I’ve previously written about listening to music when writing, but for this post I want to write about music as inspiration. I think most people use music as background noise when going about their daily lives, or as a distraction when doing something boring – like driving to work, toiling away in the office cubicles, or doing chores around the house. I do the same thing, but I also spend a fair amount of time just listening to music.
My preferred method is to sit in a comfortable chair or recline on a couch, a nice set of headphones wrapped around my head, with the album cover and liner notes in hand. Of course, a USB turntable is nearby so I don’t have to go far to flip it over to side two. This is how I grew up listening to music (although the turntable used to be part of a stereo system, not a computer peripheral). I spent a lot of time alone as a child listening to the record collections of my older family members. There was a lot of music from the 1950s through the 1970s, classic rock, some early R&B, along with Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. It was an eclectic mix.
And I would spend hours laying on the floor in front of the stereo, headphones on, my eyes pouring over the album art, the liner notes, the lyrics. I think the lyrics were one of the things that inspired me to begin writing, especially the songs that told stories or painted vivid pictures in words. For example, story songs like Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”, Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland”, or Tom Waits’ “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”. These song lyrics are like short stories or vignettes that play like a movie in my mind. Coupled with the music, it’s a beautiful thing.
“She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out west
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
We’ll meet again some day
On the avenue
Tangled up in blue…” – from “Tangled up in Blue” by Bob Dylan.
And then there are the song lyrics that don’t specifically tell a story, but are more free form, creating images in my mind more like a painting than a story. Each line or verse is like a brush stroke on a canvas, evoking an emotional response or maybe just triggering memories of times gone by. Here I’m thinking about the Yes song, “Heart of the Sunrise”, or maybe Elton John’s “This Song Has No Title”. To me, these types of song lyrics (again, coupled with the music) inspire me with their power. How can a song that doesn’t have a distinct meaning still make me feel something on an emotional level?
“Tune me in to the wild side of life
I’m an innocent young child sharp as a knife
Take me to the garretts where the artists have died
Show me the courtrooms where the judges have lied
Let me drink deeply from the water and the wine
Light colored candles in dark dreary mines
Look in the mirror and stare at myself
And wonder if that’s really me on the shelf” – from “This Song Has No Title” by Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics)
In my world, listening to music – really listening to it – is like reading a collection of short stories or looking at a gallery of paintings. The experience stirs my imagination, sends my thoughts scurrying to both familiar and unfamiliar places, gives me ideas to explore. Something as simple as a song title or a single line from a verse can stimulate an idea for a story. In fact, a handful of my stories are directly sparked from songs I had listened to.
Music has always been a big part of my life, of who I am. I grew up listening to music when there was no one else around to interact with, so basically, music has been the one constant companion in my life. It helps me to remember, it makes me feel, it inspires me to action in the day and lulls me to sleep at night. From an artistic standpoint, music is a muse to me – not the only one, but probably one of the most important.
If you haven’t ever tried, please take an hour sometime soon, sit in a quiet room, and listen to some music (preferably over headphones). Don’t play around on your phone or tablet, don’t surf the net…just lean back, close your eyes, and listen. Let the music wash over you. Listen to the individual instruments and how they come together. Listening to phrasing and tone of the vocalist. Let the lyrics carry you away. I think you’ll find a new appreciation for music, maybe see it in a different light. And maybe it will inspire you as it does me.