July 9th, 2015
I decided to keep a diary of all the songs that have been stuck in my head, because they are so varied and random. And they don’t seem to come from anywhere, it’s not like “Oh, I heard that on the radio at the dentist’s office.” Some of these I hadn’t heard in years until one day they began playing inside my head and wouldn’t stop. Most of them are terrible. What does this say about me?
Anyway, tracking them has taught me a thing or two about the whole “stuck in my head” thing–I tend to only hear my internal music when I’m doing something that does not require my full attention, like cooking or showering. If I’m working or reading, no aural landscape. Interesting?
Well, here’s the diary, starting with the very surprising song that triggered the project. If I can recall having heard the song recently or can think of another reason it’s in my head, I have put a * beside it–all the starless entries are inexplicable!
Tuesday June 23
–evening: “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit
–later evening: “Izzo” by Jay-Z
–going to bed: “Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer” by Elton John
Wednesday June 24
–morning, in the shower: “Poor Cow” by Elton John*
Thursday June 25
–3am, awake for no reason: “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira
–getting ready for work: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
–immediately after that: “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage
Somehow I don’t have any songs in my head on the weekend???
Monday June 29
–in the elevator leaving for work, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Thursday July 2
–in the elevator leaving for work (seems to be a popular time for songs to invade my brain), “Let’s Talk about Sex” by Salt N Pepa
Tuesday July 7
–getting off the bus at work “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet
(Are you noticing there are fewer and fewer of these? I’m not forgetting to post them, the phenomenon is just diminishing. I wonder if this is like lucid dreaming, where the more you try to recall and control it, the less it happens…?)
–getting ready for bed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet
Wednesday July 8
–morning, getting dressed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet (I’m trying not to take this as a message from my brain–it’s just a really catchy song!)
–around 11:30pm, trying to fall asleep, “Rossland Square” (this song is noteable as being the first on the list that is in my current listening list, though honestly I can’t think of the last time I heard it outside my own skull)
Thursday July 9
–late afternoon, heading down the subway stairs after work, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John (Geez, that guy is on here a lot.)
–evening, microwave frozen mango for a snack “You’re the One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John
All right, I’m going to end this hear because this exercise has been humiliating and proves no matter how much good music I try to shove into my brain, something in more core has lousy lousy taste. I want to think that truly complex interesting music is difficult to just play on a mental loop without thinking, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe I am truly just a 90s mallrat in denial.
If you’re tempted into doing one of these mental-music diaries, I’d love to see it!
January 18th, 2014
It’s been over a month–sorry, guys. I missed the holiday season completely on this blog–I hope you had an excellent one. Here at the Rose-coloured Ranch, the ice-storm left our power intact but stranded a householder in Moncton for a few days, so things were a bit scrambly. 2014 has actually been going fine for me, but my job has gone bananas, as it does a couple unpredictably timed months a year. It’s a good job and people have been kind to me there, so I try to role with the punches and put in the hours, but I really think I’m simply not cut out to work overtime. A few 10-hour-days, which is nothing to people in many other positions, and I am absolutely bonkers with nervous energy and fret. It’s not very nice to find out I have so little fortitude, but at least I’m certain I don’t now. I just want the month of January to be over, and with it this project.
I had been thinking about not doing resolutions this year–I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by simply getting through the days of late–but a few things conspired to inspire, so I figure, why not? I’m not going to get too bent out of shape if I don’t do these things, but…why not try?
1) Mini-M&Ms charity. I’ve always told people new to Toronto that you’ll make your life easier if you make a blanket decision about panhandlers. Maybe you give whatever’s in your pocket to whomever asks, maybe you never give on the street but donate to a charity that helps the homeless, maybe you stop and chat, maybe you pretend not to see. Whatever you are going to do, reason it out and stand by it–it’s the dithering that makes you crazy and sad. My usual policy is to give to charities like the United Way and local food banks, not to individuals, but to meet everyone’s gaze and apologize that I won’t give to them. This policy was born of being disorganized and not wanting to fumble in my bag and take out my huge wallet in front of strangers that may or may not be benign. Usually people who hit me up on the street for cash nod or shrug at my murmured apology; some even say something nice in return. Lately I’ve noticed a new phenomenon where I get some snark–one girl said archly, “Wow, that sounded really sincere.” I have no idea why she bothered–it’s a weird kind of pay-it-forward, because I’m not going to running back to shower cash on someone who said something mean to me, but it does make me think a bit harder about my own sincerity, and what I’m going to do the next time I’m asked.
