Monday, June 16, 2014

Oddly Precious Melancholy: Music and Writing

Nikolai Roerich's backdrop for Rite of Spring.

I don't usually listen to music while writing. Some writers have huge, hugely specific playlists for when they're working. Sometimes they're obvious; sometimes they're counter-intuitive. Bubblegum pop for horror? Metal for young adult angst? I've tried, but I find it distracting. It's fine in the background if I'm in a cafe or other public place, but if I'm writing at just doesn't work for me. I end up making up music videos for the songs in my head. But I say "usually" because music became necessary for a particular project.

In my short story "Oddly Precious Melancholy," out in The Rag #6, the title refers to, among other things, a flavor of contemporary alternative/pop music I've defined loosely and inexpertly. Music that's weird and sweet and introspective. Music that doesn't always seem sure if it's being ironic or earnest with its DIY aesthetic and offbeatness, and yet is delicate and beautiful. The cutesy ennui of a sincere hipster or someone mistaken for one. Music that defined and was listened to by my characters, a group of flippant millennials in timely timeless peril.

I started making a playlist. The first songs were added when I started writing, somewhere around 3-4 years ago (this included Gotye...before it was universally and unambiguously decided that we didn't want to hear "Somebody that I Used to Know" again for at least a decade or so). Other songs got added much later, during the drawn-out editing, submitting, editing, and waiting portion, when I tried to be brave and tell myself that my protagonist, Kimber, would take care of shit. The songs below aren't a complete list, and the order has nothing to with when the songs were added, but it is a kind of thematic soundtrack for my story. This might not be interesting to anyone else, but I thought at the very least I'd share and give credit to the music that got me through this story, from scribbled notes to publication.

Screenshot from The Lumineers' "Ho Hey" video.


Ho Hey - The Lumineers: anguished and low-energy and plaintive but charming. So, a perfect introduction.

A Change of Days - Smith's Cloud: I know this song because I heard it on a cat video have an encyclopedic knowledge of cool indie music.

Internet Killed the Video Star - The Limousines

Screenshot from Alpine's "Villages" video.


The Cigarette Duet - Princess Chelsea

Just a Boy - Pikachunes

Villages - Alpine: early on in writing this story I went on a YouTube binge, trying to establish its "sound." It was on this binge that I found Alpine, Pikachunes, and Princess Chelsea.

New Slang - The Shins

Dashboard - Modest Mouse

We Are Young - Fun

Shake it Out - Florence + The Machine

Born to Die - Lana Del Rey

The Gulag Orkestar - Beirut

All These Things That I Have Done - The Killers

Screenshot from Grouplove's "Tongue Tied" video.


The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance - Stravinsky: breaking from twee alt-rock/pop, here's the finale to Igor Stravinsky's 1913 composition about human sacrifice in ancient Russia. I was properly introduced to this piece in spring 2013 when San Francisco Ballet performed it (despite watching Fantasia a billion times as a kid, it never struck me then - sorry, battling dinosaurs). By the time I saw the ballet, I had finished the story, but this episode kept me inspired through the work that followed. Besides relating thematically, it also has the horrible, breathtaking tension I wanted to emulate.

Tongue Tied - Grouplove

Young Blood - The Naked and Famous

Image sources:
Roerich's Rite of Spring backdrop
All screenshots taken by me from linked videos.