What being a father gives you

I realise this post might sound a bit schmaltzy or lovey dovey, or soppy, but I’m allowed at least one of these right? I’ll keep it short and you might even agree with me.

I realise that this is a fairly common thing to most who become a parent, but if you are not, you might not have looked at it like this.

I realise I could post about being a dad meaning this or that, or doing this, or doing that, but I won’t. There are plenty of good posts around already doing that.

My one point is that as you become a parent, I don’t think you are prepared for the emotional aspect of it. Of course most people tend to expect that they will love their children, but knowing that, and experiencing it are two different things. It is like having an idea about what love is about between two people. It might be a good idea, but it is never quite the same as experiencing it, having your insides spun or turned upside down, or even torn apart.

What this translates as, is many of the things that you imagine would be annoying, or are with others children, such as changing a diaper (nappy in the UK), or getting drooled on, are no big deal. A diaper can be messy (and at various stages I’ve had some bad ones), but sort it out and five or ten minutes later, it is mostly forgotten about.

What this means is that when you get the little smiles, and in the first few years there are limited social skills, so these are genuine, that they are underwritten with the emotional feelings. When you play a little game and your child makes you laugh, it isn’t just a laugh, it has the loving emotion attached with it.

When I play little games with my 16 month old son, I like to try teach him something, but at the least, make him laugh. I like it when he looks back at me with his little knowing smile, when he has discovered something new, and is showing off, using body language to say “look at me”. I try to get some of these moments everyday because they help make my day. It’s the most fun thing.

Most of the other s**t in life doesn’t matter too much. It’s important, but not that important. Doing something for, building something for, achieving something for, or just doing something your child can be proud of, that’s what seems important. Well it does to me. Even if it’s not immediately apparent.

Being a father gives you perspective.

Lexicon word of the day: ephemera.

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What music and writing have in common

I confess, I seem to be on a music kick this week as far as writing is concerned, on this (dramatic drum roll), … the 15 minute writer exercise blog. Well that sounds kind of clunky doesn’t it? Well it is only an exercise, re-drafts must be on a separate post,you understand – I am enjoying this daily writing, I must confess, there is little about it that is under duress. Hmm…

In a reversal of how rhythm with words is a fine take on (ahem), “good” writing, and I’m not talking about the bad punning, and birthday card poetry of the previous paragraph here, today I’m interested in a different way that music and writing have something in common. It is about how music and writing interact for me, how they may interact for you, and the symbiotic relationship they have on each other, at least in my head.

Pretty generally speaking and excluding people who are trying to listen for specific instruments, people listen to music such as pop, rock, folk, and similar in two ways. The first way is to listen for the lyrics and enjoy a song that way, the music is a lesser priority. The second way is the opposite, they listen to the music, the melodies, riffs, the rhythms, timbre, and so on. The lyrics are the lesser priority, sometimes even picked up phonetically, so that words might be learnt without the meaning considered. This is more common than you might think. I’ve often done it in the past myself. So, and this is interesting because I like reading and writing, I tend to be the latter. The music comes first for me. Now I didn’t choose it that way, that is just what happens, I usually have to work a bit more to get the lyrics, or read them if provided (yet another downside in downloads, which is aside from the quality issue). Yet I still love quality lyrics, they just are not up front for me. Therein lies what appears on the surface to be the first contradiction, but as you shall see, it is not.

I’m a big music fan and in return, music can provide a big inspiration to me. For example, there are times when I may be sitting round, a bit bored, or maybe a bit tired, but seemingly not on the ball creatively. But then I plug the headphones into the laptop, put them on, and play some tracks (oh iTunes you little devil you). Usually within a minute or two I’m caught up in it. Something has happened. I’m caught up in a riff or melody, maybe synchronised with a beat, or riding the changes in tempo. I’m following the story of the music, the ups and downs and everything else, a particular lyric or phrasing, even the emotion of a vocal performance, perhaps the way award is phrased. There is a something. It gets me flowing. Suddenly I have a tempo, or a realisation on an emotional up or down. It can be a bit fantasy, a bit dream like, if you will, it takes me away from where I was and places me somewhere else. It gives me imagination. Somewhat amazing is the amount of times an idea I had in the back of my mind, flies to the front, without conscious prompting, then suddenly I have four or five ideas around it. Things I can add to, or revisit and edit later. Notes that need to be taken.

