Ah, sweet, sweet music.
Some writers like to sit in bustling cafes, smoking their cigarillos and drinking coffee and Bailey’s. Some sit outdoors, with the sounds of nature. Some lock themselves away from the smallest pin-drop. Some don’t care what noise surrounds them. And some listen to music.
I am a combination of the last two. If I have been writing for hours, I couldn’t care less what sounds abound. But getting started, when I’m susceptible to the phone ringing or my wife listening to NPR and Air America, I like to put on my headphones and play music just loud enough to drown everything else out.
While I have listened to various and sundry tracks in the years that this book has gestated, there are certain albums that I have to credit with helping me along.
First and foremost, Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales. Again and again I would listen to this when nothing else seemed right, and in moments I was having another eight-thousand word day. There are only a handful of perfect albums out there, and they’re always a pleasure to find.
Another perfect album is Peter Gabriel’s Us. So is almost perfect, but Us has a complete balance of style and mood, along with a vibratory grounding that sends me right along.
Third in the list of perfect albums is Paul Simon’s Graceland. Sadly, both Us and Graceland had been my background for my first serious attempt at a novel, and for a long time I connected them with first-person narrative. Not so any more, thankfully, they’re back in rotation.
Then there’s Tori Amos. Dear God, I love her voice. And her piano playing. And her hair. And that she’s friends with Neil Gaiman. And that she understands the power of orange knickers. Anyway, Boys For Pele is incredible. I first heard in on a train on the way to Istanbul – I had bought the cassette in an open market that day because I’d been in Europe for months and had gotten sick of all my music. She will forever be exotic to me.
During my first year of writing I listened to Sinead O’Conner’s Universal Mother quite a bit. Not a perfect album, but it has many great moments.
Unfortunately by the time I was deeply into writing this book I had already overdosed on the amazing, vibrant, brilliant Afro Celt Sound System. These days I make sure to listen in moderation. Nonetheless, Release is the album I want playing when I die.
Out of the pop music world for a moment, John Williams soundtrack for Superman probably got more play than anything else. Then a couple years ago, I got the soundtrack to Master and Commander. Already one of my favorite films – like perfect albums, this one really is a perfect piece of film-making – the score is now one of my standbys.
Another favorite is the entire body of work by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, especially the Peanuts music. It’s summertime music for me, always excepting the Christmas album.
Benny Goodman played a large part in editing the book. The collection called All The Cats Join In is my favorite.
Last year I fell in love with the Black Eyed Peas, especially Monkey Business. Again, it’s probably because it was the only song that wasn’t by Coldplay being played in Italy the summer of 2005. Not that I don’t enjoy Coldplay, but they were on tour in Italy at the time and you couldn’t escape them.
Oddly enough, they were playing in Verona on my birthday. In the Arena Dante had used as the model for Hell. Jan and I looked at each other and said, “Well, if that’s not a sign…” and promptly looked for scalpers.
I have a similar love for Shakira. Long before her hips began lying to me we heard her as we strolled through Verona in 2002. Music is often connected to the places I heard it. When I’m trying to conjure the place, I listen to the music.
For the rest of my background, I listen to a lot of Dar Williams, Moxy Fruvous, Smokey Robinson and the Mircales, the Beatles, Evanescence, Cat Stevens, Martin Sexton, the Nields, Vienna Teng, and U2.
Certainly more than anyone needed to know, but I like to spread the credit around.
And the blame.