Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

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The way I sound

February 21, 2017

It started when I was small. As happens.

My dad gave me music.
He listened to swing band, big band, jazz. He used to come home in the wee hours and, as quietly as a drunk person can, put on the records he cherished. I still have them. The sound of a needle on vinyl, crackling through speakers still gives me a thrill and can wake me from the soundest sleep. I’d sneak downstairs and we would swing dance in the living room. Or I would practice my charleston, lindy hop et al while he would pull out his sticks and drum along with Gene Krupa.

I was the only human I knew under the age of 30 who knew of Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Prima (as a musician and not just the voice of King Louie from the Jungle Book). Who knew all the words to most songs from a bevy of classic musicals. Singin in the Rain was my dad’s favourite, Victor Victoria was/is mine. We shared a love of the grand production, such as in An American in Paris where all the music was done by Gershwin. My earliest piano stylings were a result of his genius. I still haven’t learned all of Rhapsody in Blue. Working on it. But at 17 minutes long and filled with key changes from one page to the next it’s pretty involved.

I didn’t realize the music I grew up on wasn’t contemporary until I was of an age to start looking through the record collections of my parent’s friends while visiting. I first heard Led Zeppelin at my godparents’ house. He shared a birthday with my dad and the year I turned 12 we partied there. The music was familiar, I was well versed in the blues but there was a blatant sexuality to it which my pre-pubescent sensibilities latched onto. I declared to my mum that if I was ever going to fall in love with two men at the same time, it would be Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. She responded that I was about 4 years too young and 20 years too late.

From there, I fell down a musical rabbit hole. My world pretty much exploded. I would hitchhike downtown and go to the record shops, poring through stacks looking for the ones that appealed. Asking everyone, “who is this?” when I heard a song I liked and writing down names of artists and albums in the writing book I always had with me.

The quintessentials?
Janis will always have a place in my “gives no fucks” heart. Screaming loud, drinking hard, falling in love with no apologies, she was the blues singer I wanted to be, including the poetic New York Chelsea hotel Leonard Cohen seduction scene. But preferably without all the sad dying by myself in a hollywood hotel room.

T-Rex had a sass to him that I never quite understood, it seemed to come so naturally. I almost came to blows with a friend who insisted that David Bowie is the king of glam rock and while I fucking LOVE David Bowie, he lived long enough to span a number of genres. Glam rock was all Marc Bolan ever really got to try on. And holy fuck did he wear it well.

There is nothing I can say about Patti Smith to cover how important she is to me. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Some moments you never ever forget. The first time I heard that? Yeah.

Marianne Faithful blew my mind with her raspy voice and 80’s anthem to everyone you’ve ever wanted to tell to “Go fuck yourself and die. Seriously.”

When I discovered her music from earlier times, her sweet voice, innocent demeanour, I sought out her history. She’s more interesting on her off days than most people are when they’re on fire. Her song, the Ballad of Lucy Jordan

made me decide at age 13 that I would definitely see Paris, from a sports car with the warm wind in my hair before I turned 37. I did it at 29.

What can I say about Talking Heads? They’re in a category of quintessential all on their own. My aunt, who I idolized when I was 10 and she was 36, had a small apartment with plants and cats and records (the first time I’d ever heard Talking Heads), cool hangings, tons of books and a futon when grownups had beds. I decided I wanted all of that. I wanted to be a cool bohemian like her. At age 30, when I moved into the first apartment I’d lived in on my own, no roommates or lovers to share with, the first record I played was Speaking in Tongues. I had arrived. 6 years before her and just as bohemian as she ever was.

Because of Patti Smith, New York in the late 60’s/early 70’s was the place I had decided I would take a time machine to most readily. The Velvet Underground just confirmed my wisdom.
This song, Venus in Furs, also sent me down a literary rabbit hole that took me to many new unthought of and wondrous places it’s likely best not to mention here. That’s a post for another time and place.

PJ Harvey was the girl I wanted to grow up to be. Still do kinda.

Saucy affair with Nick Cave included, of course.

Nina Simone has been my constant. My high priestess of soul spirit guide and all around badass belt it out cause who gives a good god damn fairy godmother. She’s got swagger in her voice like no one else. There are many blues women that I love (I share a birthday with Billie Holiday), but Nina has a special special place.

And if Nina is my spirit guide and Janis is my drinking buddy and Patti is my inspiration and Marianne is my caution and PJ is my humanity then Amanda Palmer is my dark cabaret piano sisterfriend. I’ve known and loved her since the days of the Dresden Dolls and don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of her. I think she’s fucking awesome.

Typically in my life, I’ve worked jobs where no one sees me unless I fuck up. As a lighting tech, a boat mechanic, a roadie, background waitress, if everything is going smoothly, no one would really notice I was there unless they were looking.
How many amazing front men would have only been great and not incredible but for the stellar backing band they had playing with them? Probably lots.

Booker T and the MG’s did gain a certain amount of notariety on their own, but for a long time, they were (one of the first racially integrated) house band for Stax Records, who produced names like Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Bill Withers…a who’s who of Soul musicians. I could dedicate a whole other post to soul music, it’s one of my favourites. But my last shout out has to be for the guys in the back.

Green Onions is certainly their most famous, but my favourite of theirs has to be Sunday Sermon. Booker T was most known for playing a B3 Hammond organ but in this he’s atypically playing a piano, which is the instrument I love the most. And the subtlety of it is glorious.

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Stepping stones

September 15, 2016

Since I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I would pretend that I had written the books I was reading, dreaming of a day when my books would be in print. I stumbled onto the style I liked best quite early, when my mum inadvertently bought me an anthology of Roald Dahl’s stories when I was 10. I don’t know if she realized that his adult stories were quite a bit overtly darker than his kids stories. I say overtly, because anyone who has read his kids’ stories understands that there is quite a bit of darkness to them. But there was always a separation. The protagonist was easy to love, to sympathize with. The antagonists were comically and absurdly horrid, easy to revile.
His adult stories sometimes lacked this distinction.

