Posts Tagged Lynyrd Skynyrd

The Undercover Soundtrack: Sarah Yaw

for logo‘Music as a space to make sense of life’

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 award-winning author Sarah Yaw @SarahYawWrites

Soundtrack by Alexis Zoumbas, Lou Reed, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

If you’ve ever spent time with kids, you know that they play out whatever event has dominated their recent life. They need the space to do this, to find peace after a new experience. This is how they register and assign meaning to the things they encounter. This is how they create the map of what they know and how they learn to respond to new events in more sophisticated ways. They have context and reference for what occurs. And when life throws them a curve, they play it out and add that curve to their map. In the event of a, b and c, d can also occur. It soothes them. Life becomes known and thus less threatening. Watching my children play recently, I thought how stories and music do this for me. They give me a place to work through experiences so that I can make sense of my own life. Stories and music, in other words, are my play.

YawGet to the heart

In the mountains of northern Greece, there is a religious festival held each year. People attend the festival to cleanse themselves of mourning and rejoice in the fact that they are still alive. This is literal. The person seeking healing will sit in the middle of the sound. The music is played at them. It’s a vibrational experience as well as a melodic one, they say. The music, its vibrations and its intensity, can get into places that words can’t. It helps wash the person free of sadness and loss. Then the music shifts to joy. It becomes a celebration of the life that remains. Follow this link and scroll down to listen to Alexis Zoumbas play Epirotiko Mirologi and you’ll understand how this music gets to the heart.

When I was a very little girl, it was my habit to fall asleep in rehearsal spaces listening to my father play music. He toured the world with Lou Reed, Don Cherry, and his own band The Everyman Band, among others. Here he is playing bass on Lou Reed’s 1975 Coney Island Baby. My parents divorced soon after this. I had no words then to work out my grief; I was too young for the kind of play I watched my children doing recently, but I had all that music, and in that way that music can, it got into me, into my places that needed soothing.

Very internal

What I love about music is that it touches everyone who can hear it and while it is an individual experience—the mourner in Greece is on her knees, wiping out something very internal, very personal—all who surround her are connected by the sound and the experience. There was constant live music in both my parents’ homes when I was growing up. Someone was singing or picking up an instrument and filling my space with vibration. When I was old enough, I chose the clarinet and became Woody Herman’s youngest fan (and the world’s biggest dork). The clarinet is a reed instrument. Controlling the vibration to make pleasing sounds was how I spent my youth. I was an only child. Done alone, play was not as fulfilling as music; music was heard by others, shared and, therefore, not lonely. I excelled as a musician because it was my birthright and because it was all I had. I wasn’t a reader. I rehearsed music for hours on end. It cleaned out my head. It calmed me. I went to it the way a swimmer goes to water, the way a yogi is called to asana, the way a runner seeks a path. Then, I developed tendonitis; I couldn’t play.

In college, the instructor of my women writers course said: ‘You can take an exam or you can write in the voice of one of the authors we read this semester’. It was the word ‘voice’ that caught my ear. Voice is musical. I may not have been much of a reader or have been all that good at spelling and punctuation, but I understood sound. So I wrote what I heard and this relief came over me. There was all this blocked up teenage, young-adult stuff that had built up since losing music—my sense of belonging, my value, was I lovable? —that I hadn’t been able to move and it started to move and I had once again found the relief of music. And this idea of voice was why. The sound of words, rhythm, dynamic, all of this mimicked the irresistible tension and release of music. The narrative gave me a place where I could explore paths, work through what it meant to be me.

Silence

In You Are Free To Go, my first novel, I wrote about a prison. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d chosen to write about a musicless place. Right before I started writing the book, my marriage to a musician had ended and so did the music. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by silence. I wrote about a prisoner who was mourning the loss of his friend; I wrote about a town where people wall themselves off from one another; I wrote a narrative with one moment of music: The characters are in a bar, coming together, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird is playing. What else? I can’t know the deep forces that drive us to our subjects, but still I have never been alone like I was when I began writing this book, nor as sad.

YouAreFreetoGo-webA friend of mine recently organised the first musical performance in decades in the prison that inspired You Are Free To Go. At the end, a prisoner thanked the performers and said, ‘I haven’t heard live music in twenty-eight years’. My friend, who had just read how the Nazis brought the prisoners their instruments each day so they could perform for each other, said: ‘I think we can do a little better than the Nazis’.

