My Muse has taken charge of my summer and is refusing to relinquish it. Writing a couple of stories for the Esquire fiction contest was supposed to be a warm-up, something to limber up the ol’ wrists and get the synapses firing. I wrote the first story and the second one occurred to me and a third…and all of them featured a recurring character, this Conrad Dahl fella, at various ages, from 13-19. I’ve pondered and batted around the idea of writing (at some point) a linked series of stories but had made no specific plans, didn’t even have an outline committed to paper. Now here I am with three stories–“Twenty-Ten”, “An Insurrection” and “Never, Ever Say That To Me Again”–written for that fucking contest. One (“Twenty-Ten”) is complete and was submitted with about four hours to spare before the deadline and the other two need at least a week of polishing and I’m bouncing around the notion for a fourth Conrad Dahl story that would (he hopes) complete the cycle. Which means at least another 2 or three weeks and pretty much the rest of my summer devoted to short fiction.
What about that novel I was supposed to be revising? What about the filming and recording I had planned, to sample and explore some of the features of this amazing, stunning, paradigm-shifting new iMac (I’m still enamored, can you tell)?
And do you think I can seize back the initiative, demand that my Muse shitcan this story cycle, at least for now, and get back to the novel? Not bloody likely. It doesn’t work that way, my dears. I can’t program my inspiration, channel it with any degree of success. Not this lad. And I’m very single-minded, I can only focus on one project at a time; I’m not one of those agile bastards who can juggle any number of novels, article ideas, short stories, what have you. After I finish this blog entry it will take me the rest of the morning to regain a fiction-writing mindset. I’ll play lots of music, pace around my office, let every last vestige of this post evaporate away before I’ll be able to return to my regular work. Get my game face on again.
I have no idea why my Muse has determined that these short stories should be given precedence. I’m frustrated by this change of plan; I thought I had my summer all figured out. Matter of fact, this entire year to this point has been taken up with works that weren’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities. My “Innocent Moon” radio play took me wayyy too long to research and complete, eating up the early part of 2009. And then I worked on finishing the long version of “First Room” and a short story that will shortly appear on this blog called “Death Threats”. And now these linked tales.
So what happens if my Muse decides to try to try her hand at writing a ballet or a libretto to a fucking opera? There’s no way of getting around it: I’d have to give it a shot. I throw up my hands in frustration, I curse and shake my fist at the sky but in the end I must accede to the wishes of the one who defines me as an artist and person. I’m a control freak and the act of writing is the only time I let that go. That can be terrifying, enlivening, thrilling, daunting; like walking a high wire naked, with no safety net and only half the world watching, hoping you’ll fall. Addictive and sick-making. Adrenaline-charged and gut-churning. I often quote Robert Penn Warren, the act and process of writing the pain I can’t live without.
I’m guessing some of you out there know what I’m talking about.
We’ve sacrificed our backs, fingers, even our peace of mind. All for the sake of following our Muse wherever she takes us: never without complaint but, in the end, always obedient, wary of offending her fickle, unpredictable sensibilities.
The horrific, unspeakable risk such an attitude might entail…
Equilibrium and tranquility have been restored to my life, the pleasant, assuring illusion of balance and order.
All hail the return of my Yamaha GX-500 mini component stereo! This office has been as quiet as an Amish disco for the past month, owing to a malfunction involving my usually reliable Yamaha unit. We took it in to Saskatoon and Chris, a service guy at Audio Warehouse, had a look at it but his initial prognosis was grim.
Sure enough, when he called me at home later in the week, the news wasn’t good. The required part wasn’t available, the system no longer in production (it was nine years old, after all), Chris gave me the part number and I spent one entire morning on-line, trying to track something down. Finally came across a place in New York that was selling exactly what I needed, a traverse deck for a Yamaha GX-500. But in the midst of finalizing the sale, we ran into a slight snag: the company didn’t ship to Canada.
Now, there was no freakin’ way I was giving up on that part, not when I had it in my claw-like grasp. Then I remembered my pal Mark in southern California and gave the operator his address, charging every thing to my VISA. They ship the part to Mark, he ships it to me. Might take a little while longer but at least I’ll have the part and my troubles will be over. Music, that universal language, will once again play on…
Ah. Or so I thought. The part shows up, I get it into Chris at Audio Warehouse…the deck still won’t work. At that point I utter one or two unpleasant words, growls of frustration more than anything else. Chris promises to do what he can but I can tell he isn’t holding out much hope.
