Tag Archives: johnny thunders


I think I’ve mentioned this before, but writing a novel is kind of hard. One the main reasons it is so hard is the time needed to complete it, time that can be spent in so many ways that don’t involve sitting at home by yourself in front of the computer screen. Not to mention that simply being at a computer screen offers so many distractions. I’m constantly worried that I’m “missing” something on Twitter; breaking news about the Mets, perhaps, which I am semi-professionally obligated to keep on top of, or perhaps a hilarious meme that cries out for my contributions.

One of the biggest enemies of novel writing is lack of focus, be it internet enabled or just the wandering of mind that tends to happen when you have to do one thing and one thing only. My biggest problem is I’m a multitasker by nature. I find it extremely difficult to work on one single thing when I have ideas for a dozen others, all of them vying for headspace. When it comes to shorter nonfiction stuff, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with working on more than one project simultaneously. But that method is deadly for fiction writing in general and novel writing in particular.

Colson Whitehead (whose novels The Intuitionist and John Henry Days are in my own person canon) wrote a great piece about this a few years back for the Times, “What To Write Next.” The intent was humorous, but even more so than the jokes, what struck me about the piece was its subtext: The writer’s fear that you’re toiling away on one thing when you can and should be working on something else, an impulse that can prevent you from doing anything at all.

An excellent way to combat this lack of focus is through music. I’m far from the first person to point this out, but I feel compelled to share my thoughts anyway, as I owe a debt to all the music I listened to while writing this book. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without clasping headphones to my dome and letting music push the outside world away for a while.

I found listening to albums (remember those?) helped the most. A complete album–a good one, anyway–immerses you in a universe, which helps you focus your energies and attention for the running time and hopefully beyond. The albums I listened to most often while writing Love and a Short Leash were:

  • Miles Ahead, Miles Davis
  • Double Nickels on the Dime, The Minutemen
  • Mikal Cronin S/T
  • David Comes to Life, Fucked Up
  • Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, Guided By Voices
  • Get Happy!, Elvis Costello
  • Singles 06-07, Jay Reatard
  • The Tyranny of Distance, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  • Melted, Ty Segall
  • Murmur, R.E.M.

In addition to these records, I also got sucked into various boots of Petit Wazoo/Roxy and Elsewhere-era Mothers of Invention shows (1972-1974). I can’t quite explain why; I listened to a ton of Frank Zappa in high school and college, but only rarely since then. This was an addiction I thought I’d conquered. Whatever the reason, my desire to listen to this music again reemerged right when I was finishing up my final draft, and I’m glad it did. I found the funk-and-jazz charged jams of this era of Frank Zappa’s oeuvre to be helpful for this particular stage of my toil.

I found that commercial radio doesn’t help me all that much, with its incessant breaks and complete lack of imagination, but listening to WFMU definitely did. I did most of my work on the weekends, and the Saturday afternoon block of Michael Shelley, Fool’s Paradise with Rex, and especially Terre T’s Cherry Blossom Clinic powered me through many marathon writing sessions.

To honor this debt, I wanted to share a playlist of songs that were often drilled into my ears when writing the novel. Some have particular resonance for reasons related to novel’s plot/subject matter, some are mood setters, and some are just bitchin’ tunes. I’ve arranged them in an order that helps my own process: Get pumped up, settle in, shot of energy, scale back again, repeat. I’m not sure if this will be instructive to anyone or if it really shares anything except a glimpse into my weird headspace. But hey, you get some rad tunes, so shut your noise. Playlist available here, deets after the jump.

Continue reading Soundtracking

Inappropriate Walk Up Music: 04.05.09, The Last Waltz

santo-shea.jpgFor previous Inappropriate Walk Up Music posts, click here.

This is it, folks. Today is Opening Night–an abomination in the eyes of God, if you ask me (and God). I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to most baseball matters, but the first game of the year should take place in the daytime, dammit. It should be a horrible, rainy afternoon where you can’t feel your toes and you wonder why you gave up a whole day’s pay to drink overpriced watered down Bud Lite while watching it.

In any case, that makes this the final edition of Inappropriate Walk Up Music. Shed a tear, if the mood moves you. Do I have some enormous climax for you to mark this momentous, bittersweet end?

Um, no. Just three more songs. Sorry.

But I will have a full list of all of the Inappropriate Walk Up Songs tomorrow, listed in alphabetical order by artist. Why that way? Because that’s how I’ve always organized my albums, even when I was a kid. How else would you do it, you maniacs?!

Without further ado, the end.

* “Bicycle Race”, Queen
The Wife spun this tune on the House Stereo yesterday, after hearing it on a classic rock station. I know I’ve heard this song many times before, but the true weirdness of it never really struck me before. Wow, this is bizarre–even when judged against the scale of Queen’s other mock-operatic work.

I also considered “Body Language”, which is just as weird and a much worse song. But “Body Language” doesn’t have a video in which tons of naked people ride bikes.

* “Fingertips”, They Might Be Giants
I may be cheating here, because this isn’t one song per se. It’s 21 separate minitracks on Apollo 18. A couple of them break the 20 second mark, and one is over a minute, but most range between 5 and 12 seconds. Apparently, TMBG wanted you to employ the shuffle function on your CD player, so the listener would hear lots of tiny non sequiturs in between the “real” songs. But I loved to listen to “Fingertips” as one long miniature opera of weirdness. And I have a feeling most people who bought the album listened to it in the same way. And this is my stupid feature anyway. So screw it, it’s one song.

I remember listening to “Fingertips” repeatedly, at the expense of the rest of the album. Some tracks cracked me up so much that I had to hear them over and over, so I made sure I was near the CD player so I could hit the back button and not have one mini-song polluted by the sound of another (I think I’ve mentioned I’m a dork, right?).

A lot of the goofier TMBG material falls into the “I was 13 and a dork when I loved this” category, but think this holds up well. What’s great about it is that each mini-song sounds like an excerpt of a longer tune, yet you can’t imagine them being any longer. “What’s That Blue Thing Doing Here” still makes me laugh (and those are all the lyrics, right there). And “I Walk Along Darkened Corridors” is probably the best song Morrissey never wrote.

* “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”, Johnny Thunders
Good way to close out this list: Wistful and hopeless. Kinda like Johnny Thunders. Peep this video for a rare clip of Johnny singing in tune and remembering all the lyrics.