Walter Kent the songwriter is probably best remembered for the holiday classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and the Forties hit “The White Cliffs of Dover”. But there’s a song he wrote that is really a jazz classic — “Love Is Like A Cigarette”. Quite a few artists covered it, including Duke Ellington and in more recent times, there’s a memorable version by Caroline Henderson.
Personally, the version that hits the mark was the one from the late Eighties by the jazz composer/producer/arranger Kip Hanrahan, where, in a mostly instrumental version, the sultry female vocals suddenly appear and in the same manner disappear, as they weren’t there:
“Love’s like a cigarette
You know you had my heart aglow
Between your fingertips
And just like a cigarette
I never knew the thrill of life
Until you touched my lips
Then just like a cigarette
Love seems to fade away
And leave behind ashes of regret
And with a flick of your fingertips
It was easy for you to forget
Oh, love is like a cigarette. ”
As with love, it is the ideas, particularly writing ideas that suddenly appear and as quickly disappear, or fade away. It doesn’t matter; they are gone. If we don’t record them down. In any way we can — sitting down staring at whatever screen we have in front of us, recording them on the telephone answering machine as we pass by it, on a napkin in a cafe, or in any manner possible, just making sure it isn’t lost forever.
Ok, so it doesn’t really have to be lost completely if we don’t record it immediately. The vestiges of our thoughts usually remain. But a question arises — is it the original idea we had in the first place? Sure, we can develop it from what we wrote (or record) down, but there will always remain that nagging feeling that something is missing from ‘the original’ one.
It is usually the case that the original idea is the best one we had. We can always develop it in any direction or direction the idea takes us from there, but like in Kent’s song ideas, like love “seem to fade away” and if not recorded will “leave the ashes of regret” behind.
After his initial surge of creativity at the end of the Seventies, Elvis Costello, as he personally stated, came to the conclusion that he needed to constantly and on purpose invite chaos into his life so that he could continue his creative streak. It seems that worked, at least for a while — some of his best albums like “Get Happy!!”, “Imperial Bedroom” and “Blood and Chocolate” came during that period.
On “Punch The Clock” from 1983, one of the albums from that period he came up with probably one of his best songs — ‘Everyday I Write A Book”, where, among other things he (writes) and sings:
“The way you walk, the way you talk and try to kiss me
And laugh in four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks
I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday
Everyday I write the book
Everyday I write the book”
So Costello thought that it was chaos, his own and personal, that was needed to inspire him to write. Some other artists and writers didn’t necessarily need to invite it — chaos came on its own volition.
In both cases, it was inspirational. And certainly damaging in many aspects. But while on one hand, such events and people that create them, including yourself, can become an eternal source of inspiration, the effects of chaos oil your life could also have a damning effect on your inspiration and writing.
Dire circumstances, whether it is Costello or Charles Bukowski are not something that somebody should purposefully invite onto themselves to have them as a source of any kind of inspiration. At some point, they will arrive announced anyway. It is just a matter whether you will be able to use them as something that will produce meaningful writing or something that will force you to abandon writing completely. Everybody should certainly hope it will be the former.
There has been a quite extensive debate going on recently whether listening to audiobooks is the same thing as actually reading the book. Quite a few arguments are presented claiming that, on one hand, just listening might be a step closer to illiteracy, while on the other, it is said that listening to audiobooks is actually the same, even better.
[Listening to Audiobooks Is Just As Good As Reading, If Not Better, So Back the Hell Off | The New Yorker](https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/listening-to-audiobooks-is-just-as-good-as-reading-if-not-better-so-back-the-hell-off)
It is probably a debate that is not going to be over soon — which is ’the real thing’ and which is just a bad substitute, as The Who would sing about in one of their best songs, that unfortunately turned out to be great, but just a substitute for a popular hit.
