Posts Tagged Janis Joplin

The Undercover Soundtrack – Diana Stevan

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 Diana Stevan @DianaStevan

Soundtrack by Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Patsy Cline, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Helen Reddy, Andy Williams, William Warfield, Cat Stevens, Johnny Nash

The Rubber Fence was inspired by my work on a psychiatric ward in 1972 and couldn’t have been written without the songs of that time playing in my head.

Inspired by workplace

I had just graduated with a Master of Social Work in 1972. Dedicated and ambitious, I found myself working on a psych. ward where shock treatment was still taking place. Years later, troubled by what I had seen, I wrote The Rubber Fence.

The Undercover soundtrack Diana Stevan 1My novel is about a psychiatric intern, Dr Joanna Bereza, who finds herself up against a system as stuck as the people it treats. Assigned two patients, Joanna struggles to keep them from getting shock treatment by an arrogant shrink, who happens to be her supervisor. Complicating matters is Sam, one of her fellow interns, who looks like a rock star and is as loose as she is tight. She can’t help but be attracted to him, especially when her relationship with her husband, Michael, is on shaky ground.

Music that speaks of freedom

Because I wanted to immerse myself in the era and recall the emotions that served as the underpinnings of my story, I played 60s and 70s music with lyrics that spoke of freedom, broken ties, and love outside of marriage.

Music that encouraged breaking free served my writing of both the patients’ stories and Joanna’s. The patients in the story are not only trapped in their own misery but also in a system that doesn’t have time nor often the heart for them. Joanna is trapped in a different way. She’s in a crumbling marriage that she doesn’t know how to fix. And she’s working in a system where she has little control.

With Joanna’s unnerving attraction to Sam and the independence he represented, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee came to mind.

The Beatles’ Hey Jude sparked my memory when I wrote a scene that takes place in a city park. It’s where Joanna and her husband see all the hippies on the move across country, having the freedom they both long for.  Now, the lyrics of Hey Jude don’t connect directly to what is going on emotionally for Joanna, but it was the song I heard one of the hippies play when I went to that park in the 70s. It brought back the images of all those young people sitting on the grass.

The girls were braless, the shape of their nipples pushing at the rayon fabric of their tie-dyed T-shirts. Peace sign necklaces, long beads, and broad leather wrist wraps signaled the deeper changes ahead.’

Same for music like Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (also known as Feelin Groovy). Hearing that song set the tone for the pub scene, where Joanna goes to relax with her fellow interns. It was also how she needed to feel after struggling with her patients’ progress.

A woman’s plight

And when Joanna worries about her husband Michael and his fidelity, songs Crazy by Patsy Cline, and If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot helped me find both the mood in those settings and Joanna’s internal monologue. It also helped me discover what Michael might’ve been feeling and from that, I could write his behavior and dialogue.

Torn by all that is happening, Joanna’s lost. The lyrics of Helen Reddy’s I Don’t Know How To Love Him  speak to that confusion. Not surprisingly, Joanna wants to check out. I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver was the perfect song to capture those exit plans and the emotions that drove the arguments leading up to them.

Writing about Joanna’s shattered hopes of a lasting love was also helped by the music from that tragic film Love Story. Where Do I Begin, so beautifully sung by Andy Williams.

The Undercover Soundtrack Diana Stevan 2As you can imagine, traveling the ups and downs of a relationship with your protagonist, accompanied by music that tugs on the heartstrings, makes for a few tears at the computer.

And for one of Joanna’s patients, Theresa, a young woman, who stopped talking after the birth of her baby, the tune and lyrics of Old Man River, sung by William Warfield, popped into my head when I wrote a group therapy scene. In it, Sam plays the guitar and sings this old lament. Some of the patients join in, but Theresa doesn’t. The significance of the music’s lyrics finds its way into Joanna’s thoughts.

Had Sam consciously chosen this song—one that seemed to speak to Theresa’s condition—or was it one of those synchronous things that happens in life?”

Writing in hope

For the scenes where Joanna begins to see some possibility for change, I used Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens and I Can See Clearly Now The, The Rain Has Gone  by Johnny Nash. These classic hits underlined for me Joanna’s hope for some kind of resolution, for a rainbow promising a better future.

Rubber Fence ebook coverHelen Reddy’s feminist anthem I Am Woman  gave me the spark to write the scenes where Joanna takes on the head shrink and the medical establishment (all male) over its indiscriminate use of shock treatment.

As I write this, I’m struck by the power of music to soothe, stir up feelings and generate thought. Thank you, Roz, for suggesting I write this post. Music unleashes that inner world, not only of a writer’s characters, but of the writer herself. And what better way to touch a reader than to expose that underbelly.

Diana Stevan has worked as a clinical social worker, model, professional actress and writer-broadcaster for CBC Television’s Sports Journal in Vancouver, Canada. In later years, she wrote three screenplays, two novels—A Cry From The Deep, a romantic adventure, and The Rubber Fence, psychological fiction—a  novelette, The Blue Nightgown—short stories, poetry, a stage play and some children’s books. She’s published articles in newspapers and poetry in a UK journal. She is currently working on her grandmother’s story, set in Russia during World War I. Diana lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia with her husband, Robert. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @DianaStevan

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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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