I used to write songs…?

cat piano

I should remember how this one goes…G, G, G…something something?

When I was a teenager and still figuring out how to write fiction, I was also writing all kinds of lyrics.  My lyrics and poetry were interchangeable at the time, especially around 1988 onward, because I was essentially trying to mimic my favorite alternative rock songwriters of the time: Robert Smith, Morrissey and Marr, Andrew Eldritch, Martin Gore, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, and so on.

A lot of the songs were rather simple but fun, influenced by the sounds I was hearing on college radio at the time.  I even had a band back then — my buddies Chris and Nathan got together occasionally as The Flying Bohemians.   Some of them are kind of embarrassing to listen to now, but some of them I’m still kind of impressed with.  My songwriting improved considerably once I headed off to college, and for a few years, up until about 1994, I had a handful of pretty cool songs I was proud of.  Unfortunately I had absolutely no way to lay them down other than as acoustic demos on my boombox, so they didn’t sound nearly as good on tape as they did in my head.

For a good few years afterwards my songwriting kind of dried up, for various reasons.  A lot of mental and emotional baggage I had to sort through, where the writing became less lyrical and became more poetic.  It wasn’t until around 2001 that when I started jamming again with Bruce and Eric, my friends from my candle job.  I kicked out maybe a dozen new songs that were even better.

Then…nothing?

I think the last true song that I’ve written was less a complete track than a possible idea that I could eventually stitch together one of these days — and an instrumental at that, based on a sample I made of the rhythmic click-clack, click-clack of the District Line as it left Earls Court station in London.  I’ve been too busy with my self-publishing career to take my songwriting seriously.

That’s not to say I haven’t completely given it up.  Over the course of the year I’ve been making it a point to pick up one of my guitars and just noodle around on it a little bit, even if it is to learn the chords to a pop song.  And if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use my phone and record a few minutes of a riff that I’ve come up with.  [For the record, the software I’m using is the free version of Hi-Q mp3 Voice Recorder.  It’s lo-fi, but it does a fine job of picking up sounds, even if they’re unplugged.]

What I’d love to do is get back into the habit of writing songs again.  I remember how to do it, and I know enough not to try to pump a well that’s long past dry, so to speak — I’m no longer trying to write out my direst emotions into a Cure pastiche like I used to.  And I really don’t want to write message songs or protest songs, either.

I think what I need to do is remember how to latch onto a melody.  I mean latch onto it, play a riff and think ‘yeah, I can do something with this.’  That’s how I write my novels now; it only goes to show that my writing process would evolve accordingly.  I latch onto musical phrases all the time when I’m listening to whatever I’m listening to.  Thing is, I haven’t been acting on it.  Like I said — my writing career kind of took precedence for a good number of years there, so I didn’t have the time or the spoons to do it then.

I’m thinking that’ll be one of my possible resolutions for 2018; to remember how to write songs, and see if I can lay a few of them down.

Coming Soon: The Best of 2017

radiohead lift

Thom Yorke is waiting anxiously for my end of year lists

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where I’m juggling the Day Job, Christmas present purchasing (and wrapping, and mailing), whatever writing project I happen to be working on, posting my year-end review at the writing blog, creating my Best of Year compilation, and posting my Best of Year lists here.

As usual, I’ll hold up until the last week or so of this month before I post those last two, because I like giving December releases a chance at impressing me.  (Like the new U2 album, for instance.)  I will say 2017 has been quite an interesting year musically; it seemed like Nearly Every Single Band Jonc Loves put out an album this year!  And lots of solid career retrospectives.  There were also a lot of new finds that blew my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I can call it a banner year, but it certainly was quite enjoyable tunage-wise.

If anything, listening to music was definitely a highly-welcomed and much-needed escape from the ups and downs of Real Life.  And I’m pretty sure you know what my biggest headache was; the Day Job was the least of my stresses.  I won’t say I’m a pessimist in general, though I know all too often I let myself fall down that rabbit hole.  I kept a distant eye on what was going on, and I had my tunes to keep me sane and slightly distracted so I could stay positive.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

More to come!

Tis the Season

nichijou santa

I’ll totally admit to having a soft spot for Christmas music, whether it’s pop, alternative, or classical.  Even during my retail and warehouse years, and especially during the HMV years.  I never quite got all that cynical when it came to hearing holiday music.  On the contrary, it usually gets me in a good mood, even when the streets and the malls are packed with far too many people.

