Department which included the Entertainment section of the newspapers, in cleaning for the movie, put out for people to take hundreds of CDs that had been sent to them over the years. Most were promotional, sent out in the hopes of a favorable write up in the paper. Others were more professional. Most had collected in the desks and drawers of the editors and reporters who would not have the same amount of room for storage in the Sun-Times building downtown.

Across from the piano

Music for a little kitchen dancing
Music for the ride home
I took those that I thought seemed interesting and spent several days test driving them to see if I was right in my guess. Some did not appeal to me but I had a feeling they might appeal to the tastes of some of my friends so I started making little piles of CS that I hoped to dispense among my friends.

A few were played on the way home from work and never made it out of my car. One in particular by a band called Late of the Pier I listened to constantly for weeks whenever I drove. It's particularly good in summer.

That's another thing I do. If I come across a CD that I love I'll listen to it for weeks. Currently I'm on a Sia jag. I first saw her when she was a musical guest on The Late Show with David Letterman and was blown away by the melody of the song and the power of her voice.

I obtained a copy of her album "Some People Have Real Problems" and played it whenever I could. Recently I obtained her album "We Are Born" and it's equally as brilliant. So I play it quite frequently, writing or not.

It was the same way when I heard Sean Lennon's "Friendly Fire" (another album I was turned on to by the star's appearance on Letterman's show).

When I sit down to write though and I decide to pop on some music, I guess I do have a few regular staples I reach for. Elvis Costello can do no wrong in my ears. Midnight Oil, Madness (I like a lot of 80s bands). Sometimes I revisit my youth with the Best of ELO. Maybe some David Bowie or Blondie. Of course my problem is that often when I listen to music I find myself either singing along with the CD or dancing. I'm a firm believer in the fine art of kitchen dancing. It's a little hard to write if I'm bouncing around the kitchen like an idiot.

I'm generally not much into soundtracks but over the holidays I found myself listening repeatedly to a couple of soundtracks. "Shaft" by Issac Hayes and Curtis Mayfields' "Superfly." A particular favorite I remember listening to when I was a kid with a transistor radio tuned to WCFL in Chicago was the song "Freddie's Dead" off "Superfly."

Some of my favorite soundtracks are those of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. I have a two-disc set of The Ennio Morricone Anthology which is a particular favorite of mine. I remember watching "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars" and the like on tv years after their theatrical release and being blown away just as much by the music as by the images presented by Sergio Leone. Morricone, who scored non-Westerns with equally fantastic compositions, is very much like John Williams in that his score becomes just as much a star of the film as the actors themselves. Consider the scene in "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" in which Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" washes over the scene where Eli Wallach hunts through a cemetery for the right name on a headstone. The music puts across the desperation of Eli Wallach's character as much as the cinematography and the actor himself.

This CD set opened me up to the variety of Morricone's work. He didn't just score westerns but rather a whole host of movies. One particular favorite is the end theme to the 1987 movie "The Untouchables." When they describe a piece as stirring, it's this:

It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.

So more than a little frequently I'll bliss out to this anthology.

And of course there's so much more. Which is why it's hard for me to do a list of favorites. Cause there's so much more.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some kitchen dancing to do.