The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What’s On My iPod

Apparently this is a popular celebrity related question. I am not a celebrity, but music, and therefore my iPod, is a constant in my writing life. My iPod trumps the TV for background noise while I sit at my computer tappity typing away. My musical taste is fairly bizarre and abnormally eclectic, but after reaching the middle of my thirties this year I no longer care what you all think of my eccentricities (or lack thereof) in the musical realm.

I listen to a plethora of instrumental music while I’m writing. Not just classical and jazz, but big band and lots of orchestrations and full score soundtracks. This isn’t always the case – mostly because I listen to too many different types of music and yet not enough. I spent all of November listening to only Lady Gaga because her music played an important plot point in my current manuscript. Of course if I were to publish that particular ms and she didn’t give her permission, I’d have to come up with a fictional musician who had a similar repertoire. This is bothersome; the uniqueness of Lady Gaga is what makes the plot point important. It’s just another writing conundrum on the back burner slowly simmering, patiently waiting to become an actual publishing problem.

On-the-Go Playlist

I walk to and from the part-time job hobby most days. It’s often my favorite part of the day because it’s just me, the outdoors, the music and my castles in the sky. I’m lucky. The thing about walking 3 to 4 miles a day outside in MN all year long is that it’s ungodly cold a good portion of the time…and then Amazon hot and humid other times. This is when that little “on-the-go” playlist function on my iPod comes in handy. I can make a new playlist everyday, hit shuffle and go without the need of exposing bare skin to the elements when I don’t like, or want to listen to, a particular song.

As you’ve guessed, I’ve become an expert master at the on-the-go playlist – combining diverse rhythms, tempos, speeds and lyrics into a masterpiece of eclectic design in 45 minute spurts. There are lists that make me linger and ones designed to make me get from point A to point B in the quickest time. During the bitter cold walks I often put complicated and dense music on the list – hoping I can concentrate on unraveling the meaning behind the lyrics and forget about winter slowly ripping my face off with her cold burn. At other times I’m in a more completive mood and want easy music I can think around; music to flesh out a flat character or delete superfluous extra characters while I’m away from the computer and my words. And because I’m geekerrific and spent too much time in my formative years creating choreography for synchronized swimming routines, I often find myself thinking about different music that would work as dance or ice skating choreography: I’m still waiting for the “Caribbean Blue” waltz and the “Telephone” Paso Doble on DWTS. Come on, it would be awesome!

My on-the-go lists usually only last a day or two and then I try a different combination. Before now, the longest list lasted a week. Three weeks ago, when the weather here started thinking about maybe, possibly becoming springtime; I made a playlist to coincide with this wish for just a little bit warmer weather. It’s hard to figure out how to dress for outdoor activity during March and April in MN. There’s still snow and ice, but there’s also a lot of water and mud. In the morning a winter coat is needed but in the afternoon sometimes no coat at all is best. I wanted the playlist to take all of this into consideration, but mostly be hopeful and energetic. Something to brighten my mood and make me look around at all the changes spring brings with it. Three weeks later and I’m still quite content listening to this same playlist. Oh, I shuffle it everyday for a different combination and surprisingly, each new combination brings a different shade of spring into the light like an endless list of possibilities. And that’s what’s on my iPod right now.

The List
Here’s the list in alphabetical-by-title order. These aren’t all of my favorite songs or artists, but for some reason this playlist has intriguing staying power.

“Cecilia” – Gaelic Storm cover of Simon & Garfunkel
I listen to a lot of Irish bands in March; it’s my homage to St. Patrick’s Day. Plus, Gaelic Storm is one of my favorite bands and “Cecilia” has been on my list of favorite songs since 1994 when Torvill & Dean ice danced to it at the Olympics. I don’t think this version is better than the original, but doesn’t everything sound better with a bodhran drum?

