We all have that moment at one time or another when a piece of music comes on in the background and you have to stop what you’re doing and just listen. This is a regular occurrence for me on Friday afternoons as fellow Headliner Bríd launches into a rendition of an eighties classic and I stop what I’m doing and wonder why cats are fighting with dentists’ drills in the office.
But for a writer such songs can be a powerful influence on shaping their novels. So turn the volume up to eleven and find out which tracks struck a chord with our authors.
Several songs inspired me while I was writing The Other Half of Me. I can’t actually listen to music when I write – I just tune it out – but I did listen to songs around that time that perfectly evoked the mood I was trying to capture. There’s an immediacy in sound that gets straight to your own feelings and, accordingly, the feelings of a novel. If I had to pick one song from that time that stands out, I’d choose Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Runaway’. It’s a painfully beautiful tune, the poignant notes of the piano ringing like drops of water against a crystal glass. The simple lyrics of the song: ‘I was feeling sad. Can’t help looking back. Highways flew by…’ and the subsequent refrain ‘Run, run away, no sense of time’, capture the state of mind of the hero of my book, Jonathan; both the song and his narrative suffused with a sense of absence and grief, the overwhelming wish to return to a time that is lost.
Music and musicians play a pivotal role in Deity because the novel is about the dark influences that can impose themselves on young people as they are growing up. Deity is about the self-destructive urges that attract teenagers, sometimes fatally, and the iconic figures that can induce the young to act against their own health and self-interest, even from beyond the grave.
Before being overwhelmed by the fame that led to his suicide in 1994, Kurt Cobain revitalised rock in the early nineties with his band Nirvana and the album Nevermind. Its seminal anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit is a beautiful play on words worthy of the greatest writers.
Equally, the beautiful Jim Morrison of sixties band The Doors, who died aged 27 in Paris in 1971, was more than just an iconic and charismatic singer. He was a poet who liked to explore the dark side of the happy clappy decade of sixties free love in songs like ‘Riders On the Storm’. His extraordinary and hallucinatory lyrics, influenced by his extensive drug use, would grace any anthology.
Morrissey from The Smiths is another who is more than just a musician. He was a thorn in the side of Thatcherite Britain in the 1980s, vilified by his detractors for tackling taboo issues in his songs, yet worshipped by his fans for the same reason. ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ is not just one of the greatest love songs ever written, it is a homage to the death-wish anxiety of troubled youth, seeking acceptance and emotional comfort. Love or death – no compromise.
I love listening to music as I write, although I’m constantly fiddling with the volume so that my imagination feeds off the sound but the lyrics don’t interrupt my thought patterns. I played a lot of Beth Orton throughout the writing of The Book of Summers, and ‘Sweetest Decline’ hits all the right notes – it’s beautiful and melancholic, and the lyrics weave perfectly with the story I’ve written… listen and you’ll see what I mean.
The other song I must mention is ‘Here Comes The Sun’, specifically a version I came across on You Tube, where Paul Simon sings with Crosby and Nash as backing. They’re old boys up on stage, grey haired and soulful, and this makes it David Lowe’s song. When they sing ‘Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter/ Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here/ Here comes the sun/ Here comes the sun, and I say/ It’s all right’ I think of Erzsi and her father in their Devon cottage, all of the good intentions and the sadness of things not said. Tears every time!
Posted by Richard Roper, Editorial
@richardroper @EmyliaHall @ReaperSteven @MorganMcAuthor