By Lee Strubinger
Some days I can’t decide which is better, music or the written word. Some times they go hand in hand, but other times they do not. It depends on what kind of special circumstances create the lucidity every writer is a junkie for… that moment when the right words flow effortlessly from mind to hands to page. We’ve all, hopefully, been there and remember the feeling. It’s a special moment.
For me, sometimes music can take me to that place. Other times it prevents me from reaching the hems of the muse’s dress as it blow softly in the breeze. But this post is about the music that has taken me there, and perhaps many other writers. When the moment is right the music dances through my head like some crazed carnival, and when I come to maybe 20 or 30 minutes later I feel as though I went through several lifetimes… or at the very least experienced fully what I had just written. We’ve all, hopefully, been there.
I wanted to put together a few tracks/albums that have helped me write, historically, and hopefully they’ll help you write when you get the chance to sit down next to some speakers. Most of the suggestions are jazz, or contain zero lyrics. However, two of my suggestions do, but the emotion and feeling from them are too good not to use for inspiration.
Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray “The Hunt”
A double LP, four songs, “The Hunt” is one of the rawest jazz recordings of all time. Raw to the point where on track two and three you can hear a few beatniks shouting at the band, “Go! Go! Go!” The album is referenced in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road when Dean Moriarty finds Sal Paradise at his cousin’s house during Christmas. Dean arrives at the house unannounced and puts the record on while eating a plateful of Paradise’s family’s Christmas dinner. A must-listen to dial into that blank page, furiously jot down words to the pace of the rhythm and whimsicality of each musician’s solo.
Grateful Dead “Dark Star”
This twenty minute long track is a Grateful Dead staple. Feel the fluidity of the jam as it takes off, slows down, and builds back up again. Let Jerry Garcia’s guitar infiltrate your subconscious as Billy Kruetzmann and the rhythm section drive your written words beyond where you thought they’d go before.
John Coltrane “Blue Train”
This album is here for obvious reasons. If you haven’t heard the album before I suggest you get to it.
The Rolling Stones “Let it Bleed”
Sometimes music can influence how and what we write. Sometimes our writing could stand to have a little more edge. There’s no better place to find edge than with rock n’ roll. What better band to turn to than The Rolling Stones? Listen to “Let it Bleed” while you write and see what happens. At the very least you might start grooving like Mick Jagger, which is certainly not a bad thing.
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
Much like “Blue Train,” this album is here for even more obvious reasons.
Bob Dylan “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”
Dylan’s music is the closest thing to literature that’s out there. It’s poetry set to the tune of folk music. As a wordsmith, Dylan’s phrasing is something completely special. Set aside what most people say about his vocals (which I find perfectly beautiful), as a first “proper” album, “Freewheelin’” was recorded and released when he was 22 years old. Talk about an achievement. We can all learn something from this album.
Last, but certainly not least, listen to your local classical public radio station. It’s commercial free, and the only breaks in the music come from soft spoken hosts who clearly understand the music is more important than their voice.
It’s my sincere hope you get something from this list of music I present to you. It’s certainly not complete, but these albums and songs are my initial go-to for when I sit down to meet the muse.