Students often ask me how I manage to get to the page. They want to know if I light candles, do yoga, drink coffee, read poetry . . . I answer yes to pretty much everything, although I do none of those things consistently. (And besides, I’m not sure any such advice is helpful to the emerging writer, who must ultimately find his/her own way to the page.)
Still, there is one thing I do all the time: I listen to music.
Now, that doesn’t mean I listen to the same music all the time. Each book seems to require its own soundtrack. In fact, I actually included a soundtrack to my novel, THE RADIANT CITY, which you can find in the back of the paperback edition. THE STUBBORN SEASON was written to a background of Noel Coward, Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Fat Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Hoagy Carmichael, Cab Calloway, Art Tatum,
Music seems to open up certain creative pathways for me in the way I once thought scotch did. (Scotch DIDN’T, by the way.) I have a large collection of music of many genres and delight in creating play lists for different projects. One rather mystical list contains nothing but music from the extraordinary Djivan Gasparyan, Anouar Brahem and Armand Amar & Levon Minassian. There’s something about this ethereal, magical music that helps me drop down into the writing zone.
For concentration it’s Mozart, Satie, Vivaldi, Ludovico Einaudi (whose music I first discovered through the film “This is England) and several compilations of the “Best Study Music,” “Music for Thinking,” variety. They’re surprisingly good as it turns out. And opera, if I’m really in need of a kick in the pants. Nothing like a little Maria Callas to amp me up.
I recently finished a first draft of a new novel about alcoholism, and listened to a LOT of early Tom Waits (sound track of my own drunken 20s and 30s), Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Lefavre, Patty Griffin, Ricki Lee Jones, Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, Mary Gauthier, and so forth.
At the end of those writing days, I resurfaced to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Why Walk When You Can Fly.” In fact, if I have a personal theme song, I suspect this is it. I’m also a sucker for The Staple Singers, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Annie Lennox, Bettye LeVette, The Neville Brothers. . . ack! I could go on and on.
Apparently I have 17.5 days worth of music on the old iTunes. I’m thinking it’s not enough. Music as consolation, motivation, recreation and certainly inspiration.
Right now, these are the first five songs on today’s playlist:
Listening to Levon – - Marc Cohen
Driving with the Brakes on – - Del Amitri
Timshel — Mumford & Sons
The Real Thing — Sahara Smith
Blue Chalk — Maura O’Connell
So tell me — what are you listening to?