Tag Archives: Music

Writing soundtrack

I’ve been playing Big Boi’s latest a lot lately, and on that note, I’ve found that listening to hip hop adds, for lack of a better word (I’m listening to Broken Social Scene right now), some welcome flow to my writing. I know there are arguments for not being distracted, or, at most, only playing ambient music. Hip hop certainly isn’t that, but it’s also a genre where wordplay and word placement and mixing up rhymes and alliteration and pacing matter most. Perhaps osmosis kicks in.

So, what do you listen to while you write?

Aural Story of the Week – The Silhouettes

For these trying economic times, we go back to 1957 with The Silhouettes:

Every morning about this time
she get me out of my bed
a-crying get a job.
After breakfast, everyday,
she throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job

One of doo-wop’s finest, here:

Aural Story of the Week – Joanna Newsom

Count me among those who found Joanna Newsom’s voice to be more akin to a screeching 13-year old girl’s than anything I would actually want to listen to. I’m coming around, OK. This is “Good Intentions Paving Company”:

Grandpa always said the road to hell was paved with good intentions. So is the road to a breakup, apparently:

And I did not mean to shout, just drive
Just get us out, dead or alive
A road too long to mention, lord, it’s something to see!
Laid down by the good intentions paving company

All the way to the thing we’ve been playing at, darlin’
I can see that you’re wearing your staying hat, darlin’
For the time being all is well
Won’t you love me a spell?

Aural Story of the Week – Richard Hawley

Banksy is the most famous street artist in the world. He’s a filmmaker now, and his new documentary is a surprising joy:

You’ll notice the jumpy British ode to the night that opens that five minute sneak peek. It’s by Richard Hawley, and he’s trying to convince a gal to hang out with him all night:

Do you know why
you got feelings in your heart
Don’t let fear of feeling fool you
What you see sets you apart
And there’s nothing here to bind you
It’s no way for life to start
Do you know that tonight the streets are ours?

Janelle Monae and Making It Big

This morning, Tom Watson was on the cover of my hometown newspaper, The Kansas City Star. Watson is a golfer, older than most, who hasn’t won a major tournament in 25 years but finds himself one stroke off the lead – and one stroke ahead of Earl Woods’ son – in The Masters. There’s a peculiar phenomenon among people from the smaller corners of the country: when one of our own – like Watson – makes it on the national stage, we freak out.

The feeling is particularly strong for emigrants to the coast when a native comes to us, and so it was last night as I watched Janelle Monae perform at the Highline Ballroom, in New York City. A fellow Kansas Citian-turned-New Yorker had tweeted: “Janelle. I love you. This is going to be so huge. Reppin’ KCK too!!” I retweeted.

Monae went to Schlagle High School in Kansas City, KS, and like me, moved out East for college and, unlike me, sounds like a young, funkier Diana Ross. She’s got a style that’s Vogue-worthy, a mildly-viral dance to call her own, and stage presence to make Bowie or Prince proud. (The Artist, who recently attended a Monae show in Minneapolis, on Janelle: “She is so smart”)

Like any up-and-comer, Midwestern or otherwise, Monae has holes to fill – namely, the holes in her short set list. The first half of last night’s show was dedicated to new music none of the audience had heard, because, with only one album, there’s only so many songs an audience could know. It took five songs to hit “Cold War,” Monae’s new single and battle cry, and for anyone in the crowd to see fit to throw their arm in the air. Monae pranced around shadow-boxing – “This is a Cold War/do you know what you’re fighting for ?” – as clips of Muhammed Ali and Luke Skywalker played on a screen behind.

The sold-out show’s up-and-down start was worrisome. But I most feared for her – as we’re prone to do, when our champions falter – when, midway through the encore, with the crowd finally in a heat, Monae’s towering bouffant burst into a cascade of straggling strands covering her face. She tried, for a moment, to fix her coiffing malfunction mid-song, still singing gamely to her jumpy single, “Many Moons.” Then, perhaps realizing the crowd enjoyed the display of humanity,  she broke into a brief smile, for the first time all night. She hit the staccato finale:

Outcast, weirdo
Stepchild, freak show
Black girl, bad hair

The crowd of New Yorkers was pulsing, and pulsing on her terms. Tom Watson would be proud.

Aural Story of the Week – The Morning Benders

It’s Spring. The New Yorker’s latest cover features naked satyr’s ravishing each other in Central Park. Tiger Woods is back. Sex is floating in the air (ever-present, loud), not unlike the sound from the jackhammer outside my window right now. The Morning Benders – who I had the privilege of watching live not long ago in the studio apartment HQ of Epilogue Magazine –  have your soundtrack:

You tried to taste me,
And I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body.
Our bones are too heavy to come up,
Squished into a single cell of wood.

I made an excuse.
You found another way to tell the truth.
I put no one else above us.
We’ll still be best friends when all turns to dust.

We are so smooth now.
Our edges are beaten drift wood and whittled down.
Old bodies slip when they make love.
We’ll mine our sparks to shoot us above!

Hot! Heavy! Awkward first encounters! Some say this is the best song of 2010 (so far!); it’s not, because this is, but “Excuses” is delightful. Enjoy:

Aural Story of the Week – Charlotte Gainsbourg

Charlotte Gainsbourg is all kinds of pretty. She’s an actress (the sadists among you might have seen her smashing Willem Dafoe’s scrotum to pieces in Antichrist), and she’s a singer-songwriter. She wrote and sang this:

If I had my way
I’d cross the desert to the sea
Learn to speak in tongues something
That makes sense to you and me

Honey, we have a hard time believing you need to travel anywhere to find a man willing to learn your language. Able, I suppose, could be tougher. Enjoy the song, “Me and Jane Doe”: