Writer’s Music: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

51tandu2qrl-_sy355_Do you imagine in words?

I do sometimes. When I’m working through a piece of life, as I am now with The Telling and my own history of sexual abuse, I tend to see in words. It’s a strange switch from seeing a story: I don’t smell, feel, or hear. My eyes see nothing but words an inch from my face, and even they have a fuzz to them, so it takes a few tries to decipher. The more I read, the more my senses follow, and life within me finds a focus.

 

Music helps me see more than the story. Music helps me see the language of me.

I knew how to read notes before words, having started piano at the age of 4. My father loved to write hymns, and my mother often directed choirs. We kids learned numerous church-friendly instruments, and sang in the choirs. (Bo likes to think my father secretly aspired for us to become a Christian version of the Partridge Family. Thank God THAT didn’t happen.) Even after Dad died, my mother and elder brother continued to give to the church with music, while my kid brother went on to become a pastor himself.

Despite all I have experienced–all the time-stops on those afternoons long agoor the endless days with my newborn sonsmusic and stories always propelled me forward. One word follows another; one note comes after another. They emote. Inspire. Begin. End. Define, yet live on without limit.

Which, at last, brings me to that which I wanted to share with you.

Whenever I’ve written about parenting, depression, or abuse, I pull up The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Some of the tracks are more narrative than others; these I ignore. But a few have such a…it’s a tense hope. Like Mychael Danna’s Capote, the score is dominated by strings and piano. Capote, however, has more menacing undertones to it than Assassination–a result of the bass and fewer harmonies, I think. I also feel more of a time-stop with Capote, especially during the solo piano I love so much. Assassination‘s “Song for Bob” has a very slow build while strings are added, and added. A sense of resolve comes through when the violin joins at the 1:30 mark, and even though the rhythm of the harmonies repeats, the build goes on. When the piano joins, the strings seem…not forced, but their harmonies alter, and for some moments the viola provides what feels like the final monologue in a Shakespearean tragedy. The return of the original rhythm and harmonies is different, yet the same.

How like us, we who undergo the shift within to reclaim our total selves.

 

The Old Crown

1439144371488On top of a cupboard in my father’s study sits an old crown. Sheet metal, cut and soldered together. Large, gaudy pieces of costume jewelry are glued near the points and at the base. A heavy thing—it gives one a headache after just a few minutes’ wear.

The crown was made in the 60s by my grandfather, a man for whom the theater was…well, it kept his sons out of trouble. And all three were such orators. Show some support, Rand, I imagine my grandmother saying. So Grandpa made it, and it saw the stage with my two uncles, and my father, who loved directing and performing in the works of Shakespeare. The performer in my father remained strong: he could speak in front of hundreds with ease, wit, and character. He brought a passion to the pulpit, to the sick room. He understood human nature, an essential skill for a reverend as well as an actor.

My father’s death froze the movement of many things—his study, for one. Phasers, sonic screwdrivers, Justice League Lego, starship ornaments and more remain a testament for the fantastic Dad so loved as much as his Calling. Notes about the elderly, conferences, hymns to be composed also remain, strewn about his desk as though he only stepped out for an appointment. My mother refuses to move them. While I cannot blame her for wanting that feel of Dad in his favorite room, it is…ethereal.

Yet for some reason, I am not put off by his crown. Perhaps because I, like my father, enjoyed time on the stage. I, too, love writing as he once did. And there is a sense of our bloodline with it: the love of my grandfather brought this crown into existence. My father preserved it, a memento of golden days. When I see it, I can feel the happiness it witnessed decades ago. More than all the phasers and comic books, the crown emanates importance.

It Matters.

I have written before on how things may inspire our stories. Sometimes, though, it isn’t about the writing itself. Sometimes, it is about the WHY. The crown reminds me of the joy found in exploring character, the sharing of story with others. The passion to create. The need to create.

This need may grow heavy upon our countenance, and bow us towards the ground. Take it off. Yes, take it off, and look upon it. Remember why you walk the world, day after day, with it. Why you share it with others. Why you love it.

Never has something so plain transcended into something so beautiful.