Years ago, when my brother was living in Toronto and I wasn’t, he told me he used mini-M&Ms containers–small plastic tubes–to carry quarters in. They are just the right width for them, and you are able to fish them out without rummaging through all your belongings. You also know at a shake whether you actually have something to give or not, so you don’t waste everyone’s time. Of course, mini M&Ms disappeared from Canada years ago, a sad loss for many reasons. But beloved friend AMT brought me some from America recently and, delicious as they were, I couldn’t help but fixate on the container. It showed up at such fortuitous time, right when I was rethinking my street charity policy. As I type, it’s beside me, half full of quarters.
I don’t kid myself that 50 cents or a dollar from me is going to make a great difference to anyone at all. It’s the stopping and engaging that might matter, if not to the recipient, than at least to me. I’m worried that after nearly 12 years in Toronto, I’ve stopped seeing people on the street, despite my “sincere” little apologies. I’d like to start seeing again, and seeing where that leads me. Giving a little bit might help me do that–and I’m sure a few quarters wouldn’t hurt those who ask.
2) Learn to play guitar. I will count success as being able to play a recognizable tune on-key. I have had two lessons so far and have learnt two octaves of the B-flat major scale–progress. I enjoy the practicing well enough and am starting to develop some calluses. I’m also find that, as was true in my many years of piano lessons, and also with opening pickle jars, juggling, and holding hands with large-fingered men, my tiny little mouse hands are a handicap. One I plan to overcome, but the fourth fret poses some challenges for me.
3) Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe.
4) Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time.
5) Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. I have been working on a pointless blue rectangle for more than two years.
In the number 6 slot, I could say something about my manuscript-in-progress here, but I sort of feel like at this point in the process that’s a bit like resolving to get a boyfriend. I’m going to do my best and not worry (as much as possible) about the rest. Actually, maybe that will be true on all fronts this year. That lack of worry in itself is a worthy resolution, I think.
7) Cook lots of new recipes, even ones not from the milk calendar.
8) Blog more frequently than once a month!
June 27th, 2013
I read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot when I was kid, and enjoyed it immensely. I would love to claim to have been the sort of tween who randomly read books of poetry from the 30s (and to a certain extent, I was) but I read this one because my friend Kim had gone to see *Cats* and couldn’t stop talking about it. I was clearly not going to be taken to *Cats*, because my parents, lovers of musicals though they are, are more Stephen Sondheim than Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I was very sad, and Kim suggested I might like the book as a substitute. I did! It’s just a book of nonsense rhymes introducing a variety of chubby, mischievous, happy, and sad cats. I guess nonsense rhymes is not quite right–they make sense by their own internal logic. It’s not like “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat” is immediately obvious in meaning if you’ve not read the rest of the poem, either.
And that reading has helped mold me into the adult I am now, who knows all the words to every song in *Rent* and regularly makes videos of cats I meet. I’ve never combined these two passions of mine, I think because I have never been in a city where *Cats* was playing…but I’m unobservant, so I could’ve missed it. Nevertheless, the point is that there I was, 35 years old, encountering the wonder that is *Cats* the musical for the first time.
IT WAS AMAZING!!!
So much dancing, so much singing, wild costumes, incredible choreography, enthused, tightly polished performers, and a *very* positive audience. Plot–eh, not so much. Old Possum’s book was a collection of poems, almost of them descriptions of individual cats. These work surprisingly well as individual songs, and give each member of the cast (well, almost each–there’s about 3 cats on-stage that have no song of their own. Weird.) Anyway, the “plot” such as it is, is that every year on the night of the Jellicle moon (which I thought meant full moon, but there are twelve of those per year, so who knows) all the Jellicle cats gather and their leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses one cat who gets to live another life…in space.
Well, I know don’t know–they go up on a high platform at the end of the play, Old Deuteronomy and the chosen cat, and then they go behind this scrim that is suddenly lit up with zaps and flashes of green electricity and then the chosen one disappears–seemed a lot like a Trekkie teleport to me. I’ve brought this with others, who variously insist that the special cat goes to heaven or is reincarnated in a new life. Either way, basically the cats have gathered to murder one of their own. “This sounds like Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,'” said my musical hating husband.
