Sunday, July 4, 2010

Writing, Music and Airplanes to San Francisco

I was on a plane from St. Louis to San Francisco, to attend a conference. It was a Friday, if I recall correctly, in mid-October of 2002. I checked the in-flight music listings, and was skimming through the selections when I heard a voice that stopped me cold. The voice belonged to Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, and it was unbelievably beautiful.

I was staying in downtown San Francisco, and on my way to Kan’s Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (yes, I’d eaten there before) I stopped at a Border’s on the off-chance they might have the CD I had listened to on the plane. The CD section was on the top floor, and as the escalator deposited me there I was immediately confronted with a store display for – I am not making this up – the very same CD by Mario Frangoulis I had listened to on the plane. (Since then, my wife and I have gotten to hear him live in concert at the Sheldon Theater in St. Louis – and he is just as good live as he is recorded.)

The CD, entitled “Sometimes I Dream,” includes “Nights in White Satin” (sung with Justin Hayward) and “Buongiorno Principessa,” the film score for the movie “Life is Beautiful” which won an Academy Award a few years back for best foreign language film. (I wouldn’t see it when it was first released because it was about the Holocaust, but my wife made me watch it at home one night and I cried like a baby at the wonder of it.)

Another song on the CD is called “Luna Rossa,” and it is a lively, Latin-beat kind of song sung in Italian so I can’t tell you what it’s about except I would guess it’s a love song. But when I first heard it on that airplane ride (and every time I’ve heard it since), for some weird reason it put an image in my head – the image of a priest dancing on a beach at night. The more closely I examined the image, I realized that it was an Episcopal priest who was dancing (how I determined that I’ll never know). And the priest was leading a conga line – on the beach. And a young woman was part of that dancing line.

I didn’t do anything with that image, but it came back every time I listened to the CD. Late one night, lying in bed and unable to sleep, I began to frame a story about the image. Over the next two years, the story grew and changed and morphed and the dancing-on-the-beach bit disappeared and so did Italy. But the story stayed in my head for two full years, until one day I decided to put a small piece of it on paper or, more precisely, on the computer screen. I listened to the CD as I wrote. One day, I looked up, and I had a manuscript. In the meantime, I had bought another of his CDs, and yes, you guessed it, one manuscript had become two, with six very extended “treatments” for related manuscripts behind it.

I’ve alluded to a different manuscript from time to time and even posted a small piece of it on this blog. I’m not using Mario Frangoulis for this one; instead, I’ve been listening to Jim Brickman’s “From the Heart.” Brickman’s music and the words I’ve written have become forever connected in my head, to the point where I can’t think of one without the other. Earlier this year, my wife and I heard Brickman in concert, and when he played the song “Bittersweet” from that CD, I knew exactly which scene it was in my manuscript.

Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, would not be surprised by any of this. “The conscious use of sound in our writing – like a great sound track in a film – cues the unconscious,” she says. “It brings a host of associations that are more subtly and acutely felt than visual images alone. Sound makes our writing ‘sound’ in the many senses of the word.”

I think I’ve joined the conga line with that priest.

Over at The High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess has been leading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. Last week, the discussion was about making it, honesty and vulnerability. Last week’s discussion was about footwork, practice and containment. This week’s discussion is about sound, “writing but” and driving.


Dancing on Spec by L.L. Barkat at Love Notes to Yahweh.
Writing and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever by Deidra at Jumping Tandem.
Music Everywhere by Nancy Kourmoulis at Treasures of Darkness.
The Real Reason for Highway Rest Stops by Marilyn at As Good A Day As Any.
Sound by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat Cafe.


Anonymous said...

thank you for relating about your creative thought process.

i can just see the picture of the conga line, even without hearing the music.

it gives me a whole new picture of music and creative thinking.

...and kinda makes me want to dance on the beach.

Maureen said...

The thing about writers is that their heads are always full of sounds, and those sounds often become great music.

Good post!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one with music turning to words and pictures in my brain. :)

Unknown said...

There's always a song in my head...and a lot of people are glad it's stays there! You're blessed with much talent my friend!

Laura said...

what a treat you have given us here! I am smitten by this entire story. Now, how did I miss the bit of the manuscript you posted here? I am going to have to hunt for it. And I'll be waiting in the wings to review YOUR book!

Deidra said...

All day long I will be smiling at the image of the priest on the beach leading a conga line! We need more of that in this world of ours!

Deidra said...

oh my! i missed that at the end. thanks so much for mentioning me!

Cheryl said...

Glynn, I love it! The ideas, the music, the inspiration - every bit of this post is engaging.

Now, where do I find said dancing priest in real life? And more importantly, does he lead a conga dancing line with his parishioners each week, or at least occasionally?

Unknown said...

Hello! I work with Mario Frangoulis, and I just came across this blog. What a beautiful way to describe the impact of his art, voice and love for music. I wanted to let you know that I have forwarded this link to him, and I am sure that he will be very moved by what's been written. It is inspiring to read and hear that when someone (Mario) puts his heart on the line for his art, that there are other artists who access it to inform their own art. Thank you.