My Novels Now Have Playlists on Spotify

No question that writing is my calling, but if I had my druthers (or any talent), I’d be a musician. I missed my chance during the punk era, when ability was optional.

Music is exceedingly important to my writing – and the rest of my life. I can’t write while listening to music, yet music dictates the shape and feel of every page.

I’ve now got playlists on Spotify (a digital music service). These playlists summarize the music that constructed my latest novels, Scar Jewelry and Nica of Los Angeles. I put these playlists together after the fact, and they each hold a couple hours of music. Spotify compiled some of the album covers:

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If you’d like to hear both these playlists, take out a free membership on Spotify, then follow scperryz. Or you can listen to the playlist for Nica of Los Angeles. Or the playlist for Scar Jewelry. (I’ve provided browser links but most folks prefer the phone app.)

I’ve got a still-evolving playlist for the still-being-written, second book in the FRAMES series, Nica of XXX. (Nica’s location in the second book is currently embargoed.) Today the new playlist is 9.5 hours long… I suppose that only the music I listen to repeatedly should survive to the final playlist. Anyway, here’s the Spotify thumbnail of the playlist for the new Nica:

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Let me close with a few digressions. (Bookmark this page! Digression on this blog – a first!)

Digression #1. Looking at these album covers, I am reminded that, on the whole, musicians are way cooler than writers. Which sets me to wondering. Do people become musicians because they are that cool, or is it the playing of music that makes them cool?

Digression #2. Spotify is an amazing invention and it rules my version of consumer heaven, along with the automobile seat warmer and the iPad. Driving to a concert recently, Spotify let me listen to nearly an hour’s worth of different versions of Moonshiner. Who knew so many existed? (Verdict: several otherwise-lackluster bands have excellent covers of this song; however, the various cheery Irish versions are creepy. This ain’t no happy drinking song.)

Digression #3. Who wrote Moonshiner? When? No one knows for sure. There is even debate about whether it originated in the U.S. or Ireland. Typically when great art generates immortality, it is not anonymous immortality. To me this adds bittersweetness to one of the saddest songs I know.

My personal favorite Moonshiner isn’t on Spotify because Kelly Joe Phelps hasn’t recorded it (yet?). Fortunately YouTube, bless its digital heart, has a live version:

The Lyrics That Live With Me

When Lou Reed died, there was some great news coverage, such as the NY Times obituary, and much absurdity – which I guess could be predicted. My local news stations struggled to explain him to those who’d never heard of him. Here and there a reporter would add personal viewpoint (“He singlehandedly invented alt rock!”) to the obit pablum. Pablum. Does anyone still know what pablum is?

Not for the first time, I was grateful and impressed with how social media responded. Facebook, for example, didn’t just spread the news of his death, but also filled with tributes from people to whom Reed had mattered. Many simply quoted song lyrics that were important to them, which started conversational riffs that were moving and healing. I wish social media had been available when we lost Lennon! Or Strummer!

All of which got me thinking about what song lyric I would quote if another of my musicians dies before I do. There are certain songwriters who have been so important at some point in my life – so transformative – that their deaths would leave permanent holes. Even if I haven’t listened to (or thought about) some of them for decades, I need them to be in the world.

Below are the lyrics I might post. Although who knows what might instead occur at the time. When Alex Chilton died it wasn’t Chilton’s words or Big Star’s lyrics that surfaced, but Westerberg’s tribute song, Alex Chilton.

I’m in love, what was that song? 

Here is one of my lists. What would yours be?

 Leonard Cohen

 I have tried in my way to be free.

Elvis Costello
(note: the link has lyrics altered for TV!)

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

John Doe

You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart.

Bob Dylan

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
Okay here is where I acknowledge what a silly exercise this is.
The proper Dylan lyric changes hourly.

Exene & John Doe

She had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.

Patti Smith

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Bruce Springsteen

The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
If I could take one moment into my hand

Graham Parker

Life isn’t good enough. Music makes it good enough.
(Actually that quintessential Parker line
comes from an interview not a lyric.)

Kelly Joe Phelps

like a shine-eyed Mr. Zen
actually I’d probably use the lyrics that Corinne West
surely wrote for him in “Whiskey Poet“,
You took some chances
now the silence is your friend
As will I be in the end

Chris Thile

I’d probably quote his stage observation
that he lives vicariously through his own songs.

Paul Westerberg
(Live video without image.
Song that truncates unexpectedly.
Yup. Those were our ‘Mats.)

Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied.

Neil Young

I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream.

This post responds to a recent WordPress weekly writing challenge about music that matters.)

A Shout Out about Kelly Joe Phelps

Kelly Joe Phelps is one of the great guitar players of our lifetimes.  He clearly lives to play music, he tours continuously, and my guess is that music is what keeps him alive and keeps his many demons mostly under control.

He has just announced cancellation of his current tour dates on two continents because he is suffering from something called ulnar neuropathy, which prevents him from using his right hand.

For all of the reasons stated above, I fervently wish him a fast and full recovery.

Most people don’t know about him. One of the few good and lucky things about the years I lived in Oregon (long and other story) was my discovery of Phelps there, shortly after his career started, back when the locals nicknamed him “Cujo”. As a fan, I’ve strayed over the years, because sometimes he is just too much for me. But I’ve always come back.

If you want to check him out, here are some facts and links:

  • He has nine albums. My personal favorite may be Shine Eyed Mr. Zen.
  • He made one fantastic album with Corinne West, Magnetic Skyline, then, tragically, they broke up.
  • He combines elements of jazz, delta blues, folk, and spiritual music.
  • He is dark and strange and sad and deep – and can be really, really funny.
  • He has been called “the Coltrane of slide guitar” although he does more fingerpicking nowadays.
  • He has lots of stuff on Youtube. His most recent YouTube videos are from his new album. I especially like “Hard Time They Never Go Away”.
  • He has a website that can steer you to the various places to get his music.
  • He has a sanctioned, fan-operated Facebook page.