My husband stayed home. All musical-haters should stay home from *Cats*. I’m not saying no musical-haters will ever be brought round–you might get behind the plot of *Les Miz* or the humour of *Into the Woods* or a thousand other multifaceted musicals. But *Cats* is really really really a musical-lover’s musical. Plotless (except for the space/heaven thing), almost completely without dialogue, narrative, even setting (they’re in some kind of junkyard, never determined where or why), *Cats* is about dancing and singing, full stop. The songs are about nothing and though some of the movement onstage is very convincingly catlike, the actual dance-numbers are nothing of the kind. They are DANCE NUMBERS. Tightly choreographed, impeccably rehearsed and lovely to watch, the dance routines have very little to do with cats. They are what musical watchers love, though–big showy dances.
I ate it up with a spoon. *American Idiot* aka the Green Day musical, was the last show I saw with lots of dancing in unison. The choreography made no sense in that show–would punks dance in unison? Of course not. Well, neither would cats, but at least their routines didn’t look like high-impact aerobics. This paragraph has wandered off–what I was getting at was that *Cats* is great because it embraces what it is, a showcase for song and dance.
And singers and dancers! There are SO MANY talented people in this show–I didn’t see a misstep out of all the many routines with their oh-so-similar setup and cues. And they were always beaming, whereas you’d think a normal person would’ve sweated through his or her spandex unitard and collapsed two numbers ago. I was really impressed with the cast, and pissed that their program notes featured photos taken NOT in their cat costumes, so if you couldn’t recall a cat’s name, you couldn’t figure out who played him or her.
I’ve noticed a Toronto musical theatre phenomenon where everyone’s an outstanding dancer and there are many outstanding singers, along with some servicable ones. I didn’t didn’t see a misstep in the show, but I heard a few wobbly notes, if not outright false ones.
Quibbles, quibbles. I will be singing Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats for the rest of my days, content in the knowledge that the words mean nothing and I couldn’t do that dance routine without a dozen lines of coke and plastic surgery. Cats was well-performed, well-staged, and a joy to watch. I don’t quite know if it was well-written–the TS Eliot poems are good as far as they go, which is not far, and the one original song by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Memories” has certainly gained cultural weight (though I thought it was a bit dreary compared to the Jellicle stuff, myself). Oh, hell, who even cares what wordy explanation I can come up with about a 30-year-old musical–I loved it, but I also totally understood the man who stood and marched up the aisle ten minutes into the show, never to return. He was muttering “I can’t take this.”
May 10th, 2013
I have come across (or remembered) a higher-than-average of quality stuff on the internet lately. Let me share it for your possible entertainment…
Allie Brosh, much-beloved blog artist behind Hyperbole and a Half, is back. She had this zany comic based on her life, illustrated in childish MSPaint drawings, for quite a while, and a lot of people loved it. She’s actually quite a good artist and her quasi-naif style is adorable but doesn’t really limit the range of emotions she can show (which is probably why I didn’t like Parenthood: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, because those pictures are genuinely bad [though it’s still a sweet little book]). Anyway, then she disappeared for a few months and came back with a post about depression that was so sad and wise and actually quite funny. Everyone was happy she was working through it. Then she disappeared for a year and half, and returned yesterday with Depression Part Two, which accounts for the past year, in which things apparently got much worse. Hilariously so, at least in retrospect. I love her style and humour, plus I’d been worried about her (genuinely–it’s amazing what feelings you can feel about internet people) so I was really happy to see this. The post also got 5000 comments in a day, which is lovely. As we all know, most comments people post on internet forums are deranged rubbish, but the majority of the comments I saw were more “yay!” and “I’m glad you’re still alive” and “thanks for writing this.” It actually got a bit boring after a few hundred of those, so I stopped reading–if things got mean and weird later, please don’t tell me. I prefer my illusions.
I rewatched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off recently, owing mainly to the fact that people without Netflick or Apple TV are now sorely limited in where they can obtain movies to watch at home, and whenever our local library has a DVD I think I might like that doesn’t look like it’s been dumped in a food processor, I bring it home. This film definitely has its charming moments, but I found it much harsher and more callous than I’d recalled. Poor taken-advantage-of, abused-child Cameron! And I guess that’s the difference between the 80s and now, but I found I couldn’t get too excited about an entitled, unemployed 17-year-old white boy spending his parents’ money in Chicago and whining about no one buying him a car. A few years ago, an enterprising film editor reworked some footage into a trailer for what looks like a much better film–as we watched the real one, I found myself wishing for the imaginary one. But I still loved Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen’s little moment!
