Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Musical Notes

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Whenever I sit down to write fiction, I take inspiration from music. Jazz, classical, pop, avant-garde, alternative, club, country; it can be any kind of music, even music that I seldom listen to or particularly like. When writing, I play music to find inspiration and establish mood. I try to select music that my main character might listen or relate to, something that reflects her/his values, personality, lifestyle and tastes. Then, once my character and I have bonded over a narrative “theme” song, I gradually let him or her take over at the keyboard, encouraging discovery of their own lyrics. Then, I become the old-time silent film director, standing back, observing, encouraging, watching over my characters, helping them get into their roles, courtesy of an old gramophone, cranked up in the background.

Music relieves the tedium of sitting at a keyboard for long, sedentary hours, while the outside world beckons just beyond that nearby window. Music lets me jump and skip along my story arch, adding, deleting, returning and reworking. It lets me tease out themes, words and ideas, turning a simple dramatic melody into a jazz riff with its own distinctive signature.

Music provides not only inspiration but keeps the material fresh, offering new insights into the character’s inner life. Music offers depth and substance, like a rich melody drifting across a barren landscape.

Growing up, I absorbed music into my pores, especially classical pieces, as if each was a herbal infusion. Today, I still recognize music from films that I may have only seen once years ago. Instead of background, music has always been front and centre for me. I sit and listen, refusing to multi-task when a compelling work comes on the radio. Although my mother was musically inclined and I did play piano (badly) for a number of years, I can’t explain why my affinity to music is so powerful. It is an aesthetic impulse that I respond to like others respond to hockey playoffs or Olympic Games. It is in the blood.

The following lines came to me after listening to an ancient rendition of "These Foolish Things," recorded at the Savoy back in 1936. While my story is set in the recent past and far removed in tone from the dreamy nostalgia of its gentle lyrics, for me, the song served as the ironic inspiration for a story describing romantic breakup, almost in the same way that Stanley Kubrick used music counter-intuitively:

"That fatal summer was hot, scorching hot. Laura had just left his condo for the last time, taking the oxygen with her.

Al was left, stumbling about the airless apartment, gasping for breath, spilling the remains of his once-tidy life across the polished floor. He curled up, fetal-like, in a corner, remaining there for most of the summer, praying for the phone to ring, to hear her breathy voice once more.

The phone did not ring.

Dust settled over him, shroud-like. Cobwebs spread across his limp body; silverfish swam in his ears. His fingernails grew longer than Howard Hughes’; he foamed at the mouth, bayed at the moon, chewed the furniture and drank from the toilet. He placed his bare hands on the stove, turning up the burners until the stench of smoldering flesh filled the air. Mad love is like this. You throw yourself on the funeral pyre, spontaneously combust and pray for resurrection."

Ultimately, music guides my pen and my heart.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

David Tucker

David Tucker is an award-winning television writer, producer and director. His short story collection, One Way Ticket, is published by BookLand Press.

Go to David Tucker’s Author Page