Posts Tagged Jimi Hendrix

The Undercover Soundtrack – David Biddle

for logo‘Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by novelist and Talking Writing columnist David Biddle @dcbiddle

Soundtrack by Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Jim Croce, Robert Johnson, Jeff Buckley, Global Illage

My novel, Beyond the Will of God, is about many things: murder; rural Missouri in the heart of the summer; odd conspiracy theories; altered states of consciousness; and the realities of telepathy. Most importantly, though, this book is about the power of music and its connection to creativity, and what ultimately lies beyond death.

DCBiddle - HeadShot HiRezSorcerous Hendrix

The story begins as a murder mystery, but very early on the reader is confronted with the realization that there may be a sort of magic to music that we don’t understand — rock ’n’ roll music in particular. Understanding that magic is the real mystery of the book.

The idea came to me when I was 17 and had just discovered the sorcery of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar work. The first time I heard his masterpiece, 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be), I became convinced that Hendrix had discovered a way to channel and tune human thought to a unified vibration. The title for my novel comes from a phrase in this song.

I wouldn’t start writing, though, for another 15 years. New Year’s Day 1990, I was listening to a radio special on Elvis Presley’s early career. Strains of acoustic guitar started up. A voice-over told us That’s Alright Mama was Elvis’s first hit. As I listened to The King of rock ’n’ roll, I saw a bar full of hard-drinking young people in rural Missouri listening to his first hit song, and an Amish boy sneaking in the back. I began to write. That work became the scene that is now in the middle of chapter one, ending with two characters lost in dark farm country hearing strange guitar music on the wind.

Sonic vibrations

I knew the story was a mystery-thriller, but it would also be about the power of sonic vibration of all kinds. The untimely deaths of so many great musicians and personalities in the 20th century would become the center of the plot I was concocting.

Whether we know it or not, our thoughts are connected to all the sound in our lives. One song I kept coming back to that helped me meld the CIA with the hippie search for ‘higher consciousness’ was The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Even today, almost 50 years after it was recorded, the use of tape loops, sitar, non-standard rhythm, and Lennon’s lyrics can crack open the most stodgy artist’s mind.

Over time, as I wrote, I listened endlessly to music by artists who, like Jimi and Elvis, had all died before their time – Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Jim Croce, etc.  Blues legend Robert Johnson’s story of selling his soul to the devil is where the black magic of rock ’n’ roll got its start. He died at the age of 27. In the classic Come On In My Kitchen he is haunting and mystical. Johnson has an important part to play in Beyond the Will of God.

Ideas of immortality

In the spring of 1997, I read about a singer and musician I’d never heard of before named Jeff Buckley. He’d just drowned in a channel of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. As I read, it became obvious Buckley was important to my story. His highly regarded album, Grace, was a smorgasbord of new music inspiration. Last Goodbye is my favorite song, but the title track, Grace, speaks directly to the ethos of Beyond the Will of God. It is dark, swooning, and ponders the idea of immortality. The first draft would be completed shortly after discovering Buckley.

BWGNEWCoverBut I wouldn’t have been able to edit and re-write my first draft it if I hadn’t found the rather esoteric album, Sushilove Sessions, by the world beat-improvisational jazz combo Global Illage. There are no easily accessible renditions of Sushilove Sessions online, but check out this recent recording by two of the group’s musicians, talented drummer, Jim Hamilton, and guitarist extraordinaire, Tim Motzer. Here they are, recorded in the spring of 2013, improvising the composition As Real As Life.

I listened to Global Illage non-stop every night for 23 days doing the final re-write of Beyond the Will of God. It went from 450 pages down to 350. Sex, drugs, (metaphysics), and rock ’n’ roll all wrapped up in a murder mystery.

