Music/ Writing

On the power of anthems and projection

This morning on the treadmill I listened to one song, over and over: “Unless It’s Kicks” by Okkervil River.

What gives this mess some grace unless it’s kicks, man/Unless it’s fiction

It took me back in time. Not because it was around when I was a teenager, but because it made me feel like one.

Used to be, any time I fell in love with a song, I’d take the lyrics and construct an interpretation that made the song about me, or something I was obsessing about.

This morning, I knew, intellectually, that Okkervil River was not actually singing about:

— not knowing where a story is going and feeling smothered by your lack of ability to articulate it (What pulls your body down, and that is quicksand/So, climb out quick, hand over hand/Before your mouth’s all filled up)

— the idiot conviction that once you do find the flow, often by somehow psyching yourself out (What picks you up from down unless it’s tricks, man? )

— that you’ll somehow know for all future stories (When I been fixed, I am convinced that I will not get so broke up again)

— and that the writing will be amazing, even though it won’t be easy (What a dream in the dark/About working so hard)

I knew they weren’t singing about any of those things. Didn’t matter. Any lyrics that didn’t fit, I mentally elided. Just like back in the day, I transformed “Dancing in the Dark,” minus some less-than-relevant verses, into a song sung from the point of view of a dateless middle schooler bemoaning her fate while scribbling away on Susan Cooper-inspired fanfic. (I’m sick of sittin’ round here trying to write this book/I need a love reaction)

This capacity to insert myself into a song was also good for writing critical analyses of literary works — and, come to think of it, I’d often use the same technique of simply ignoring any aspects of the narrative that didn’t fit my interpretation. (This went over with varying degrees of success, depending on my level of persuasiveness and the professor’s own convictions about the work.)

Y’all, what songs have you appropriated for your own purposes?

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  • Dylan Meconis
    January 14, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    If you remind me about it, I will give you a copy of the Family Man soundtrack, aka the 18 tracks I listen to obsessively whenever I’m gearing up to work on the comic, or when I’m walking somewhere and want to devote my thinking time to working out problems with the characters or storyline.

    While it’s a little hard to explain to people why a novelty track by Oingo Boingo from 1987 is deeply relevant to how I think about characters living in 18th century Germany, it does the trick.

    If a song doesn’t have a hook for one of my plotlines, it’s 40% less interesting to me. I get myself to listen to new music by scanning each song for potential relevance.

  • Sara
    January 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    And this is (one of the reasons) why we are friends. :)

  • Dylan
    January 14, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Isn’t it just?

    I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I moved to Portland and suddenly everybody’s brains worked in the same backwards cloverleaf patterns as mine.