Over at the Ink Spot blog today, Darrell James posted a very interesting piece on song lyrics and how they influenced his writing. I would’ve left a comment, but Ink Spot doesn’t take URL signatures, and for some reason they have never accepted my Google ID, so I don’t bother commenting there.
But Darrell’s blog is worth noting. He had met the 1960s folk-rock group the New Christy Minstrels in a parking lot one day and, since he was a longtime fan, happened to have a CD of theirs in his car. They all signed it gladly and promised to buy his book. He went on to say that, as a child of the folk-rock generation, where it’s all about the lyrics and the story, music has played an important role in his writing.
Amen. I spent most of my adult life as a professional musician (piano), playing rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and country for decades. When I first turned to writing, I sat in front of a blank sheet of white paper with a pencil in my hand (I didn’t even own a typewriter in those days) for what seemed like hours. No ideas, no story, no character, nothing. Then, a line from a song flew into my head. It was from The House Of The Rising Sun, a big hit in the 1960s for the Animals. In fact, it was an old folk tune about a girl who is forced to choose between a life of poverty and one of prostitution, knowing that either way, she’s doomed. The line was this one:
I got one foot on the platform, the other foot on the train
I’m goin’ down to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain
Bingo! I was off to the races. I had my lead character, my story, and my setting. Of course, the novel went nowhere, but at least I had one under my belt.
Other novels of mine have started on such flimsy threads. Cadillac’s Comin‘, a rock & roll novel about a one-hit wonder from the 1950s, is about to go up on Kindle as a self-pub. It grew out of two famous lines from the Eagles:
Freedom, oh freedom, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone.
I have a print novel coming out in a few months from a traditional publisher. It’s a noir effort called The Take, and sprang from possibly the greatest noir song of all time, El Paso by Marty Robbins. These were the lines that gave me the basis for the novel:
Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina, wicked and evil while casting a spell.
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden. I was in love but in vain I could tell.
You know, it just doesn’t get any more noir than that. (I blogged about this song sometime back. It was called “Music Would Play And Felina Would Whirl” and you can access it by clicking on “Personal” under the Categories.)
The thing is, I used to do all of these songs back in my playing days, and those lines always stood out for me. When it came time for me to write novels, the lines just found their way to the front burner and inspired three different books. Maybe there are others waiting their turn. I sure hope so.