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.

3 thoughts on “Music for Memoirising

  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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