Sometimes I use music in a different way. Music listened to over time can be very nostalgic, it will soundtrack certain things in your life. Re-listening to songs can bring back memories, feelings, or often different emotions. It might remind you of a great trip somewhere, a little shared moment, or a horrific breakup that tore up your insides at the time. Listening to a song can take you away from where you are now, and in these instances, practically right back to that other place. To me when this happens, it gives me an emotional depth, or an emotional water well from which to draw from. It gives me the emotional thing, the feeling I want to try and replicate. It tells me how something should be, what I should be striving for when I put it into context. It is a way of realising what is in myself, some might take this as what is in my soul. Whichever way you want to take it, the music shows me what is there, it is merely my task to try and use it for what it is. To translate it from the electrical noise in my brain to the written word on the page.

It occurs to me now that as I like music and have quite a lot of it, that my music library is to some extent, a personal library for me, of me. I’m just using it to access me, (or at least parts of me), a bit like an index.

It ought to be clear from the above that I can also use music as a reboot. It triggers my brain into some kind of action. When I really get it right and choose something I’m (often unconsciously), yearning for, then I literally am taken away. I can be swept away  into a different mental state, I can be somewhere else, I can move up out of here and fly. It sounds a little cringeworthy but that is what it is.

Music also makes me respectful of what it is as a piece, as a work, or a project. It can be small and throwaway, it can be about a theme a heartfelt, wrought, piece of emotion. It could be a story, a diary, an emotional moment of someone’s life. It could be days of hard work, or five minutes of inspiration. It can be genius, it can be terrible. It can be a showcase of talent, it can be three or five guys in tune with each other, feeding off each other. It could be the result of hundreds of hours of practice, or something that just seemed to appear and write itself. It can be an attempt to create something specific, to a theme or story, or just something that seems throwaway, that gives a few minutes of entertainment. It could be made in an expensive studio, or in the singer’s bedroom. It could be all this and more. What is not to respect about this? It is someone creating something. When it works it is (in gestalt terms) “greater than the sum of it’s parts”, it is something alive in our hearts and minds. It is the result of everything that got it there, before it slots in and becomes apart of you. It is that we must respect and admire, for if we wish to write something that engages, we wish to do the same thing. It embodies the idea of what we are trying to achieve as a writer.

With all this in mind we must also consider that music can also be used to add to life’s moments. I’m talking about the little things that make you smile, or make you realise that whatever else is going on, a little moment is all that is needed. My 14 month old son is starting to notice music a little more. He is also is getting steadier on his feet, and combining this with bouncing up and down, or throwing his arms around, or even all three. There have been a few times where a song has come on that has grabbed his attention, he looks at me and does his little dance, so I can do it back to him. He laughs, it’s fun, he’s only 14 months old so it is genuine. It makes me love the little fella a little bit more, and thankful that I’m his dad. It’s one of those moments. It is real it was there. What it has in common with writing, and especially fiction, is producing these moments. The moments people can say, “I understand, I was there as well, I shared in it”.

And that is what music and writing have in common. Music can inspire me, it can take me away to a different place, or return me to an old place. It can show me an emotional moment, or it can create a new one. It makes me respectful of what people can achieve, and the process involved in getting it there. If we wish to write, to communicate with others then a great way to do it is to try and create these similar moments. Moments which take a person away from where they are, show them something new, tweak an emotion, make them think, or respectful of what they, or others have. That is what music and writing have in common for me, and why they cannot be separated. I hope you have something like this that works this way for you.

Lexicon word of the day: Magniloquent.

Copper Blue 20 years old this summer

This past monday I was going to write some words on what Copper Blue by Bob Mould’s then band “Sugar” means to me, but I got distracted by the Grammys. It did have some relevance in the end, but it wasn’t what I was going to write about then. – Back in 1992 when I was finding out that I loved music, but was still finding out the beginnings of my taste, I would buy a variety of music magazines / music weeklies, often with a free cassette, so I could check out some tracks, and no doubt then, considered my music collection increased. These days I still buy Mojo magazine, but that point is distraction here. One such cassette from a magazine in those earlier times contained a track called “Changes” by a band I’d never heard of called Sugar. Back then there were lots of bands (especially Indie), that I had never heard of so it was nothing new in that regard. However “Changes” was one of those tracks that was different. It’s opening melody just stood out. It was guitar music but not like the hair metal or fret w*nking, of similar ilk to most eighties rock bands, nor was it the melodies of pop bands like the Smiths. This was a little more dirty sounding, a little more raw and basic (plus at this time I was still yet to hear Nirvana, which followed shortly after). But it felt real in a doable sense, and it rocked. So naturally I wanted to give the album a try.

