"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop, and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to," says King. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind ... I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace."
If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as "the smooch of death." His best advice is to just take it "one word at a time."
Share. Just as I was introduced to Morrissey by Tommy Shea (formerly of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican), Morrissey introduced me to Mississippi John Hurt.
Give. Morrissey signed eight copies of his book for me one night after a concert and reading. That took some time for him, especially with a room full of people who wanted to talk to him, and he left me a nice inscription.
Around the same time, my old friend James O'Brien popped up in my Facebook feed with some new old music.
O'Brien was the first artist whose music made sense to me after 9/11. I always think about him this time of year.
His song "War Has Come" reminds me where some of my privileges lay, but also that they come with a responsibility.
It's easy to write a bullet. It does not hiss, it is not close to me. It's easy to write a wound. I've never clamped a femoral artery.
When I was on Cesspool, I was asked who my dream podcast guests were. I deferred. I've already interviewed Joan Jett and Bruce Campbell and David Clayton-Thomas and some other great talents. I said I wanted to have something to offer the Marc Marons and Joe Rogans of the world.
I've been sitting on that thought for five years, and I've done a little toward it, but not enough.
So I'm reminded, again, of John Baldessari's purge. It marked a turning point for him, but it was a calculated turning point. He didn't wake up one day and say, "Fuck this old shit I did, it was terrible!" He decided what would serve as a reminder of his past, but that didn't need to take up space for him anymore.
So I'm starting today, planning my purge. It'll probably be a weeks-long process, but it will mean improvements, I hope. In my life, in the content I produce, for the future, and for my legacy.
Back at the beginning of the year, I decided to set a goal to run 1,000 miles this year. At under 20 miles a week, that may not be really ambitious to some people, but you need to understand a few things about me and running.
For most of my life, I've played sprint sports, like baseball and tennis and racquetball. I'm not a power hitter, so the most I ever really had to run in baseball was 180 feet (home plate to first base to second base). A tennis court is about 39 feet from one corner of the baseline to the opposite corner at the net. Racquetball is played in a 20-by-40-foot room, and since the ball bounces off the wall, you never have to run the full diagonal.
Before I signed up for that half-marathon last year, I'd only run longer than a 5K (about 3.1 miles) a handful of times. I also turned 40 this year, and I promise I am not getting faster and more agile as I get older; nor are my knees turning back the clock.
Until I was 38, I had maybe run a 20-mile week once, ever.
So that's me and running.
Why set the goal? Well, I wanted a reason to keep running. I think it's now ingrained in me enough that I'll keep doing it as long as my body allows, but I could have easily stopped after that half marathon last year. I can't say I enjoyed much of that training at all.
My goal-crossing run Monday was different, though. Instead of holding on to some 3-hour podcast so that I'd have something to listen to, I put my trust in iTunes to shuffle my way through 11.3 miles. I may have danced a little bit. It was cold and raining, but I smiled a lot. I made sure to run by some of my favorite downtown spots, like the fountain in Forsyth Park, the armillary in Troup Square and Monterey Square.
I stopped off where my wife was working to give her a kiss.
I also wanted to see if I could set a realistic goal for a whole year. It took me 354 days to get there. It's a leap year, so that's just about 97% of the year it took me to get to 100% of my goal. I'm going to say that was exactly the right number of miles to shoot for, if you're me.
I tweaked a calf during a race earlier this year, and it's been bothering me for a while. It flared up around mile eight, but I wasn't going to let it stop me from getting to where I wanted to be. I'm sure it'll bother me for a good while, so I might be looking at bicycles and elliptical machines for a couple of weeks to get it some rest.
I'll share with you some tunes from my run, because who doesn't love a little music in their life?
1. Jane's Addiction's cover of The Grateful Dead's "Ripple" — this one got me out the door and down to the pavement.
2. Asylum Street Spankers, "Monkey Rag" — I might have been dancing up Habersham Street. OK, I totally was. Bonus, this animation is adorable.
3. Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road" — This came on about halfway. If you thought you saw some crazy dude grinning and saying good morning while running down West Bay Street, this was in my ears.