On the other hand, the debate, if there is one, whether writing by hand and even typing are the same as text processing is quite subdued. No matter the fact that text processing sounds as such a mechanical term, as you are sticking your words into a meat grinder or a food processor, with disregard what will come out, as if it something that doesn’t really depend on the writer, but on the manner in which he is coming up with his writing.
The thing is, we have no full comprehension yet in which manner a new technology or just a new technique has on our thought processes, including the one of creative (or not so creative) writing. Is one methodology a natural progression, does it only bring something new and advanced or does it phase out things that might be something we are so grown and accustomed to? Is text processing just a shoddy substitute of writing by hand or typing (nobody seemed to complain much when that switch was made), or is it just an outdated process that belongs to an old, or again, as The Who would say just a thing of the past, something that belongs to “My Generation”?
As with audiobooks vs. reading, with writing vs. text processing, there probably is no straight answer. To get to your computer and start ‘text processing’ those words you have to learn to read and write first. There’s at least ‘the obstacle’ to be able to recognise the letters on your keyboard, or screen. At least for now. There is a certain process involved in your conceiving and coming up with your thoughts materialising in front of your or somebody else’s eyes and that process evolves. Along with it so do the thoughts that we would like to present on paper or the computer screen, whether we like it or not.
Artificial intelligence is taking over everything it seems. Will it also take over writing?
I’ve no idea what the answer to that question could be. Probably nobody can really give it at this point in time, and this question and its answer as such certainly belong in the category of whether artificial intelligence can completely take over anything from humans. Turn us into any of the visions Kraftwerk were expressing through their music some forty years ago with their visionary album “The Man Machine”.
As AI is being developed, its lighting speed of development and capabilities of taking over human traits have left the debate mostly split into the camps of those who think it will enhance us and those who think it will destroy us. And that certainly includes our ability to think, create, write.
The AI is here, it certainly will not go away and it is obviously taking over human traits at a staggering pace. That is also quite obvious in the field of what we call creative arts, visual, musical and writing will be no exception. Still, it will up to humans to steer the development of AI and the direction it takes.
Yes, quite possibly the dangers are there. AI can maybe ‘take over’ human creativity, it can come up with better writers than we are ourselves. It will possibly make no grammar or syntax mistakes, it could possibly synthesise and digest all ideas it comes across.
But then, there are two questions that arise here as far as writing is concerned — can’t the human writers actually benefit from all the advances AI brings in, turn it into some form of a parallel writing competition, that will in essence make them better writing, in essence better humans, if you will?
And then, there’s maybe that more important question — isn’t actually that human fallibility, that is the essential ingredient of brilliant writing, or any writing at all that element that will keep the humans over the top?
Or, if the AI picks on the fallibility too, it will not be any better or stronger than us, will it? Writing will possibly show.
In essence, Sofia Coppola was right — there’s quite a lot that is Lost in Translation. Of course, she wasn’t only thinking about the literal process of translating something, whether it was a simple thank you note or Jorge Luis Borges’ Circular Ruins. The essential meaning, the intended one, the sense of relations or the way relations are handled or things are perceived, I could go on, all those things can be lost. In Translation. Literal or otherwise.
But what can be the result if we reverse the question and ask — what can be gained in translation, particularly when one’s personal writing is concerned? Of course, it is not a new question, and a lot of writers have tried to answer it by being translators themselves. From above mentioned Jorge Luis Borges to the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Haruki Murakami and Anthony Burgess or even Nostradamus. The list is quite extensive.
It is not only gaining insight into another concept of thinking and set of human relations but also into another concept of writing, arranging words, even their meaning and use of words that completely correspond between languages or words that completely differ. For writers, translation shows the possibilities of transforming, even transfiguring, not only the meaning but also the vessel it is transported by — words.
In a way the process can be compared to the one the brilliant guitarist and composer John Fahey used when he practically invented a new set of ‘folk music’ expression terms with his Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, by not only inventing a character but by ‘translating’ existing musical terms into something completely new.
So it might be no wonder the founder of the British “Translators Association” prize for translation in his article for “Guardian” claims that translators are the vanguard of literary change.