At this time I owned little music, the indie scene was considered a little bit cool, and (this sounds completely daft now), you didn’t want to make any embarrassing mistakes buying the wrong album. Describing what music you were into was a bit like describing your personality then, although now I come to think of it I can usually tell what someone is into now and vice versa after spending a bit of time with them. Also I find it hard to buy an album after it has done big sales in the charts. It feels like everybody’s then, and not as personal, and that I’m buying it on everyone else’s recommendation and not my own. I want to eliminate most of the snobbishness in writing, but in some ways, I will always be a bit of a music snob. Ho hum.

So to cut a slight tangent off and get back to the point, I bought Copper blue. It was a good choice, didn’t hurt my “music coolness factor”, well actually it probably improved it (not that I was ever cool but you might see what I mean). I listened to it a lot. It was a bit punk, a bit melodic. The singer seemed to be putting a lot into it. It was part of the soundtrack to my college years. This music was real. I still don’t know what I mean exactly, by that. Tracks like “The act we act”, “Good Idea”, “If I can’t change your mind” all seemed to mean something to me, although perhaps as I would come to find out, a little different to what they meant to Bob. But this is how a good album works. It might not sound good at first, but it grows on you, then grows into you, so that it becomes a part of you. The songs become a part of your life, they soundtrack certain things, and remind you of certain things, both of which might be the same. This is what Copper Blue did to me. I still love playing it now of course, otherwise this post might be taking on a different meaning. It went on to become the NME’s best album in the year end poll for 1992, so it validated my pick, but also validated some of my choices in where my music tastes were going. I thought this was important at the time. Is it still now?

It occurs to me that I often find new music by reading the music press (or these days sites like Pitchfork). I’ve read so much of it over the years that I can usually tell by how an album is favoured across a few different publications whether it will be something I would like. This is aside from listening to it on the radio or online. In comparison the itunes / Amazon previews online rarely give me an indicator of this, perhaps because there is only song fragments and I need to listen a number of times. It may have been experiences such as the one with Copper Blue that provided the grounding for doing this, after all I don’t use it as the proverbial bible, but just a starting point. I’m beginning to think Copper Blue has more to answer for than I first thought.

I subsequently learned more Sugar, and about Bob mould (Sugar was essentially a Bob Mould band under a moniker). Bob had been a big influence in the punk scene as part of the band Husker Du, which was a lot rawer, and less melodic than Sugar, or even Bob’s solo material. Later in the nineties, Bob was outed as a gay man so there was the potential issue of the love / relationship songs being sung about another man rather than a woman. Was I bothered about this? Well no actually, and why should I be? I kind of figure that when a song is out there it can be about whoever. Plus relationships have the same underlying emotions regardless of whoever is involved, I’m secure enough in myself that I don’t have to have concerns it they happened to have been written about two men. The music was far too good for that anyway, and I’m also not a homophobic idiot.

Not too many months after Copper Blue came out, a six track mini-album called “Beaster” was released. This was much more raw, and a lot more emotional and cathartic for Bob, you could pretty much tell this from the vocals. These tracks it turned out, were also recorded at the Copper Blue sessions but deemed to intense for that album, so were released separately. I loved this even more. At a push I might even name it as my favourite album, even now. It was just brilliant, – noisy and intense, and at odds from a lot of other music I had been buying (I was likely getting into The Smiths at this point as well). It served as part Yin to the rest of it as Yang, if you want to view it like that, and to which I guess is partially true. It is also played less than Copper Blue. Beaster is a more intense experience and preserved as so by not playing it too often. Copper Blue, brilliant, a little more towards Pop, less intense, arguably Bob’s best album (and my second favourite of his). Incredibly, almost twenty years old (and I suppose with it, Beaster). It still sounds as fresh now, a brings back lots of memories of times long gone. Well that and some new ones. Still good see! – Bob will be playing the album in full, in San Francisco, on February 24th 2012, followed by some European dates.

Lexicon Word of the Day: Lollygag.