Thank you very much.
Yes, that is a Spice Girls reference.
Today, I want to talk shallowly about the intersectionality of music and literature. Is there such a thing as a writer who doesn’t love music? Many novels and stories have been inspired either by the structure of a particular musical form (think Toni Morrison’s Jazz), the metaphoric, or symbolic, potential of music itself (Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music), or music’s cultural significance (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad). And poetry, of course, is music.
I often meditate on art fluidity. The first thing I used to do when I bought an album was open the lyric booklet so I could experience the lyrics “purely” without musical accompaniment tainting the experience inherent in the language itself. After listening to the record enough times, I’d ponder on its thematic cohesiveness. Do these songs tell a single story? Is there a single narrative that connects each track? If there wasn’t, I’d make one up. I’ve only ever done this in my head, but I believe there must be benefits to writing it down. Maybe in doing so, one could discover something in the structure of the album, in the thematic progression of the lyrics, or within the content of the lyrics themselves that will spark one of those elusive literary lightbulbs over one’s head.
So out of that I present to you this: a lighthearted writing exercise in outlining. Perhaps the process will help you plan that dusty novel collected in no less than twenty different word documents, your character-driven short story collection that feels a little too random, or even that self-help manual you were never planning on writing.
What you should do: Choose an album that you feel has a cohesive theme. Match the album with a particular literary style (Does it hang together like a novel? Short story collection? Book of poetry? A work of Non-Fiction). Read every lyric of every song from the 1st track to the coda. Pick out some of its most memorable lines (no more than one per song, and you don’t need to include every song). Come up with a list of themes you identify in these lines and the songs from which they came.
Remix the lyrics if you have to in order to create that perfect, dynamic narrative arc, and presto—instant inspiration. Or not. But at least it was fun, right? Check out my three examples below.
Author: Tracy Chapman
Title: New Beginning
Literary Style: Fiction/Short Story Collection
“We are the spirit the collective conscience/We create the pain and the suffering and the beauty in this world/Heaven’s here on earth”
“With these we’ll start all over/and make a new beginning”
“Makes no difference if you’re early/No difference if you’re late/When you’re out of time/The flowers have been laid”
“At this point in my life/I’ve done so many things wrong/I don’t know if I can do right”
“And we have been witness/to the rape of the world”
“And don’t forget that you defend an empty space/And remember the tin man/Found he had what he thought he lacked/Remember the tin man/Go find your heart and take it back”
“I want to go where the rivers are overflowing and/I’ll be ready/I’ll be ready/I’m ready to let the rivers wash over me”
Themes: Struggle, Enlightenment, Self-Doubt, Hope, Starting Over
Author: Justin Nozuka
Literary Style: Poetry Collection
“Eyes changing color/Realer than my dreams/Blowing out the candle of eternity”
“And Apollo on his throne as the Sun/Passing blonde wood trees/Vibrant and the leaves/Off to feel the warmth of a perfect melody”
“Master I’ve got no time/After I give you mine”
“Come to the hour of Hera/In the morning she’ll wake you”
Themes: Self-Awareness, Mythology, Journey, Tragedy, Downfall, Peace, Arrival
Author: Fifth Harmony
Literary Style: Non-Fiction/Self-Help; Comedy
Characters: Ensemble of five young women
“Me and my clique goin’ hard/and you feel us/Come on let me take you for a ride/I ain’t got a lotta money/But I got a lotta style”
“Let’s get this clear/All the boys over there/Keep lookin’ over here/But we don’t care”
“Ooh where you from?/Must be heaven/You’d be rich if looking good was your profession/Think I’m in love/cause you so sexy/Boy, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout you/I’m talking to my own reflection”
“C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-T/That’s me/I’m confident/Don’t want yo compliments/Use common sense”
“Just gimme you/that’s all I wanna do/And if what they say is true/If it’s true/I might give me to you”
“Ain’t no use in wasting my time on just anybody, baby/I want exceptional, original/Someone I can’t deny”
“Yeah, I still want you/but I don’t need you/You should be happy/I’m still here/Don’t have to be/You must be blind if you can’t see”
“I won’t believe a thing you say this time/All them other girls told me how you play your game/Yeah we know all about you”
“Don’t go and waste your precious time/With all that nonsense on your mind/Don’t criticize yourself no more/You got a smile worth fighting for”
Themes: Feminism, Self-Empowerment, Self-Love, Self-Respect, Sisterhood