Of course, not all writers are versed in one or more other languages than their mother tongue to be in a situation to translate works from other languages. But parallel translations of same works, particularly in English and in different English speaking countries do exist and can not only serve as a source of comparison but also as a source of inspiration, transformation and even transfiguration.
“It’s like a heat wave” sang Martha Reeves (with or without The Vandellas), a song about love, but most certainly inspired by some summer heatwave back in the Sixties. A great Motown classic, an inspirational song, but was it easy to write, particularly if a real heatwave is on?
Probably not. But then, the composer and the lyricist of “Heatwave” obviously made it and came up with a song that still resonates today and will continue to do so.
There seems to be one of the hardest and longest heatwaves going around the world at the moment. Everything seems to be melting, including your brain, and air-conditioning and cold drinks, showers or whatever don’t seem to be much help. How then can you write in such conditions?
Obviously, very hard, but then, you can always find an excuse not to write. Why not turn the tables on the heat and use it as a cause and inspiration to DO write?
Whether you try the counter-attacking style and counter the heat with heat — steaming coffee, hot showers or simply make the heat and inspirational source, and it can be a multitude of things. What goes on during a heatwave, what caused it, what is its source…
You can search for the causes in the climate change and what causes it, from real solid facts to conspiracy theories of all possible influences — from political meddling to aliens. Some of those might even turn out to be real facts.
Makes no difference, just so that all that sweat and mind-melting doesn’t go to waste and comes up with some meaningful, readable writing. You never know, someday you might come up with yet another “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave” and all that sweat and tears (with hopefully no blood) will be worthwhile.
Ok, you’ve found a thousand excuses not to journal (I know I did). After all, you’re a writer. As if journaling is not writing. Still, how many times have you caught yourself trying to remember something and connect it with a specific date, time, weather conditions, mood…
So you probably missed it, but is there anything else around that can help you jolt your memory, is there somebody out there that could have done your journaling for you? Not really, but there are certainly straws you can grasp and suck that memory out of its hiding place.
As somebody who devotes quite a bit of his writing time to music, scouring almost any type of a music site for useful information is a daily must. Particularly if you want to connect a piece of music to an artist, date…
In an almost frantic moment, I ran into a site called Harkive (www.harkive.org), which has an interesting concept — every year it runs a music listening survey and actually asks people to write a personal music listening story. For 2018, they have extended their entry date until July 27th.
Harkive then stimulated the ‘memory lane’ mode it got me into and I ran into Classic Album Sundays (www.classicalbumsundays.com) , which itself led to more news-oriented Best Classic Bands (www.bestclassicbands.com), which then brought me to where I was actually headed — to This day in music (www.thisdayinmusic.com), which not only lists a choice of daily music events through the years but also has its choice of best albums, quotes and other factoids.
Being of ‘certain age’, one of the daily entries for Friday, July 20th did that jolting trick personal journaling could have — “1975, [Bruce Springsteen](http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/pages/bruce_springsteen)
and the E Street Band played the opening night on their [Born To Run](http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/pages/born_to_run) Tour at The Palace Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island. This also saw the live debut of Steven Van Zandt, (Miami Steve) as a member of The E Street Band.”
So, yes, there are treasure troves of writing information and inspiration out there you can always resort to, but, then, I think I’ll start keeping my favourite notebook and pen in proximity for one more try at journaling.
Being a writer might not exactly be a conformist thing to do, but each writer has his own comfort zone. First of all, you go at it alone. All those thoughts, words and sentences you transport to paper or your word processor, your room (or corner) for thought, your morning runs, favourite cafe, family, the surroundings that give you that ‘space’ to work and operate. A comfort zone.
And yes, that comfort zone can create the necessary stillness you need, but at times it does create a still water — it has its limits and boundaries and it can create a stillness of thought, imagination or no imagination. Sure travel will often do the trick, but what about the so-called big events, with a lot of people around you, a crowd, a mass, an event that requires you time to get there and obeying not only pre-set rules of the event but also the unwritten rules of being in a crowd?
