Posts Tagged James Taylor

The Undercover Soundtrack – Tim McDonald

for logoThe Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 my guest is singer-songwriter Tim McDonald

Soundtrack by Player, Al Stewart, Kansas, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Carole King, Karla Bonoff, Tim McDonald, Broken Poets, Stephen Bishop

I use to love cheesy pop music when I was a kid. The kind of songs that make you cringe when you get older. Until a close friend of mine died and my taste in everything changed. Music’s what saved me, though. Even the pop stuff, eventually.

The Undercover Soundtrack, Tim McDonaldFor the Death of Dustin Essary: a music novel is a tribute to my childhood best friend, whose unfortunate death from cancer at the age of 13 is what would lead me to over 30 years of songwriting. And some songs I wrote got me started on the book, but it was the music from my past that would help me finish it.

My story covers the six-month period leading up to Dustin’s death in 1978. Those last immortal days we might have enjoyed more had we known better. The hard part was trying to remember it all. Which is where my embarrassing nostalgia for 70s soft rock comes in. Sorry, but in order to find my way back I had to admit it. I was never one of the cool kids.

Case in point, one of my old favorites at age 13, Player’s Baby Come Back. Yes, this ridiculous dreamy pop rock ballad (a song my adult ego still denies it ever heard before) is what served as a portal back to those simple childhood moments. The lyrics for this song helped me to remember a frustrated crush I had around that time also. Or I’d listen to Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat on auto repeat and be sure to find some more lost scenes.

(I’m not ashamed of this one, though, it’s just a beautiful song)

I found it best to narrate the story from the perspective of just a few years after Dustin died, since looking back from my adult high-horse wasn’t very interesting. But these songs, and many more like it, not only brought back the time and place, but helped to reanimate that well-meaning, naïve, 13-year-old self I used to be.

I look back on a lot of these future classics at the end of part one, recalling a day of radio airplay in 1977.

Back then it was On And On into Night Moves and One Is the Loneliest Number and Baker Street

It was obvious I had to revisit those days, musically or otherwise, in order to write this story. But how my own music would bring me to write the book in the first place is a bit of a mystery. The origin of which came from the music that first influenced me to become a songwriter.

Music as a refuge

After Dustin died the light pop stuff just didn’t make sense any more. I’d walk around the old neighborhood alone for hours, singing that amazing new rock song I heard by Kansas Carry on Wayward Son (jump to 1:05 for the amazing part)

Because everything the guy was singing was exactly how I was feeling…

But besides my new obsession with prog-rock at the time, all the great songwriters from that era just spoke to me after that. Like Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes and James Tylor’s Fire and Rain sounded different all of a sudden. And songs I hadn’t paid much attention to before, like Carole King’s, You’ve got a Friend and Karla Bonoff’s Home called out to me also.

So these songs became my new best friends in a way.

And then my sister gave me her old acoustic guitar and I’ve been writing my own music ever since. Here’s a live performance of one of my songs from the book So Be It.

The Undercover Soundtrack Tim McDonald 2

A music novel

So then cut to five years ago when a group of songs came to me unexpectedly, one of which was about Dustin. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about him in years, but that’s when it struck me that my whole musical journey had started over 30 years before as a direct response to his death. So I started the book as a memoir at first, with the idea to include my music somehow.

But when I struggled to remember some dreams Dustin shared with me, the other songs in the group seemed to be waiting there to use for Dustin’s dream content. There was one song about a scientist, the second about a psychic, and another about a spiritual leader. The whole thing was strange how it came together, but it’s what gave me the idea to embed my music as a part of the story and to call it a music novel. Here’s a live version of me performing one of Dustin’s dream songs The Clairvoyant.

There are eight songs in the book all together, and for each song you come to in the story you can play, and or, download as you read along with the lyrics, which I hope will lead you poetically and sonically back to the next part of the story. For this reason the book is only available through my membership website.

BOOK COVER WIDE MASTERAnd besides the songs that became Dustin’s dreams for the book, there were more songs I had written through the years that seem to retrofit perfectly into the storyline as well. Here’s a live version of the opening song To Dream of Another Life. And this song Idle Thought with my band Broken Poets, worked to help describe a daydream I have in part IV.

Looking back, it’s hard not to imagine some mysterious redeeming force behind it all. Maybe to help us grow at certain points. A force strong enough to bring back our childhood, or save us if we need it, or remind us how we got here to start anew.