What the hell, I decide, go for broke. When I get home, I compose a two page letter to Yamaha Canada and fax it to their head office in Toronto. I suppose at that point I could’ve gritted my teeth and bought a new system but part of me resisted that kind of thinking. It’s this weird culture we live in, where everything is disposable and replaceable and upgradeable. Where getting something fixed costs so much you might as well buy it new. Call it my curmudgeonly streak. My wife says it’s just that I’m cheap.
I didn’t expect a response to my letter but at that point I had gone more than two weeks without music in my office and wasn’t thinking too clearly. I was astonished when I received a call from a very personable fellow from Yamaha h.q. (yo, Matt!), who said he’d do what he could to help effect repairs on my unit. No promises, just an (apparently) sincere promise to try.
I guess somebody at Yamaha called Chris and they were able to dig up a crucial part that finally cleared up the bug…and now my beloved Yamaha unit is back where it belongs, blaring out a cut from the latest in Dylan’s “bootleg” series.
Special citations of merit and resounding huzzahs to Chris (Audio Warehouse), Mark Miller, Matt and the folks at Yamaha Canada for providing exemplary service and/or lending a helping hand. Thanks, folks!
Having music again has inspired a fresh outburst of creativity, granting me the state of mind necessary to leave Earth Prime, contemplate and create vast, new universes of my own. It’s remarkable the effect music has on me, my work; it accompanies every word, every comma I commit to paper.
So what’s on the turntable these days? Turntable? Jesus, when was the last time I had one of those? Really dating myself, aren’t I? Turntable…
Okay, okay, what on the playlist then, what’s on heavy rotation here at Radio Free Albemuth circa the end of November, 2008:
M83: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Shoegazer music? Ambient? Dunno what you call it but it sure is fuckin’ great to work to.
The Clash: Just about everything in their discography. London Calling still resonates across the years.
Jesus & Mary Chain: before BRMC there were the naughty-not-nice Reid Brothers. Psychocandy and The Sound of Speed have been making my walls rattle. Sometimes I wonder how this old house stands the strain.
Two Cow Garage: ordered one of their disks after reading about them on PopMatters.com. One of those whims that turns out to be serendipitous. Three is a delight and let me draw your attention to one track in particular, “Should’ve California”. What do you call it? Southern rock? Alt country? How about: great fuckin’ music…
Metallica: Ride the Lightning and their latest, Rick Rubin-produced effort, Death Magnetic, which at least sports some decent licks. But the lads have a long way to go before they recapture the power and greatness of those first four or five albums. Not sure they have it in them any more.
Explosions in the Sky: currently my favorite music to write to. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place are melodic, epic, suggestive, multi-layered and thoroughly evocative.
Muse: fans of Radiohead will find much to like here. I found the self-titled 2003 disk in a discount bin; a stroke of pure good fortune. Looking forward to nabbing Black Holes & Revelations in the near future.
Interpol: Yeah, I know I’ve raved about these guys before but I think I have pretty much everything they’ve released and, no shit, this is one of the best bands kicking around these days. Grab anything you can by Interpol, they’re as good as it gets.
Grandaddy: eccentric, unique, too good to last. They released a few albums, could never seem to break through and finally called it quits. Too bad; their disks are, each one of them, original, funny, wise and personal.
Other music that has been serenading my ears of late: The Eels (Shootenanny), The Brian Jonestown Massacre (BraveryRepetitionAndNoise), Jimmy Eat World (Chase This Light), Air (Pocket Symphony), Mogwai, Modest Mouse…
Crazy, eclectic shit, as always.
And…coming up December 1st, music of the live and in person kind. Driving in to Saskatoon with Laird to see Nine Inch Nails at the Credit Union Centre. Whoo hoo! We’re talking about an evening of fine entertainment. Every time I think about it, I get a surge of anticipation—hopefully Trent will be in fine fettle.
Playing a lot of NIN stuff lately too, natch. Really grooving to With Teeth. And there are two fantastic instrumental cuts on The Slip (“Corona Radiata” & “The Four of Us Are Dying”) that I’ve played any number of times. Beautiful stuff, hardly the sort of tunes one would associate with “Mr. Self Destruct”. The Slip was released through Reznor’s on-line label; it is the kind of fine, unclassifiable music eschewed by corporate types. Cutting his ties with record companies, becoming an independent musician, has made T.R. a more well-rounded and far-reaching artist. The Slip is an exceptional piece of work.
Sounds fucking great coming out of those cherrywood Yamaha speakers too. I’m grinning again. I can’t help it. I can barely hear myself think with Dylan’s raunchy live version of “Cocaine Blues” thundering away overhead.
And so now back to work: researching, jotting down lots of notes, photocopying, gradually immersing myself in the warped world of my new novel. But it all starts with music, a soundtrack that precedes what is to come. The overture. To set the mood and “open wide the mind’s cage-door” (Keats)…