Tag Archives: lung leg


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

From the Vault: Lung Leg

One of my Christmas presents to myself was the acquisition of a new USB turntable. I haven’t had a record player in several years, and I missed it terribly. Yes, I am one of those snobs who thinks vinyl sounds better than other formats. I have no problem listening to CDs or MP3s, but every now and again, I enjoy hearing music played in this format. I don’t think it’s old fashioned so much as decadent, an indulgent treat like sipping a 12-year-old scotch.

Other than aesthetics and my own pretentiousness, the reason I wanted a record player again was to hear some stuff that I only have on vinyl and which has never been released in other formats. So within minutes of popping it out of the box and setting it up, the very first thing I listened to was “Krayola,” Lung Leg’s portion of a split 7″ from 1998. I remembered adoring this song, and the passage of time didn’t diminish that love at all.

Lung Leg–a quartet of Scottish lasses–made their only American tour around this time as the opening act for The Make-Up. It must have been the only Make-Up tours I didn’t see, because I definitely never saw Lung Leg, and I have a uselessly encyclopedic memory for Bands I Saw and What Bands Opened For Them. I used to catch the Make-Up live at every conceivable opportunity, both because they were an amazing live band and to atone for being to young to ever see Nation of Ulysses live. I also purchased all of their singles, of which there were roughly eight billion (all later collected on I Want Some).

The two bands collaborated on a split 7″ around the time of their tour together. The Make-Up’s side (“Pow to the People”) was quality, of course, but the Lung Leg portion blew me away. The driving beat and insistent guitars, contrasted with vocals that are almost whispered, the killer fadeout that leaves you wanting more…perfect in every way.

Since I loved this song so much, I went out and bought the only other Lung Leg release available at the time, Hello Sir, a collection of two early EPs. I was profoundly disappointed, because it was nothing like “Krayola” in style or substance. It sounded somewhere equidistant from Beat Happening and Shonen Knife. At the time, I found it angular, silly, and amateurish. After one listen, I tucked it away in my record collection, where it stayed untouched for well over a decade.

Listening to that compilation again after all these years, my opinion has softened considerably. The songs are quite enjoyable for what they are; I was mostly mad because of what I expected them to be. I also recently acquired Lung Leg’s only LP, Maid to Minx, and found it eminently listenable. The production is considerably better than that of the EPs, and there are a few glimpses of what I liked so much about “Krayola,” particularly the title track.

Nothing quite measured up to “Krayola,” however, which I suppose is ultimately unfair. If you can manage one masterpiece, that’s one more than most us get in our lifetimes.

Note: I suspect this version I’ve digitized may be running a tiny bit fast. So, you know, caveat emptor and all that.

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Download “Krayola” here