4. Edesio Alejandro, "El Sopon de Yuya" — Yeah, so I was doing the rumba (badly) in the bike lane. So?
5. Gooselove & Antara, "Change With Me" — You know how some artists are formative in your life for the eight months you really needed them and then they disappear, only to show up in your earholes 15 years later?
6. Willie Nile, "History 101" — This is the song that was playing when I hit my thousand-mile mark.
Honorable Mention: Ellis Hooks, "Uncomplicated" — This came on as I turned toward home. It's one of my faves, but I can't find a video, so here's an excerpt at Shazam.
OK...it's almost 2017. What are you up to for the year?
A little diversion here. Occasionally I post a few favorite songs or some tunes that make me happy or are workout motivation or whatever, but today, I wanted to present some favorite musical moments. Actual moments: notes in songs pinpointed to the second that present a perfect shot of relief.
Here are four of my favorites; I'd love to hear some of yours.
Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"
The first note of the guitar solo that enters here at 2:04-2:05 might be my single favorite note. It's a moment of wide-awake in a song that otherwise stays on the brink of observing from the corner.
Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"
This might be the version of this song that made it popular, and that eventually led the good people at "American Idol" to make sure people never want to hear it again. Word from the production team is that the breath you hear at the beginning is not meant to be a sexy introduction to a sensual version of what is at its heart a tormented song; instead, it's an exasperated exhale — Buckley tormented over it so long to get it right.
My favorite moment comes 45 seconds in. Listen for the transition from minor to major, or, to the non-musical ear, the transition from dark to light. It's quick, but you're not going to miss it.
Paul Simon, "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes"
This becomes an entirely new song at the one-minute mark. You think you've heard an interlude or an album introduction, but it changes from something in an African folk style to a pop song showing Ladysmith Black Mambazo's versatility. And nobody really things of that sound Paul Simon gets out of a guitar when you bring him up, but I really love that transition.
Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"
In the history of rock music, there are only a few songs that transition from a good song to an entirely different good instrumental. Think "Layla" and "Hotel California." And, of course, "Thunder Road." It's a great song anyway, but the transition to the solo at 3:52 is what makes Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons some of the best in history.
How many times have you heard a song and said, "I wish I'd written that"? With me it doesn't happen very often; sure, the royalties on "Call Me Maybe" must be off the charts, but I rarely hear a song I think is clever and moving enough to wonder what was in the writer to create it.
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those beautiful songs I want no part of after reading Alan Light's book about it, The Holy or the Broken.
Cohen's been so tortured by the song throughout his career that he had his agent send the author an email giving his blessing to the project, but the artist himself wasn't going to be part of it.
It took Cohen years to write and finally record the song – he put 80 verses together before finally getting it together in the studio in 1984, and when he finally did, his record company said the album he put it on was awful and refused to release it.
So it languished, again.
Cohen is one of the tortured writer set. Every detail has to be perfect. He's spoken in interviews, Light writes, about being drunk in his underwear on a hotel room floor with papers scattered around him. This is not romance; these are demons.
The version many people are familiar with originates with Jeff Buckley, but the song's history takes a stop-off at John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, first.
Listen to Cohen's version (above, top). It's road-weary. It's weathered. It's sarcastic. On the whole, it's more pessimistic than optimistic.
Cale's version (above, lower left) has the same weathered, pessimistic feel. He is a few years younger than Cohen, but still someone who has been around and lived some life. He first did the song for a Cohen tribute record. When he asked Cohen to send over a lyric sheet, he came home to 15 faxed pages on the floor, with all 80 verses. He picked five for the tribute album, and it was that version that Jeff Buckley (above, lower right) first heard.
You can see how his simple accompaniment derives from Cale's, along with his selection of verses. But Buckley is young – eternally; he died while taking a swim on the way to a recording session – and his version is optimistic and romantic. And there's another thing: Buckley was a perfectionist. If you're familiar with the studio recording he did for "Grace," you know it starts with a breathy sigh. You could certainly interpret that as intimacy, given how sexy his version is. But, Light writes, it was a sigh of exhaustion. They'd done so many takes that night, he was beat.
The song, though, probably would have kept languishing if it weren't for two things that both happened in 2001: The September 11 attacks in the U.S. and the animated film 'Shrek.'
