Christmas is almost upon us and I honestly don’t have much to say about writing, reading (arithmetic), or tacos.
I do have something interesting (at least to me) to share. If you’ve read this blog much, or know me in the slightest, you know I have a passion for music. I love all sorts of genres and sounds (and am willing to try just about anything. I love suggestions) from the melodic to the chaotic. I also enjoy interacting with musicians, following their social media feeds.
One person in particular, Brian Cook (Botch, These Arms are Snakes, Russian Circles, SUMAC, Mamiffer, and more) runs some very fun and interesting accounts. His Twitter is great, as is his Instagram, but my favorite is his Tumblr page. He answers questions, shares funny photos (often of his ass, so be warned) and is currently posting every record he owns, one at a time. The best part- He has a personal relationship with so many musicians so each entry reads like a band bio. Anyone with an interest in hardcore, punk, metal, post-metal, post rock, indie bands, pretty much anything really, should check it out. He’s only on the letter B so there is a long, long way to go. So many records!
Anyway, I’ve been so engaged in his posts, I’ve decided to join the party and share each and every album I own as well. I won’t have as many crazy stories about musicians, tours across Europe, long hours in a van sharing music with band members, and I will likely be embarrassed by several of the albums in my collection (I’m posting them regardless), but I think it will be a cool experiment.
Also, it is a good way to play records that often get forgotten, which is too many. One could argue that I’ve too much music if that happens, but that person would no longer be my friend if they dared argue that point. I’m cutthroat people. Harsh.
So check it out, follow if you have an Instagram. If you don’t (who are you people), create one. Comment, like, tell me how crazy I am and how having such an eclectic musical palate isn’t a good thing (it is really. You know this).
Music has always been a very influential part of my life. It is hard for me to remember a day without the presence of some song or other. I’ve talked before about how music (and books) are sacred to me. Musicians are storytellers, and as a storyteller I feel a connection with them that goes beyond just enjoying their talents. Certain music has the ability to reconnect me with my past, transport me places, allow me the opportunity to experience old emotions, people. I’ve been moved to tears by music more times than I can count, and each time I’ve been grateful for the experience.
Music also fuels my writing.
There was a time when I needed silence to work, and any outside distraction was a detriment. I don’t know what changed, but now I cannot compose anything without some music playing. It influences the direction of my writing, the tone, the development. I know certain scenes in my first novel were created in direct response to what was on the stereo at the time I was writing them.
And I have so much of it.
Hundreds of vinyl records. Thousands of compact discs. A few lonely cassette tapes.
I’m always acquiring more as well. The more new stuff that I add to the collection, the more some albums get forgotten. Some albums have not been played in years, maybe decades.
In order to try and remember the lost ones, I determined to listen to each of my CD’s (in reverse alphabetical, reverse chronological order) over a two year period. I call it “The Great CD Listening Adventure. I started in the fall of 2016 and just moved through L and into the letter K this morning (L7 to Kylesa, in case you were wondering).
Because some albums have not aged well, I give myself some outs- I play everything, but if after three songs, I’m not feeling it, the disc gets yanked (set on the pile to take to my local record store where I can get store credit). I can skip live albums and greatest hits collections. Singles are also optional. Otherwise, it’s every album by every artist. It’s been so much fun. I’ve rediscovered some forgotten gems, and realized that I’ve lost interest in some bands completely.
My tastes have always been all over the place, ranging from bubblegum pop to Black Metal and most everything in between. I firmly believe that there is a gem in every genre, and that some of the best music ever made is being created right now. If you’re wondering, disagreeing, curious, I can give you a nice list of artists to consider.
What about you? What sort of role does music play in your life, your writing? When authors use music, does it have any affect on the way you perceive a scene?
Who are some of your favorite artists? Who are you listening to right now? Tell me all about your love of music, please.
I have driven through Flagstaff, Arizona close to 15 times on my way to Phoenix, and in all honesty, I dislike the place. It doesn’t help that I usually travel through in the winter, and being up in the mountains, Flagstaff is a snowy, frozen, uninviting place.