Along with his novel Beyond the Will of God, David Biddle has published two collections of short stories: Trying to Care (2011) and Implosions of America (2012). He has been writing professionally for over 30 years, publishing articles and essays in the likes of Harvard Business Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, In Business, Huffington Post, Kotori Magazine, and BioCycle. He writes the ‘Talking Indie’ column at the online magazine Talking Writing. You can track him down at http://davidbiddle.net. Tweet to him as @dcbiddle

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Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll – David Biddle

for logoMusic, dead rock gods, psychedelia consciousnesses and the CIA – this novel definitely had to feature on the Undercover Soundtrack. Its title came from a Jimi Hendrix song, and germinated when the writer was just 17 years old. It took him another 15 years to write, though, when an Elvis track kicked his imagination and gave him a vivid scene set in a bar in rural Missouri. The novel is Beyond the Will of God, the writer is Talking Writing columnist David Biddle, and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Brendan Gisby

‘My stories replay the soundtrack of my life’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is McStorytellers founder, biographer and novelist Brendan Gisby @twistedfoot

Soundtrack by John McCormack, Robert White, Bridie Gallagher, Julie Driscoll, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Irving Berlin, Vivaldi, Frank Sinatra

It came as a revelation to me.  ‘Do you use music in your writing process?’ asked Roz Morris.  I didn’t know.  I would have to check.  I had written a handful of novels and biographies, together with some short stories – well, a mountain of stories, actually.  It was amongst the latter that I began my investigations.

It didn’t take me long to partly answer Roz’s question.  Yes, I do use music in my writing.  Every other story I examined included some sort of musical reference.  But what were the references doing there?  Crucially, did they actually help in the process of writing the stories?  I needed to look more closely at a few examples.

A young couple’s love

In one of my earliest stories called The Legend, the octogenarian Kate (my great-grandmother) recalls the times when she and her now long-dead husband, Dan, would sing songs to each other, he singing I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen and she Danny Boy.  Now, I admit I had no idea whether Kate and Dan, who were both of Irish extraction, ever sang those particular songs, but I do know I had chosen them – two of the finest, most moving Irish ballads ever written – as a way to reinforce the tenderness of the young couple’s love.

Then there’s Up The Indians!, a story about my Irish-born mother’s lifelong love for the underdog.  At one point in the story, I compare her actions with those of young Peter O’Loughlin, a character from The Mountains of Mourne, another beautiful Irish ballad, this time, appropriately enough, about émigrés.  You see, both Peter and Mum were able to stop the whole street with a wave of their hands, as Mum did one memorable day in the centre of Edinburgh.

Morris

Next stop is The Boxer.  It’s the summer of 1969, and ruthless bully Johnny Morris (he’s definitely no relation, Roz) is driving in his brand new Daimler Saloon.  He’s due to marry the boss’s daughter in two days time, but right now he’s lusting after a waitress called Julie and he’s humming the tune of the latest hit by another Julie – This Wheel’s on Fire, sung by Julie Driscoll.  The chorus from that song is then quoted, I’m sure, to emphasise both the thrust of the car’s V8 engine and the burning ambition of its driver.

Fast-forward to the winter of 1970 and The Ballad of Billy G.  On the night 19-year-old Billy dies from an overdose of heroin, the narrator imagines what music is blasting from Billy’s stereo: ‘Some satanic licks from Hendrix, maybe.  Or Joplin rasping out Summertime.’  Musical references to define a culture, then.

Ella

There are other references that help define a mood.  Such as when cheery Bill, the silver-haired Lothario in The Race, whistles along to Ella Fitzgerald as she sings Cheek to Cheek.  Or when the lovelorn Eugenio in The Exile wanders through a deserted Venice on New Year’s morning, hearing the strains of Vivaldi’s Winter swooping over him.

And there’s one final reference that perhaps defines an era, rather than a mood.  It’s found in The Bookie’s Runner, my tribute to my late father: ‘He’s dressed like Frank Sinatra, like a member of the Rat Pack.  He’s the bookie’s runner with the lopsided grin, but he’s destined to lose.’

So I was able to answer Roz in full.  Yes, I do use music in my writing process – either to reinforce the thoughts or deeds of a character, or to help define a mood, a time, even an era.

As I said at the beginning, the answer was a revelation to me.  But it shouldn’t have been.  By placing those musical references throughout my work, I’ve been replaying the soundtrack of my life.  I grew up in the 1950s to the sound of those beautiful Irish ballads sung by wonderful Irish tenors like Count John McCormack. I was a schoolboy when Frank Sinatra and others in the Rat Pack dominated popular music in the 1960s. Later that decade, I was another teenager enthralled by a young Bob Dylan. Later still, I was immersed in the drug-fuelled blues of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many others.  Then gradually, grudgingly, I embraced the world of classical music.  And Ella Fitzgerald?  Man, who could ever forget the voice of an angel?

