Saturday, January 21, 2012
Soothing the Beast
I write this while listening to “Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers Band, the live version that goes on for about three days from the At Fillmore East release. I need to hear music, in isolation, while I write. Such was not always the case. During the short time I lived in San Francisco, when I was less interested in writing and more interested in meeting new ladies, I used to carry a beat up spiral notebook down to Fisherman’sWharf, find an empty bench at Ghirardelli Square, and sit and write. Sooner or later, a winsome lass would approach and ask what I was doing, or, better yet, ask who I was (“Well, yes, actually, I am Richard Brautigan!”). This would no longer work, at least I don’t think so, and I don’t really want to upset the apple cart of my life to find out, so I eschew the coffee shops and the overpriced, trendy sandwich chain that offers free Wi-Fi in favor of the clutter of my basement office, where I blast my music as loud as I like.
I go on listening jags. It varies with my mood. The Allman Brothers Band disc a temporary swerve from Miles Davis. I’ve been listening to complete sessions of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, three to six hours of music at a stretch. If you think you’ve hit a wall with your writing, try listening to In a Silent Way, even if you don’t like jazz. I find that for some reason jazz music of a certain type opens up a corner of my mind that isn’t always accessible. Before I got on the Miles jag, I listened to nothing but Guided by Voices for three weeks. In contrast to Davis’ extended pieces, GBV songs are anywhere from 35 seconds to three minutes long. In the last few months I’ve done this with Tom Waits, Black Keys, Fats Domino, Jimi Hendrix, and Kronos Quartet. I can’t write without it. On the other hand, if I’m disturbed by a phone call, a whiny cat, or news of a leaky or plugged up commode, my whole train of thought is derailed. Sometimes for the entire day. It’s not noise I seek, but noise of a certain type.
Some writers listen to music while they work. Others whistle. And others require a cone of absolute silence. Which are you? What works for you? And if it’s music that lures your muse into the room, what music?