By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
L.A. WEEKLY:It’s interesting that both Jonathan and Rick avoided the idea of influence and spoke instead of how music helped inspire the actual writing process. My suspicion has always been that music offers a unique fuel for writing because it can establish an emotional state with such an economy of means. Is music the ultimate Cliffs Notes version of emotional experience? Must writers inevitably be a bit jealous?
DARNIELLE:A good piece of music, however ornate, is essentially a primal experience. Sylvia Plath referred to her infant’s cry as “a handful of notes,” and numerous studies (I know, I know, “numerous studies,” but still) suggest that we respond to music even in utero. Once we’ve learned how to arrange notes or apprehend their arrangement, we get it both ways: something both intensely physical and entirely theoretical, the condition of music being greatly abstract in the end.
MOODY: What inspiration means is almost as complicated as the question of influence, in that the old use of the word — God breathing through you — is pretty hard to verify. When I was a young writer, I actually bought the idea that drinking while writing would help me feel open emotionally, and that’s one of the reasons that Garden State is a very bad book. Once I quit, it became kind of hard to find that place, the receptive place that makes compassion and intuition happen. I think you can get to the “inspired” place through non-musical means, if you are willing to. Yet music points to that topography effectively, and for me, as someone who is very passionate about music, this is invaluable in composition. But I do feel the same way about painting and sometimes photography. The museum can do exactly what we are trying to describe. Music, on the other hand, has specific formal properties that I do want to ape, because they lie outside of the ordinary sphere of things. For example, The Black Veil was built on ideas about structure elaborated by Miles Davis when he was talking about how some of the fusion albums were constructed. That is, I guess, inspiration of a sort.
LETHEM: Someone said, “All art aspires to the condition of music,” meaning, I always figured, that abstract-essential-rarefied nature that John alludes to. I am struck by the fact we all come out singing, inflecting notes, and one of my favorite factoids is that children in every culture tease one another using the same singsong intervals to make “Nya-nya-nya” sounds. In other words, kid-to-kid humiliation is encoded in a musical tone like DNA. I bet a lot of others, like me, imagine what kind of music we’d want playing around our deathbeds, too — whereas I don’t spend any time wondering what kind of paintings or movies (or wallpaper) I’d want around me at the end, or what books I’d want to go out reading. Music is somehow both further up in the sky and deeper down in our bodies than the other arts.
That means it often has to shoulder the burden of being the art that other art flatters itself by bending toward. I’m never confused that it’s anything but praise when someone describes my writing as musical, though I suspect it would be neutral at best to call any musician’s work “prose.” If you told me my book was like a film, I’d have to look deep in your eyes to be certain you weren’t getting a dig in. If you told me it was like a painting, I’d know you were trying not to tell me you couldn’t finish it.
Another truth, more simple, is that one grows weary or jaded with an art that’s been so completely domesticated and professionalized: So we imagine that those musicians are really still like pure and innocent creators, while we writers are so bogged in crappy minutiae — we’re like stenographers compared to them! Put a guitar in my hands and let me be dreamy and youthful again!
More talk about pop music is in order! In 2004, the most debated article in music crit was Kalefah Sanneh’s “The Rap Against Rockism” fromThe New York Times— a defense of manufactured pop in the wake of Ashlee Simpson’sSaturday Night Livelip-sync flub. My sense is that some newspaper critics invent theories to justify liking this kind of music, because they’re forced to cover it for the broad newspaper audience. But there’s another possibility. I enjoyed Britney’s “Toxic”; Amerie’s ?“1 Thing” was my favorite song this past summer; and, hell, I love Tweet, who’s thought of as anathema to critics. Can’t lite-pop be profound?
MOODY:I love pop songs, too. I swear. I actually love ABBA, and Fleetwood Mac is incredibly important to me, and my first worshipful relationship to a rock & roll record as a kid was to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I tried hard to get the Wingdales to cover “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera before Clem Snide went and ruined it for me. It’s really all about compositional smarts, and a really good pop song is a really good pop song, whether it’s by Neil Diamond, Tommy James, Simon & Garfunkel, or Lothar and the Hand People. The verse-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-chorus model is not that different from a sonnet in a lot of ways, and just as difficult to perfect.