Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’ve been watching the HBO miniseries, The Defiant Ones, which is about Dr. Dre and producer Jimmy Iovine. It’s good. Shows me that there was more going on in hip-hop and gangsta rap than I understood at the time. And whether you like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks or Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, turns out it’s all about the music.
Bono showed up as an interviewee, talking about Iovine, and that reminded me of The Joshua Tree. And that reminded me of the spring of ’87, when I was getting up at four-thirty in the morning every day and trying to knock out my first novel. And every morning in the dark before the dawn I’d don my headphones and crank up The Joshua Tree on my Walkman.
Listening to it right now, as a matter of fact. The son of a gun holds up.
These opening bars of “With Or Without You” are givin’ me goosebumps!
Sometimes a piece of music is so tied to a time and place that you can never get back the sizzle, but often the music is like a time tunnel you can ride straight back to the emotional reality of the time. The Joshua Tree is one of those time tunnels for me. I can feel my grogginess as the alarm goes off after what seems like only minutes of sleep. I can see myself staggering down the stairs to the dining room table where I wrote at the time. I open my notebook to the place where I’d left off the day before, reread a few pages hoping to get some momentum building, then put pen to paper while the coffee brews in the kitchen. And aside from the music pumping in my ears, all is still. All is calm. It’s me and my work and my imagination and U2. And as the weeks go by the book comes along, charged with the rhythms of “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Running To Stand Still.” I fall into that trance that lets you write as if you’re channeling something from another universe, one where your characters are alive and reaching out at you like drowners needing to be saved, crying out, “Tell my story!” And you write without thinking, letting your subconscious do the heavy lifting, coffee at work now and the music flowing out in front of you like a road.
And when you look up, it’s light outside and the tape has repeated you don’t know how many times because time has become a single moment and not a river, and you realize you’ve pounded out a couple thousand words just writing down what you saw in your mind.
I’ve had a few other records that cooked up a similar effect for me over the years. One of them is the second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, the adagio. One is side 2 of Abbey Road. Time tunnels. One is Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind.” Brewer and Shipley’s album, Tarkio. Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry. You can never predict what song or album will become a time tunnel. It’s up to your brain, and what happens next.
I’m not sure I have a current one, one that will one day take me back to the summer of ’17. You never know. It could turn out to be The Joshua Tree again …
Yep. Songs of all types can take you back to moments in time. The Joshua Tree is a great album. Running to Stand Still is my favorite song on it. But the opening swell of Where the Streets Have No Name, and the growling guitar of Bullet the Blue Sky. I try to block out the time it takes me back to though — the spring of ’87 was a few months after I started a relationship with the woman who would become my ex-psycho girlfriend from hell. We listened to The Joshua Tree quite a bit. I don’t need those memories. 😉
But I think I know what I’m listening to on the drive into work today. Thanks for the suggestion.
It’s a shame when good music takes you back to a bad time. Sorry to hear about that (though I know the feeling!). I had a psycho ex-girlfriend who ruined quite a few records for me. 😉
That’s a beautiful vignette there, Kevin. And my how I can relate to that. And the record is a gem, too. I don’t know that they made one better. I like how you bring us into your writing-mind with such clarity there in that one paragraph, and the timeless effect of it. I did that with some Cocteau Twins albums when I was writing steadily this summer, and in England, with Harold Budd/Eno ambient records, in the early morning. Trance-like, and channeling for sure…
Thanks, Bill. I did a Windham Hill stint for a while back in the early 90s too, with a lot of ethereal, flowy music. George Winston comes to mind. Pretty good writing music. And now I put on Groove Salad a lot for writing without distraction: https://somafm.com/groovesalad .
Music. The fire. Burns You Warms You.
My current writing-to-music playlists cover about 55 years.
There are songs I wouldn’t dare go near again. Yet last night I was tapping out stuff with the music on, with another household chore nagging to be done, though it wasn’t the writing that was holding me to the chair, it was the playlist and ‘I’ll just listen to this one, then I will get that rubbish put out’
It certainly can hold our attention, can’t it? Especially when it lets you time travel. And this is what I love about the internet: you can think of a song or album you haven’t heard in 50 years, and go listen to it NOW.
(And then, of course, put out the rubbish.)
On your can mine those long lost gems…bliss
Yeh, there are also those ‘What Was I thinking when I followed that outfit!’ ones
My son convinced my I needed Spotify. He was right! Gems like Dion’s ‘Run Around Sue’, just have not aged!
Sounds and smells do it for me every time. I think this the main reason anyone past the age of 30 seems to hold on to the music of ‘their time.’ There are some vivid memories built into the stuff.
It’s our Proustian memory tool! And non-fattening. 😉
That is a glorious album that definitely tunnels me right back to that time. Got on a kick not too long ago where I watched a bunch of their videos from that era on YouTube and got a little teary eyed a couple of times it was so great, especially “Where the Streets…” Great post.
Thanks, Walt. It’s good to time travel now and then, and it always amazes me how the music abides.