Ever since I was a kid, music has been central to my creative process. Whether building an airplane model kit in the basement of my parents' home; drawing my own comic books late into the night in my childhood bedroom; or writing my very first, simplistic novels when I was all of 11—music has been paramount. I have always listened to music while creating.
Today is certainly no different.
As I worked on the first edition of Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, and the new, updated art book, I had a constant soundtrack going in the background, a low dB companion to the task of assembling this taut little tome of Bradbury’s memories, philosophies, ideologies, and inspirations. When I am writing, music is seldom a mental distraction. Many writers simply cannot work with background noise. For some reason, I need it. Music has forever been one of the most important things in my life.
It goes back to my very early days. I remember my brother and sisters playing Beatles and Badfinger records.
When I was 8, living in Malibu, California, I was a Beach Boys fanatic. It just so happened that Carl Wilson, the band’s guitarist and velvet-throated vocalist, lived not too far from my own home. His house was a Moroccan-style mansion, fittingly right by the beach, near Trancas Canyon. One sun-soaked afternoon (as most Malibu days are), I decided to hang out on the street near the house. This was a different era when kids wandered around unsupervised, whiling sunny days away, exploring and discovering. I stood on the street outside the Wilson mansion hoping for a glimpse of the famous Beach Boy. It didn’t take long, maybe an hour, and a Mercedes wheeled in to the driveway and a woman stepped out from the vehicle. I recognized her from the liner notes of my vinyl copy of the Beach Boys' 15 Big Ones—Carl Wilson’s wife. She wore over-sized sunglasses and carried bags from a local children’s clothing store. The rest of the car was loaded with groceries. She saw me right away.
“Are you waiting to meet my husband?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. She informed me that her spouse was, predictably, on the road. But then she made a most generous offer:
“If you help me in with my groceries, I can try to find an autograph picture for you.”
I helped her carry the bags from the market into the house. Just passed the front door, we walked through the foyer, which had a small rectangular swimming pool with flower pedals floating on the surface. We went into the shady, richly appointed home, and I set down my armload of brown paper bags from the local supermarket. Mrs. Wilson looked around a bit, in a closet, in drawers, and emerged with a publicity photograph of her husband, along with a handful of promotional material for the Beach Boys’ latest album.
I was elated.
A year later, in a twist of cruel meteorological fate, my father relocated our family to the frozen suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota—the land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000 times that many mosquitoes come summer. Along the way, my musical tastes morphed. I spent the entire summer of '78 down in the darkness of the cool, musty basement writing a mystery novel. I drank large glasses of ice-cold soda and blasted Ace Frehley’s KISS solo album throughout that entire season, finishing my first book (I still have it, somewhere, in old and tattered KISS spiral notebook). It was during this time that the connection between listening to music and writing was firmly cemented.
As I write this blog post, I am listening to bootliquor.com, one of the coolest outlaw and alt-country streaming stations the bandwidth has to offer.
Ever since I seriously took pen to page, music has played. When I work, I tune in at times, crank it up, and then it vanishes into the ether when I strike a creative groove, a high, incidentally, far better than any buzz provided by stimulants legal or otherwise. And the music simply lends to the creator’s euphoria. I like old country. Old big band. 50s and 60s jazz. Hard rock. Punk. Bluegrass. Classical. Some metal. Some hip-hop. From Johnny Cash to Johann Sebastian Bach. I just love music. I believe that music penetrates the subconscious while creating. Whether it is the bop rhythm of cool jazz, the empowerment of hard rock, or the soothing tide of melodious classical, it all affects the psyche.
During the course of my career working as a journalist, I have met and interviewed many musicians: Gene Simmons, Mike Ness, Puffy AmiYumi, Redd Kross, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Material Issue, King’s X and on and on. One night, after I had interviewed Tony Bennett by telephone, I was invited to a concert he was performing on the occasion of his 70th birthday. When I arrived at the show, I discovered front row tickets and backstage passes for after the performance. When the concert ended, I was ushered backstage with a small group of about 15 friends of the artist. And there was me, an alt-weekly writer at the time, relatively unknown, young, wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt.
