Monday, May 16, 2011

A Sense Of Yearning For A Future That We All Knew Would Never Come To Pass

My interest in pop music came late in my teenage years, long after I began to devour every SF novel I could find. We had more books than singles or LPs in the house: the singles were my sisters, the LPs my mother’s small collection of film soundtracks. My grandmother, who lived next door in the 1930s, had an old windup 78 player set in a cabinet, with one of those recurved horns that acted as a loudspeaker. There was Top of the Pops, which everyone seemed to watch in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the enforced jolliness and restricted playlist of Radio 1, and the pirate radio stations my sister chased across the dial of our radiogram, and that was about it until one day in 1972 I bought my first LP: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders for Mars (I still have it). It was SF; it was a concept album with a proper narrative arc; I played it to death.

I’m still a fan of Bowie. Bowie in his 70's pomp, at least. And every since Jack Womack pointed me to it, I’ve been following the track by track story of his career on the blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame. It recently reached one of my all-time favourite Bowie songs, “Heroes”, anatomising both the song and the circumstances of its creation in wonderfully acute detail. Even if you’re not especially interested in “Heroes”, or David Bowie, it’s worth reading for its insights into the creative process. Here’s the important stuff that’s often left out of creative writing courses. Starting from scraps of discarded material. Pulling the structure together using a mixture of technique and improvisation and use of found material. Finishing it in a final burst of inspiration (or desperation). All of this at least as important as any planning; all of it following instinct rather than agreement on what's allowable.  Sure, studio recording is a collaborative effort, but Bowie is at the centre, and very often, especially during the Long March of writing a novel, even before your editor becomes involved, isn't writing is a collaboration - a dialogue with your past selves?


Anonymous Al R said...

It doesn't get much better than Heroes, does it? I never tire of it. Fripp was called in to lay down some "hairy rock guitar", at a point when he was more or less out of the music biz.

Right. I'm off to listen to it again.

May 17, 2011 5:15 pm  
Blogger GhostofChristmasPast said...

Wow. Thank you for recommending this site. As a someone who is also a long-time Bowie fan, this is going to be a real treat.

May 17, 2011 6:22 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Bowie is a perennial, and I still play his 70s albums. Recently I discovered another great one from the 90s, Outside, which I can't recommend too highly.

May 17, 2011 6:57 pm  

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