Category Archives: Music

My Favorite Titles

When I was ten years old, my schoolteacher gave a lesson on writing stories. I have this distinct memory of her asking us to think about what makes a good title. Given that we were a bunch of hyperactive little shits, we bombarded her with outrageous names like “THE LAVA DRAGONS” that only escalated in ridiculousness. I remember trying to come up with the craziest, most random title I could think of. When the orgy of shrieks and swallowed snot was over, the teacher told us that the best titles often didn’t spell everything out for you. A good title, she said, created a sense of mystery. You don’t want to reveal everything all at once- you want to pique a person’s interest.

Our teacher then proceeded to tell us what she decreed was the best title in the history of art and media.

The Magic School Bus!” she cried to a silent, head-scratching audience. “Think about it! You hear it and you just think: What made this school bus magic? In what way is it magic? What can it do that a normal school bus can’t? It makes you want to read more, doesn’t it? It takes something familiar- a school bus- and it makes it magic!”


No one said anything. I frowned at the woman; I figured she was just lame. Anything that had the word “school” in the title had to be lame. I was firmly of the belief back then that every teacher had no life outside of school, and that it was their mission to make everything in the world boring.

But what she said did get me thinking about titles, and it made me question my ideas. I knew that next time I had to come up with something cool, I’d think about how it sounded before just shouting it out. As the years went by, I began to appreciate that teacher’s words more and more. Even though I thought she was being dumb at the time, what she said nevertheless got through to me, and it stuck with me, to the point that I’ve held onto it for all these years.

I’ve never considered myself the most imaginative title-creator. It’s something I tend to fret over and struggle with when I’m writing a poem or a story. I spend ages trying to think up something witty and original when asked to think of a name for a pub quiz team, a 5-a-side football team, a video game character, or whatever. I’m deeply envious of people that can come up with something catchy on the spot. When I first met my friend Aaron while studying abroad in the USA, I complimented him on his penchant for lyrical, alliterative phrases and titles. Seemingly on the fly, he’d come up with things I’d never even think of. During the snowy nights at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, we’d be folding laundry and listening to music. Aaron had an indie playlist called “Hay Fever and Horn Frogs”. The title didn’t necessarily make sense, but it rolled off the tongue well and it was playful. There’s no such thing as Horn Frogs- they’re like Bananafish and Jackalopes- but in Argentina there are these little badasses called Horned Frogs.


At the moment I’m finishing up work on my novel and having to decide on its final title. Most authors tend to come up with working titles as they begin the writing process, and give their manuscript its real title when it is finished. It’s generally considered bad advice to come up with a title before a fleshed out story. I for one feel unable to name something until it’s finished. I have to look back on the work and think about what the most important themes are. There are no set rules as to what makes a good title, but one way to go about it is to think about the essence of your work and create a title that embodies it.

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite titles and why I like them. Here’s my list:


Long Day’s Journey into Night – play, Eugene O’Neil

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – novel, Maya Angelou

Look Homeward, Angel – novel, Thomas Wolfe

Tree of Wooden Clogs – film, Ermanno Olmi

A Streetcar Named Desire – play, Tennessee Williams

No Country for Old Men – novel, Cormac McCarthy

Things We Lost in the Fire – film, Allan Loeb

Beneath a Steel Sky – video game, Dave Cummins

Shadow of the Colossus – video game, Fumito Ueda

Out of this Furnace – novel, Thomas Bell

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – novel, Anne Tyler

Minutes to Midnight – album, Linkin Park

Dreams of Milk & Honey – album, Mountain

Physical Graffiti – album, Led Zeppelin

Where the Red Fern Grows – novel, Wilson Rawls

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – film, Guillermo Arriaga

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – novel, John Berendt

The Autumn of the Patriarch – novel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Places I Stopped on the Way Home – memoir, Meg Fee

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – novel, Jeanette Winterson

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – short story, Harlan Ellison

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – novel, Carson McCullers

Call Me By Your Name – novel, Andre Aciman


Looking at my list, I can already see that I have a real thing for lyrical and poetic titles. A lot of these titles are fairly long too. Heck, some of them are even complete sentences. I like titles to feel unique rather than punchy. But that’s just me. What are some of your favorite titles? Let me know in the comments!


