I was just watching an episode of “Guitar Sessions”, which is a performance/interview show. I just caught the end of the interview with Bad Religion and I was so impressed. If you are not familiar with them, they’re a punk band with great lyrics about politics and world issues. I love them.
The interview was with lead singer Greg Graffin, who is also a part time professor of biology and paleontology at UCLA (his undergrad degree was in anthropology and geology – how could I NOT love him?) and the guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who also owns Epitaph Records. There are two reasons I found this interview impactful:
1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many seamlessly used multi-syllabic words in a live interview. Dang, those guys are smart. It’s one thing to have beautiful language in a song lyric where you’ve had time to address construction and get feedback. It’s something else to have that kind of language at your disposal in a conversation. And not to knock musicians, but really. They aren’t the most erudite bunch.
2. The interviewer asked Gurewitz about how he chose which bands to represent and he said that he had to listen with his heart and not be afraid to like something because he thought it didn’t match the market or that it might make him uncool. He said he couldn’t explain what made great music, but that it somehow stirred his soul. He didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of his comment.
This really grabbed me, especially with my recent decision to scrap the project I’ve been working on for the last three years. I want to invest my time in a project that stirs my soul. In fact, I want to write that phrase on my wall in fancy calligraphy.
An additional point is that these guys are not cool looking. They must all be in their late 40s or early 50s now and they just looked so normal. Like, balding, glasses, normal-guy clothes… And then they performed a great punk standard like that. It was jarring. In fact, it was kind of like watching my nerdy geology professor playing. Or my dad. Very weird.
So there was a blogfest going around about what book sparked your desire to write. I wanted to participate but I couldn’t think of a single book. Not one. And I thought that was weird. Then today I was watching the morning TBS syndicated showing of “Supernatural” (which I totally love, by the way) and the title sequence song was “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. And it struck me that Kansas was why I wanted to be a writer.
If you aren’t familiar with Kansas, they were really big in the ate 70s (I think?). I was born in the late seventies, so my exposure to them was due to my father. He was a guitarist, you see, and he listened to music all the time (just like me – so is it nature or nurture, do you think?). Anyway, he loved Kansas. And the Beatles and Dan Fogelburg and lots and lots of classical music. It didn’t occur to me until I reached middle school that I could listen to anything else.
But I digress. The thing about Kansas is that, like many similar bands in that decade, they wrote story music. It was poetic and LONG and had lots of electric organ solos (which I hate). But I remember being on a girl scout trip when I was maybe 10 years old? And I was listening to a Kansas mix tape on my walkman. I was bored so I was really listening to the words instead of the tune, which was more normal for me. It was “Closet Chronicles” and it’s about a king who disappears. I can’t even summarize it or pull out a few salient lines because the whole song is the story. And as I listened to it and stared out the car window at the high desert landscape, a whole story unfolded in my head and I though “this is it”. And then I listened to “Nobody’s Home” and “The Wall” and they just evoked such vibrant images in my mind as we drove – images that interwove with the landscape and even now when I hear “Coset Chronicles” I see the dusty colors of the mesas and scrub – I think we were driving near Lake Havasu. And when that story plays out in my mind, it’s set in a castle that looks like a towering rock formation.
So I don’t want to write because of books. I want to write because of music. I think that’s weird, but what can you do? I guess it’s all about living in an imaginary world, whether of words or images or harmonies. They’re all linked together for me, anyway. And Kansas has a lesson on story structure, too, but maybe that’ll be my next post.
So let me leave you with a few lines from “Carry On…” that still give me chills:
“You will always remember, that will equal the splendor. Now your life’s no longer empty. Surely Heaven waits for you.”