*Spoiler alert!*
The woman who kills her husband with a leg of lamb and then serves it to his friends on the police force who are investigating his murder. The woman who knowingly leaves her annoying husband in a horrifying situation before going on vacation. The sweet landlady with a penchant for taxidermy. The adventurous uncle who travels the world, with an appetite for money making schemes surpassed only by his prowess with the ladies.

I saw nothing terribly nefarious about these characters. He made them people I could sympathize with. Perhaps that’s just as much to do with how my brain works, as his storytelling capability. At any rate, I wanted to write stories with lovely twists and turns that resulted in “ooooooh, that’s dark!” or better yet, “Oh my god! I did not see that coming!!!! How very clever!” Neil Gaiman has this same ability, he goes places so familiar and strange it’s like coming home to a place I hadn’t been yet, but always hoped someone might take me to, if that makes any sense. I could do a whole post about him, but this is about beginnings. And Roald Dahl was where I started.

I love his children’s stories. Danny the champion of the world might be my favourite, (young child living simply in a caravan with a mechanic dad??? Foreshadowing of my actual existence, anyone?) though the BFG is definitely up there. I wanted to be Sophie, I wanted to see the dream country. I’ve long desired to have a whole pantry filled with colourful jars that contain every flavour of thing, including dreams, ideally golden phizzwizards.  All of his kids books will forever have a place in my heart.

But the dark twisty delight of his short stories? He took me to places I didn’t think the human psyche could go and still be relatively content they are on the side of the ‘good’. He gave me permission to giggle at the darkness contained in the human mind. That there could be a happy ending of sorts for the ‘bad guy’ who I felt enough of a connection to cheer on. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write stories like that.

I had a box, a red box made of cardboard with little drawers and a lid that lifted up. It contained blank lined paper and pens. The three drawers had three categories of stories. Ones I hadn’t written but copied down because they were short and filled with ideas I wanted to be reminded of, ones I had written that I didn’t think were very good, and stories I’d written that I liked. That I hoped to develop into much better stories for the anthology I would make someday.

Of these, there were stories about a sculptor husband who drove his wife insane with a horrid troll that she insisted was moving though he pretended it wasn’t, a man who had his wife turned into a statue when she told him she was leaving him for another man, a woman who was attacked when the townspeople thought she had come back from the dead, though she’d just been away visiting her sister. For the most part they were pretty badly written. I was in practice mode.
But then I wrote one that I was really proud of. I was convinced it was the best thing I’d ever done. Honestly? I can’t remember for the life of me what it was about. But I knew it was good. Good enough to publish.

I mailed it to Roald Dahl. This was back before the internet, so I had a devil of a time tracking down his address in Buckinghamshire. But I did, and sent it, filled with joy. That was November of 1990. I told my parents while we were driving downtown, I was excited, figuring it wouldn’t be very long before he wrote back, telling me what a charming and clever girl I must be to come up with such a story. I remember how quiet they got. My mum looked at my dad, who was driving, and he looked back. We were on the highway, just about to cross Tillicum road.

“Oh Trish. Roald Dahl died a couple of days ago.”

I don’t remember if I cried. I was 14 and angry about everything, stoic as hell (though according to my dad, I was even stoic as a little kid. He said it used to freak him out how I wouldn’t cry sometimes) and I can well imagine my instinct to withdraw even further into my teen angst bullshit and never let anyone see me hurt.

1990 was a tough year, we’d already lost Jim Henson back in May, my world of creative inspiration gods was getting smaller. Plus I was 14 and everything sucked.

The worst part? I stopped writing stories. I kept writing, I wrote incessantly! Diary entries filled with musings over how futile and lame everything was, how bleak the future and how apathy or rage were the only options. Pretty typically terrible stuff. After I left home, I had my backpack stolen at one point. The loss of clothes was whatever, but all of my diaries from age 12-present day were in there, except for the one I was writing in at the time. I was kind of relieved. I still am. I don’t have the nostalgia for the things I wrote back then, it was fucking terrible. Trust me, I remember.

But it was a damn long time before I came back to anything resembling fiction. Some tiny fragment of my brain wondered at the timing of my grand story and his death. Had he read it? Would it be rude to write to his wife and ask for it back? Did I kill him? (Yes, I know how insane that sounds, have you met people? We’re kinda crazy sometimes)
I also stopped reading fiction regularly for a while. I was pretty busy, what with living on the streets, being a wandering mendicant, journaling epic poetry, gaining perspective and learning who I was without the constraints of societal expectations. I was lucky. For the most part, it was a good experience for me. Sure there were harsh and shite moments, some lessons harder and more painful than others, but I survived mostly intact and have no regrets.

Except one. That I let fear of writing feel louder than the stories that wanted to be told.

I stopped delving into the dark of my own imagination and decided I needed to know how it looked for real, in order to be able to honestly write about it. A lot of Dahl’s experiences in the war changed him. I didn’t want to go to war, but I got caught up in this need to suffer to understand how to be a better artist. It wasn’t necessary and I’m very fortunate it never went altogether sideways on me.
It feels right that I’d come back around to paying homage to my first favourite short story writer on the anniversary of his 100th birthday by submitting a story for publication. Which, coincidentally, has references to Charlie and the Chocolate factory in it. I had no idea it was his birthday when I was writing the story, I only discovered that fact after I’d finished it.

The first story of many I hope to write, to share, and hopefully someday? To make someone feel the way he made me feel.

As though there is magic everywhere, because there is.

Thanks Roald Dahl. For all of it.

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