The Crescent City Diaries #10

As I sit down to write the tenth entry into my New Orleans travel diary, I find myself following some rather amusing associative thought-processes. It’s all a complete accident, isn’t it? A coincidence? For a week now I’ve been listening to the Chopin Nocturnes as I go about trying to make sense of my impressions of the Big Easy and refine them into something ordered, coherent, and written. The complete nocturnes run about 2 hours, which is about how long it takes me to write a post. It was a decision I made, to have this piece of music accompany my thoughts of New Orleans- but why? Some part of me decided that it was appropriate, that it would “get me in the mood”, that it related specifically to the subject. I like the idea that this piece of music can help me understand my subject and facilitate the process by which I draw out something that is muddled, conceptual, imagistic, and weave it into a structure of sentences and paragraphs. The only thing is, Chopin and his Nocturnes have absolutely cock-all to do with the subject of my writing. For one, Chopin was Polish, and to my knowledge never stepped foot on Bourbon Street. And what’s more, the nocturnes couldn’t be further from the musical identity of the Big Easy.

New Orleans is debauched and bluesy, a carnival of bombastic trumpets and ever-so-sultry saxophones. The nocturnes are a series of 21 piano solos, using gentle, harmonious notes that seem to “tumble” over each other, rising and falling like the belly of a sleeper, to evoke something deeply introspective, contemplative, and personal. Now that I think about it, it’s a very introverted piece of music. New Orleans, by all accounts, is the exact opposite. It’s not one sound, nor one voice- it’s many. It’s energy. It’s every color at once. It’s inclusive, extroverted, rambunctious. Multicultural, interwoven, blended. It’s the antithesis of the old world and the classics. It’s not brooding, it’s playful.

I realized then, that the only possible connection that Chopin had to New Orleans was his surname, which he shares with the writer Kate Chopin, of no relation. Alas, there was nothing complex and interesting about his work that drew me to associate it with my subject, but merely the coincidence that he had the same surname as the author of the great novel The Awakening. And now that I think about it, Kate Chopin established a lot of my preconceptions about New Orleans and its culture. I had been assigned the book in 2012 during my time at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier and her slow abandonment of the orthodox notions of femininity and family. I was too lazy then to actually read the novel, but I was inspired and intrigued by my professor’s lectures on it. So it might be that my perception of New Orleans is a little warped, but my memories of those lectures provided a kind of framework through which I constructed my own image of the city and its famous French Quarter. When I arrived there, I too would be on a voyage of discovery like Edna.

At this point I want to come back to the idea that music can reveal in a very affecting and unique way a place’s temperament. It may not have been true of the Chopin Nocturnes, but by investigating that random thought-thread, I’ve considered more what makes New Orleans the place it is- and how Jazz might just be the best way to understand it.

The Big Easy. That name alone is indicative of a place that celebrates the quirky and free-spirited. As I’ve written in previous posts, there is perhaps no trait that’s endeared this city to me more so than its commitment to art. And hand-in-hand with that is the rejoicing of decadence. New Orleans is a decadent place, from its music to its food. The ingredients, seasonings, and recipes of the city have their roots in the colorful cultures of France, Spain, and the Caribbean. The dishes I had were hot and spicy, to the point that I worried the mild tastes I had grown up with as a resident of the U.K would prevent me from properly enjoying it. I had deep-fried jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon, alligator sausage po’boys, crawfish étouffée, chicken & seafood gumbo, and the city’s famous blackened redfish. For dessert I had pecan pie and bread pudding. I realized that a lot of these dishes were what I had considered Cajun food. A little research told me that the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine was not the dishes themselves, but the people making them. Creole food was the food of the city, and Cajun the food of the country. That also explained why all the restaurants in New Orleans referred to themselves as Creole restaurants, and not Cajun.



I also noticed that the French Quarter has a huge smoking culture. It’s the first American city I’ve been in where I’ve noticed people smoking. It’s something that’s commonplace in Europe, as evidenced by the shock Americans have when seeing London and Paris for the first time. Tobacco is something the Americans have done a much better job of eradicating than we Europeans. But in New Orleans, it’s being kept alive. The French Quarter is full of cigar shops, tobacco and snuff-box specialty stores, and hookah bars, and down the street you see plenty of people holding cigarettes, roll-ups, vaporizers, cigarillos, et cetera. Smoking has always freaked me out, but I couldn’t deny it seemed at home in the Quarter.

Throughout The Awakening, Edna has to ask herself if she can be brave enough to let go of her inhibitions and embrace a playful and passionate lifestyle where she is free to pursue her desires. The French Quarter seemed to be asking me the same question. I looked at the painters and the drunkards and the buskers and the smokers and I wanted to be brave like them. The Quarter is an environment that encourages indulgence- for whatever sin, vice, or pastime you please- and as such it’s an environment that challenges you. Like Edna, I viewed the free-spirited existence of these people as an invitation. And to accept it would require overcoming my shyness or self-consciousness. The Quarter is a place that wants to hear your voice.

