Our best laid plans didn’t work out. I figured a party on the Basque block would make for some good blog fodder. The appeal, for us, was the paella. This is a saffron rice dish made with clams, chicken, and chorizo. The pan they use is large enough for several adults to slide down a snowy slope. I own a paella pan that could hold a fair deep dish pizza, for comparison sake.
My wife got a text from a friend. The line was two and a half blocks long, and it was over 100 degrees in the shade. We went to one of our favorite little dive places for beer and a steak, and air conditioning. I may have to make my own paella if I can find the correct rice. You have to use the right kind.
This is a long winded way of saying I need a different topic today. I decided to make it about writing, in a round about way. I’m going to talk about Alice Cooper again. You can substitute your favorite balladeer.
Music is a great source of inspiration for me. I find ideas everywhere, but rarely talk about music. I grew up about the time disco became popular. My friends and I all hated disco music. We owned copies of Aerosmith Rocks, and every album Kiss ever put out. Alice Cooper was always my personal favorite.
After the concert Tuesday night, I downloaded a whole bunch of Cooper’s music. These are the album cuts I loved when I was younger. My vinyl, eight tracks, and cassettes are long gone. I may still have a CD lurking around somewhere.
Cooper was fortunate to work in an era where the album was king. Several of his albums tell a story from start to finish. This isn’t possible in our one-song-at-a-time era. In fact, From The Inside may be one of the greatest albums of all time.
Listening to this music as a writer puts a whole different spin on the music. Sure, Cooper has the advantage of sound and chords to inspire different emotions. I have to add emotion in different ways, but I get more words to tell my tales.
When I listened to the song The Quiet Room something struck me. This album is about being inside an insane asylum, and was based upon an alcohol rehab stint Cooper lived through. The lyrics are: How long have I been gone? Did winter kill the lawn?
It hit me; this is all about character. Who asks if winter killed the lawn? It tells me a ton about the character without having to go into incredible detail. Five words and I’m completely sucked in. Now I need to figure out how to do it myself.
Another song is called I Might As Well Be On Mars. It’s about a man who loves a woman who rejected him. He’s on the roof of a building looking at the stars. He looks down and sees cars. The setting is magnificent. What will he do? Is he a jumper? He spots the woman through the window of her favorite bar. I’ve been that guy. I was enamored of someone who never knew I existed.
There’s a lesson here about more than setting, which was great. It relates to me on a personal level. I’ll bet almost everyone has been in that situation at one time or another.
It’s a blog post, so I’m only going to touch upon these two songs. Sure, Cooper is all about dark humor, and there’s plenty of that in other cuts. The guy recorded with Vincent Price before Michael Jackson knew what a zombie even was.
I heard that good stories are all about delivering a powerful emotional experience. (PEE) I’m the kind of guy who has to see it happen before I really get it. I may be on the verge of a breakthrough here.
Emotions can be any kind as long as the reader gets sucked in. It isn’t only about love. Rage, fear, pity, disgust, lust, and depression are all emotions too.
Okay, one more. There is a love song called Millie and Billie. These two are batshit crazy, and they know it. Cooper presents the tale from deep point of view. (Think dialog mostly.) They know they’re crazy, but don’t understand why the things they do are wrong. There is no authorial intrusion, it’s all from the character’s point of view. No preaching allowed or needed. It’s a boy and a girl, I can relate, I follow along. I don’t relate to what they did to her husband, but it’s too late to back out now. I think this is good storytelling.
Note: I also had an epiphany. I hadn’t heard this song in twenty years. I may have borrowed a line from it in one of my upcoming short stories. The difference is I used Mason jars instead of baggies. I’m going to leave the sentence in place. Those of you with an advance reading copy can search “Mason jars” and find it.
I don’t know if the lesson is about a great hook, a PEE, setting, or what. I feel like I’m about to have a writing breakthrough. Maybe I’d better turn on my music and let Alice take me to Hell again.
How about you guys? Is there a lesson here? Is there more than one? Weigh in, maybe you can clarify my breakthrough.