Remembering David Bowie

 

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How do you write about someone whose entire body of work has been showered with superlatives, and when those superlatives have been exhausted, we simply coined new ones? How do you write about an artist who’s on the very very short list of artists that have influenced generations to follow their instincts, go against the grain, and dare to challenge.

Many words will be spilled to mark, sadly, that David Bowie has died. His life in the coming days will be commemorated, and deservedly so. That doesn’t hide from the fact that his death is something devastating, something that, like what he did in his glorious, fearless-driven life, knocked the Earth off its axis.

I won’t lie. The news of David Bowie’s passing knocked the wind out of me. There were rumors he was sick, fueled even further by the ruminations of death and mortality on his most recent album, “Blackstar,” release just three days ago, on his 69th birthday no less. His time on Earth was coming to an end.

Still, this brings me no comfort. I feel extremely empty today. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not related to David Bowie in any way, but he’s been a big part of my life for several decades; it’s almost like I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t David Bowie’s music, his words, his fashion, his iconoclast ways, in my life and everyone else’s I knew.

Like most people my age, I came to David Bowie through “Let’s Dance,” both the monster title song (it’s an instant classic, one that even my eight-year-old daughter adores) and the album itself. From there, it was a rabbit hole, discovering his vast discography, confused at first, but understanding there was something larger than life about David Bowie. He was a non-conformist about his artistic endeavors, yet he was no stranger to mainstream success.

His songs were the soundtrack to my life, and so many millions more. “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure” (his brilliant collaboration with Queen), “Let’s Dance,” “‘Heroes'” these are songs that will continue to stand the test of time, and be the music I consider essential. His albums embody the mindset of an artist forever chasing and engaging in a musical muse that led him so many times out of his comfort zone, and into creating worlds of musical landscapes that will forever stand the test of time. Seriously. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie’s output recently. The glam-soaked punch of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane can still be heard today. The experimental nature of Low and “Heroes” still influences so many independent-minded artists today. From today’s current pop landscape, and previous landscapes, the following can easily trace David Bowie’s influence into their bodies of work: Madonna, Lady Gaga, U2, Kanye West, Marina Abramovich, Joy Division, Arcade Fire; even Bowie’s son, the gifted filmmaker Duncan Jones, has widely acknowledged his father’s artistic influence.

Hell, even David Bowie the actor was fascinating. My mother once reminded me of when she saw him on Broadway as the Elephant Man, and how she was impressed by him. My mother’s cool factor shot up after that. Bowie had screen presence to burn – I loved his turn as Nikolai Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and, hell yeah, he was utterly fucking awesome as the Gnome King in Labrynth.

Bowie was always acting, wasn’t he? Whether he embodied the messianic rock star Ziggy Stardust, or the cynical, coked-up Thin White Duke, or Major Tom, and the several other personas he embraced throughout his career, Bowie was never the same role twice. This is, to this day, an important lesson he taught us creative types: what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, embrace uncertainty, leave nostalgia for others.

I’m listening to “Lazarus,” one of the tracks off Blackstar, which kicks off with the line, “Look at me/I’m in heaven.” He sings of being free like a bluebird; knowing what we know about the cancer diagnosis he kept secret, “Lazarus,” is a cry of relief, a man coming to terms with his mortality, even perhaps sharing a joke with the Grim Reaper.

Most musicians, or artists for that matter, would recoil at the mere notion of death, no less again. Not Bowie. Throught the fucking phenomenal Blackstar, Bowie jumps into the flame of excitement, knowing he was facing death head on, and he was going to mine this for all its artistic worth. Morbid, perhaps, but Bowie was never like you or I. He was never shy about facing challenges.

And that’s the thing about Bowie: he was never afraid, never afraid to search, never afraid to ask, never afraid to demand, never afraid to fail. It’s these traits that made Bowie’s body of work such an irreplaceable part of the pop culture canon – witness the legions of musicians, actors, directors, artists that have not just paid their respects to Bowie’s passing, but whose works have been influenced in large parts by Bowie. His successes are breathtaking: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; Hunky Dory; Aladdin Sane; “Heroes”; Low; Lodger; Station to Station (my personal favorite); Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); Let’s Dance. Even his failures  bore the marks of a restless, forever seeking soul.