I am willing to accept that most of the problem lies with me. I have my mind set, but the dislike is irrational. I’ve never had a negative encounter with anyone living in the town. I’ve not been involved in any snow related accidents, though I have seen several messy ones. Yet, my disdain remains. It has become a running family joke, the awfulness of any sojourn through the frozen waste. If there were a faster route, I would surely take it.
I thought nothing in the world could change my opinion of Flagstaff.
A band I love was doing a small, six city tour, which didn’t include mine. The best place to catch them was in Flagstaff. Ugh. I was not thrilled at the prospect, but as I was determined to see the band, I booked a cheap hotel, found a friend to go with me, and secured tickets.
It is just over 7 hours from my front door to the Flagstaff city limits. I think I complained at least seven times each hour, and the drive into town on an overcrowded and stoplight ridden Route 66 didn’t alter my perception.
The hotel was just as I’d expected, room doors facing out on a oil stained parking lot, two beds, no fan in the bathroom. Strange enough, I was surprised at how comfortable it was, and how after a quick walk around the area, I was not displeased with the location.
My friend and I drank a few beers, laughed at really stupid jokes, then walked the mile distance from our room towards the historic downtown area.
It was easy to ignore the beauty of Flagstaff when I was traveling through cold and snow, but walking towards the town center, I could not help but be struck by the landscape. The hills surrounding town were just turning green with spring growth and the breeze, though still chilly, was welcoming.
We walked to a local ramen place (never eat at chain restaurants, especially on vacation), and had some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten in quite a while. The place was tiny inside, but the atmosphere was friendly and inviting as were the staff.
I ordered a bowl called the Mic Drop. The flavors (udon noodles, various cuts of pork, house made red kimchi, amazing broth), were succulent. Each bite was as good as the first.
Vegans should avert their eyes.
The three or four streets making up the historic downtown were lively, filled with people out walking and shopping. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and all the people we encountered at stores and shops were nothing but nice.
I kept trying to tell myself I hated it here, but as we walked to the bar where the show was being held, I had to stop lying. I was having a great time—in Flagstaff. I didn’t think that was possible.
On a good day, it seems anything can change. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but given the chance, I’d go back, stay the night again, maybe two.
The show was excellent. Boris blew me away. I did encounter some odd ducks at the venue who seemed to be trapped in an 1986 time warp. They were head banging like Megadeath were on the stage. I wanted to get video, but it was too dark and smokey.
At the end of my 3rd grade year, I decided it would be fun to be 4th grade class president (my elementary school was an odd one) the following school year. I felt like I knew most of the kids in my grade and had a decent shot of winning. To promote my candidacy, my mother helped me make posters to hang in the hallway at school. I decided to borrow a phrase from Sesame Street as my campaign slogan.
C is for Carty. That’s good enough for me.
Cookie Monster didn’t help my cause in the end. I failed to make it through the primary election.
But enough about my brief political career-
Music and books have been a huge part of my life since I was a small boy. Because of the influence of my parents, who had what seemed like massive amounts of books and records, when I was old enough (sometime around the age of 7) I wanted my own collections. They started out small and silly- a copy of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go: A 7 inch copy of Cold as Ice by Foreigner- but those small beginnings (my B word again) connected me to words and music in ways that changed my life forever.
I can’t imagine my house without the presence of books. I love the smell of book paper, old or new. There is very little as wonderful for me as walking into a book store and having that smell overtake me. When I was getting paid to be a Librarian, I was surrounded by that scent every day (and some others we won’t discuss).
I love fiction. Made up stories often feel more honest to me than non-fiction. Reading fiction also taught me better ways to write it. I find writing and reading to be intimately connected.
Music is rarely background noise for me. It is almost always front and center. I pay attention to it. I am aware of it. I listen when I write, when I drive, when I settle in for the evening.