Wishing all and sundry the best of the holiday season! Thanks for sticking around Walk in Silence all this time! 🙂

Music On the Go

btdt

been there, done that

Ages ago when I had a long-ass commute halfway across the state of Massachusetts on a daily basis, I’d always have tunage with me.  Mind you, my old Cavalier (and later my Firebird) only had a tape player, so a lot of my traveling music was my older tapes or, more often, my mixtapes.  That kept me sane, made the time pass, and gave me a soundtrack for when I was pondering what I’d do next in my writing.

Nowadays my travel tunage is on two mp3 players.  Much easier to carry, thankfully.  I bring them on vacation for in-flight entertainment or background while I’m working on revision.  I bring them to the gym for something to listen to while I’m on the treadmill.

I’ll switch out what’s on those players every now and again, depending on my mood.  One of them is filled with releases from this year, while the other usually contains an ongoing soundtrack to whatever writing I’m working on.  Since I’m not going anywhere on that treadmill and the view is mostly of the ongoing construction across the street, I’ll let my mind wander so I can think through issues I’ve been having, or play out a scene I’ve been planning to write.  This works out quite nicely, actually.

Lately we’d been looking into buying a new car.  Ours is a 2004 Civic that, while it’s still running strong and has less than 60k on it (thank you SF transit!), I can definitely feel that it’s aging.  It’s getting worn out.  While A has been looking into the specs and whatnot — she’s more knowledgeable about cars than I am, I will admit — my only major request is that it has a decent stereo, and perhaps a USB outlet so I can plug said mp3 players in so we can listen to our own tunage.  Secondary requests, of course, are that I can fit into the car without needing to get into a yoga position, has minimal blocked vision, and that it can climb the hills of this city without significant rollback.  Everything else I can adjust to.

So on Friday, we went shopping, and came home (after some delay and some unexpected shenanigans) with a 2018 Honda Fit.  It definitely hits all my requests and more, and I’m looking forward to getting used to tooling around town in it.  At present we’re just waiting for the dealer to finalize all the DMV paperwork (they’ll take care of the plates/sticker/etc for us), and on Monday we’ll call our insurance guy to update the information.  I love it so far.

Now I just need to make an inaugural mixtape for it. 🙂

Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.

Why I’m an avid listener

maxell blown away

Image courtesy of that classic 1983 Maxell commercial.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been drawn toward music since I was a little kid.  I’d hang out down in the basement where my dad would work on his local history files, and he’d always have the radio on.  The car radio would be on when we went on vacations or road trips.  I’d listen to the albums and singles my elder sisters would buy from the local department store.  And of course come 1978, I started collecting Beatles albums and singles.  It only expanded exponentially from there.  I was part of the generation brought up on MTV and remember watching that channel for hours on end.

Nowadays I’ll have an album from my mp3 collection playing while I write, or streaming a station during my Day Job hours.  I have playlists for my novels.  I still make mixtapes.  I’ve been known to listen to the same album multiple times, usually at the gym or working on a specific stretch of a novel project.  There’s hardly a time when I don’t have something playing in the background.  [Ironically, however, I don’t have anything playing at the moment while I write this.]

Is it really about obsession?  Is it an addiction, for that matter?  Maybe a bit of both.  But I’d like to think there are deeper reasons than that.

For instance, I love the effect that music has on me creatively.  I taught myself how to write a scene by imitating the framework of a song.  [As mentioned before, I call this the Miami Vice method of writing.]  The moods of certain tracks will provide me with ideas and settings for what I might be writing about.

I also love the effect it has on me emotionally.  I got through a lot of my high school years listening to college rock on my headphones.  It’s gotten me through a lot of emotional ups and downs over the years.  And recently I started getting choked up hearing one of my all-time favorite classical pieces, the famous second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op 11 (aka the Adagio), performed live at the SF Symphony Hall.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it affects me in a physical way as well.  I have a very strange sense of hearing; I have a really good sense of spatial hearing (the ability to figure out the relative direction and location origin of a sound), but at the same time I sometimes have a tough time filtering out unnecessary noise (I can’t always clearly hear what someone says, for instance, at a very loud restaurant).  And I’m pretty sure I have an extremely light case of tinnitus from all the tunage I’d listened to with headphones over the years.

I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons I still listen to a lot of music is that it’s my own personal way of filtering.  Some people use white noise generators, some people use noise-cancelling headphones, and so on.  I have music to let my subconscious focus on something so the rest of me can focus on whatever needs focusing at that moment.  This would also explain the sometimes amusing habit some people have of turning off the car radio when trying to get to their destination in a place they’re unfamiliar with.  I know I’ve done that in the past.  It’s also the reason I have to turn things down if A. talks with me, because otherwise all the sounds will blend together and I’ll miss out on something.

Still, I have to say the most important reason, at least for me, is that I just enjoy the hell out of it.