I’ll end this with a quote from Bowie that’s been oft-repeated:

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Thank you for the music. Thank you for the words. Thank you for being an iconoclast when the world demanded comformity.

Thank you for being David Bowie. Wherever you have gone, may resting in peace be foreign to you; that would be too boring now, would it, restless soul?

Arguments Over Song Lyrics in Car Rides (Writing 101, Day Seven)

“Can you give me a ride to my dentist appointment?” Matt’s mother asked him. Fine, he agreed, as long as he got to choose what station they’d listen to on the drive to the appointment. His mother didn’t like that rock and roll music so much, and she wasn’t going to like it playing from his car. She sat in silence as Matt hummed along to “Hey Joe.”

Those immortal words: I’m going down to shoot my old lady/you know I caught her messin’ ’round town/and that ain’t too cool.

“Who sings this?” she asked.

Jimi Hendrix, Matt told her. “The song’s called ‘Hey Joe'”. “This is bullshit,” she sneered.

“Uh…why, Mom?”

“It’s macho bullshit. Why is it okay for him to shoot his wife? That’s so ancient.”

“Umm…Mom, it’s just a song, okay?” Matt tried to explain to her that it’s really a folk song, you know, the story of a man who commits a crime of passion and goes on the run. It just wasn’t working with his mother; she wasn’t buying it.

“Oh, but it’s okay for a woman to kill her husband or lover in a crime of passion, like Jean Harris?”

“That’s different!” she snorted, with that arms-folded-across-the-chest superiority that mothers love to exude when they know they’ve been busted. “A woman gets more sympathy for a crime of passion, believe me. He had it coming.”

“Well, Mom, I think that’s pretty sexist of you to think that it’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to kill her lover, or husband, or whoever, if he leaves her or cheats on her. But it’s not okay for a man to do the same?”

Before the song could end, Matt switched the car radio to a different station. Talk radio, just to be safe. Traffic was slowing down. His mother craned her neck to see if she could make out what was blocking their lane. She wasn’t going to be late, but she didn’t want to get there just in time, either. “What the heck is causing this traffic jam?” she wondered aloud.

Hell is a Waiting Room…

…and the worst kind of music is played in this waiting room. It’s the waiting room for my shrink. I’m already irritable, because I know my visit with the shrink will be short, and I’ll put on a happy face and tell him all is well, when all I need him to do is approve my meds.

It’s not the meds that have me irritable, it’s having to take them.

And now I’m sitting in his waiting room, and the worst kind of Muzak is playing. Piano-laden version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” or some Dan Fogelberg track. This sonic assault would make me want to slash my throat in the waiting room, but thankfully I’m not suicidal. I’m far too vain for that. But I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing an even softer version of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.”

I’ll bet he’s a depressed motherfucker. No one could write music that trite and be happy.

I’m amazed no one has tried to smash the speakers. I would be so inclined. Seriously, doctors need to rethink the music they pipe in their waiting rooms. If you’re trying to make me docile, it’s doing the opposite; it’s like poking a grizzly bear until it snaps.

No one needs to feel more depressed than what they already are by having to listen to this crap.

Three Songs, Out of So Many in My Life (Writing 101, Day Three)

Music is an essential part of my life. I couldn’t imagine my life without music being a part of my daily routine. Ever since I got my first Walkman back in the mid-Eighties, not a day’s gone by where there hasn’t been music playing in the background, or even in the foreground. When I write, I write to music. Wherever I drive to, I drive to music; the radio in the car’s blasting something loud, and I’m likely singing along to whatever song’s playing, and I don’t care who’s looking at me. I’ll even air-drum along to a song. I’m quite good at air drumming, thank you very much.

I think it says a lot about your obsession with something when you set a task of compiling a list of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life. Songs that span beyond the years I’ve lived. At one point, I came up with more than 75 songs. My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. Baby’s On Fire by Brian Eno. I Feel Love by Donna Summer. The Rockefeller Skank by Fatboy Slim. Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire. All of which said something about my life, or specific stages in my life. 75+ songs would seem pretty self-indulgent, but that’s how much music means to me, and how I associate music with specific moments in my life.

But picking three songs is pretty difficult, because I know there are songs that I much prefer to these, but the three I’ve chosen for this exercise make a statement of sorts about my life. The three songs are as follows:

1. “Rock and Roll”  by the Velvet Underground.

Lou Reed sings about a girl named Jenny whose life changes the minute she hears rock and roll music coming from her radio for the first time. “Her life was saved by rock and roll,” Reed wrote. When I first discovered rock and roll, at the age of 12, I discovered my one true religion. I also discovered purpose, a freedom from a drab pre-teen existence. “Rock and Roll” speaks about discovering something that makes you feel alive, whether it’s a song or lines from a poem or the first rays from the morning sun.

2. “Cure for Pain” by Morphine.

I was in my mid-twenties, clinically depressed, a stone’s throw from becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, completely wrapped up in this existentialist crisis that I’d concocted for myself, and generally behaving like an absolute asshole to anyone and everyone around me. I fancied myself as some sort of tortured artist who was risking his self-control for the sake of remaining authentic.

Christ, I was insufferable then. I wish I could have given that twenty-something me a long talk. Or a folding chair across the back of the head.

“Cure for Pain” was the song that I seemed to gravitate to quite a lot around that time. I didn’t realize how tongue-in-cheek that song was then, since I was so caught up in taking myself and my angst so seriously. I’ve rediscovered this song recently and fallen in love with it again, and embraced its sarcasm. It’s a song for people who won’t face up to their own bullshit, and think somehow it’s someone else’s responsibility to manage their drama. “Cure for Pain” is also the title for the novel I’m working on, about someone too wrapped up in their own drama to live in reality, that they have to escape into fantasy, but the fantasy is never what it’s all chalked up to be.

3. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone.

There are countless versions of this song – the version from the Animals is probably the most well-known – but it’s Nina Simone’s original that’s the one that floors me the most and the hardest. It’s a simple lyric, a plea from someone – a lover, a child, a friend, a parent – to not be mistaken for something they’re not, a plea that the person they’re speaking to see past the contradictions to discover the person they truly are. For me, it speaks massive volumes because it’s the one song that, for the most part, is the story of my life. It’s an acknowledgement of my contradictions, but that my intentions are good.

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad.
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel?
When things go wrong, I seem to be bad.
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good:
Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood…

I’m not perfect, and I never said I was. I’ve always wanted to do the right thing, and sometimes I didn’t, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. That’s what this song says to me, about me.

My Life Story, in Six Songs

The lovely folks over at Running On Sober have issued a challenge to their readers: tell your life story in six songs, and then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song. With each song, guest bloggers are encouraged to fill in the details as to what that song means in that particular point or aspect of their life.

The series runs every Monday, through September, and today’s edition features myself and another guest blogger by the name of Twindaddy, who blogs at Stuphblog. We were each given the opportunity to tell our life stories in six songs, plus a bonus, and share these stories with the Running on Sober readership. I thought I’d repost Twindaddy and mine here, but for you lazy few who just want to know what songs I came up with, without any context – sorry, but you’ll have to click on the link to read my story – here’s my list of seven songs:

  1.  “Star Wars – Main Titles/Rebel Blockade Runner” by John Williams
  2. Rock & Roll” by The Velvet Underground
  3. Cure for Pain” by Morphine
  4. (I’ve Got You) Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra
  5. New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem
  6. This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case
  7. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone

So without further ado, here’s Life in 6 Songs, Vol. 7 – Twindaddy and Gus.

This series, and it’s an excellent series which I encourage you to check out past volumes of other shared stories, got me wondering: if you could choose one song, or several songs, what would that one song, or those several songs be?

Post the results in the comments below, along with a couple of sentences explaining why. You don’t have to go into too much depth – add as much or as little as you like – but some context would be appreciated. No prizes for originality, and I promise, no mocking if your song is “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “I Just Called to Say I Love You” or anything by Wilson Phillips.

