Writing Soundtrack

I could not have begun or finished The Nowhere in the Middle without music to push me down various rabbit holes. These albums in particular helped transport me to wherever I needed to go. Any and all reactions welcome, including that I have an unhealthy obsession with white Englishmen.

BLONDIE

  • Best of Blondie: There’s something so empowering about Deborah Harry’s voice and persona  no matter your gender, but especially if you’re a woman. This old school best-of compilation,which my siblings and I listened to on vinyl as kids, helped me strain a lot of the wimp out of Jilly’s narrative voice. I wanted softness with teeth, and Blondie melodies possess just that.

BLUR

  • Blur: Please read the entry on 13 below first for context. OK, welcome back. The story is, I have a tendency to discover great bands after their initial run. Blur, often cited as the English group’s best, did not hook and throttle me until November 2009, 12 years after its original release, when I came across my ex-husband’s old copy without the jewel case art. Why it finally affected me is a bitch to explain, though I think it’s because it’s the sound of solidarity: four different people collapsing into one another, then rising up an elegant beast to fight the good fight. Along with The Cardigans’ Long Gone Before Daylight (see below), it instilled me with the confidence of a prizefighter to complete Nowhere.
  • 13: I remember my Britpop-savvy friends in North Dakota jizzing on about the Blur vs. Oasis chart battle of 1995 and not giving a fuck. Fast-forward to 1999 when Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Dave Rowntree, and Alex James dropped this art bomb of heartbreak songs. One of the first CDs I bought in New York, it got me through the end of my last college-era romance. Though I wasn’t listening to “Tender,” “Trim Trabb,” or “Coffee & TV” during Nowhere‘s creation, looking back I was definitely influenced by Coxon’s guitar playing (see more on Coxon, below).

THE CARDIGANS

  • Long Gone Before Daylight: I have Pandora to thank for introducing me to this most incandescent of black pop gems; it’s the wrenching sound of adulthood kicking you in the teeth, and then your getting back up on one foot because, well, you’ve still got some fight left. I mean it when I say that “A Good Horse” and “Live and Learn” convinced me I could do anything. After three years of drafting bum endings, on January 16, 2010, I finally nailed mine with Nina Persson cooing to me about “the roaches.”

THE CLASH

  • Clash on Broadway: Sublime 1991 boxed set now o.p. Three discs, 63 tracks spanning all of their studio albums (except the largely disowned Cut the Crap) and including live tunes and previously unreleased gems like “Every Little Bit Hurts.” Marked a kind of Cliff’s Notes period of mine before a free fall into full-out fandom and an individual album-buying spree. I love the liner notes by Lenny Kaye, who is a funk soul brother in music writing to Lester Bangs.
  • From Here to Eternity: I probably listened to this before the oft-cited classic London Calling in its entirety, which is somewhat weird because it’s a live album, and most fans don’t relish improvisational elements. The Clash thrived in front of an audience, however, and the takes here of “Complete Control,” “London’s Burning,” and “Straight to Hell” make me feel like I’m in the crush of a crowd getting fried out of my cerebellum. Just what I needed to write Chapter 1.

GRAHAM COXON

  • Love Travels at Illegal Speeds: Our Man Coxon made his name as the guitarist in Blur (see the entries above, as well as my favorite Coxon-dedicated Tumblr blog). His sixth studio album pays mondo homage to postpunk in the mold of The Buzzcocks, with plenty of guitar chugga-chugga. It was never released in America, and in fact, I only came across it because of  Youtube (from the video for the gorgeously riffed “Beetlebum,” I jumped to “I Can’t Look at Your Skin”). I’m glad I did because this is another pristine example of untainted artistry, maybe “unfocused,” to use Coxon’s term, but so lacking in pretense, like Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth. It’s why I’m blogging. It’s why I started my second novel. Thank you, Graham Coxon, for being your goddamn self.

