Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where Music Fails

I always enjoy when a writer lets us know what s/he was listening to while working on whatever project s/he was working on. Sometimes, you can see where the music has influenced the piece. Not that it always does, but there are those times. Generally speaking, it's just cool to see that bit of a writer's personality. Sometimes, someone says they listen to a particular type of music, and it so fits them that they didn't really need to tell you. However, there are those times when the appropriate response is, "What the heck?! You listen to what?!" That's not necessarily because the music is "bad" but just that it seems so contrary to the type of person they are. That applies to anyone, by the way, not just writers.

So... I'd love to tell you all about the great music I listened to while I was writing The House on the Corner, but, you see, I can't. Why? Because music failed me.

I didn't really discover music until I was 15. Before that, I only listened to whatever my mom was listening to, which means I grew up with a lot of 60s folk music. It has been a heavy influence on me, though, even if I was never inspired to go through her LPs and throw one on the turntable myself. At least, not when I was a kid. I still believe "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel is the best song ever written, though. But at 15, music finally "snapped into place" for me and became one of the predominant things in my life.

In fact, it became obnoxiously predominant. The problem was that I didn't know it. See, I took my music everywhere. You don't see the issue, do you? Walkmans were only just becoming a thing, at the time, and I didn't have one. What I did have was a big, clunky tape recorder and no headphones, and that's what I took everywhere. And I had no shame about singing along whenever I wanted to. I have a collection of 45s (yes, I know some of you are reading all this and have no idea what I'm talking about) of my favorite singles from the 80s, and I would make casettes of the songs, so I could take them along. I was a walking soundtrack, of sorts.

I also sang on the phone. I spent all of my time when I was home and not asleep from the ages of 15-18 on the phone. This meant hours of time at one stretch on the phone with the same person, often, without really having anything to say. But I had a radio in my room tuned to the local light rock/pop station, and, when there was nothing to say, I would sing along with the radio. I thought this was, somehow, normal.

As I shifted from high school to college and I started spending lots of time driving, I was in total control of the music. It didn't matter whose vehicle I was in. The radio was mine. The casette player was mine. I ruled all. And I sang along. I even made people sit in their cars to finish a song before getting out. Even that rarely brought forth a comment.

I tell you all of this so that you understand how ingrained music was to me. How I constantly had something playing. Not, really, to demonstrate what a jerk I was with it. But, you know, no one, I mean no one ever said anything about it to me. Except my cousin. Once. Because we were in his car, and he wanted to talk about something, so he turned the radio off. It never once occurred to me that this behavior was... rude.

Then I got married (there are so many stories that can come from that one, little statement). I quickly learned that my wife wasn't interested in sitting in a car while a song finished. And my wife, although very musical, didn't enjoy the constant background noise, so I had to get used to having the music off for long stretches at a time. Still, though, when I am by myself, the music is on. At least, most of the time.

When I set out to write my book, I actually started planning what I was going to listen to while I was writing. I had grand plans for it all. And I sat down to write, put something in, and the music failed me. Although I grew up doing my homework in front of the TV (as a kid) and to music (as a teenager) and everything to music as I got older, I sat down to write, and the music got in the way. I kept trying to sing along, and I couldn't form words while I was singing. It was somewhat horrifying. I turned it off, but the silence was almost as bad. I thought maybe something without lyrics? I tried one of my Star Wars soundtracks, but that was almost equally as bad as songs, because I kept humming along, and I couldn't write while I was doing that, either.

In the end, I found one CD I could listen to: the soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring.  That was it. So, there you go, The House on the Corner was written entirely to that music. It provided nice backgroung noise without proving to be distracting to what I was doing. My family, though, is thoroughly tired of that music, and they weren't even present while I was doing the majority of my writing.

I'm going to try Pickin' on U2: A Bluegrass Tribute for my next book. We'll see how it goes.


  1. Great post! To me, music is awesome, but it does get in the way. Thank you for linking me to your blog! You have another follower, too. :-)