My friend Suzanne Alyssa Andrew wrote a wonderful book called Circle of Stones, and excerpt of which has now been set to music by Menalon and made available on Soundcloud. Enjoy!
Kay, that should keep you busy for a while. Have a great weekend!
April 2nd, 2013
It took me a while to post this update because I got TONNES of responses for suggestions of rageful songs, and I wanted to listen to them all and post the links, etc. Man, these are great but you guys are so angry. At least you have a musical vent, I guess…
My original list is at the bottom–all the new stuff (with the suggesters) is up top! I was going to flag individual songs for swears in case of young readers–but seriously, most of these have rage-appropriate obscenities of some sort…
Listen up–but maybe not all at once, or rose-coloured readers might take to the streets…
From Jeff Bursey
“Nothing to Prove” by Jill Sobule (sorry, I couldn’t find a studio version of this, but actually the live version with singalong kicks so much ass I think it’s fine)
“I’m Not Angry” by Elvis Costello
“Guerilla Radio” by Rage against the Machine
From Jarrett Aubrey
“Bad Habit” by Offspring
“El Scorcho” by Weezer
“Mariner’s Revenge Song” by the Decemberists (I LOVE this song!)
“Bullet to the Head” by Rage against the Machine
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
“Iron Mad” by Black Sabbath
“Rape Me” by Nirvana
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister (I’ve never seen this video–is anyone disturbed by the abusive parent?)
From Emily Dockrill Jones
“Killing in the Name of” by Rage against the Machine (again with the inappropriate adverts–this time for Oil of Olay!) [Also voted for by Stuart Lawler–popular song!]
“Platypus (I Hate You)” by Green Day
“Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit
From A.G. Pasquella
From Lex Leslie
From Rachelle Boisjoli
From Elizabeth Ruth
From Lee Gowan
From C. Claudia Galego
From Rachel Lebowitz
From Amy Jones
From Medeine Tribinevicius
These are my originals
“Dull Tool” by Fiona Apple
“Destroyer” by The Stills
“Radio Radio” by Elvis Costello
“Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright
“Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance
“I Don’t Know Who You Are” by Garfunkel and Oates
“Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan
“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos
And I’ll just end with another from me, one I can’t believe I didn’t include originally since it’s one my favourite songs ever, not even in the angry category but all categories. It also reminds of that thin thin line between rage and despair…
“Untouchable Face” by Ani Difranco (preceding commercial–anti-frizz hair product. Oy.)
Ok, that was too sad, let’s end with a non-rage song instead…more applicable to some of the above than others, but always encouraging…
“We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger
Huh, but what about all of us who are angry about trivial things, or at least trivial in comparison to what Seeger was singing about. Where is our song of inspiration? Oh, I know…“Shiny Happy People” by REM
Rage on, everybody!
March 15th, 2013
As we all know, I’m pretty cheerful (the nice thing about having a blog called Rose-coloured is there’s little doubt in even the newest reader about things like this). But like everyone, I become irate occasionally, and like most 21st people, I like to soundtrack my emotions.
I’ve been realizing my rage playlist is a little lacking, so I thought I’d share it and see if you guys might be able to help me expand it…
Here’s what I’ve got so far–some new, some old:
“Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright (the yoghurt ad that I saw before it today was spectacularly inappropriate to immediately precede: “Poetry has no place for a heart that’s a whore.”)
“Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance (for the purposes of this list, this cover is better than the original by Bob Dylan)
“Positively 4th Street” by Bob Dylan (because obviously there had to be some Dylan here–such an angry dude! Also, note interesting parallels/differences to previous song!)
March 5th, 2013
I came across these tips on how to have an awesome time at a concert on Alan Cross’s blog. It’s good, but extremely sparse to me, and probably to most people who don’t regularly attend concerts. Tips like “bring a friend or go alone” and “when to drink and where” might make some uncool people like myself think that this is a code keep the uncool out.
It’s not true! Just like how on the internet no one knows you’re a dog, in the dark no one knows you’re a dork: if you feel like going to hear live music, you should go. I went to a show last week with a kleenex in the sleeve of my cardigan, so if I can do it, anyone can.
