Category Archives: music

The indie theory of relativity

Last week I had lunch with my friend Julie Rose; Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food in Santa Clara was the place, and yes, football was on our minds, as she’s as big of a 49ers fan as I am.  After much commiserating, we left sport for authorial topics, which always warms my heart.  There are many good things in this world, and chatting with another writer nears the top of the list.

I was thinking about this last night as my husband pulled out boxes of 45s, searching for one specific piece of vinyl, bought in the UK, where most of his singles were purchased.  From completely obscure artists, like Southall Riot whom he was looking for, to collectible 45s, he had a heyday when we lived in Yorkshire, shipping so cheap from the continent.  Mostly he picked up local bands, like Subaqwa, but The White Stripes was found via his hunts, alongside other groups that faded into the background.  One was from Wales; Crak’s single was encased in black polka-dotted purple fur.  They sang in Welsh, not sure what the song was about, but it certainly was intriguing.  Of course this led me to considering indie musicians versus writers, one of the issues Julie and I mulled over last Friday.  Within the traditional publishing culture little room remains if someone wanted to release their novel in purple polka-dotted fur.  But it sure seems like a cool idea.

A postcard of the band was included in this single.

A postcard of the band was included in this single.

Now, a single isn’t the same as a novel; maybe 45s are equal to short stories or flash fiction.  My husband has five trainer-sized shoe boxes full of singles, some in simple paper sleeves, some in elaborate packaging  like that purple polka-dotted number.  One single was a 5-inch, CD sized.  It was on the Black Bean and Placenta label (no, I’m not making this up), out of Mission Hills, California.  No band name, no song title, but that was okay, it wasn’t all that great.  But it WAS.  Someone wanted to release a 5-inch single, and they did so.  Yeah for them!

Coloured vinyl didn't help decipher the Welsh lyrics, but it looks stunning on the turntable.

Coloured vinyl didn’t help decipher the Welsh lyrics, but it looks stunning on the turntable.

I started thinking about relativity last night as unknown songs wafted through speakers.  Maybe it was from one of the 45s that featured Einstein on its sleeve.  Relative means, among other definitions, a thing having a relation to, or connection with, or necessary dependence on another thing.  Writers, like musicians, harbor ideas.  We corral mediums to express those ideas.  Finally we connect with audiences, large or minuscule, to share those ideas.

Hence the indie theory of relativity.

It’s not a very big theory, no Nobel Prize in the works.  Just that as indie musicians thrive, indie writers are too.  Independent authors are a little newer on the scene, in the getting noticed sort of way, but writers have been publishing books without publishing houses far longer than vinyl records have even existed.  Yet history’s grand weight has weighed down on authors, as if traditional methods of publication were the only ones acceptable.  But that doesn’t seem to bother musicians all that much.

Number 8 was released, but number 10 never was, so sad!

Inserted into one of Southall Riot’s singles was this notice. Single number 8 was released, but number 10 never was, so sad!

I believe, and this is just me, it’s to do with rock music’s youthful spirit, its alternative vibe.  Parents in the 1950s were scared outta their skulls at Elvis; Ed Sullivan couldn’t even broadcast Presley’s whole form, filming him from the waist up.  Publishing is assumed for intellectuals, rock and roll for kids.  That’s a very broad generalization, but it’s mine, and I’m sticking to it, filing it under the indie theory of relativity.  Ideas exist, are expressed via language, transmitted through paragraphs and chapters, ’nuff said.

Well, not quite enough; the other thing I thought about last night, listening to The Cramps, Mohave 3, Black Tambourine, Subaqwa, Crak, and a few others, was how these records are a part of this world in which I live.  People wrote and played their songs, then turned them into 45s.  Subaqwa made an album, EPs too.  The Cramps had an illustrious career, only ended at the death of singer Lux Interior (may he rest in peace).  None of those groups were The Beatles, but thousands of stories exist beyond bestsellers.  Yesterday my husband was also listening to his Original Master Recordings of Beatles’ records.  He’s had that box for ages, never plays those albums, but yesterday was a day to dust off memories.  (Literally, as when he removed the singles box from under the stereo, a cloud was stirred.)  We enjoyed the Fab Four in the morning, indie artists that evening, relativity floating through the room, along with dust particles.