John Cale's version made it into 'Shrek' (Rufus Wainwright is on the soundtrack because Dreamworks had the film and Wainwright), and Jeff Buckley's started appearing over photo montages on the music networks.
And all of a sudden, it was everywhere. It became the default overlay for tragedy montages on TV dramas and sitcoms and in films. And everybody decided they had to cover it, and they had to do their best Jeff Buckley. Here are Wainwright, Allison Crowe and John Bon Jovi:
And somewhere along the line this happened, and Bono – who loved the sardonic humor in Cohen's version when he first heard it – nearly destroyed the song forever, on a 1995 Cohen tribute album.
Oh, my, Bono, what have you done?
It's also now appeared on many seasons of "American Idol" and "X Factor," because, well, it takes some concentration and some range to do the Jeff Buckley version, which is really what's done these days.
My take on the song: I love Buckley's guitar intro; it has such an incredible resolve after a minor buildup. But Cohen's closing verse isn't done nearly enough. It goes like this:
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel so I learned to touch
I've told the truth; I didn't come to fool ya
But even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
My take on the book: This is great if you're a real music nerd. Really, it's not for the weak, the casual fan or the "Pop-Up Video" crowd.
One more version – one of my favorite covers, even if it's not iconic, to go out with.
You can let that video run while you read this; it's primarily audio. To sum up so you don't have to check for the visual cues to figure out what's going on, Usman Riaz is a 21-year-old percussive guitarist. He plays the first song. He learned the art by watching YouTube videos of one of his heroes, percussive guitar master Preston Reed. Reed plays the second song. The third song is both of them playing together (if you know anything about playing music, that'll shock you when you hear it). There's a little chatter, then a 3-minute jam session between the two of them.
That Riaz can stick with Reed and even make it fun for Reed is just fucking awesome.
It's easy for most of us to name some people we might call "heroes" or "inspiration." It's another thing altogether for us to be able to offer them something if we ever have a chance to meet them.
I may not be writing professionally at the moment, but I'm still a writer. But what could I offer Tom Waits, or Chuck Palahniuk, or even someone like Chris Guillebeau? I'm a decent conversationalist. I know my way around town and could certainly hold my drink even with anybody. I doubt I could give them seven solid minutes in co-performance with them. Which means I'm the one who's lacking and need to grow.
That's not a slam on myself there, it's just a recognition that I'm still a work in progress.
What about you? Think about who you count among your heroes, why you do that, and what you're doing to emulate them. What do you have that you could offer them to keep them interested for 10 minutes – alone, or in front of an audience in their chosen field?
This is, in no small part, because I am also a songwriter (and I've dabbled in performance poetry).
When I sit down to write or edit, I either have Mozart in my ears (I have a CD with his 40th and 41st symphonies on it that has irretrievably increased my productivity with frequency), or I have Tom Waits graveling in the headphones, hoping that maybe something will rub off on me. This small bit from "The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)" is what puts me over the edge.
...a solitary sailor who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers paws his inside P-coat pocket for a welcomed 25 cents and the last bent butt from a packet of Kents as he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes and marmalade thighs and scrambled yellow hair.
. Yeah, that.
I'm also a big fan of the late Bill Morrissey, an unassuming, small-framed New Englander who died in his 50s right about this time last year. In addition to recommending to me one of my favorite guitar pickers, Mississippi John Hurt, he wrote a book called Edson, which is one of my favorites because it feels right – like four feet of soft powder on a grey Sunday with a fire in the fireplace and the power out and no chance of getting to the grocery store so you're stuck with the last of the week's wine and Oreos.
Local Twitterer Jason Mintz recommended I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I've only read him in translation (he writes in Spanish), but if ever ink spoke like satin sheets, Zafon has found the recipe.
You'll also see in my current reading list I'm back to Hunter S. Thompson. Most of you know I'm a recovering reporter, and Thompson taught me one really important thing that a lot of reporters still won't admit: if I'm part of a story and I still think it's a story, it is a story. "I" and "we" are even more powerful than "he" and "they" because I can describe how someone else thought something went, or I can describe how I saw it. Guess which description is going to come out more interesting reading? The second, of course.