If you’re like me, you probably used to go see bands semi-regularly in high school and university, whenever someone told you about a cool show and you could afford it. But then, after graduation, you (I) knew fewer people who went to stuff, and moved to a city where I didn’t know the venues, and gradually got really intimidated and started picturing every show I considered attending as a cross between a mosh pit and a grade 8 dance.
About 4 years ago, my brother and I realized that while we both finally had money to spend on each other, we could never think of anything we wanted for holiday or birthday gifts. We also realized we have similar taste in music and both regretted not taking part in Toronto’s vibrant musical offerings. So we buy each other show tickets for every gift now, and we attend together. It’s really fun, and not nearly as intimidating as I thought. So, after a few dozen shows, here’s some tips if you’re old-ish and looking get back to concert scene:
1) Listen to music. A friend said to me once, “It’s so sad how terrible music is these days. All I ever listen to is my old albums.” I barely stopped myself from screeching, “That is how you die!!” Music is not depreciating, it’s changing! It’s harder to find things you like when you don’t have whole evenings to spend listening to music and none of your friends suggest things to listen to. But try. Listen to the radio and google anything you hear that you like. Try one of those internet radio stations that takes a performer you like and suggests more. Ask your friends what they’re listening to. Most people in their thirties didn’t stop listening to music, they just stopped forming their identies around it. And it’s totally fine to stick to some bands you used to like in the 90s–they were great–but for goodness’s sakes, listen to their current albums. Bands evolve, and you don’t want to be disappointed at the show because it turns out you don’t like anything they’ve written in the past 15 years.
2) Pay the money. One thing I don’t do in my rock-and-roll renaissance is see random bands. I don’t just go sit in a bar and see who comes on, or go to free community shows, or anything where I don’t have at least a hopeful suspicion that I will like the band. If I’m that hopeful, I am also willing to pay whatever a ticket costs. Not usually that much–I don’t have Rolling Stones tastes–but I pay whatever it takes. I wish I could be out discovering the stuff that no one knows about yet, but really, to stay out late on a weeknight, I have to sorta know I’ll be happy.
3) Plot the logistics. In case you’re a real newbie at concerts, or have only been to those outdoor summer festivals, here’s the biggest logistical issue with concert attendance as a grown-up: you don’t get to sit down. There are no chairs in most venues, and in the few that some stools or whatnot, like Lee’s Palace, people hunch on them grimly as soon as the doors open. It’s not worth it–wear comfortable shoes and a bag you can hang on your shoulder, and come well-rested–you’ll still be tired at the end of the night, but it’s manageable.
Other logistical issues: There are coatchecks in most concert venues, but then you’re stuck in a giant line at the end of the night when you want to go home. I favour the “roll your coat into a ball and stick it between your feet” approach, but it’s up to you. Also, figure out how you’re getting to and fro, especially if it’s Sound Academy, which annoying to walk, transit, AND drive to. Basically, unless you have a jetpack or are willing to live there, only go to Sound Academy shows you *really* want to see. Lee’s Palace and the Phoenix are on the subway line and are awesome; the Opera House and the Mod Club aren’t, but at least have some reasonable transit options. I have no idea how to park anywhere, but if you’re going to try driving, best to look into it–might be challenging.
4) Embrace the experience. I sometimes skip the openers in favour of eating and sitting down for a little longer, but I’ve discovered some good music when I see the full show. Go to the merch table, buy a drink, crowd watch. Music is growing increasingly atomized–we listen alone, on our computers and ipods, and have little idea who our fellow fans are. It’s an amazing experience to assume this tiny bit of solidarity–I like a thing you like–with strangers. In the absence of knowledge, I assume everyone who likes a band I like is just like me. Imagine my surprise to discover teenagers in arm-warmers and eyelines at the Bright Eyes show and drunk university students at Hey Rosetta. My favourite crowd ever was at a The Wooden Sky. I think of them as a gentle roots-rock band, but the early twentysomethings at the show seemed ready for a kegger for some reason. Many were drunk upon arrival, including two beautiful young women who were so surprised to meet up in the lobby, they embraced so hard they fell down. A girl standing in front of me in the bathroom lineup asked me to tell her “honestly” if she had puke on the back of her shirt, and I sadly had to tell her that she did. Later in that same lineup, the girl behind me was having so much trouble waiting that I peeked around a corner and told her we were only a few people away from the door–she hugged me. It was a really really fun night.
5) The music is worth it. Not every time, of course–some bands suck live, and sometimes you just aren’t feeling it. But in general, I feel that the *being there* aspect improves the music by about 20% on average and if you liked it already, that’s amazing. It’s neat to see what people look like and how bandmates interact with each other. Hell, it’s cool to see how they hold their instruments. I’ve never tried to meet anyone or get an autograph or whatever, but just being in the same room is pretty cool.
February 14th, 2013
Dear Brooke Fraser,
I am writing to let you know that when my husband and I got married on August 11, 2012, your song Something in the Water was our recessional. We had a really hard time choosing wedding music, but as soon as I heard this song I knew it was perfect (my husband is a Brooke Fraser fan and introduced me to it). It’s such a joyous, celebratory, *rising* song that I felt it was perfect for the moment of finally being married, after all the solemn, ceremonial stuff was done.
For weeks before the wedding, I guess I was having a reoccurring dream about this song and the wedding, but for some reason I never quite processed it as a dream. It was just an image I had in my head that when we were pronounced husband and wife, we would turn to the guests, “Something in the Water” would come on, and everyone would start dancing. It’s a very dancable song!
I guess I was stressed before the wedding, because this image never came to the level of conscious thought, but instead just became my version of the plan. I never questioned how realistic it was to expect 80 people to spontaneously start dancing without me asking them to (or even if I did). I think in the moment, I realized that it had been a dream and no one knew about the dancing but me, but I had my heart set on it by that point–I danced anyway! One of the guests said I was the happiest bride she’d ever seen. Probably lots of brides get told that, but she is a professional wedding photographer and probably has been to a lot of weddings. And I was really really happy–still am!
Anyway, I just wanted to share that silly story to let me know how joyful and inspiring I found “Something in the Water” and to thank you for making it. And to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!
PS–One of my new year’s resolutions was to write fan letters to artists I’m grateful to and thank them for their work. This is the first–hopefully more to come soon!
April 2nd, 2012
I’ve been doing a few things lately even *in addition* to swanning around the Maritime provinces and basking in the springtime sun here in Ontario. Today, for example, I ran *many* errands in the aforementioned springtime sun, which is somehow much better than the fraudulent summer sun of a few weeks ago. Today was one of those rare days for a 9-to-5-er, when I had time to prioritize those little errands like the library, the post office, the dry-cleaner–instead of cramming them on the tail-end of some more glamourous errand, they got to be centre stage. And I strolled between them listening to Belle and Sebastian (come on! anyone who doesn’t think Belle and Sebastian is the perfect soundtrack to a spring stroll is just a hipster too far). Lovely.
Ok, but also–some writing stuff. I contributed a line to Pass the Ghost Story, which is fun, creepy, and still in progress; I was interviewed by Grace O’Connell about Writers and Day Jobs, and I made the very long but very cool long-list for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. I’ve read enough of the books on the list to know what an honour this is, so I’m basking…just a bit!
And it’s only Monday!
August 4th, 2011
The Big Dream has music in it, but no lyrics. Music is ubiquitous in our culture–with the advent of iPods, less and less of our lives is unsoundtracked, and if you’re going to write real life, you need at least some ambient music popping up sometime. When I wrote Once, there were occasional snatches of whatever the characters were listening to. When I was finished, someone told me that you can’t use song lyrics, even just a few, even if they’re diegetic, even for atmosphere, without paying the artist who wrote them, and the licensing company and whatever-expensive-nightmare.
So I went through the whole book and took out all the direct quotations. I left some vague references and titles in–surely they can’t sue for that, and I guess most readers would be at least slightly familiar with the sorts of music I was writing about, so they’d be able to tune in inside their brains. And it’s not as if music is a huge aspect of my work–it’s just there, a part of things, a thread in the fabric… It was just frustrating, is all, to have to leave things out, even little things.
But since I found out the rules, I’ve been writing with them in mind. In Road Trips, when I wanted to show a character flipping through the radio stations and hearing a little snatch of rap, I wrote the lyrics myself (the joke was how bad it was, so it was ok that I that; I’m not planning an alternative career as a rap lyricist). And in *The Big Dream* I found other ways of describing music besides direct quotations. Sometimes it works better than others, but I think I was largely successful in creating the impression of certain music without using the lyrics. Again, this is a really small part of the book, but I worked hard on it.
Except…somehow I didn’t think all these rules applied to epigraphs. I have no idea why I believed this–probably just because I wanted to, as none of the fair use exceptions of study, review, criticism, etc. applied. I just found this really really perfect epigraph for TBD, and I wanted it and I couldn’t write my way around it–an epigraph is a direct quotation and only that.
