Tag Archives: life detecting coffins

Soundtracking

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

The Past of the Future!

I recently wrote a post about my days in a band, one that focused on the unfortunate aspects of the experience. However, those days were not all bad. In fact, they were almost all great, some of the greatest times of pure, stupid joy I’ve ever had. Rare are the moments that I am able to shut off my brain and just have fun, and many of them happened when I was in this band, or rocking out to friends’ bands, or just hanging out with them and being colossally dumb.

That’s why I’m pleased that someone has seen fit to chronicle this scene on its own Facebook page, Save the OCNY Music (OCNY = Orange County, New York). If you were around there/then, it has lots of photos from the time (some of me, like this bizarre picture of yours truly in a West Point cadet’s jacket; you’ve been warned) and some music clips that will cause a Proustian rush of memories. If none of this is familiar to you, you may still enjoy checking it out. I know I always like to see photos of a scene gone by, something made by and for kids that they loved madly.

You can also check out an ever expanding archive of music from said bands right here. My band’s first demo can be found there, as can the first demo from Life Detecting Coffins, which I cannot recommend too highly.

I am very happy someone is saving this stuff for posterity. Enjoy.

Tunes of Righteousness: Life Detecting Coffins

ldc.jpgLast week, whilst traveling home from work, my iPod conspired to play a song by Life Detecting Coffins, “The Whores of Tel Aviv”. It’s a tune about religious hypocrisy (a subject that’s been on my mind lately, though I’m not quite sure why) that still blows my mind every time I hear it. I am not a fan of metal, and LDC were not a metal band by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a song that makes me think that I might like metal.

Then I hear some actual metal and realize, nope, still hate this stuff. Not so much the music as all the other dumb stuff that goes along with it (album covers of demons and dragons, for one thing). Not to mention the dumb people who tend to like it. Sorry, dumb people.

I got so excited about hearing this song out of nowhere that I fired off, like, 12 tweets about how awesome it was, and how it blew everything else ever recorded out of the water. That prompted several response tweets along the lines of, “fine, I believe you that they rock, just shut up about it!” and “if you love this song so much, why don’t you marry it?” That would be impossible, of course, because I’m already married, and because it’s illegal to marry a song (especially in Maine).

I wrote about LDC a while back, and I don’t have much to add to that appreciation. I’d like to repeat that, even though I knew all the guys in the band well, they are definitely a group I’d have loved regardless of whether I knew them or not. However, in my first LDC post I didn’t include any representative examples, for reasons that escape me. I’d like to correct that error now.

Their (sadly) sole album, Catatonic Begat Napoleonic, has as its core a brutal 1-2 punch of “Whores” and “Wolf Boys,” which melt into each other perfectly, even though they are two very different songs.  I have a particularly strong memory of going over the Pulaski Bridge at sunset as an instrumental demo of this song played through my car stereo (courtesy of a member of the band), and feeling absolutely destroyed by its beauty.

This is a wonderful demonstration of how a good album was put together back in the pre-iPod days, way back yonder, six years ago. I’ve assembled them here, as they were meant to be heard, for your listening pleasure.

And for good measure, here’s another excellent LDC tune, “MIsery Smells Like Hairspray,” a title I loved so much I appropriated it for the title of an as-yet unpublished short story that continues to languish on my hard drive. The guitar solo kills me; some of the best shredding Greg Ginn never did.

If’n you want to download the tunes for your own personal enjoyment:

Life Detecting Coffins, “The Whores of Tel Aviv”

Life Detecting Coffins, “Wolf Boys”

Life Detecting Coffins, “Misery Smells Like Hairspray”

Rising from the Dead

A few nights ago, I got a chance to listen to music. Just sit and listen and to music, not doing anything else. If that doesn’t sound remarkable to you, I assume you don’t have the disease I have which forces me to do twelve things at once. You also must not have a 2-year-old stomping around your house. Kids prevent you from doing the darnedest things!

It was a weirdly liberating experience, because I was able to reacquaint myself with music I’d almost forgotten I loved. One track really popped out for me, and made the hair on my neck stand up (which is, sadly, the only hair near my head): “Wolf Boys” by Life Detecting Coffins. That song completely destroys me every time I hear it.

Their album Catatonic Begat Napoleonic is so unbelievable…I won’t even attempt to describe it. I can’t think of any meaningful comparisons that won’t dilute what I mean. I have this very short list of albums that create this atmosphere, this self-contained universe that, when I’m listening to them, I don’t want to leave. Catatonic Begat Napoleonic is one of those albums.*

* Also on that list (though not limited to the following):

Miles Ahead, Miles Davis
Get Happy and Trust, Elvis Costello (I love all of the early albums, but these two kill me; I think because Elvis was so worn out and pained when he wrote them)
Double Nickels on the Dime, The Minutemen
Black Star, Mos Def and Talib Kweli

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I know the guys in the band. I guess you could say I grew up with some of them (depending on your definition of “grew up”, and if I have, in fact, grown up). But I think I’d feel the same way even if I didn’t know them from Adam. Believe me, if had friends who were in a band that sucked, I’d have no problem politely ignoring their artistic endeavors.*

*Although, if I think about it, I’ve known tons of people who played in bands, and very very extremely very few of those bands were bad. I don’t think it’s because I cut those bands slack–I think I just lucked out. Or I have high standards in friends.

I’m genuinely baffled as to why LDC didn’t become The New Hotness at some point. Not that they should be selling out stadiums and playing on The Tonight Show. But they used to play a lot of shows with spiritually similar bands who were much more popular–Off Minor most often, since Kevin played bass in both bands.

I thought for sure that this exposure would earn them a much deserved wider audience. And yet, they never blew up the way I thought they would. It was especially annoying to watch a crowd politely applaud them, then go nuts for some other band with a fraction of the creativity.*

*Not referring to Off Minor, who I genuinely like. But I saw LDC play with a ton of blah, ordinary hardcore bands that people went nuts for. It was intensely frustrating for me just to watch; I can’t imagine what it was like for them to live.

I don’t think LDC is broken up per se, but its members are not in close geographic proximity to one another anymore. So I fear they may be defunct, for all intents and purposes. But do yourself a favor: point yourself to their MySpace page and give “The Island Song” a spin. If you like what you hear, get Catatonic Begat Napoleonic. I promise good things.