Tim McDonald is the author of For the Death of Dustin Essary: a music novel. The first chapter is free as an excerpt, including the first three songs. You can find Tim’s complete music catalogue and more of his writing available at His music is also available through iTunes and Pandora. Tim is the founder, songwriter, singer and guitarist for the modern indie rock band Broken Poets. Find him on Facebook.


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The Undercover Soundtrack – Fanny Blake

‘Musical taste says so much about someone’

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 journalist and contemporary women’s fiction author Fanny Blake @FannyBlake1

Soundtrack by James Taylor, Johannes Brahms, Eric Clapton, Johann Pachelbel, Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland

I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. If I did, I’d lose my focus on the words and spin off into whatever I was listening to. However I do use music in my novels as an indicator of character or to set a mood. When I’m thinking about a particular scene or someone’s state of mind, then I spend ages (too long, probably) listening to different tracks, or trawling through Youtube, to check that the pieces I choose are the right fit. Sometimes I play them very softly in the background, because they can transport me into the scene I’m writing, but never loud enough to distract me, and not for long.

A record collection speaks volumes about a man

Musical taste says so much about someone, as Bea, the central character in What Women Want realises when she hears strains of James Taylor coming from the record player in the holiday cottage where she’s been brought for a weekend. She enters the room to see several LPs that she recognises at a glance strewn on the rag rug: Dory Previn, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Country Joe, The Byrds and of course Bob Dylan. ‘A record collection speaks volumes about a man, she thought.’  The fact that her new lover has hung on to his vinyl tells us something, but so does his choice of music. He’s a man of a certain vintage who enjoys musical nostalgia, and maybe his taste hasn’t moved on much. Bea immediately recognises that they share a similar musical history, giving them that little extra in common. She feels at home.

In my new novel, Women of a Dangerous Age, the two central characters Ali and Lou have quite different soundtracks to their lives. Lou, a woman in her 50s, has left her husband and is starting a new life on her own. Her passion is for vintage clothes, and she plans to set up a high-end vintage clothing shop called Puttin’ on the Ritz. At work, she listens to the songs I remember so well from the old movies my family used to watch on TV. She gave me the perfect excuse to revisit on Youtube the fabulous song ‘n’ dance numbers of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or, when she walks home with her ex having had a glass or two too many, of Fred with Judy Garland.

Secret passion for cheese

When her lover takes her to a concert at the Festival Hall to hear Brahms’ Symphony Number 2 in D, Lou is too embarrassed to admit she is ‘a self-confessed unreconstructed schlock chick. Cheesy pop and songs from the shows were more her thing but there was no way she’d confess her secret shame to Sanjeev.’ Instead, when alone in the car, she sings loudly and out of tune to Billy Joel and Dire Straits, and nurses a private passion for one of the band members of Take That. When she receives some shattering personal news, she soldiers through an evening with her children before arriving home and turning to Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven to accompany her misery and a good cry. Ah, the cheap emotionalism of music. Lou’s a woman after my own heart.

However, Ali is cut from another cloth. She is of a classical bent. When her lover is clearly distracted, she chooses one of the  ‘most soothing pieces of music she knew’ – Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. She’s a goldsmith who shares a studio with a silversmith. They listen to Radio 3  in the background all day long. She befriends Lou when they’re on holiday in India. Lou invites her to design some jewellery for her shop and before long Ali is helping her in it. When Lou arrives one afternoon, she finds Ali reading a paperback ‘with something classical at full throttle in the background’. Lou’s immediate reaction is to change the CD for Ella Fitzgerald singing All Through the Night, after all it was ‘her shop, so her mood, and this was definitely more the thing’. Although Ali’s lifestyle is perhaps more unconventional than Lou’s, her taste in music is not and I hope that gives a better indication to the quality of her interior life.

I find that using music in my novels is a way of adding an extra dimension to my characters, and one that can often act as a useful shorthand for the reader.

Novelist and journalist Fanny Blake is also the Books Editor of Woman & Home. Her career has spanned almost every aspect of writing. She was a publisher for many years before becoming an author.  She has written best-selling non-fiction, ghost-written several celebrity autobiographies and has written two novels, What Women Want and now, Women of a Dangerous Age which was published last week by Blue Door. She lives at home with her husband, a novelist, an ancient cat that’s young in spirit, and however many of their three sons happen to be at home at the time. She goes to the theatre more than is good for her bank account, loves long country walks and chocolate. Find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @FannyBlake1

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