Tag Archives: xtc


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

Holiday Triumphs: Several Tidings of Great Joy

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

I can not, in good conscience, let my last holiday post be about Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny. So here’s a few of my favorite Christmas-y things to spirit us through the depressingly brief portion that remains of this festive season.

First off, a Yuletide rocker that is quite popular in England but that has never caught on here in the US. It’s “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, a band headed by Roy Wood, formerly of The Move and ELO. It sounds like an outtake from the Phil Spector Christmas Album in the best possible way, very Wall of Sound-y, with Motown-esque beat that shall not be turned away from the inn.

Continue reading Holiday Triumphs: Several Tidings of Great Joy

Holiday Triumphs: Christmas Songs of Righteousness

Just to prove to everyone that I don’t hate every Christmas song in existence. Links for handy download, too (where I had ’em), in case you wanna make yourself a hot holiday mix. And if you wanna DL the whole batch in one fell swoop, click here.

The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)”

Slade, “Merry Xmas Everybody”

The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

Bonus! Ted Leo performing “Fairytale of New York”, live on WFMU, 2007 (with the dirty bits chopped out).

Bonus bonus! For you socialists out there, Billy Bragg performing “Fairytale of New York” live on the BBC.
Continue reading Holiday Triumphs: Christmas Songs of Righteousness

Holy Goddamn! 006: You Can’t Show Me Any Kind of Hell I Don’t Know Already

slater.jpgHoly Goddamn! is back for another action-packed episode. Sorry that this one’s a little later than usual. I’ve tried to adhere to my self-imposed every-other-week schedule, but some unforeseen issues have plagued the Scratchbomb Home Office of late–most of them not good, as chronicled here. As you’ll probably notice, these events, and my attempts to defy them, have greatly affected the song choices (as have my reflection on baseball seasons past and present).

In episode 006, I have a long chat about fantasy baseball with Skip “Wheels” Slater, a frequent Scratchbomb and Holy Goddamn! contributor. You’ll also hear some wise advice from Vin Scully, some more nostalgic sound bites, and a closing tune that’ll make you wanna run out in the street and punch somebody in the face.*

* Please don’t actually run out in the street and punch someone in the face. Unless they deserve it.

And please forgive the inclusion of a song from my old band. It just seemed to fit the flow and theme. I vow not to engage in such reflective narcissism again. Probably.

Holy Goddamn! 006 Setlist:

“Watch me paste…”/Intro
“Have you seen the schedule…”
Les Savy Fav, “The Year Before the Year 2000”, Let’s Stay Friends
Deefhoof, “Scream Team”, The Runners Four
Viva Voce, “Lesson #1”, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
Vin Scully lectures on perspective, spring training, 1988
XTC, “No Language in Our Lungs”, Black Sea
The Pixies, “Down to the Well”, Emerson College radio, 1987
Bill Moss, “Number One”, Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (v/a)
Interview with Skip “Wheels” Slater on fantasy baseball strategy
Elvis Costello, “Hand in Hand”, This Year’s Model
Jay Reatard, “I Know a Place”, Singles 06-07
The Replacements, “I’ll Buy”, Tim
“Someone’s rockin’ my dreamboat…”
Record Ignite!, “Chew You Up”, demo, 1999
“But we were winning!”
Vince Guaraldi, “Rain Rain Go Away”, The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites
Ted Leo, “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up”, Mo’ Livin’ EP

Inappropriate Walk Up Music: 03.24.09

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

Every day until Opening Day, Scratchbomb presents three tunes that are completely, unequivocally inappropriate for use as major league walk-up

These are not necessarily bad songs–although that
certainly helps. They are merely songs that don’t evoke the fear and dread one traditionally associates with the walk-up song. In fact, they evoke the exact opposite.

Imagine yourself in the on-deck circle. Bottom of the 9th. Down by one. Man on second, two out. You hear the PA system blare, The centerfielder, number 20… The crowd roars at the sound of your name. And as you stroll to the batter’s box, you are greeted with the strains of one of these songs:

* “Dust in the Wind”, Kansas
Suggested by Jon from Maplewood over at the Friends of Tom forum. As he put it, “I have always felt that “Dust In the Wind” would be incredibly
unsettling to everyone involved. The diverting effect of sports
temporarily wiped away…all in earshot reminded of the existential
truths about life. Does this next pitch matter? Not really. Ultimately, we will all die.” Batter up!

* “Dude Looks Like a Lady”, Aerosmith
Another FOT shoutout to Steve of Bloomington for this suggestion. In fact, pretty much any Aerosmith tune mid-80s onward works for our purposes. They all contain extremely high levels of suck. But this tune has some extra levels of inappropriateness to it that should be fairly obvious. It’s one of those songs whose mere existence amazes me, never mind that it was a huge hit.

Speaking of which, seen Steven Tyler lately? Good god, he looks like Joan Rivers. Dress as Latter-Day Steven Tyler next Halloween–trust me, you’ll clear the sidewalk.

* “No Language in Our Lungs”, XTC
I’ve never tried to parse out my 50 favorite songs ever, but I’m sure this makes the list. In the XTC catalog, “Dear God” might be slightly more inappropriate as walk-up music, what with its aggressive and poignant atheistic message. But “No Language in Our Lungs” gets my nod for being more heart-wrenching. Plus, I’ll always associate it with the scene in Freaks and Geeks where Bill begs not to be picked last for softball. He doesn’t want to be picked first; he just wants to not be picked last for once in his life. I’m sure you can guess what happens. Lord, this kills me.