Writers are always talking about muses, those mythical goddesses who lurk and inspire. Yeah, me, too. They can be tricky, because you never know when they’ll come calling. So you have to wait. Trying to stir them up does no good, but you can try.
One good way for me to do that is with music. I’m not the kind of person who can listen to music while writing, though. Or working, for that matter. I end up listening to the music and losing my concentration on the task at hand. But music is great for inspiration.
Some music evokes a scene in my head. Literally. I can be listening to a song and a whole movie scene (an idea, not “Hang ‘Em High”) will pop into my head. Usually, this is in the car and I can’t exactly write it down, just hope I remember it later. But that’s the way my mind works.
What kind of music? Depends, but usually, it’s some form of stripped-down rock or hard-edged country that does it. Lately, it’s been the Black Keys. Even though they’re almost getting too trendy, this band is really worth the listen. The latest album “El Camino” is pretty good example of what I’m talking about. The first track, especially. Trust me, you want to hear this — and see the video. Every song on this album sounds like it belongs in a Tarantino soundtrack — maybe that’s why it gets my imagination going. Or maybe that says a lot about how I view the world.
In any event, it’s not so much a band as it is a style — the Black Keys, White Stripes, Neil Young, the Pixies, Five Horse Johnson. You get the idea.
My first real inspiration from music came in 1987 (yes, I’m dating myself a bit there). I was holed up in San Diego, attending a crash course version of the Marine Corps’ Sea School before deploying — a lot sooner than I had expected — to the Gulf of Oman for duty aboard the USS Missouri. I was listening to KGB one morning when I heard a song introduced as being from “Omar and The Howlers.” Never heard of them. Name of the song was “Mississippi Hoo Doo Man.” OK, now I’m interested. I turned it up and within 30 seconds I was transfixed. There was something … unfiltered about this sound. Gut-punch, no-frills rock and roll that originates about 2 inches below the belt buckle. Driven straight right down to the ground by the blues. I loved it.
Next day, my wife and I were driving around town, listening to KGB again, when Omar Dykes himself came on the radio — live on the air — and did an interview with the morning crew. He talked about growing up in Miss’ippi (McComb, I believe) and playing in Texas and “bending the neck.” Which sounded really cool, even if I had no clue what he was talking about. But he claimed to bend so much neck that he’d broken several guitars. And he and The Howlers were doing a show That Very Night in San Diego. Some club out near Miramar. And, hell yes, we went to see them. And, damn if he didn’t bend that neck. I bought the album (on cassette of course because I was on the leading edge of technology) and took it with me on deployment. And wore that mother out. And listening to “Mississippi Hoo Doo Man” one night at sea, I got the idea in my head of a scene playing in my head. So I wrote it down. I must have written 20 pages (by hand, on a legal pad) that night.
That scene changed a lot — an awful lot — over the next few years, but it eventually became Wade Stuart in Enemy Within.
Music is still one of my, well, muses. I never know exactly what that music will be, but it’s always fun to find out.
Oh, and you can download a Kindle version of Enemy Within or A Simple Murder 99 cents here.