It was almost fourteen years ago that I went to Europe for the first time (out of three). I was a newly minted twenty-one year old, still at university, only just working (comparatively) and an occasional dabbler in writing (much as I was until more recent times).
I also possessed a sense of wonder about the world itself that may or may not still be somewhere inside, though the level of cynicism that oft infests my thoughts was greatly diminished.
I’m sure that if I were to return, I would be just as taken by the places I visited as I was at the time, and perhaps be able to look at them as though these eyes had seen no time between the glimpses.
Of the places I went to, I can faintly recall a visit to the water’s edge near the Columbus monument in Barcelona, in particular going to a shopping centre down that way, where there was a clothing store. Out of all the sights seen there, it’s an experience instead that is my most memorable. While I was in the store, some music was playing over the speakers. Now, this was all in Spanish, and I know scarcely a word of the language, yet I found something captivating about it. I asked the salesperson who it was. She told me. I went off to a nearby music store, and just bought it.
The CD I bought was the self-titled album by Estopa, which became (and has stayed) one of those albums/bands that I can continue to listen to. Which songs I liked most changed over time, yet there was one in particular that stood out as a favourite. There was a part in the middle of the song (at about the 2 minute mark) where it shifted (keychange or something along those lines? Not really up on the musical lingo) that especially got my attention.
When I later found ‘maquina’ version of the song, which had a techno take on the melody, complete with that shift.
Well, that hooked me.
At the time I had an mp3 player which could set arbitrary repeat points, so naturally that led to me listening to that melody over and over, getting my keychange addiction sated through repetition. It was a type of audiocrack I would find in a few other songs (including one that felt like a song was having its way with my eardrums, and I had no desire not to let it). A reliable, nice quick fix of an emotion brought on by music.
But it wouldn’t last.
Over time, the shift wasn’t enough. It didn’t have the same buzz for me that it used to, and while I’d progressed on to more ear-fornicating songs, I’m sure part of it was a shift in my audio devices. I could no longer set custom playsections on the fly, meaning if I wanted to get my techno-melody, I had to listen through all the crap parts of the song too. The maquina version of the song eventually left my playlists, hanging around only as a reminder of how it used to be.
I replaced it with others; some you may like and others you won’t, some you would have heard of and others that will die obscure.
The individual names of the songs don’t really matter, but they went through the cycle of giving tingles, cold shudders, lifting hearts and dropping stomachs. Nothing had the same effect as that one version of the song did. I was tempted to mess with the audiofiles and give myself a real fix again, but I wasn’t far gone enough for that yet.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have a locker. I was also very unorganised. If I hadn’t packed my bag the night before, I would inadvertently leave behind textbooks. Ones I needed.
I call it laziness, even if it was more physical work for me, but I eventually started packing every textbook and taking them every day. I preferred carrying everything and not needing it, to packing as required and forgetting something. I’m still like this. It’s why (to bring it back), I would put all of the music I had onto my computer, and then onto my various music players. Even if I thought there was no chance I’d want to listen to them (or rather, hadn’t really thought about it beyond MUST HAVE EVERYTHING)
It’s on Random
Everyone knows this one. You have your playlist of current favourites. In time it becomes a playlist of sometimes favourites. Eventually, you’re skipping them all, and you may as well let the shuffle find something you would like. A shuffle that’s picking from every possible song it could have.
That’s when it returned.
That’s when it surprised me.
Estopa’s Como Camaron came up on my shuffle. It had been a while since I’d heard it, so I let it go through.
When the shift happened this time – the real one – it was so much more powerful than I recalled. Perhaps it was the passage of time, the distance between the song and I, or just the sort of shift in taste that happens as we get older. What I realised then, observing my favourite book (The Count of Monte Cristo), and my favourite film (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) – I want a set stage. I want to be sucked into something so real that when things change, when the world goes to shit or everything escalates, it’s seismic. It ruins lives.
I don’t know how to describe how a song does that, other than it takes its time. I’d say that in this case, I would consider a song to be deliberate, where nothing is casual about it, and it really makes every punch count and connect. Another prime example of it would be Lana Del Ray’s Born to Die. To me, this is not a rushed song. It has its point to make and it does it in its own time – twenty three seconds before the singing starts, and a minute eight before the chorus.
Powerful emotions do not form out of the ether here, but are brought up gradually. We do not start at boiling, but turn on the stove, fill the pot with water, and let them each play their parts, in the proper time.
This one was a little different. I’ve made no secret of being a fan of the Mass Effect series. Somehow though, it took a few playthroughs of the first instalment for something to pop out to me. I remember how it happened. I’d just finished the game again (renegade Femshep, my canon playthrough), but had left the room. Then I heard a song playing. I went back to the room, and there was Commander Shepard staring back at me in front of a red background, while Faunts’ M4 Part II played. It was amazing. I was (therefore) amazed.
It filled a similar place in my playlists from about 2009 onwards, and it’s a fantastic song in its own right, but it made be curious about the other music by the same band. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Part II.
So Part I is out there, and it’s different (yet similar).
So I did a thing. I listened to them one after the other, as though it was one big song called M4. Part I then Part II. Doing that made the weight of what Part II sends me through even greater. It takes longer to get there, but it becomes worth it.
Against the Grain
The advice you get as writers will vary, but a lot of it is geared toward getting to the action quickly. I’m not going to say that it’s wrong (and on the surface, have agreed with it before – albeit mockingly). Instead, look toward your own preferences. Think about what you would want to read, because you are unlikely to be alone. The world is full of people with varying tastes, and there’s no hard rules about what they will like.
I will continue to write this way, setting a stage and then drawing the actors of the world into something beyond themselves, because if nothing else, it is something I would want to read.
If you’re writing something you wouldn’t enjoy reading, who are you writing for?