No artwork on the albums, sort of cheesy if you ask me...

No artwork on the albums, sort of cheesy if you ask me…

Specks of those songs travel as well, from The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” to “What’s Inside A Girl” by The Cramps, a Welsh band in between.  I’m gearing up for some writing in April, and by July, I’ll be celebrating two years as an indie author.  Maybe it’s my rock ‘n roll sensibilities keeping me enthused, maybe it’s a never-quiet creative spirit.  Maybe it’s music, well, I know it’s music; give me a song, I’ll tell you a story.  It’s the indie theory of relativity, far easier to digest than Einstein’s theory of relativity, but part and parcel of this great and grand universe.  Write your story, or make your music, and join the party!

Hard not to get inspired by this, pink vinyl to boot!

Chalk Circle

Chalk Circle by Subaqwa, released in 1999

The title of this post is also that of an album, or more rightly, a CD from 1999, by a band called Subaqwa, out of the UK.  I bring it up because it’s a fantastic record, but like so many fragments of life, destined to be swept away like post-it notes I no longer need.

Chalk Circle is just another record made by a band that broke up, musicians moving to other groups or jobs, but we have the CD, the songs play in my iTunes and on my husband’s music program.  As an indie novelist I believe this album is vital just because it exists; twelve songs were made in the late 1990s, five of which have sat within my digital music collection as if an EP.  But books aren’t just scattered chapters, and finally two nights ago my husband ripped the whole CD, neither of us certain why all these years less than half the album had graced our collections.  Since then I’ve been listening to the record as if it was an actual album, tunes in proper places, and it’s great, the ‘new’ songs merging perfectly with ones I’ve known for years.

But other than this post, an Amazon site, a couple of pictures found via Google images, and a Last.fm entry, almost nothing about this band can be found on the web.

How many indie novelists fill the internet, indie bands for that matter?  But in 1999, the web wasn’t what it is now, no smartphones to easily snap pictures, then upload onto sites.  All the shots on this post were taken with my phone, sent to my PC, then slapped on here.  In 1999, cells and mobiles weren’t that handy or versatile.  I don’t know anything about Subaqwa, maybe they were just destined for one album, and three EP’s.  Other obscure groups have caught my ears; Hurts To Purr, Hilsinger and Beatty, and are just meaningful, as important.  People got together, recorded songs, released those tunes in one form or another, making their ways into ears and minds, hearts and souls.

I so miss cool inserts, even if they fold into several layers.

I so miss cool inserts, even if they fold into several layers.

There doesn’t have to be loads of hype, just a cause, a reason, and an audience will emerge; in 1999, my husband bought some Subaqwa singles after reading about them in Record Collector magazine.  Then he went to the Borders in York, right across from Bettys Cafe.  He asked about ordering their CD, and a few weeks later we picked it up.  Probably had a cuppa at Bettys as well.  Then it became a part of our lives, in pieces.  Five songs were ripped onto the computer at the time, traveling for ages, even across an ocean.

Chalk Circle insert part 2

Then on 3 February, 2013, I asked my spouse if there were more Subaqwa songs.  He retrieved the CD, slapped it onto a machine, and the rest of the tunes were added to the collective.

Chalk Circle insert part 3

Uploading a novel into cyberspace is just as easy, although what comes first takes ages, like fashioning the tunes from lyrics and melody to guitars and drums.  But once the art has been polished, it takes so little effort to save it for eternity, or however long the web will last.  CDs are quaint now, although the insert is pretty cool.  The lyrics are hard to read, the Thank You’s a little more legible.  Liner Notes are a thing of the past in digital downloads, but a permanent fixture at the end of all my books.

Between albums and digital files was the CD, but at least inserts still survived.

