Writing & Thinking About Music

Image by Adrian Korte

When I write about music, I write about how music connects to memories, and about how music makes me feel. I don't talk about what works and what doesn't within a piece of music, because I'm not a critic. I'm a fan.  

Music critics write to depict enthusiasm for a piece of music...either a passionate like or dislike. 

It's an odd thing, using words to describe sound--something that is essentially wordless--but my focus is on using words to describe what music does within us. I'm concerned with describing how music moves the heart, stirs the mind, and anchors our memories, allowing long-buried feelings to surface within the echos of an old song.

I have sound synesthesia, which isn't that uncommon. I have read that between 5-15% of people have it. I believe it has helped me to enjoy music, because the visual input I receive from music, as well as from other sounds (a garbage can lid smashing on the ground, hydraulic brakes, a telephone ringing, the sound of a crowd, or of waves at the beach), adds a dimension that makes the experience a little deeper. 

I think that my synesthesia created an early and deep love of music, and much of my childhood activities were structured around music, either listening to it, or making it. I got my first record player at age five. Started teaching myself to read music at seven, on a plastic, one-octave organ, then started school music lessons in fourth grade. I played clarinet, eventually developing enough competence to compete in solo and ensemble competitions with the Florida Bandmasters Association. Then I moved to alto sax and flugabone (yes! It's a real instrument, but seems to have fallen out of favor) in jazz and marching band, and electric bass in further years of high school jazz band and beyond. I believe music has saved my life several times over, and certainly helped me to make it through my teen years.

I have written a series of poems about what I perceive when I listen to music. I wrote a time travel fantasy essay about the time I met Jaco Pastorius when I was a teenager. I also wrote an essay about dying written with a symbolic soundtrack of music I have loved. All are published and can be found on my Publications page.

 

My latest essay is an essay about discovering that my dad was not my biological father, but it's told through the prog-rock lens of the band Yes.

Here are a few resources if you are interested in writing about music yourself. 

How-Tos:

https://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/ai_24_guide_to_print.pdf

How to Write About Music: Excerpts from 33 1/3 by Marc Woodworth and Ally-Jane Grossan

Music/Lit Web Resources:

The Quietus

Doom & Gloom from the Tomb

Aquarium Drunkard

 

This Song Is Sick

Print Journals:

Sound American

Radio Silence (back issues only)

The Quietus

Fiction About Music

Web

 

Ten Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories About Music


 

Novels

 

Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby 

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Doxology by Nell Zink 

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan

Wonderland Stacey D’Erasmo

History

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner 

Music and the Mind

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez

Two Beats Ahead: What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation by Panos A. Panay and Michael Hendrix

 

Music Biographies/Memoirs That I Like

Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

 

Is This the Real Life: The Untold Story of Queen by Mark Blake

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Ghost Rider by Neil Peart

The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford

Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen by Brad Tolinski

White Bicycles by Joe Boyd (a producer's memoir!)

Runnin' with the Devil by Noel Monk with Joe Layden

Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz

Music Is My Mistress by Duke Ellington

Face It by Debbie Harry

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz

No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugarman

Black Postcards by Dean Wareham