Actually, I WILL mock you for “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” That song is the fucking worst.

Don’t be shy. Share your song or songs below, and let’s discuss!

“The Lithium Shuffle,” Or: Fun With Music Playlists

Music plays a large role in shaping the words I write.

In my current WIP, music plays an integral part in how the story is told. Rather than the story being told in Part/Chapter format, I’m incorporating that so very ubiquitous relic from the 1990s to help tell the story: the mix tape.

There was an art form to the mix tape. You didn’t just throw 15-20 songs onto a 90-minute cassette (or did you?) and simply write “MIX TAPE!” on the label. You chose the songs carefully, those songs revealing a veiled clue about yourself, or something you wanted to convey to the person you were making the mix tape for. My mix tapes were short autobiographical essays – something I covered in the essay “My Life as a Mix Tape, Parts 1 and 2,” in my book, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes, and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere. – that were constants in my mid-twenties. The bulk of the music on those mix tapes were what was burning underground in the alternative music scene, some of which became hits, others destined for obscurity.

My WIP takes place right around 1995-96, which would have been during my mid-twenties. So why the mid-nineties? For starters, there seems to be a trend towards writers obsessing over New York City’s past, and I’m one of them. As I’m writing this book, I’m reliving streets I used to roam, conversations I’ve had at bars and clubs, the women I loved, and the music I listened to. The mid-nineties was when the Internet first became a household word. When Friends and The X-Files were what we were watching on TV. This was a particularly difficult time for me, as I was feeling rudderless, the first onset of what would be depression coming down upon me. Music was the salve, what I could most identify with, especially when you consider the music at the time was very feeling-centric. Singer-songwriters who were confessional, stark in their approach. Kurt Cobain, yes, but also Jeff Buckley. Elliott Smith, too. They’re all dead. I don’t know why I’m bringing them up.

Music from the Nineties has something of a mixed reputation these days. The Nineties gave us Radiohead (praise Allah), Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Massive Attack, Pavement, the Chemical Brothers, the Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., Portishead, Mariah Carey, just to name a few. It also gave us some of the worst one-hit wonders ever. The “Macarena,” anyone? How about “Tubthumping?” “Mambo No. 5?” 

There was also Hootie and the Blowfish. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Boy bands also ruled the roost. Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and N*SYNC, although the latter can be forgive for giving us Justin Timberlake. The Nineties also gave us Britney Spears. Actually, I’m not going to dump on Britney. I admit to liking a few songs of hers. “Toxic?” Three-and-a-half minutes of pure perfect pop. FACT.

But there was a lot of shitty music. If grunge – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden – did smash hair metal into thousands of aerosol-stained pieces, it also begat its slew of hideous copycats. Stone Temple Pilots. Creed. Filter. Limp Bizkit. Oh, Jesus, I just threw up in my mouth typing their name…

We also saw a greater influx of women in the music industry, through both the singer-songwriter – Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette, Fiona Apple, just to name a few. The spiritual daughters of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Carole King recreated the confessional tomes of Blue and Tapestry for the Nineties, paving way for future female singer-songwriters.

And there were the Women Who Rocked. The Riot Grrls, lead by Sleater-Kinney, Babes in Toyland, and L7, proved you didn’t need a dick to rock hard, just the attitude and killer riffs. Across the pond, PJ Harvey’s minimalist garage punk, Bjork’s mad-hatter beats and otherworldly banshee wail, and Garbage’s Shirley Manson’s darkly comic lyrics and no-bullshit demeanor left me breathless. Then there was Hole, led by America’s Sweetheart, the delightful train wreck known as Courtney Love. Live Through This was a festering, oozing wound of past traumas, unresolved anger, unaired grievances, dark psycho-sexual politics, and black comedy, and it’s still as emotionally gut-wrenching a listen today as it was when it came out the week after Kurt Cobain romanced a shotgun.

“The Lithium Shuffle” is the playlist I’ve put together to put in the frame of mind as I’m writing this novel. As I listen to this playlist, and write this novel, the idea of the novel as a mix tape began to come to mind. Instead of a book separated into “parts,” it’s “Side One,” and “Side Two.” Each chapter is a “track,” the novel an entire mix tape that tells the story of a suicidal woman embarking on a road trip across 1990’s America with a fictional character.