In You Are Free To Go, a condemned man’s death affects countless lives at all strata of society. Yet, none of the story’s characters, in the prison or outside the walls, are given the relief that music could provide to help connect them to each other, soothe their grief, and help them contemplate the ubiquitous desire to understand how we belong in a world that is fundamentally unknowable. And in retrospect, that makes sense. Writing this story, the music was gone from my life when I needed it most. What I had was this book, the joy of writing it, so I used it to make sense of all that silence around me.

Sarah Yaw’s novel (Engine Books, 2014) was selected by Robin Black as the winner of the 2013 Engine Books Novel Prize; her short work has appeared in Salt Hill. Sarah received an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and is an assistant professor at Cayuga Community College. She fell asleep in rehearsal spaces listening to the music of Lou Reed, Don Cherry, and the Everyman Band. She lives in Central New York. Her website is here and you can find her on Twitter @SarahYawWrites

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments

The Undercover Soundtrack – Mary Vensel White

‘These songs infused my writing with the feelings of freedom Vivian experienced on that vivid night’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by contemporary novelist Mary Vensel White @mvw888

Soundtrack by Deep Forest with Enigma, Steve Miller Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Indigo Girls

At the time I began work on The Qualities of Wood, I had just moved to Chicago. I was entranced and completely inspired by the big city— the smells, the sights, the sounds. On a warm day, everyone flocked to the public parks, those small parcels of grass and trees amidst the steel buildings and concrete. I began to wonder why we’re drawn to natural settings, and my character Vivian’s journey from city to country began with this thought. The sounds around us can be a type of music, an enveloping aspect of our setting. Whenever I begin to write something, the atmosphere is always important and music plays a big part.   The background music of the city: the rush of wind, cars braking and starting again, a lone saxophone, water rippling, voices everywhere, rising and falling.

An ancient music of sounds and silence

In the novel, Vivian and her husband Nowell have decided to take a break from city life.  They move to his late grandmother’s house in the country to prepare it for sale. The natural environment, the different types of sounds, the music of nature—all becomes a very sensory experience for Vivian. The skies stretch, limitless, and the land flows to the horizon in soft rises. She’s never been able to see that far; her head begins to clear. Childhood rushes back. She can see herself, hear the live things around her. It is a soothing combination of sounds and silence, its own music (Deep Forest – Sweet Lullaby )

In the evenings, Vivian’s energy level peaked again and her sense of hearing sharpened. She heard crickets under the house and outside, the green, thick-veined leaves flapping, one against the other in the breeze. When a small branch snapped and fell, the other branches gently guided its descent.

These rhythms, the almost ancient sound of this music, always made me think about the vastness of nature, and I’d return to this piece whenever I needed to remind myself of Vivian’s impressions of her new surroundings.

In the small town, there has been a death and as Vivian becomes enmeshed in the mystery of what has happened, secrets begin to emerge. Town gossip flourishes; cracks appear in her marriage. Above all, she searches within herself for answers. Late in the novel, Vivian attends a festival. I grew up in a smallish town and every year, we had a ‘Fair and Alfalfa Festival’. These events are very much a part of Americana; anyone who has attended a county fair knows what to expect. Lots of food on sticks, a beer garden with a long line, local rock or country bands. And it seems like the music played is usually a generation behind and always includes certain songs everyone, young and old, knows the lyrics to.

The band played an old favorite, a song about a woman leaving a man. Swaying to the music, Vivian and Lonnie sung the lyrics in wavering, unpolished voices. Colored streaks came out in the evening sky, like water that had soaked through paper.

Vivian has a freeing moment, a loosening of inhibitions cued by the familiar music. I imagine the band in that small American town played songs like these –  Rock n’Me by The Steve Miller Band,  Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

These easy-going tunes with their emphasis on good times and living in the moment are songs that make you want to forget daily responsibilities and remember your youth. Listening to these songs infused my writing with the feelings of freedom Vivian experienced on that vivid night.

The novel, I hope, has an empowering message, as Vivian learns about herself and begins to appreciate her own strength and gifts. I’d like to think the story ends with a folk music feel, with strong female voices and an uplifting melody. The characters leave the stage to a strident guitar and assured singing, rather like Indigo Girls’  Closer to Fine.

Mary Vensel White was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California. She graduated from the University of Denver and completed an MA in English at DePaul University in Chicago. She lives in southern California with her husband and four children. The Qualities of Wood is her first novel and was released on January 31, 2012 by HarperCollins. Find her blog and contact her in a variety of ways through her website and Twitter @mvw888.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers