DO YA LIKE GOOD MUSIC? (yeah, yeah)

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.

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11 Responses to DO YA LIKE GOOD MUSIC? (yeah, yeah)

  1. Joyce Ann

    Icky lyrics: Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease, The Beatles

    Incomprehensible lyrics:
    If there’s a bustle in your hedgehog, don’t be alone now, Led Zeppelin

    X-rated lyrics: So let me ease on out your window, then those neighbors no they won’t be talking ’bout stuff that they don’t know, The Allman brothers

    (Trying to think of tongue twisting lyrics)

    Lyrics for Mother’s Day:
    You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
    And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
    Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
    and feed them on your dreams, the one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
    Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
    so just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

    And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
    and so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.
    Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
    and feed them on your dreams, the one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
    Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
    so just look at them and sigh and know they love you. , Neil Young

    Self-indulgent request for assistance:

    Since we are discussing music (somewhat):
    I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the name of a group from the 60s that was popular in some sub-category that was not Rock n Roll and not part of The British invasion, and not quite Folk Music. So, if anyone can help me remember, please do.

    Apparently, no one else in the universe cares for this group or they would be somewhere on Google, but at the time–late 60s–they were important. I just knew I could find them listed on the soundtrack from Animal House–but no such luck. They were all male and sang what we referred to as (avert your eyes) “make-out” music. They are not the Righteous Brothers. Were they the Four Freshmen, Four Brothers? (I don’t think so) Who were they? I think if I see the name I will know. I wonder in what category they could be found on Google?

    Thanks for any insight.

  2. Joyce Ann–
    If you knew of a song that group did, it would help. But there were a lot of those male vocal groups around back then. The Highwaymen, the Four Aces, Dion & the Belmonts, the Brooklyn Bridge, to name a few.

  3. Joyce Ann

    None of those–older. Thanks, I will just keep thinking.

  4. Song lyrics often don’t hold up well to closer inspection, but they’re great for the germs of ideas. EL PASO is a great example, and a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I was driving across West Texas with my daughter several years ago, part of a car trip from Maryland to Colorado. (We took the scenic route.) We rarely played the radio, but I turned it on just for the hell of it and the second or third song we heard was EL PASO. We were closer to Amarillo at the time, but it was still quite an effect.

    I have a few songs that have struck me as fodder for the kinds of stories I like to write and read. Willie Nelson’s FUNNY HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY has a sinister undertone to it, and Kris Kristofferson’s HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT has potential for an “on the run” story. A lot of Delbert McClinton songs have worthwhile elements in them, as well.

  5. Dana–EL PASO falls into that category I like to call “Songs That Could Become Movies”. It contains breathing characters, a vivid locale, and a clear arc. In addition, the story is fully encased within the confines of the song and could easily be fleshed out into a movie. Another such song that comes to mind would be the Marshall Tucker Band’s FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN. You mentioned Delbert McClinton. His TWO MORE BOTTLES OF WINE would fit into this category, too.

  6. Joyce Ann

    Aha! I just thought of the “tongue twister” lyric (at least for me). And, it is from El Paso (duh!!)

    “I caught a good one, it looked like it could run. . . .”

    Also, I think that Led Zeppelin lyric is: “If there’s a bustle in your hedge row, you’re not alone now.”

    And, the Allman Brothers’ lyrics are: “So raise your window, Baby. I can ease out something slow. Then those neighbors no they won’t be talking ’bout stuff that they don’t now. . . .”

    Cannot remember the group. I am going to have to friend someone who went to NTSU with me, and ask them.

  7. Joyce Ann

    “know” not “now”

  8. Joyce Ann

    Final comment: I wondered if “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die” had inspired any novels. From Google, I found that Graeme Thomson wrote an analysis of death in contemporary music, which is entitled: “I shot a man in Reno.”

  9. Patti Abbott

    As all your lyrics worked their way into stories, my poetry turned out to be outlines for stories.

  10. Mike Dennis

    That’s great, Patti. It just proves you never know when the cross-artistic inspiration will strike you.

  11. Joyce Ann

    I always associated Linda Ronstadt with Desperados, rather than the Eagles (I guess this song really got to you:

    Why don’t you come to your senses
    You’ve been out riding fences for so long now
    Oh you’re a hard one
    But I know that you’ve got your reasons
    These things that are pleasing you will hurt you somehow

    Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds boy
    She’ll beat you if she’s able
    The queen of hearts is always your best bet
    Well it seems to me some fine things
    Have been laid upon your table
    But you only want the things that you can’t get

    you know you ain’t getting younger
    Your pain and your hunger are driving you home
    And freedom, oh freedom
    Well that’s just some people talking
    Your prison is walking through this world all alone

    Don’t your feet get cold in the wintertime
    Sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
    It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
    You’re losing all your highs and lows
    Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away

    Why don’t you come to your senses
    Come down from your fences
    Open the gate
    It may be raining
    But there’s a rainbow above you
    You better let somebody love you
    Let somebody love you
    Before it’s too late

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