You certainly need those with all the benefits of an exciting and intriguing live event like The North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands I try to attend every summer, but also with all its drawbacks of getting there and being in a crowd. It gives you a chance not only to clear your mind of all the “still water” of your comfort zone but is a source of boundless ideas.
Whether it is the excitement of listening to some exquisite music live, like the combination of saxophonist Charles Lloyd with guitarist Bill Frisell, or all those drawbacks, like infinite lines in front of the restrooms or food/drink stalls to your feet getting stuck in tons of spilt beer. But most of all it is having an interaction with people. The musicians, staff, the crowd. Separating them and observing them as individuals they are and the possible (and impossible) stories they might hold in them.
Yes, it does take an effort, it certainly disrupts your daily routines — what about the thousands of those emails you have to sift through when you get back — but it not only represents the necessary change of scenery, it gives you strands of writing inspiration that you might not have picked up in any other way.
“It’s only words, and words are all I have…” So starts the chorus of the well-worn Bee Gees song. Personally, I’mm not exactly a big fan of the Gibb Brothers music, but this one certainly has its ring when, well, words come to mind. And, yes, that is one thing writers do and should have. Maybe not the only, but certainly the paramount one. In most instances, we use them to express what we are inspired by, but how often do we use them as a source of inspiration?
Starting out at one point as a translator in a quite large translation service, I at one point noticed a colleague who was avidly reading a dictionary, any dictionary, even in her pastime, as if it was a novel that she couldn’t let go until it was finished. At first instance, it seemed like a strange habit, then as an obsession with the work you love. “It’s exciting!” she would say, “not only to get to the source of a word, track the way its meaning changes, but try to project which way its meaning would go.”
These days, trying to use those words and their meaning as a way of expressing yourself, I get the full sense of what my former translating colleague had in mind. And a bit more. Not only does every word in any of those dictionaries have its story that has a fully developed plot line that begs to be written, but each and every one of them can serve as a source of almost limitless inspiration.
You can go back in time or explore an unknown science-fiction territory with each and every one of them — they have their beginnings, their history, they will develop in some direction or other, at some point they will just be forgotten, unused. Still, they will be hidden on one of the thousand pages (online, or those that you really have to turn) ready to be used again. Or researched, developed into a story of their own.
Sometimes it is not only words that you have, but words could be the only thing you need.
It could be the style, it could be the subject matter, it could be something that couldn’t be really identified, or it could be all of these things and more in somebody else’s writing that inspires a writer. One that is at his beginnings or another that has already established himself. This inspiration could take you to new writing paths, you can make it a tribute to the inspiring writer or his writings, or it could be plain and simple copying. Or even these days ever ‘popular’ copy/paste.
The line between those could be particularly thin. With visual arts, unless you are copying everything, it is usually considered as an inspiration or a tribute. In music, particularly its modern forms, that line is not considered so problematic — what with all the different song interpretations tribute albums, artists re-doing complete albums of others, or all the samples being used. Actually, it is considered as an art form in itself.
With writing, it is a completely different artistic beast. Being inspired by somebody else’s writing can be heavily scrutinised, what with all the plagiarism checkers who control the word sequences. You can come up with one on your own and it turns out that somebody has already done it before or you can be transformed into a ‘spinner’ since you came up with exactly the same idea but you came up with a slight (or not so slight) wording?
With all those grey areas of being inspired, paying tribute or quoting, there’s always that honest, simple thing of giving credit where its due. You can simply just let your readers guess what the inspiration was, whom you’re paying tribute to, or where the quote is coming from.
Actually, it has less to do with copyrights and acknowledgements and more with your personal clear conscience. In visual arts you may guess, musicians say which song they’re interpreting and who wrote it. The fact that it is more complicated with writing makes crediting a must.
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