Quick Thought: Some Random Thoughts on Music and Writing

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A short time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I used to work Manhattan’s music and nightlife beat for a bunch of small publications. This meant covering concerts, movie premieres, hotel openings, etc., etc. I got started by simply wanting to listen to as much music as possible. I loved talking with artists about their projects, their process, their struggles to create, sell, market, and support their work.

Recently, I listened to Blink-182’s new album, California. It’s a somewhat controversial LP since the band’s beloved co-frontman and guitarist, Tom DeLonge, unceremoniously cut certain ties to the group to pursue different endeavors. Mark Hoppus, now the band’s only original member, and drummer Travis Barker, moved on by recruiting Alkaline Trio’s guitarist and co-frontmant, Matt Skiba. The newly formed trio collaborated on the aforementioned album, which, I think, is a resounding success. The group, which has now been around for decades, has found a way to revisit their classic pop-punk sound defined by power chords, fast beats, and catchy lyrics while appropriately aging with their audience. There is angst in the album; there is sophomoric humor, but there is also introspection; there is reflection. In many ways, it could be labeled as some of Blink-182’s best work.

So, why am I drifting into a quasi-review of a music album when I’m supposed to be promoting a novel? Music, quite simply, is a fundamental part of my own writing process.

Whenever I write a scene, whether it’s for a short story or a novel, I try to accompany it with a song that matches the tone I’m going for. Music, no matter what the genre, is an important aspect of how we come to understand a story or an experience. It is emotion in audio form and therefore universal.

There’s a scene in The Compass from the Red Lands in which Tom and Lynette, the story’s heroes, are traveling from New York City to Colorado. During the road trip, the two come to know one another before venturing into a questionable place to save Tom’s half-sister. The image that kept on flashing through my mind was a bird’s eye shot of the ’76 Grand Prix they’re traveling in with a dusking sky in the background; the headlights are on; the heavy relic cuts through the curving highway to the sound of Ra Ra Riot’s “Ghost Under Rocks” from their debut album The Rhumb Line (great track, incredible first album). The tune perfectly captures the transition from the certainty of routine, no matter how mundane it might be, into an adventurous yet potentially very dangerous world. A song helped me make sense of that section. It provided me with a framework. After listening to the track over and over, I knew what I was going for, I just had to find a way to match it.

Listening to Blink’s California made me think about specific scenes from The Compass from the Red Lands in new ways. Which songs from that album would match specific chapters? How could they heighten the emotions being conveyed in forms that I hadn’t previously considered? Each track lent a new perspective and fresh take on work I didn’t think I’d ever revisit.

Wouldn’t it be nice if every novel were accompanied by a soundtrack? The other side of that coin: wouldn’t it be great if every album tried to tell an extended story? Maybe Blink-182’s next piece will be a pop-punk narrative of epic proportions, and maybe my next post will be the soundtrack for The Compass from the Red Lands!

About Matt Thomas

Matt Thomas is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was named UNsung Magazine’s Short Story Writer of the Year in 2013. His articles, essays, and stories have appeared in The Village Voice, CBS New York.com, The Writing Disorder, The Journal of American Culture, Word Riot, and many others. Thomas grew up in a blue collar town and has lived throughout New York State. He’s worked as a stadium hand, staff writer, janitor, writing consultant, legal assistant, house painter, editorial assistant, and briefly covered Manhattan’s music and nightlife beat for CBS New York.com. While he spent the earlier part of his writing career on music and academic pieces, Thomas is now solely devoted to fiction. He currently lives in New York City.

Comments (1)

  1. Very cool, Matt! Definitely, I feel some books I write (or read) deserve their own soundtrack. I’m currently working on a concept album for The Duchess Quest that bends music genres in the same manner it bends literary genres, while also telling the story and putting to music lots of the songs and poetry I wrote into the book.

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