As I write this, my boyfriend is in the next room learning “Back in a New York Groove” by KISS. Great song, and one I had forgotten. He’s learning it to try to talk his band into playing it at their next gig, and like anything you need to learn, he’s playing it over and over again.
Russ both writes his own music and learns songs by other musicians. The very nature of this process requires him to make noise. A lot of noise. He sings, bangs, noodles, tootles, and basically rocks out nearly constantly. If he’s not making noise himself, he’s listening to things that make noise. If there is no noise, he’s asleep. Or possibly dead. I should check on him more when he’s quiet, now that I think about it.
He’s very talented, able to elicit music from the most unlikely things. My most recent favorite was his mastery within minutes of the harp app on my Kindle Fire, but there have been many others. I think if you handed him a Fisher Price xylophone, he would find a way to write a song on it. When he is learning a song he sings it and plays it for days, practicing vocalization, breathing, and lyrics. It seems to help him to sing the song in various voices and accents — truly, you have not really experienced Led Zepplin until you have heard their greatest hits sung in the voice of Apu from the Simpsons. He should just record that album, it would sell a million copies.
I love music. I have zero musical talent. I learned to play guitar once, and while I was very good at playing the notes as they were written, I had no ear. I realized when I was fifteen that I was never going to sound like Eric Clapton no matter how many hours I practiced, and gave it up. Russ can listen to a song for a minute or so, then start playing along. Since I’ve known him, he’s written at least fifty songs.
I am stunned by this. It is fascinating to watch him go.
Until I need to write.
When I was a kid, I was one of those little nerds that had to do her homework in complete silence. I couldn’t play music, or talk on the phone, or watch tv. I couldn’t sit at the kitchen table. I had to lock myself in my room and cram away until it was done. In college, my second home was a desk buried deep in the stacks. In grad school I had the luxury of my own apartment, and even then it was sometimes too distracting — a major exam meant a trip to the library to bury myself in the stacks again.
As a writer, I’m not that much different. No romantic writing in the street cafe for me, I’m still the little nerd in the silent bedroom, shutting everything out as I go looking for the words. Russ understands, and he tries, but his creative life is noisy and mine is quiet. We’ve resolved the issue with moderately high quality headphones for me, and lots of wistful conversations between us about “The Castle”. You know, that astonishment of architecture you would build if you won the PowerBall?
His dream includes a full studio and rehearsal space like the set up Prince has in his house. He wants to be able to record and rehearse an entire album without ever having to put on pants, as I understand it.
My lottery dream would be a little house in the woods behind The Castle. I could physically leave, walk to someplace different, and shut a door behind me. While others imagine large homes, and extravagant vacations, I think about the tiny writing house, with its wood burning stove and weird windows. It could double as a knitting house, the yarn stashed in shelves against the walls, adding an extra layer of insulation. (Hey, I will always be practical, even when I’m a squizillionaire.) I wouldn’t have to worry about hours of operation, or whether or not the university had exams that would pack the library. I could write until I got sick of the quiet, and rejoin the noisy musical world after I had caught all the words.