“Charge” – Splendid
I have no idea why I like this song. I’m also not sure why it works so well here, but somehow it fits right in. There are those songs that may mean different things to you each time you listen, but you’re always going to love them. This is not one of those songs. At times I will go months – if not years – without hearing it; then when I do decide to listen, I need to hear it over and over again. This is one of those times. Plus, the line, “Confusion is a definite direction” is oddly gratifying.

“Come On Eileen” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
The 80s at their best! You know you love it too. Not only is it frenetic and easy to walk to, but for me it is nostalgic. When I moved to London I was still young enough to listen to most things my mom warned me about, so I did not take any CDs or Discman with me (Remember I’m old and therefore my college years were spent pre-mp3). Week two found me inside a Tower Records purchasing a two tape compilation of 80s music from the sale bin. The entire collection became my London soundtrack (and not just mine, it was so popular we hooked up little travel speakers to my walkman and turned it into party music on a weekly basis) and this song was my anthem. Toora loora toora loo-rye-a, I could hum this tune forever.

“Free” – Zac Brown Band
This song puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. It so doesn’t mean that I’m a country music fan; it just means sometimes country music exactly puts your abstract thoughts and feelings into song and makes them seem easy and attainable. Also, damn you Chris for suggesting this one…and by that I mean thank you.

“Hallelujah” – Vitamin String Quartet cover of Paramore
Euphoria. That’s what I feel every time I hear this song. I’m fairly certain it was made to move to. I do like the cover better than the original. With music you don’t always need words. Sometimes they are essential, sometimes it’s a partnership, but often the music speaks for itself.

“Illusion & Dream” – Poets of the Fall
Truthfully, the lead singer’s voice of this Finnish alternative rock band makes me melt. I have no idea what he looks like, but it really doesn’t matter. Yep, you all know what I’m talking about. POTF are very easy to write to as a rule and apparently just as easy to walk or run to. This song is a little slower than some of their others; it gets under your skin and sinks into all your nerve endings in a hypnotic way that scares me a little – but mostly leaves me peaceful and smiling.

“Jubilee” – Mary Chapin Carpenter
No one is surprised by this at all, at all. I often find my soul in a Mary Chapin Carpenter or Ani DiFranco song; so inevitably, one of them usually appears on my on-the-go playlists. What I like about Miss Carpenter – and all singer/songwriter performers – is the variety: many different styles, many different moods. I don’t have a favorite song; rather, a different song lends itself to my state of mind on any given day. At this moment in time that song happens to be this one.

“Kelly’s Wellies” – Gaelic Storm
March and Gaelic Storm again. Also, there’s so much water right now, I really should invest in a pair of rain boots; the snow boots aren’t really doing the trick. I’m wading through my fair share of ankle deep water and jumping into lots and lots of puddles: Yes, I am 35 going on 5, thank you for asking. But really, traditional Irish music is actually tangible. Much like the African-American spiritual, “Trad” is a part of the people and the place it originates from – stories past down in an oral tradition. The music itself can be touched, sensed and felt. If you ever get a chance to hear it in person – a bunch of local Irish lads in a small pub somewhere in Ireland – DO IT!

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Don’t judge me! Actually, feel free to judge me; I don’t mind. Seriously though, there is something about listening to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in spring. And the ukulele version is obviously the best, duh.

"Teeth" – Lady Gaga

I admit it, I am a little monster. I think all of Lady Gaga’s music is on my iPod - which must make me a fan. And for no reason at all this is my very favorite. The beat is so strong; I think high school marching bands should think about performing this one. That is if high school marching bands can perform something containing the lyric, “take a bite of my bad girl meat”…so perhaps not. I feel fierce while stomping around listening to this song, like I should be on a runway modeling clothes with Tyra Banks somewhere.


  1. "This circle represents people who are breaking my heart, and this circle represents people who are shaking my confidence daily. And where they overlap: Cecilia." That is always where my mind goes when someone mentions that song.

    Also, great list. It's always interesting to find out what other people are listening to. I, too, am a big fan of the easily changed/updated on-the-go playlist.

  2. Oh, Marshall, your charts and graphs make me laugh so.