I thought I’d share with you a few songs (well, some of my favorites) on the “Lithium Shuffle” playlist, a playlist that’s growing daily.. Some of these songs make up the titles of the “tracks” on the novel. Enjoy!

Screaming Trees – Nearly Lost You

Pulp – Common People

PJ Harvey – Dress

Morphine – Cure for Pain

Sugar – Helpless

Garbage – Milk

Folk Implosion – Natural One

Nada Surf – Imaginary Friends

Yo La Tengo – Big Day Coming

Joan Osborne – Right Hand Man 

Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

RIP, Lou Reed

I was going to post my “To NaNo or Not to NaNo” blog today. All that changed unexpectedly. When I read earlier today that Lou Reed had passed away this morning, my first thought was, “No way…guys like Lou Reed just don’t die.”

I came to an appreciation of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground late in my twenties. But once I was in, I was in. The Velvet Underground wasn’t for everyone – especially when you consider some of Reed’s subject matter dealt with drug abuse, sadomasochism, and sexual deviancy – but there’s the oft-quote adage that while the Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, those who did buy the albums ended up forming their own bands. Punk, new wave, glam, alternative, indie rock, so many have come in the Velvet’s wake, and in Lou Reed’s wake, from his massive influence.

For me, personally, I always admired Lou Reed for being so unpredictable. He revelled in being exactly what you thought he wasn’t going to be. He could be impossible to pin down, and that makes, for me, an endlessly fascinating artist, even when the artist stumbles along the way. But Lou made more masterpieces than mistakes.

One of his best songs, Rock and Roll, pretty much sums up much of my life growing up. Substitute “Jenny” for me, and it’s my life. It’s your life. Lou Reed was writing about everyone’s life the first time they heard rock n’ roll. And it was heaven.

 

If Lou Reed, who was about as contrarian an artist as there ever was one, taught us one thing, it was this: Lou Reed didn’t give one shit what you thought about him or what he did. He put his work out there, once he was completed with it, and let you do whatever you wanted to do with it. He did his part, by giving everything to his music, and once he was satisfied, he left it out to the world for open consumption. Whether you agreed with his output, or were compelled to outrage, none of that mattered to Lou Reed. He wasn’t going to alter his vision or accommodate anyone who needed a road map to follow his idiosyncratic career trajectory. He once famously quipped, “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.”

In other words, what you do as an artist, you ultimately do for two reasons: one, because you’re following your muse, wherever the muse directs you, and, two, you do it for yourself. The end. You don’t create to satisfy your audience, unless that audience is you. You didn’t like what he was doing? That was your problem, pal, not his. He paid his dues. Go pay yours. That attitude. It pissed off legions of listeners everywhere, and won him legions of fans everywhere.

Lou Reed could be combative, difficult, elliptical, alienating, unpredictable, and inspiring, all rolled into one, and so quintessentially New York City. He was a rock n’ roll animal whom we’ll never see the likes of again.

Tonight, as I write this, this fantastic live show from December 26, 1972 is coming through the speakers. It’s a no-nonsense, tight-yet-loose gig, and very powerful.

 

Goddammit, guys like Lou Reed aren’t supposed to die.

Some Short Work-in-Progress Updates, and Some Author News That is Making Me Geek Out

It feels like it’s been weeks since I last blogged, but it’s only been six days. Something about February being the shortest month really seems to throw my timing off very badly. Have I told you how much I hate February? I mean, honestly, what a shitty month. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring. I’m not one to usually make such statements, but I’m done with winter.

Alright, enough griping.

The Work-in-Progress (Or Lack Thereof…)

It’s been four months since I finished the first draft of my novel, and I’ve become more and more frustrated with it, but I’ve figured out what’s been frustrating me.

For starters, I’ve realized my novel has two main protagonists, both of whom are linked to one another. I wrote about their relationship in a previous blog. In some regards, I came to understand the relationship between my protagonist and his antagonist in the same way the Joker described his relationship with Batman in The Dark Knight: “You complete me.” They need each other. That’s the story right there. So I’m focusing on that, seeing where the story takes me.