So I’ve come to my senses, looked into the matter further, and finally deleted the epigraph. I am sad, because the song and the quotation I picked said the perfect thing, I felt, to introduce the book. So I’ll write this post, I figure, reviewing and critiquing all the music that meant a lot to me and the process of writing TBD, and then I’ll have an excuse to include the quotation here–not in the book, where I feel it belongs, but at least somewhere where people can read it and make the connection. And there’s actually a lot of other music to give credit to, here. I think a lot of writers have music they keep in mind as they write or think about their work, whether or not it’s on in the room where we’re actually tapping at the keys–see Dani Couture’s playlists series or Large Heart Boy’s Book Notes. So it’s a proud tradition of us song-listing authors that I join now–onwards.
Believe it or not, I had never ever heard Dolly Parton’s working-girl classic 9 to 5 until less than a year ago, when my friend K played a dance mix of it in the aerobics class she teaches. True! I don’t generally like the “they let you dream just to watch’em shatter” type of song–too reductive, too whingy. But this song is *very* catch, great for aerobics, and it has two great lines: “there’s a better life and you think about it / dontcha?” and “in the same boat with a lot of your friends / waiting for the day your ship will come in / the tide’s gonna turn and it’s all gonna roll you away.” Have *you* heard a better extended metaphor in a pop-song? A nice bit of solidarity, too! And I like “pour myself a cup of ambition,” too. Someday, I may write a story called, “A Cup of Ambition”–or is that not fair use? Oh, probably not. Sigh. (Query: I’ve still not seen the movie nor the stage show; should I?)
My background in songs about work is, well, work songs. I’m from that sort of family. So I was pleased to find a collection of our old favourites in Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions. A bit more modern than the original Seeger, and also easier to find on CD (oh, sigh, sacrilege), this album is delightful. I certainly realize that a lot of these songs are about work done by slaves, and that it’s grossly offensive to align office work with that history. I don’t do so–I just like songs about work in any form. My favourites are “Jacob’s Ladder,” (that’s actually a really wonderful video there, which I hadn’t seen before now), for the incredible line, “Every new rock just makes us stronger,” and “John Henry”, about the strongest man in the world. But no kidding, there’s everybody else and then there is Mr. Seeger–a singer for us all.
I’m a literalist, and I always felt that The New Pornographers’ The Crash Year is actually about a market crash–no idea if that’s true or not, although the album being released in 2010 would indicates so, as do lines like “you’re ruined like the rest of us” and “oh my child you’re not safe here.” And there’s a whistle-chorus!
You know you’re a serious Simon and Garfunkel fan when you are into the B sides–the tracks with a horn section, and more ribaldry, less tender reflection. One of my favourite all-time S&G works is Keep the Customer Satisfied. This is essentially a barstool plaint by a travelling salesman, exuberantly sung even when the lyrics are, “And I’m sooo tired / I’m oh-oh-oh so tired/I’m just trying to keep the customer satisfied.” You just don’t hear that line in rock’n’roll very often, and it makes me feel like these guys really know what it’s like to have a not-too-great job–though, as far as I know, they mainly didn’t. I mean, quirky musical icon isn’t a bad gig, right?
Of course, I like lots of music by folks who don’t work at job-jobs or write about them. In fact, I spent most of my time while writing this book listening to music by Vampire Weekend and The National, with a little Neil Diamond and Arcade Fire thrown in. And none of those artists give the impression of having done their time in the salt mine, but that’s ok–I really don’t theme my life by what I’m writing, I just shape it for posts like this.
And there’s Weezer. Silly, irreverent, possibly outdated Weezer, whose music is mainly about flirting and being awkward at parties–not that isn’t awesome, because it totally is. But sometimes, especially this one time, they manage to get right at the heart of things, and write the line that encapsulates not only my book but a chunk of my life’s philosophy. It was in the song Keep Fishin’ (yes, it’s the video with the Muppets–watch it if you haven’t, it’s brilliant). Note that throughout this post I have offered an evaluative judgement on all directly quoted material–it’s criticism, people, and therefore fair use. That *wonderful* line, which really should be my epigraph–fie on the greedy music industry and their selfish need to keep all their good lines for themselves, is:
You’ll never do
The things you want
If you don’t move
And get a job