Vinyl was always my first love- the feel of the wax as I remove it from the cover, that slight hiss and pop when the needle hits the record: Huge cover art to gaze at while the music fills the room. That first love was left behind for a while when compact discs became popular. I admit, I abandoned my first love for a shiny new one, but she has been good to me as well, letting me hang on to the one thing that matters most to me when it comes to music, something tangible. It is why I refuse to abandon the physical and buy digital music. Lucky for me, vinyl has made a comeback, and while it is more expensive now than ever before, I have reconnected with that first love and found her as wonderful as I remember.
I’ve decided that I can live without almost all of my possessions. They are after all in the end, just things. But I would feel lost and alone without my collections of music and books.
They say more about me than the clothes I wear, the car I drive or where I live. They are my history and my memory. They are tangible evidence of my passion, and I am alright with that.
A month or so ago, I received an email (private Facebook message more likely) from the husband of my Aunts sister (yeah, a strange connection for sure). In it, he mentioned my love of vinyl, and that he had decided to part with his collection of records from the 70’s and early 80’s.
In my dreams, I saw stacks of records, maybe hundreds of albums from an era of music that always reminds me of being a boy, sitting in front of my fathers expansive and quirky collection, headphones on, expanding my musical knowledge. I assumed everyone who actually still owned records would own many. Any casual collector would have dumped their albums at a thrift store years ago.
I wasn’t naive enough to believe that every record would be a treasure. Musical taste is perhaps the most subjective part of a human personality, and while I knew this man some, his musical preferences were a mystery.
I arrived at his place and followed him down into the basement. He was moving, downsizing, and the records were not something he wanted to bring along to the new place.
In the only unfinished room in the basement, was a solitary box of records, maybe 70, tucked away in the dark and the dust. A bit saddened, I began to thumb through them. Most of the collection was smooth jazz, beat down Beatles records, obscure Christmas collections. Kids albums with silly songs instead of albums from Bowie or Springsteen stared back at me. I admit, I was disappointed.
Once I got home and really sorted them, I found a few amazing pieces, a copy of Dark Side of the Moon, Simon and Garfunkel, some interesting classical albums, as well as other records I had forgotten existed. I gave them all a good bath (they were wicked dusty), then sorted them into piles I would be keeping and those that I would be selling or giving away. In the end I kept close to 20.
I just finished listening to Bridge over Troubled Water again. Next, I’ll listen to some Cream, or maybe something by Count Basie.
I am grateful for the gift this man offered me. My initial disappointment has been replaced with gratitude at the chance to get to know another person through their musical taste, and by a connection to some of the music of my childhood; a connection only possible through the all too familiar hiss and pop of old records.
Over the last 20 years (maybe longer), I have had a strained relationship with organized religion. For me, it does not fill a need, a void.
This does not mean I have abandoned the concepts of spirituality, though I do struggle understanding what most mean when they call themselves “a spiritual person”.
I understand the concept of sacred, even if what I call sacred others might find trite. Like many of the most important parts of our lives, the things we care about most are completely subjectively understood. We love strange and disturbed people, find fulfillment in places and things that some find odd. It is too easy to invalidate, belittle and dismiss what we don’t agree with, what doesn’t stimulate us.
This is my church, and these are my holy relics. I spend most of my day sitting in this room, listening to music of all sorts. I find a pathway to the divine through the notes, tones, the voices. I feel a connection with the musicians, the artists who lay bare a portion of their secrets for me. What a frightening and vulnerable position, sharing blindly with so many, the things that matter most, the often very intimate.
I write here, surrounded by other artists. They inspire me, frighten me, intimidate and welcome me. They have influenced me in ways I find hard to describe. They are loyal, always ready, always giving.
Combined with these written relics, the words of so many novelists, poets, I cannot help but be buoyed up. Novels expand my universe, take me to locations I have only ever barely imagined. I am consumed by language, Immersed in words and sentences.
These places, these things are sacred to me. They are my companions, and I am grateful for them.
What is sacred to and for you?