About a year ago, I put up a blog about Writer’s Block and how I break through it when I’m writing. I mentioned the Zone, that lovely Zen place in which words flow out of my fingers like magic, and I’m in a kind of hypnotic state with my ears full of music. Because music, my friends, is my wingman.
When I was a senior in high school, I took an Advanced Placement course in Music Listening. It was probably the best class I’ve ever taken. The teacher taught us all how to listen – really listen – to the classical songs she’d play on her old record player. She’d turn out the lights, make us put our heads down on the desk, and immerse ourselves in the chords and the arpeggios, and visualize the violins on the left and the woodwinds on the right. It was the one class that I completely aced and earned me one full set of college credits when I took the AP test.
I like all music (well, except for that rap crap, which is rape to my ears), but there’s only one kind I listen to when I write. I’m not talking any music that you sing along to. That interrupts the flow. I’m talking about soundtrack scores. I’ve been a John Williams fan since I first saw Star Wars. Who doesn’t know that soaring, familiar theme? He’s also the magician behind Raiders of the Lost Ark (I know every single note of this soundtrack, including percussion), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Home Alone. He has been my muse for many, many years, and to this day remains one of the jewels in my triple crown of soundtrack scores. The others are the late, great John Barry (Somewhere in Time, Out of Africa, The Deep, etc.) and the Wagner-esque dynamo that is Maestro Hans Zimmer (Inception, Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The DaVinci Code, etc.). And Ramin Djawadi is standing by with all six seasons of Game of Thrones on a velvet pillow, just waiting for me to grab one of them…Season 6 is my favorite so far.
When I sit down to write a new section, I prefer long stretches of music without any real perceivable melody, just 10-minute passages of soothing violin, piano, and synthesizer…Okay, okay, so things like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark have a melody. But those are recognizable enough that you are tapping your foot in time to the music, and picturing scenes from the movie. I’m talking tracks that get into your head and your imagination takes root. I can close my eyes, detach my brain stem from the rest of my body, and literally let my fingers do the walking across my keyboard.
Here are some of my favorites.
Hans Zimmer – "Chevaliers de Sangreal" from The DaVinci Code.
My eyes slide shut of their own accord to absorb this. Quite possibly one of the most perfect tracks ever written.
Hans Zimmer – "Time" from Inception. This movie was fucking epic to begin with, and the entire soundtrack is on my writing playlist. This track, however, got me through the aftermath of a difficult battle scenes.
John Williams – "The Fortress of Solitude" from Superman. One of the products of my teen years. I used to play it on my stereo to fall asleep. I was usually out by the 6:00 mark. The end of it used to wake me, though, dammit...but today, it is a one-way ticket to the Zone.
John Barry – Theme from Somewhere in Time. If there is a movie out there that will make me cry every damned time I see it, it's this one. This particular track holds a very special place in my heart and I always break it out for love scenes.
Ramin Djawadi – "Mhysa" from Game of Thrones, Season 3. Damn. Just...damn. When you need a heroic return from battle scene, here's your boy, serving it up.
Lee Holdridge – "Finale from East of Eden." It took me 9 goddamn years to find out what this song was called. (This was before the wonders of smartphones and apps like Shazam.) David Copperfield used it in his 1991 TV special (Flying - Live the Dream) and I scoured Tower Records for it. I love it so much that I used it as our entrance music at our wedding reception. Another good one for romantic scenes.
Vangelis – "Pinta, Nina, Santa Maria (Into Eternity)" from 1492: Conquest of Paradise. When you need a long stretch of uninterrupted writing time, and need to send your imagination winging...this 13-minute track is the best.
I can’t believe some of the stuff that comes out of my head when it’s soothed by these guys.
At any rate, I’m listening to Hans Zimmer's Interstellar right now and my fingers are itching. I’m off to the Zone. Downbeat, Maestro…one new chapter coming up.