No Lyrics, Please

songwritingmachineIn his book, “On Writing,” Stephen King revealed that he listens to rock while he writes. I think I had read somewhere that he once invested in the local radio station in the town where he lives and had them play what he likes so he wouldn’t have to stop writing to turn the record over. Obviously this was a while ago.

I always listen to music while I write. Usually I stream it on Pandora, Spotify, or iTunes Radio. Sometimes I play my own playlists (yes, music I actually bought!). But I don’t just listen to anything. I’m pretty finicky about what kind of music I can work to. Some kinds of music help the words flow while others just distract me. My preferences shift as the day progresses. In the morning when I get most of the good writing done, I play early classical music–Gregorian chants, choral music, lute, just about anything Medieval or Renaissance. John Dowland is my go-to guy. When I need to concentrate, solo lute music puts me in the zone.

After lunch when my powers of concentration are starting to wane, the playlist changes to jazz. I love jazz. It keeps me going. I might start with Eddie Lang, King Oliver, or Sidney Bechet as a transitional stage but end up with Miles, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins… you know, the classics. By late afternoon, I’m dipping into jazz-rock (though I don’t care for that term), particularly the guitar players–John Scofield, Larry Coryell, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Wayne Krantz, Oz Noy and my long-time, all-time favorite, John McLaughlin.

If I’m still going strong after six, blues and rock will take over, stuff that smacks my brain around a bit like cold water in the face. Just enough to keep me focused and on task. Ronnie Earl is always good at this time of the day. So is Ry Cooder (instrumental only), Dead Combo, Booker T and the MGs, and Big Lazy to name a few. From there I often veer into jazzy funk like Soulive, Lettuce, Galactic, the RH Factor, and the Greyboy Allstars. And surf music is always better than caffeine. A cup of Los Straitjackets will keep me going for another hour or two.

Basically I’ll listen to just about anything while I work, except for one thing. Lyrics! No lyrics, at least not in English. Too distracting while I write. I love the sound of voices, but I hate when the singers’ words compete with the ones in my head. Scat is fine. So is Brazilian bossa as long as “The Girl from Ipanema” is in Portuguese or any other language I don’t understand.

Stephen King apparently doesn’t have that problem. Straight-up rock’n’roll is good enough for him. But as I said, I’m fussy. When I’m writing, there can be only one word guy in the room.


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