Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Undertakers & iPods

By Laura Spinella

Do the books you write end up with signature playlists? Mine do. It’s a slippery slope that often begins with a bubble gum popping Pink song or the Fray’s latest musical montage. I’m all over the music map: 80’s hits, remastered in my mind, Tina Turner classics, Sugarland… OMG, who wouldn’t want to be her for a day?!? I digress; the point is that every song plays a pivotal role, backing up words I’ve written that day. If I do a good job, I find myself nodding at the tune, agreeing that music and emotion are on the same page. It’s a corny eye-rolling system. But, hey, it works for me. From there a story accumulates music, the verses adhering to me like sticky notes. Some songs reflect a work in progress while others symbolize my frustration over messy plot points and prose that dead end into a literary ditch. And I make that piece of music work, tuning into it in a way that the writer/artist never intended, twisting metaphors and dedicating the lyrics to my characters. That’s okay, I think. Like reading a book, songs are subject to interpretation.

My personal musicality ranks somewhere between a rusty tin ear and a flat F sharp, but this doesn’t prevent me from owning an iPod—though my kids think it should. In the afternoon, we walk: my music, my dog, and me. Lola, the good dog, gets to go because she knows how it’s done. Auggie, the bad dog, who cannot acclimate himself to the rules, stays home and cries at the window. (Don’t feel too bad. My daughter walks him later, Auggie screaming like a banshee the entire way) Lola and I maintain a steady gait and do not deviate from our path; we don’t speak to passersby. Well, except for Jim. If we see Jim, I will remove the earbuds. He owns the funeral home on the corner. His dry wit fascinates me. Maybe that’s because Jim’s days are so anchored to reality and mine are not. After chatting for a bit, Jim waves goodbye, saying something like, “Stop in anytime. There’s always room for one more!” I don’t think Jim gives a rat’s ass about music or writing. Over the years, the walk and music have become part of the writing catharsis. At the end of the day, I actually feel as if I earn it, indulging in tunes that mirror the mood of my work. In addition to the soundtracks that complement the mental movie of each book, there are the pity-me songs, which get me through literary pitfalls, and pump-me-up songs that, eventually, negate the pity-me material. Then there’s the rare day, overload hours where I can’t consider another conundrum or character. They are people and plots that exist because two weird wires crossed in my brain, spitting out 300-pages of something that’s destined to haunt me. You understand the need for the catharsis? Anyway, this queer frame of mind results in my catalog of reserve music. It plays obscure tunes, like Abba’s The Visitors, Rhapsody in Blue, and an 8th inning rendition of Sweet Caroline, live from Fenway Park. If you’re not on my part of the planet, check it out online; it’s amazing. On these days, book music takes a backseat to comfort music. That’s a good thing. No doubt Lola and I will be chugging around the block tomorrow, scrolling through a playlist that has no entertainment value. It only exists to inspire.

So what’s playing on your inner iPod? Is there a go-to song that’s a game changer, or an entire catalog guaranteed to complement your mood?


  1. Laura, I always love your posts! You make me smile, no matter what. Pink and The Fray and Tina Turner classics...yes! I am also a huge '80s rock fan. I love me some Def Leppard, AC/DC, Van Halen, Rush, etc. My pick-me-up is Def Leppard's "Armageddon It," for sure. If I'm bummed before I start listening, I'm up and dancing--and singing loudly & off-key!--by the time it's done. Then I usually play it over and over until my happier mood has stuck. ;-) Oh, hey, Jim the Funeral Guy sounds like he needs to appear in a book!!! (As if you haven't thought of that already!)


  2. Laura, I'm right there with you and Susan with a deep and everlasting love for '80s music (Def Leppard ROCKS!), and there are so many groups today that I enjoy as well. I can see why you love Sugarland. I've been to 2 of their concerts and they were awesome. :) And, yes, I have a musical playlist for every book. Sometimes it wants to take over!

    These past few months, I've been jumping all over the decades and musical genres with my iPod listening -- lots of soundtracks (esp. Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals), some early Boston, Billy Joel, Katy Perry, Shinedown, Matchbox 20, Elton John and Fuel. And always, always Bon Jovi. "Have a Nice Day" and "Lost Highway" have been pick-me-ups this week. And, for the project I'm working on, Jackson Browne.

  3. I have fallen to the tastes of my teens, which means most of my iPod music is their choosing. I have some of my own choices, some Carol King, some music from Hairspray and Dreamgirls. I have some Glee mixed in there, which honestly makes me want to sing and dance!!
    Music takes me back.....Earth Wind and Fire September, and suddenly I am back in college, riding around in a convertible belting out the words......good times. BTW, love me some Jackson Browne.