Song of the Week: I’ve Got the Blues

I grew up in a blues household. I’m pretty sure “Hit the Road Jack” was the first song I knew all the words to. Family-room walls featured New Orleans Jazz Fest posters from ’79 and ’80. I semi-seriously planned on walking down the aisle to R-E-S-P-E-C-T (a plan that, sadly, did not come to fruition).

But you know — we all go through phases. Without rhyme or reason, I stopped listening to the blues. I mean, it’s not like I stopped liking the blues. It just wasn’t in the rotation. I started listening to more rock, hip-hop, “alternative” (whatever that genre is supposed to mean).

Then Byron — my darling NPR nerd — started listening to this Sunday night program that exclusively plays the blues. And damn but it is good. I had kind of forgotten how it feels to listen to a really great blues song — how it starts out slow and builds, you kind of lean into it, and before you know it BAM!

The blues have been on heavy rotation at work this week, but the number one spot has probably gone to this oldie-but-goodie:

Dr. Feelgood, man. It starts out unassuming and then just hits you like a ton of bricks. And let’s face it — Aretha is the Queen of Soul for a reason. Forget the voice, do you SEE THAT DRESS?? That is Grade-A Diva dress and it is amazing.

So if you need a Friday pick-me-up, I prescribe the good doctor. He’ll get us to the weekend.

Song of the Week: Girl Power Edition

Growing up, my best friend’s family had the “Song of the Week.” That song played on repeat, ad nauseum, for (you guessed it) one week. The chosen one was blasted through the house’s speaker system, and there were a LOT of dance parties in the kitchen. There wasn’t a cutoff date or anything — one week just seemed to be the lifespan of any given song. And the song was never “officially” selected. It came about naturally, an aural contagion that took hold and spread to the other members of the household.

I apparently never ditched the “song of the week” habit, because I still tend to choose one or two songs during the workweek and listen to them over, and over, and over. When you’re sitting at a desk for 8 hours, you need something to keep you going.

A lot of people prefer soothing background music while writing — not me. I want something with a bit of drive, something that keeps me animated and bouncing and write write writing.

Now, this week, it wasn’t the song of the week — it was the SONGS of the week. Two tunes kept vying for space in my head. And it soon became apparent that they had a common theme: girl power. Not something I intended, but perhaps it’s what I subconsciously needed this week.

So if you want some jams to power you through Friday, might I recommend…

Janelle Monáe is one of my long-time faves, and her new single “QUEEN” does NOT disappoint. Not only does it make you want to get up and dance (or, you know, dance in your work chair) — listen to those lyrics. Kick-ass feminist anthem? YES, PLEASE. (If this convinces you to check out some of her other work, get yourself Metropolis.)

My BFF Mary introduced me to Icona Pop. This song apparently plays over the opening credits of some Jersey Shore spin-off? Which at first made me a liiiiittle ashamed to include it here, but then thought, I DON’T CARE, I LOVE IT. This song makes me grin big. It’s loud and unapologetic and fun. It makes me want get in a car and drive down the highway on a sunny day, arm out the open window. And sometimes, you need a daydream like that.

What’s your song of the day? Let’s turn this Friday into one big dance party.

When Movies Beat Words

I’ve always been a visual learner. Try to explain something to me audibly, and chances are I’ll say, “Can you write that down?” I need to see something in order to get it.

My stories play out the same way. Before I write them, I typically “see” them in my head. And, ok — IT’S NOT THAT WEIRD. I’m gonna guess it’s actually pretty common (fellow writers, yes?). I see the characters, see the lighting, feel the mood, figure out how the scene plays out. And only after that do I figure out how to describe that scene in words.

In this way, movies are sometimes — sometimes — the better storytelling format. Some scenes you can’t effectively put into words. Hell, some scenes are most effective without words. And, you know, if you’re writing? That’s a conundrum.

Oddly enough, these scenes are the ones that stick with me, that inspire me to be a better storyteller. I want to dissect them and figure out exactly why they’re so effective. They’re the ones my brain returns to again and again for inspiration.

Three scenes in particular come to mind, ones that I always press “rewind” to watch again and study. And yes, haters to the left — two of them are Wes Anderson.

This one comes from The Royal Tenenbaums (probably my favorite movie of all time). I love the lighting. I love the slow-motion silence as Margot Tenenbaum steps off the Green Line. I love the row of uniformed sailors behind Richie, stepping in time to the music. I love that you immediately know — without any words said — that these two characters are intensely, hopelessly in love.

500 Days of Summer is a GREAT movie for any writer to study. The way the timeline jumps around could have been hoaky but ends up 100% making the movie. A good example of how to mix up an otherwise pretty straightforward story.

But enough about the movie on the whole — we’re talkin’ THIS SCENE. Which I love. It so perfectly captures that feeling of being on top of the world, when everything is going your way and nothing, no one can stop you. Could this emotion be captured in words? Sure. But I don’t think as well (although if anyone has an example, I’d love to see it).

Oh what’s that? ANOTHER Royal Tenenbaums clip? I warned you, it’s my favorite. And this scene, THIS scene is my favorite scene from any movie, ever:

I don’t even know if I can count how many times I’ve watched this bit. And ok, yes — I realize it’s super depressing. But it’s also amazingly beautiful. The meticulous way Richie cuts his beard. The moody blue lighting interrupted by red. And the music — I mean, let’s face it.  The music makes this scene what it is.

That’s really the one thing these scenes have in common — great music. That’s one area where books can’t compete — there’s no soundtrack. Although I DO think this could be changing. The spring 2013 edition of Kinfolk magazine featured a story with a bar code. Using your phone to scan the bar scode, you could download a song specially written to be played while you read that story. I’ve gotta say, it was pretty damn cool and makes me excited for how we tell stories in the future.

Are there any particular movie scenes that inspire you? Which ones, and why?