I’m also going back to basics, not just with pen and paper, but writing organically. No more outlines. I’m finding that outlining is cramping my style. The whole “three acts” thing is something that’s bothering me quite a lot. My novel doesn’t have three acts. But there is tension. There is something the protagonist wants, but just quite can’t get, so he has to go through a lot to get it. By forcing the “plotting” principle, I’m finding I’m not letting the story come to me. So, yes, I hereby admit I’m a pantser. Hell, I’ve been a pantser about everything all my life, so this should come as no surprise to me.

Interestingly enough, Michelle Proulx also has an excellent take on why outlines may stifle creativity. She too is a pantser, and proud of it.

Finally, I took some advice I dispensed here a while ago, and began to re-write my novel as a short story. Having written quite a few shorts over the past couple of years, I’ve learned the importance of streamlining a story, cutting the fact, and getting down to the gist of what makes the story go. I’m hoping to see the novel re-emerge again once I re-write it as a short story.

The “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run” Anthology…Is It Ready?

Well, almost, my dears. I finally finished editing it down to about 140 pages, reworking the blogs that make up the entire anthology, along with adding some annotations to help with the flow of the pieces. Also, it didn’t hurt to correct some pretty lousy grammar that was embarrassing me.

What I am slightly struggling with is an Introduction to this anthology. I figured this would have been a piece of cake, but no. I hate summarizing anything about myself or what I’ve written, and this Intro is no different. I really shouldn’t be struggling with this, but I am, for no real reason. Ehh.

At any rate, I’ll be using CreateSpace to self-publish the anthology. Stay tuned for more news in the coming weeks.

The Author News That Is Making Me Geek Out Like Crazy

2013 just might be a banner year for some of my favorite writers publishing new works. Already, there’s been news that Neil Gaiman’s new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, will be published on June 18th, and that Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, called Doctor Sleep, will finally hit bookstores on September 24th.

But the news that Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge, will arrive on September 17th, has me in a geeky tizzy. Set to take place in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley between the Dot-Com bust and September 11, 2001, Bleeding Edge will no doubt be Pynchon’s wild take on the vast conspiracies behind the failure of Silicon Alley and the events of September 11th.

I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on his new novel.

Some Random Music Notes

I’ve been listening to 8Tracks Radio a lot recently. I like that I’ve been able to find a lot of introspective, moody music to help me write. This mix in particular has been my favorite one recently.

I found myself listening to this piece repeatedly the other night, while writing. Not hard to see why; just take a listen…click, click, clack…

RIP, Ravi Shankar

(Author’s Note: I meant to post this a few days ago, and I’m just now getting around to it…)

Ravi Shankar passed away last Tuesday at the age of 92.

As musicians go, there have been very few that have been as influential as Ravi Shankar had been. His influence on the Beatles, especially George Harrison, has been the subject of volumes of essays, so I won’t bothered adding more to the dialogue that has already been discussed. Besides, listen to Norwegian Wood if you don’t believe me.

Aside from his influence, Ravi Shankar possessed something few musicians possessed: a complete mastery of their chosen instrument. What Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix possessed, Ravi Shankar possessed, yet that mastery was something sacred to him, something that humbled him. To hear the Master speak of continuing to learn his instrument well into his 80s is a remarkable thing to learn.

Ravi Shankar was one of my musical heroes. I’m sad to have learned that he has died, but the mark he left on music cannot be overstated enough.

I’ll leave you with his riveting, transcendental, hypnotic, majestic, earth-moving, insert-your-own-superlative performance from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. I promise you’ll likely rise and give him a rapturous standing ovation as well.

(By the way, minute 6:28 to 6:32…the Greatest Guitarist That Ever Lived was certainly impressed…)

Work-in-Progress, Or: Fun With Playlists

First, an announcement, and some housekeeping: I earned my 2,500 blog view today. Minor golf clap. OK, continue, please..Also, I’ve made some updates to my About page, and added a Contact Me page, in the event that you want to drop me some hate mail.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

My muse comes to me by way of an art form whose medium is sound and silence, its common elements are pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and and texture. Wikipedia’s words, not mine. In other words, music. I get a lot of my writing cues from music.

