If ever I am asked which I would choose to be without in my life, books or music, it’d be a close call (although for the record, I’d keep books in my life over music!).
I’ve always thought music and literature were closely linked. I might even go so far as to suggest they’re siblings. Music, at least the kind with lyrics (and a strong case could be made for instrumental music as well), is really about stories. A song is a story. A song is about people or characters and what happens to them. Sound familiar?
The Power of Music
Music makes us feel things; reading stories makes us feel things too. Music, like books, tell us about people and how they feel when certain events happen to them. Music and novels transport us to another place, another world. Both spark certain memories from our lives. Both have the power to make us feel happy, sad, hopeful, despairing. We crank up lively music when we’re in a celebratory mood. Conversely, when we’re sad, a good blues song can offer the kind of companionable solace we crave at that difficult or lonely moment. As for books, my reading pile often reflects my mood. I can’t read a murder mystery if I’m feeling like there’s too much sadness in my life. If I need an escape from difficult things, I’ll grab a romance novel from my TBR pile. Alternately, if I’m in the mood for a good dose of reality, I’ll pick a non-fiction book.
I got to thinking about the link between music and literature when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this fall. And while Dylan isn’t a novelist, he is inarguably a storyteller of the highest order.
Other songwriters and songs can also rival the best stories and writers. Who can argue that “American Pie” or anything by Simon & Garfunkel or David Bowie or Johnny Cash isn’t a good story? How about brilliant songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Lennon & McCartney, Carole King? Those musical heavyweights rival novelists like Atwood, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Greene.
I sometimes like to write to music, though not always. If I’m struggling with a certain scene or I’m writing something that requires a lot of reflecting and thinking, I’ll choose silence. But if I’m writing something light or something romantic, I’ll often throw on my iPod.
Stephen King once wrote that he writes his horror fiction to heavy metal rock music. I lean toward lighter rock, blues, pop, country, and of course romantic ballads if I’m writing a love scene.
Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks writing a short story set in the Second World War. To help me get a feel for the era, I created a playlist of songs from the late 1930s and early 1940s, songs like “As Time Goes By”, “Stormy Weather”, and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. Listening to those songs really helped mentally transport me to that time and place, which, as a writer, I need to do in order to transport my readers there as well.
Do you listen to music when you write or when you read? What’s on your playlist?