Tony Bennett walked into the room, triumphant after his b-day performance. He proceeded to walk down the line of waiting VIPs backstage, greeting each one, and kissing them on the hand. He finally came to me, kissed me, and said,
“Who are you?!”
At the time, I wondered that myself.
Music has always been there for the journey. That’s part of the reason I asked Black Francis, the founder of the influential alternative rock band the Pixies to write the foreword to Listen to the Echoes. I knew that Francis (aka Charles Thompson) was a towering Bradbury fan. He even went so far as to title his 1996 solo album, The Cult of Ray. Sure, I might have asked Hef or Spielberg to write it, but that would have been predictable. Black Francis came through with something different, something more special. A love letter. No surprise, I listened heavily to the Pixies through much of the process of Listen to the Echoes. (Incidentally, Trompe Le Monde had steampunk elements before steampunk was cool).
But without a doubt, my favorite band provided the most oft-spun, most inspirational, most exalting music I listened to while assembling the interviews and writing the essays in Listen to the Echoes.
I speak with high-praise and high-reverence of the U.K. band, the Wildhearts.
Imagine, if you will, if James Hetfield of Metallica married Frida of Abba. This vodka and marzipan soaked union would go on to spawn a wild and eclectic brood of kids named Cheap Trick, the Ramones, Kiss, and the Replacements.
And don’t forget the family mutt: Motorhead.
This wicked and dysfunctional lot, these Wildhearts, founded in 1989, would go on to record a towering discography of genre-mashed, guitar-heavy bliss. If you like your riffage heavy and your melodies sublime, you are in orbit.
So that is what I listened to while I transcribed, edited, and wrote Listen to the Echoes—The Wildhearts. In 2009, the band released the sonically soaring platter of fist-pumping-sing-along-goodness, Chutzpah! The album, in many ways, is a snapshot of New York City. Ginger, Wildheart founder, frontman, philosopher, and songwriticus prolificus lived in New York City in 2008. Chutzpah! was on heavy rotation during the entire making of the first editon of Listen to the Echoes.
But what is sort of weird and cool and mind-blowing all at once, is that while the Wildhearts influenced my creative process in a Mothra-sized capacity, in my own little way, me and my friend Ray Bradbury made our mark on them. It’s a tale of meta-inspiration if you will, sort of like how streams flow into rivers flow into the sea and it all connects.
In 2008, as Ginger Wildheart was residing in the cacophonous metropolis of NYC, I met up with him one day for lunch in lower Manhattan. We have shared an email correspondence over the years, spurred by my fandom of his creative brilliance and musical back catalog. We have talked about working on projects together. It was a mild winter day and we had a good lunch at a barbecue joint down in St. Marks. We chatted about music and books and religion and philosophy. I gave him a copy of my first Bradbury biography, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. I showed him the quote at the front of the book, my favorite Bradburyism, the one that Bartlett’s, when they get off their arse, will canonize:
Jump off the Cliff and Build Your Wings on the Way Down.
Ginger liked it.
“I’ll have to use that in a song one day,” he said.
The rest of that afternoon we shopped for CDs. Later, we went to a Supersuckers show (another outstanding, shitkicking goodtime band, by the way). And we have stayed in touch.
The Wildhearts released Chutzpah! a year and a half later on August 31, 2009. The record, as I said, was my audio blanket while I finished Listen to Echoes.
A few months later, the band released the EP, Chutzpah! Jnr., an 8- song collection of jet fuel rock/punk/pop. Over the years, the Wildhearts have sort of become known for their b-sides. Many of these harder-to-find songs have become staples of Wildhearts shows from Tokyo to London to Brooklyn.
Track four on Chutzpah! Jnr, titled, “Vernix,” is, in some ways, vintage Wildhearts, boasting enough time-changes to give Neil Peart ADHD. The armada of guitars are there. The melodies are as glassy and as perfect as the ocean in the morning, and sweet enough to make the metal crowd puke. One Wildheart diehard called “Vernix,” bat-shit crazy.
And it is.
But just listen to it. Listen what happens when the song hits the one-minute mark.
Ray Bradbury rocks.
And so do Ginger and the Wildhearts.
Follow Ginger on twitter @Gingernyc
And follow me on Twitter @Sam__Weller