Between albums and digital files was the CD, but at least inserts still survived.

I might be a bit of a Luddite, just coming to own a smartphone, but when it comes to other aspects of modern living, I am all over it.  More on my smartphone, and dying arts, soon…

Teardrops and scientists

For all I know, I still live in a tunnel.  Yesterday I learned that “Teardrop” by Jose Gonzalez is a cover of Massive Attack’s original, vocals by Liz Fraser.  I’ve used Gonzalez’s “Teardrop” on the playlist for The Timeless Nature of Patience, but listened, for the first time, to Massive Attack’s version; I love it as much as Gonzalez’s.  Fraser wrote the lyrics, the song released in 1998.  Having absorbed her version only a few times, I’m already captured, wondering what book that tune will eventually inspire.

This is how it starts, from a song to a story to a novel.

Sometimes I know the music backwards and forwards.  Sometimes it comes veiled, like “The Scientist”, but not by Coldplay.  Same tune though, interpreted by Willie Nelson.  Yes, that Willie Nelson.  He recorded it last year, then included it on Heroes, this year’s album.  It’s gorgeous, blew me away on first listen.  Then I began digging; Coldplay released it in November, 2002.  (November is such a good month!)

In 2002, I was living in Britain, but not paying much attention to Coldplay.  Ten years later, the only thing I know about the band is the lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow.  Or I assume they’re still hitched.

I heard Willie’s album in summer, which lead to the novel Splitting the Sky, written in August for Camp NaNoWriMo.  “The Scientist” corresponds to the last chapter; I love Willie’s aged but honest delivery.  Even scientists shed tears.

One of the joys of writing is much like why I enjoy living; beauty awaits, even in the oddest places.  I had a wonderful ten-minute chat with a guy in the grocery store yesterday; we were looking at bacon at the end-cap across from the deli.  Neither of us are vegetarians, but we don’t eat a lot of meat, how the conversation began.  That in the actual meat section, those large hunks cause a bit of squeamishness, but a package of bacon wasn’t so daunting.  I learned he’s a biker, one of the top five in the Bay Area years ago; he’s my age, or a little older, but still treks up various hills.  He doesn’t need those 7,000 calorie meals anymore, although he can’t look at a loaf of sourdough without wishing to inhale it.

I smiled, said I felt the exact same.

Yet, we are individuals, like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” isn’t Jose Gonzalez’s, or Willie Nelson and Coldplay’s differing takes on “The Scientist”.  Just like there are only so many plots and ways to tell a story, but my view isn’t going to be anyone’s but mine.  When I sing along to “Teardrop”, it’s heavily influenced by Gonzalez, but Liz Fraser’s breathy, ephemeral beauty now sneaks in after only four plays.  (I quietly sang it this morning in the shower, hypnotic and sparse.)  When I write, all that I’ve read and written before hovers, but ultimately, what I create is personal.  Like a scientist’s discoveries, or teardrops, falling down my cheeks.

I’m not left-handed but…

For the time being, my mouse has moved to the other side of the keyboard.  The bottom of my right palm is irritated, and while it might not be carpal tunnel, I’m wearing a splint, navigating with my left hand.  It’s slow going, and I’m really glad I don’t have any more to write than a blog entry.

And it’s not even from writing!  I’ve been crocheting more lately, I think that’s the cause.  I’m just hoping it’s better by November.

If nothing else, life has slowed; harder to surf and edit with my left hand.  I really don’t want to see the doctor about this, I don’t like doctors.  They just tell me my blood pressure is high, which it always is when I go into their offices.  At home, it’s just fine.

So not much writing today.  49ers won on Sunday, Giants beat the Rockies last night.  I have a manuscript to read over, the Fall of Saigon to research, The Concert in Central Park to absorb.  Thirty years ago that album was one of my faves, on cassette.  I listened to it again recently, came up with a new story line.  Instead of faffing about with my right hand in charge, I’ll pull some left-brain activities, or just left-handed actions.  Two of my siblings are left-handed, now I’m joining the club!