SEPTEMBER MIX by Lindsay Hunter
Scratch That Itch
I don’t usually listen to music when I am physically at my desk writing. But music is a huge inspiration, and I often turn to these songs when I need something to get me going, when I need to manifest an itch. I’m the type of person to listen to a song over and over; I once listened to “Purple Rain” the entire 8 hours of a workday. A lot of these songs make me feel nostalgic, which, I’m beginning to understand, is an important part of my “process,” as nostalgia calls up many important emotions and memories I’d like to examine via my writing. So, with all that in mind, here is my playlist of songs that stop me in my tracks, that make me feel, make me think, make me want to write.
* denotes that song was not available on Spotify
1. Jason Isbell, “Cover Me Up”
This is the true embodiment of what I mean when I say the voice is the story, and the story is the voice. You could ignore the words and still feel exactly what he means just by listening to the rawness in his voice. But the words, man. “It’s cold in this room and I ain’t goin’ out to chop wood.” I don’t think you could find a better lyricist than Mr. Isbell. If you looked you’d run into his old bandmates Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, who are equally as good, but not better. This song is like the dirt and the shovel for me. Do you know what I mean? I become a grave, in the best possible way.
2. Young Heart Attack, “Starlite”
Who wouldn’t want to go out and fuck shit up (or fuck the page up) while this song plays on a loop on the cassette deck you stole from your dying granny’s bedside? I love the threat hidden in “I’m gonna prove I’m a man, can you understand?” The perfect rock song. This is also my sister-in-law’s old band and every time I listen to this song I feel like I should bow down to her.
3. Drake featuring Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy, “I’m Goin In”
“If I said I’m goin in then I mothafuckin meant it” — I say that to myself any time I get nervous before a reading. I guess it should also be noted that this is the song I was listening to, over and over, as I wrote “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula.” This song makes my heart race, like I’m being dared. The misogyny in it is ridiculous.
4. Belly, “Feed the Tree”
I’m sorry, but it’s just impossible for me not to feel fired up when I hear Tanya Donelly’s voice. And the classic 90s chunky guitar mmm-MM. My mouth starts to water. I could write forty coming of age stories.
5. A Flock of Seagulls, “Space Age Love Song”
If you ever want to feel like you did when you had a crush on the first boy who liked you back, listen to this song. Feelings like that make me want to write more than anything.
6. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, “Someday Lady You’ll Accomp’ny Me”*
You know how sometimes as a child you’d witness emotions or situations you wanted badly to understand, so you pretended that you did? That’s how I feel when I listen to this song. Like I’m watching my mom staring into the middle distance nodding to this song, and like I may never know the fathoms inside her. I think being a writer is a constant attempt at approximating those fathoms.
7. Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”
“You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright.” I mean. So many possible stories just from that one line. But then there’s also the imperfect piano, the overreaching lyrics, Bruce’s Jersey squawk. It’s perfect. Stop reading this and go try and write something that comes close.
8. Chromatics, “Tick of the Clock”
Sometimes you just need something with a badass beat that makes you feel like a badass yourself, so you can get through these final lines. Or so you can start something. Or so you can feel like you’re above all the hate you throw at yourself.
9. Liz Phair, “Go West”
Liz Phair’s voice is what I would call “deadpan,” which I guess is why I’m not a music critic. But by “deadpan” I mean she doesn’t try to dress up what she’s saying or who she is. It feels incredibly brave, and it’s something I try to do when I write. I don’t want to soften any blows.
What the hell is going on in this song? Vanity talks innocently, endlessly, of her simple grooming rituals. The beats are threatening, menacing. The song ends with “Smoke a cigarette / I’m not ready yet.” The song is called “Make Up,” and sure, it’s about make-up on the surface, but everything else is telling you it’s about something more. Vanity is clearly a maniac. Who is she talking to? What is that person doing? Is he chained? This is the type of song I will never not love. I’ve tried to write a story set to it many times.
11. The xx, “VCR” (Matthew Dear remix)*
Listening to this in the sleep-deprived, scary days after my son was born brought me back to myself. Everyone needs songs like those. Listen to them over and over and over. I listen to this one when I’m a few sentences from being done with something.
12. Green Day, “J.A.R.”
The pop-punk in this song is relentless and perfect. Makes me want to be relentless too. And it ends with this earnest declaration that you hope pans out but that you know probably won’t, and not just because Billie Joe doesn’t even finish the sentence.
13. Drive-by Truckers, “The Opening Act”
The DBTs are amazing storytellers. And sometimes you just need to hear a story in order to get back to writing your own. This song starts in one place and ends up somewhere totally different. You’re in a shitty bar watching some has-been band playing a set, and that’s not even the saddest part: the person singing this song is the opening act for the has-been band! But then the song ends with the singer on the road, kind of looking around, taking stock. “And I’m drivin north as the sun is risin / over a technicolor horizon / I reached out to touch you [this is the first time any “you” is even mentioned! Brilliant!] but you’re not there / you’re a thousand miles away from here / So I turned up the radio / heard some preacher talkin salvation / my tank is half full / and I reached over and changed the station.” Listen to that part in the song and try not to feel baptized. Try not to want to write something just like it.
14. Third Eye Blind, “Motorcycle Drive By”
I love this band. And as a writer, I’m a firm believer in letting yourself dip into things that let you feel melodramatic, sad, wistful, empowered. This song makes me feel all of those things.
15. Babes in Toyland, “Handsome and Gretel”
Sometimes I need to feel mean.
Check out Lindsay Hunter’s story, “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula,” which was selected by Roxane Gay for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.
— Lindsay Hunter is the author of the story collections Daddy’s and DON’T KISS ME. Her novel is forthcoming on FSG Originals in the fall of 2014. Find her at lindsayhunter.com.