It’s also a place where artists feed off of each other for creativity and inspiration. Rather than feeling competitive or intimidated by another’s talent, one is made stronger by it. Seeing someone honing their craft and demonstrating their skill encourages one to join in and put him or herself out there. I learned quickly that a lot of the artists in the Quarter knew each other. On Instagram, I discovered local painter Lauren Breaux through the cabaret singer Angie Z I admired so much from the night before. I contacted Lauren to tell her how much I liked her paintings. She replied that she too found Angie Z especially ravishing, and that she was one of her favorite muses, having painted her several times. I then asked Lauren if she could create a digital portrait of me to use for my blog. I was eager not just to support the local art scene, but to be inducted into the community in some small way. Here’s what Lauren came up with:


If you want to find out more about Lauren’s work, check out her Etsy page here!

50 Reasons Why I Love Elvis

No blog about my life would be complete without a post devoted to my favorite singer of all time. I celebrate January 8th every year because it’s Elvis Presley’s birthday, so it stands to reason that today’s the day I write this post. If he were still alive, he’d be 83 today. Anyway, here are 50 reasons why I love Elvis!


  1. I discovered Elvis when I was 10 years old after a free CD with a small selection of his songs came attached to a newspaper. My mom played it in the kitchen and after listening to it, I quickly fell in love with his music.
  2. The song on that CD that I liked best was “Burning Love” and in the beginning that was my favorite.
  3. I was given more Elvis CDs by my family, opening up a myriad of new songs for my happy ears. I put them in a big CD-player I had and listened to them every morning before school as I took my shower, covering the stereo with a towel because I was paranoid about the adding of water to electricity.
  4. As a kid I preferred the concert songs of the 1970s, Vegas-era white-jumpsuit Elvis, but as I got older I was drawn more to the rock and roll tracks of his early career- the raw, rebellious, 1950s Elvis.
  5. I envied that the older members of my family had gotten to live at the time when Elvis was alive, and I hounded them for information on any memories they might have of him. I distinctly remember my Aunt telling me that her favorite number was “All Shook Up” and my grandma, when pressed, thought that “Blue Suede Shoes” was his most famous or iconic song.
  6. When I was 11 years old I was doing a school project on Richard Nixon, and on the front page I put a picture of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands. However, our printer was godawful so the whole thing had this sickly green hue to it.
  7. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of memorabilia. I’ve got Elvis scrapbooks, atlases, encyclopedias, cookbooks, biographies, limited edition issues of the official Elvis magazine, and even some rare Elvis trading cards I got on eBay. In addition to countless Elvis-themed clothing items, a dozen documentaries and several of his concerts on DVD, and other such merchandise, an American flag with his face on it hangs above my bed.
  8. I’ve never dressed up as Elvis, and the thought of becoming an impersonator used to make me very uncomfortable. I had my doubts that it was the respectful way to remember him, and I thought that doing so might be too emotional for me. However I’ve grown to respect the artistry of some particularly skilled impersonators, and now I’m at the point where I won’t rule out becoming one in the future.
  9. I don’t particularly like Elvis’ movies, barring a couple of exceptions. I consider his movie career to be a low moment in his history, because it not only stunted his growth as a music artist, but it wasted his raw potential for acting.
  10. The biggest exception is King Creole, which is my favorite Elvis film. It’s essentially a gangster movie set in New Orleans, that doubles as a musical with some of the best songs of his career as a musician, let alone an actor. The best ones are “King Creole”, “Trouble”, “As Long As I Have You” and “Hard-Headed Woman”, all of which are amazing.
  11. I’m not a fan of Colonel Tom Parker, despite him being a pretty good manager in the early part of Elvis’ career (before he went to West Germany). Parker was essentially this old fashioned carnie guy, motivated solely by profit, and was either oblivious to or dismissive of Elvis being an artist that wanted to express himself. Instead he kind of treated Elvis as a circus act to be paraded around, a brand, something passive and without substance, to be cynically marketed in the most blandly inoffensive way possible.
  12. Elvis wanted to be a serious actor, and deeply admired Marlon Brando and James Dean. However Tom Parker wouldn’t let him contribute as one actor equal to the others in a given film; he demanded that Elvis have top billing, that he essentially play himself instead of trying to stretch his wings as a character actor, and that the movie would basically be a family-friendly “Elvis movie” instead of a film with artistic vision. It makes me sad to see Elvis’ potential wasted as he is forced to act in these dumb films he absolutely hated, which sent him into a depression.