JOE STRUMMER AND THE MESCALEROS

  • Streetcore: After The Clash imploded in 1984, Joe Strummer entered his “lost years,” only re-emerging to do soundtracks like Sid and Nancy, then release the poorly received solo album Earthquake Weather (which I’ve never sought out, oddly). Many will argue that his best post-Clash work came courtesy of multi-instrumentalists The Mescaleros, which he formed in 1999. Their third album, Streetcore, completed posthumously in 2003, hooked me with the engine-revvy “Coma Girl” and the folk simplicity of “Long Shadow.” This is the sound of a man remembering who he always was: a cowboy, a hippie, a bluesman, and a punk rocker. It was my constant companion during the novel’s early stages, by which I mean, before I knew it was a novel. Fucking hell.

P.J. HARVEY

  • Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea: I remember staring at a bra-clad Harvey on the cover of SPIN magazine in the early 1990s. She should’ve hit me Muhammad Ali along with the American riot grrrls, but didn’t for whatever reason. Then this album came along, wearing its heart, soul, and lungs on its sleeve. Fresh to New York, I was feeling vulnerable, as was Ms. Harvey if I was to believe her songs. “Good Fortune,” “This Is Love,” “You Said Something”: perfect documents of the high of fucked-in-the-head romance. Wouldn’t say any track directly influenced a chapter or passage. So I could write at all, I just needed Harvey’s reminder of the strength that comes from revealing oneself.

MADONNA

  • Music: Pretty sure this was my writing-break disc. When I needed to exercise the ole legs and give my head a break from all the plot complications (“Prologue? No prologue? Sex scene?”), I turned my tiny Clinton Hill kitchen into a disco and cranked “Music” and “Impressive Instant.” Miss Ciccone has never sounded less self-conscious and more fresh in my opinion.

THIN LIZZY

  • Wild One: The Very Best of Thin Lizzy: Bought this “top dog top deal” at the HMV on Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland, because the classic rock staple “The Boys Are Back in Town” had been an earworm since young adulthood. The jukebox at the Hairy Lemon pub fed my obsession: every song that wheezed out of it was by TL. To the point: “Dancin’ in the Moonlight” and “Whisky in the Jar” are great holed-up-with-your-friends-in-a-car tunes that inspired the bonding scenes between Jilly and LaVonne.

U2

  • Achtung Baby: Most people love to hate on U2 these days because of Bono’s advocacy for Africa, etc. Let’s forget the politics and focus on the Dublin foursome’s supreme ability to epitomize gestalt, i.e., the state of being so unified that it’s impossible to discern or extract individual parts. This electronica-tinged album, their greatest achievement, has pushed me to create since its initial release in 1991, when I bought it in the Eco-Pack format at Kirkwood Mall. More recently, after a trip to Prague and Berlin in March 2009, its songs about failed relationships concurred, “Yes, creation is a bitch and a half, but there’s succor in Process.”
  • Zooropa: If I had a mantra in the spring of 2009, it was a line from the title track of this incredible fraternal twin to Achtung: “Uncertainty can be a guiding light.” Depressed to be back in Brooklyn after taking in the sights and sounds of the new Eastern Europe, I was at a loss of what to do or how to do it. Publishing seemed even more dysfunctional on the brink of a cataclysm. With “Zooropa” on replay, I shut out the darkness and focused on the light radiating from this album, the sounds of people rebuilding with bruised hands.
  • No Line on the Horizon: When the “Boots” single leaked, I wanted to die—it was, and is, so naff and terrible; the boys trying too hard to re-create a single in the make of “Vertigo.” I was beyond annoyed and refused to buy Horizon. I told myself they’d used up their magic and called it the end of an era. Then, in July 2009 while revising the novel at a steady clip, I popped in the burned copy from my sister. In short order, I shat myself upon absorbing the title track, “Fez—Being Born,” “Breathe,” and “Cedars of Lebanon” and repented on Twitter. @DaddyGJ and @Arturo_Ulises aided in reigniting my love for my first deep musical love, digging deep here like the smart, old dogs they are.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

  • Show Your Bones: TK!

*For Your Reading Pleasure

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