I recently finished reading, “Your Song Changed My Life” by Bob Boilen. It includes interviews with thirty-five musicians on songs and musicians that influenced them. This book made me start to think about the artistic influences on me. So, I thought I would share a few today.
As expected, I have quite a few musical influences but I also have a good share of literary influences. Some of them overlap. As I was growing up, I heard the phrase “I don’t listen to the words,” an awful lot when my peers talked about music. I never really believed it because I gravitated toward the words. I think, looking back, that it was just a phrase that was said to make the adults feel like we kids weren’t such delinquents (haha). Anyway, words have always had a huge influence on me. I grew up reading a lot and I still read as much as I can. Words + music = a very happy, introspective place for me.
So, here we go. In really no particular order.
Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse
I remember reading Virginia Woolf as a teen but not really because of a desire to do so. To the Lighthouse hit me hard the summer after I graduated from college. I was preparing a move across several states to attend grad school and I was excited yet scared out of my mind. My undergrad piano teacher handed me Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, with the instruction to read it before I moved. So, I read it and reread it and never felt like someone understood me more than this author.
“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves.”
“What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
“There it was before her – life. Life: she thought but she did not finish her thought. She took a look at life, for she had a clear sense of it there, something real, something private, which she shared neither with her children nor with her husband. A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance.”
Elton John: ”Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
It should be no secret that I am an Elton John fan. I think that he is a brilliant musician that truly combines classical and rock elements. “Funeral for a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeing” is a piece that I return to frequently as it is one that tends to seep into my bones. I often turn it up loudly, lie on the floor, and let it pour over and into me. There is something about the sound of wind, the synth, the scalar runs, all leading to the piano. The piano leads to the drums and vocals. This track is continually building upon itself. It’s magnificent. I feel the vibrations in my soul. The track runs about 11 minutes but is well worth the time. I want it played at my funeral, very loudly. So, if you could all note that and make sure it happens, I would be very appreciative and promise not to haunt you when I’m gone.
“I wonder if those changes/Have left a scar on you/Like all the burning hoops of fire/That you and I passed through/You’re a bluebird on a telegraph line/I hope you’re happy now/Well if the wind of change comes down your way girl/You’ll make it back somehow”
Carrie Fisher: The Best Awful
I could note any of Carrie Fisher’s writings here and be accurate in her influence. I am always rereading her books and finding new things to love. She is honest, brave, forthright, and sardonically witty. Out of all of her books, the one that speaks the most to me is “The Best Awful.” Technically speaking, it is a sequel to “Postcards from the Edge” but her characters in this have much more depth and a maturity. It was published nearly 20 years after “Postcards” and so, her writing was bound to be a bit more mature. This book, based on actual events, details Suzanne’s dealing with mental illness, all while having a young daughter and coping with a husband that turned out to be gay. She details both manic and depressive episodes, a stay in a mental hospital, and showing what it takes to survive. It’s a fantastic work that I come back to over and over again because it feels like she’s telling me the secret to surviving this world. That is the thing about any of Carrie Fisher’s writings – it feels like a personal conversation and is profound in its honesty.
“You know the bad thing about being a survivor…You keep having to get into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”
Robert Schumann: Kreisleriana
I fell in love with Robert Schumann’s music during my undergraduate studies. My freshman or sophomore year, there was a pianist that came to perform. She gave a recital and, the following day, did a master class for our studio. At her recital, she performed Kreisleriana in full. It was amazing. I remember thinking, and later writing down on my “pieces to learn” bucket list, this set by Schumann. I had always found Schumann interesting and I enjoyed his music. This was the first time I had heard this entire work and was mesmerized. I listened to any recording I could find, I procured a score, and I studied. I have never performed any of this work but hope to someday. It’s an emotional set of music for me. I feel despondent and elated, at the same time, when listening. I feel the mania and despair present. Do yourself a favor and listen to this entire set of pieces.
Glenn Gould: ANYTHING
I love Glenn Gould. There, I said it. I don’t know why, but I always have felt like I needed to hide this fact. Maybe because he was more than slightly eccentric or maybe it’s the humming. During listening exercises back in the day, you could always tell it was Glenn Gould because of the humming. I found it endearing, many of my friends did not. I turn to his recordings any time I need/desire to hear J.S. Bach. I even enjoy many of his Chopin recordings. It’s fascinating to listen to his two versions of the “Goldberg Variations” and compare. His maturity is evident and his artistry advances. I would love to be even 25% of the pianist that Gould was, maybe without all the eccentricities.
So, here is the first batch in a long, long list of artists that have influenced me. I’m sure I’ll post a second round at some point, and a third, etc.
Who influences you? Connect and share!