Music for Memoirising

Here’s a gim­micky new idea from the mind of the man behind the screen.

I am writ­ing (actu­al­ly most­ly just think­ing about writ­ing, or talk­ing about writ­ing, or — as is the case here — writ­ing about writ­ing) a mem­oir of my expe­ri­ences as a col­lege sem­i­nar­i­an. It is a project I have tak­en a long time com­ing to, and even now it is only with the trea­sured encour­age­ment of a num­ber of very impor­tant peo­ple in my life that I dare to think I can make a go of it.

But I am a pro­cras­ti­na­tor to my mud­dled core. So rather than buck­le down and churn out a page or three of imper­fect prose, my mind comes up with a ‘sup­port project’ for the actu­al project: a sound­track for my memories. 

Now, I do not write in silence. My pre­ferred writ­ing atmos­phere is actu­al­ly quite a dis­tract­ing one. After I grad­u­at­ed I would often write in crowd­ed col­lege bars after fin­ish­ing my late shift at the book­store. More than once a curi­ous girl came over to my table to ask me what I was doing; only lat­er did it occur to me I could have pro­longed the con­ver­sa­tion, bought her a drink, tried to get a phone num­ber. I was too focused on get­ting the ink onto the page to think of such super­fluities. I just liked the bus­tle and roar around me as I allowed the ideas I had been form­ing all day long to spill out as fast I could move my hand while main­tain some min­i­mum stan­dard of leg­i­bil­i­ty. (The ben­e­fit of an attrac­tive wait­ress to bring me beer did noth­ing to detract from the appeal of the place.) 

Any­way, as I com­mence upon a project that large­ly con­sists of try­ing to re-inhab­it my head­space (and soulspace) of ten years ago, it occurred to me that the music I lis­tened to (or mere­ly heard) at that time would be a very clever choice for ‘writ­ing-time’ music now. I pulled out a few discs and start­ed drafting.

And the more I thought about it, the more weight the idea took on. I redis­cov­ered pop­u­lar music in col­lege, after a long ado­les­cence of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion to its unmit­i­gat­ed evils. So the tunes I enjoyed in those years are redo­lent with lay­ers of nos­tal­gia; what bet­ter touch­stone to assist me in recov­er­ing the mem­o­ries of the most dra­mat­ic years of my life? 

And so, assist­ed by the mag­ic of iTunes, I am assem­bling as best I can a playlist of what I remem­ber from the last half of the last decade of the last cen­tu­ry of the last mil­len­ni­um. It is not nec­es­sar­i­ly all songs I loved, but it is songs I heard, on mem­o­rable road trips (Blessid Union of Souls, “Hey Leonar­do”), late at night through the head­phones as I strug­gled with a final draft of my New Tes­ta­ment research paper (Ever­clear, “Father Of Mine”), over and over again through a neigh­bour’s wall (Cher, “I Believe In Life After Love”), or over and over again on my Dis­c­man as I stalked the cam­pus mak­ing up my mind as to the future of my voca­tion (Rage Against the Machine, “Killing In The Name”). They are songs that formed the back­ground of a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of my life, and often leap out of the back­ground in my mem­o­ry to play an inte­gral part of the remem­bered experience.

The dan­ger of a project like this is that it all-too-eas­i­ly becomes the project, dis­plac­ing the project it was meant to assist and enhance. I am an insa­tiable com­pletist, and I can already feel the desire to col­lect every song that I can remem­ber from that era, track­ing them down far and wide. Yet I am acute­ly aware of this haz­ard, so hope remains that I can put this musi­cal prompt box togeth­er quick­ly and eas­i­ly, with a min­i­mum of time and effort. Then I can push play and turn back to the writ­ing desk, and snatch the flut­ter­ing mem­o­ries out of the air as they waft past, pin­ning them to the page with pins of ink. Then I shall know if any of this was worth the trouble.


  1. First of all, col­lect away! Music does­n’t just serve to awak­en your mem­o­ry. In this case, it also enrich­es the back­ground for your sto­ry, even though it was not so long ago. I think its impor­tant for your sub­con­scious writer (oth­er Gem­i­ni twin?) to set a strong tone, and if that means nos­tal­gia indul­gence via iTunes, go for it.

    Sec­ond­ly, can I write the screen­play? Huh, huh can I? Please!! You’d already have the soundtrack…

    Last­ly, I may James Frey this Cher-lis­ten­ing neigh­bor char­ac­ter in the screen­play. And it may involve wigs, panty­hose, heels, ace ban­dages and a heav­en that is noth­ing but a giant Mac make­up counter.…

  2. Yeah, but seri­ous­ly. Some­times you just have to stop think­ing and write.

    Good luck. This sounds like a good project. If your mem­oir is good, I’ll send it to my dad. He’s a hon­cho the­olo­gian with a Catholic press.

  3. Exact­ly, Michéle: at what point am I just pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, or dis­tract­ing myself from just putting ink on the page? I sup­pose I can do both (bal­ance? what is this non­sense I am talk­ing?) but if it is tak­ing me away from the writ­ing part of writ­ing, then what am I real­ly up to?

    And yes, h.b., the screen­play is yours. Remind me to tell you some sto­ries about the Cher-blast­ing neigh­bour. Hell, look for them here — eventually.

    Back to my pen.

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