During NaNoWriMo, I pieced together a list of songs that I thought would fit together nicely as a soundtrack of sorts to what I was writing. This iTunes playlist totaled 55 songs at first, and by the time I was done with the first draft, I narrowed the playlist down to 18 songs. For your listening pleasure, I’ve compiled the playlist below. Keep in mind several of the songs don’t directly correlate to the plot or theme or conflicts of the novel, but because they contained certainly lyrical cues, they’ve become an integral part of the playlist that’s been my muse during the Work-in-Progress.

Also, this gives me an excuse to post links to some really good songs I’ve been listening to ad nauseum lately…

Peter Gabriel – “Lead a Normal Life”:  It’s nice here, with a view of the trees/Eating with a spoon?/They don’t give you knives?/’Spect you those trees/Blowing in the breeze/We want to see you lead a normal life.” 

The Smithereens – “Miles From Nowhere”:  A true shit-stomper from the criminally-underrated Smithereens, a band I used to see perform quite a lot in the clubs in downtown NYC. Being “miles from nowhere” is what my protagonist feels, metaphorically speaking.

Azure Ray – “Don’t Leave My Mind”“We can break plans/I’ll keep all I can/You’ll be my friend/And start over again/And you can go to New York City/Get a place on the East Side/But don’t leave my mind.”

Frank Sinatra – “Night and Day” – the song Daniel and Emma danced to on their wedding day, and the song that triggers Daniel years later into a mental collapse. Ol’ Blue Eyes absolutely SMOKES this version, among the many versions he recorded of Cole Porter’s classic.

Iggy and the Stooges – “Search and Destroy” –  Because every dangerously unhinged superhero needs a dangerously unhinged theme song from one of the most dangerously unhinged bands, courtesy of one of the most dangerously unhinged lead singers ever. God bless you, Iggy Pop!

Atlas Genius – “Trojans” – Change the locks, change the scene/Change it all but can’t change what we’ve been/Your trojan’s in my head

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Manic Depression” – …for obvious reasons.

Band of Horses – “Is There a Ghost” – To conquer his fears of failing as a superhero, Daniel must conquer the ghosts that haunt him, the “ghosts in his house,” so to speak. Lyrically simple, yet so powerful.

Bruce Springsteen – “Adam Raised a Cain” – “In the Bible, mamma, Cain slew Abel and East of Eden, mamma, he was cast/You’re born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past/Well Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain/
Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame/
But you inherit the sins, you inherit the flames

The 13th Floor Elevators – “You’re Gonna Miss Me” – A kiss-off to an unfaithful girl…or a lament to losing one’s mind? I say it’s the latter. Holy fuck this song rocks; this is the kind of song you crank the speakers up to 11 and dance stupidly to in your living room.

The Pixies – “Vamos” – that feedback-drenched instrumental break, when Frank Black’s screaming like he’s trying to chew his restraints off…yeah.

John Coltrane – “Blue Train” – those opening seven notes just kill me every time.

Au Revoir Simone – “Shadows” – “I’m moving on/I hope you’re coming with me/I hope you’re coming with me/’Cause I’m not that strong/Don’t blame it on your shadows/’Cause I know all about you.

Another song told from Emma’s point of view.

Bat For Lashes – “Daniel” – I thought of this song when I wrote the scene when Daniel first met Emma, and the pain she felt when she was forced to leave him.

Leonard Cohen – “First We Take Manhattan” – “Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win/You know the way to stop me/But you don’t have the discipline.”

Genesis – “Back in N.Y.C.” – “You say I must be crazy, ‘cos I don’t care who I hit, who I hit/But I know it’s me that’s hitting out and I’m, I’m not full of shit/I don’t care who I hurt, I don’t care who I do wrong/This is your mess I’m stuck in, I really don’t belong.”

The Who – “Is It In My Head” – “I pick up phones and hear my history/I dream of all the calls I miss/I try to number those who love me/And find out exactly what the trouble is.”