I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Friday, December 01, 2017

Music: a Ramble

Wide awake at 3 in the morning. Not a unheard of state for me, but usually if I'm having a sleepless night its because I'm stressed out about work. Tonight, I'm not thinking about work. I'm thinking about music. The Florence and the Machine song "Shake It Out" keeps playing in my head.

It's a song I was indifferent to for a long time. Florence and the Machine has a lot of songs that appear on my playlists. I love "Dog Days are Over" of course, and "Third Eye." How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful would make my list of best albums of the decade. But "Shake It Out" never wowed me, despite it being one of their hits. Then, this week I heard it while I was driving to work and it felt like I heard it for the first time. I have Sirius XM, so I checked the song name and realized it wasn't a new single, it was a song I'd heard a dozen times before but somehow never noticed. Now, I can't get it out of my head. "I am done with my graceless heart, tonight I'm going to cut it out and then restart." What a great line.

This isn't the first time a song has snuck up on me. The Counting Crows second album, Recovering the Satellites, was a huge disappointment when I first listened to it. August and Everything After had been one of my favorite albums, so my expectations were high. But, despite a summer giving it my best shot at liking the album, I eventually stopped listening to Recovering the Satellites and shrugged it off as a sophomore slump. Then, years later I was sitting in a Pizza Hut with a jukebox and somebody played "Have You Seen Me Lately" and the song just exploded in my head. It seemed like the perfect mix of music and lyrics, and when I put the CD back into my car (remember CDs?) it sounded like a brand new album that was much, much deeper and more engaging than August and Everything After. Lines that had seemed pointlessly cryptic--"I wanna be scattered from here in this catapult" -- now sounded profound and meaningful.

Lyrics drive a great deal of my taste in music. I love the Mountain Goats, Frank Turner, and Typhoon all for their ability to throw verbal twists. The Decemberists are great story tellers, as are, of course, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I like older country as well, where the songs are so often built around verbal hooks or elaborate metaphors. Older country often has a lot of humor, and I don't see how anyone who likes Roger Miller wouldn't also like They Might Be Giants, though I suspect I may be one of a few dozen people in the world who might include them both on a playlist.

Because I love good music, I find I'm frequently tortured in public spaces by aggressively bad music. I know that time is the great editor, and 95% of the music from any given year is going to be forgettable if not outright crap. There was no golden age when every song was perfect. But so much popular music seems constructed from the same beats following the exact same lyric template. And it sells! Of course, the same is true of literature. Writers who can follow a strict formula for mystery, horror, fantasy, etc., have built in audiences. Those who follow a more eclectic path wind up like Rasputina, a band that sounded like almost nothing that came before it and, of course, a band that you were never going to hear blaring out over the speakers of a mall food court.

I drive Cheryl crazy quoting song lyrics. She'll ask me a perfectly straightforward question and I'll answer with some non sequitur that just happens to be the lyric running through my head at the moment.

"Where do you want to go out to eat?" she'll ask.

"We're all alone in this together," I'll answer.

I can't help it. My head is full of songs. They just leak out.

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