 Brendan Gisby was born in Edinburgh halfway through the 20th century and brought up just along the road in South Queensferry (the Ferry) in the shadow of the world-famous Forth Bridge.  Retiring from a business career in 2007, Brendan has devoted himself to writing.  To date, he has published three novels, three biographies and several short story collections. Brendan is also the founder of McStorytellers, a website that showcases the work of Scottish-connected short story writers.  His own website is  Blazes Boylan’s Book Bazaar.  You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @twistedfoot

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew Blackman

‘George Winston’s dreamy piano had to go’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning literary fiction writer Andrew Blackman @BlackmanAndrew

Soundtrack by The Velvet Underground, Reef, Jimi Hendrix, burningpilot, Supergrass, Alien Ant Farm, Bob Dylan, Stereophonics, Pink Floyd

It was 1st November 2007, and I’d set myself a ridiculous challenge. By the end of the month, I would have written a novel, from start to finish. It would be a road novel for 21st-century Britain, a forlorn but determined attempt to live authentically and spontaneously in a highly controlled society. As I stared at the blank screen, planning things out and calculating just how many thousands of words I would need to write each day, I came to an important realisation.

Before I could begin typing, I would need new music.

Before then, you see, I’d been a devotee of calm, soothing, contemplative music. I’d always started my writing day by lighting an incense stick and playing George Winston. Beautiful, aren’t they, those dreamy piano notes? A perfect soundtrack for a morning spent gazing at swirling incense smoke and waiting for inspiration. Unfortunately, not a good way to get a novel written in a month, certainly not a novel of frustrated youth raging against the stunted future mapped out for them. Poor George would have to go.

Enter The Velvet Underground and Heroin. Yes, I know, it starts out slow, but just listen to it ramp up around 1:20, and again at 2:22, and a few more times until, 6 minutes in, you can almost feel the spike in your vein. Suddenly some words appeared on the page:

I first met Neil not long after my father died.

Not much, but it was a start, and soon I was describing Neil, and the words started to flow, and I followed it up with Reef and Jimi Hendrix and burningpilot and Supergrass and I saw my characters, Jack and Neil, rampaging up and down the Holloway Road on a cold November night. I kept writing as they ran the life of drinking and parties swiftly to its conclusion, and after a week or so I was already five chapters in, and Jack and Neil had ditched London and made it to John O’Groats and were paddling in the freezing North Sea at three in the morning to the accompaniment of the suitably weird Alien Ant Farm.

By this time a change was called for, both for me and my characters. The frenetic pace couldn’t last. I took to walking a few miles every morning, and completed the bulk of the book sitting in a now-defunct north London cafe all afternoon for a couple of weeks with the likes of Bob Dylan and Stereophonics on my iPod. The quieter mood suited my characters, who were getting worn down by their quest but kept going anyway, taking one more step, visiting one more town, drinking, like me and Dylan, just one more cup of coffee. They went forward not with the hopeful enthusiasm of earlier; they went forward simply because they couldn’t go back.

For the ending I wanted something quiet and poignant, almost an anti-ending after all the noise and fury of earlier on. It was 30th November and I was tired, and so were Jack and Neil, and the three of us gritted our teeth and limped to the finish line with the dying chords of Wish You Were Here reverberating in our ears.

I took a week or two off from writing, printed off my manuscript and was amazed to discover it was ten times better than the novel I’d spent years working on before that. It would go on to win an award for unpublished writers, netting me £2,500 and a publishing deal, and my life would change.

Of course, that was still in the future. Before all that happened, I still had to edit the novel. That’s where George Winston and the trusty old incense stick came in handy again.

Andrew Blackman is the author of the novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009), which won the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. His next novel, A Virtual Love, deals with identity in the age of social networking, and is out in spring 2013. He’s a former Wall Street Journal staff writer, now converted to fiction. More information available at his website, or you can connect with him via Twitter.

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