  13. One of the biggest reasons I was drawn to Elvis as a person and not just as a singer was his status in the 1950s as a symbol of teenage rebellion. I remember my English professor at school telling us how, before he came along with rock and roll, there didn’t exist a concept of teenagers as being a distinct group in-between children and adults.
  14. Elvis was part of a trend in the 1950s that was more controversial and edgy than even the most savage gangsta rappers we see today. People literally thought he was the devil incarnate, and there were efforts to get him off the screen and even to ban his live performances. The most famous example is of course the way they would only shoot him from the waist up, because they considered his gyrating hips and legs to be scandalous.
  15. As I said above, Elvis greatly admired the actors Marlon Brando and James Dean. Movie stars were practically godlike in those days, and had a profound effect on popular culture. Both Brando and Dean planted the early seeds of that rebellious 1950s image of teenage youth that Elvis and other rockabilly artists would then go on to popularize in their music. Brando did so as early as 1953 in the outlaw biker flick The Wild One, and Dean followed it up two years later in the groundbreaking masterpiece Rebel Without a Cause. If it weren’t for these two movies, Elvis’ iconic greaser-come-rockabilly look might have been a lot different.
  16. Elvis styled his pompadour haircut off of Dean’s character in that movie, and both of them were inspired by Brando’s sideburns in The Wild One. Between Dean and Brando’s movies about teenage delinquency and Elvis’ sexually-charged music, anyone wearing a leather jacket and sporting sideburns was considered a complete thug.
  17. Half a century later, the whole style affected me too; in the past I’ve grown sideburns, and on special occasions I’ll use a special Elvis-branded pomade to slick back my hair. I also collect leather jackets which I don’t think can be a coincidence.
  18. I went to get my degree in creative writing at the University of Winchester and during a class in my first year, we were asked to bring in a song that spoke to us emotionally and then do some writing on it. Back then I was pretty embarrassed about sharing the songs I liked with people, because it felt like showing them my emotional landscape and I guarded my feelings back then with about as much mercy as a cornered honey badger. Extremely nervous, I brought in my iPod and played the song “Don’t Be Cruel”, which was my favorite at the time. When asked what I thought about the piece, I described it as “electrifying”.
  19. At the end of my first year, we had to produce a creative art project that we would then display in a gallery. It was the last assignment of the semester and I wasn’t sure what to do. A girl from the class I had played “Don’t Be Cruel” in suggested something to do with Elvis, since his music was something I was passionate about. I liked the idea, and although nervous at sharing my passion with my colleagues- with whom I felt like the class wallflower, always fearful and reclusive- I did feel a kind of joy at the idea of opening up. I settled on creating a massive map of Elvis’ America, and after drawing the outline of the USA, I added in pictures and pieces of information from various points in his life, creating something that was both a timeline and an atlas.
  20. During some of my lonelier moments in that rough first year of university I would turn to Elvis’ music to cheer myself up, often listening to the likes of “An American Trilogy” or other slower numbers on my iPod in bed to drown out the sound of the partygoers. I later wrote a poem about the importance of his music and the comfort it provided me for a class project.
  21. A few months after making that big map, I got to finally make my pilgrimage to Graceland in August of 2012. We were there during Elvis Week and the 35th Anniversary of Elvis’ passing, so the place was absolutely packed with tourists from around the globe.
  22. One thing I loved about being in Memphis was how the legacy of Elvis was everywhere you looked. It was like the whole city was gearing up for Elvis Week; his face was everywhere- on billboards, in store windows, on restaurant menus. Near the city’s famous Beale Street there’s an awesome statue of The King.
  23. If you are curious about some of Elvis’ favorite dishes, a lot of restaurants in the area serve Elvis-themed cuisine. I got something called the “Love Me Tender Platter” which was a fricking mountain of fried chicken, at a place opposite our hotel.
  24. The “Elvis Sandwich” is the most well-known and iconic meal inspired by The King. You can get it at a lot of places in Memphis and obviously at the eateries around Graceland. It’s known that he especially enjoyed grilled sandwiches of peanut butter, mashed bananas and bacon.
  25. Other essential eating for the diehard Elvis fan includes fried chicken, meatballs wrapped in bacon, T-bone steaks, biscuits fried in butter and filled with sausage, tomato fritters, fried pickles, Monkey Bread, and coconut cake. These were his favorite dishes and I love how decadent they are. Elvis loved the hearty, home-cooking of his native South, and never really took to foreign cuisines.
  26. What I loved about my time at Graceland was that I was, for the first time ever, surrounded by people like myself. There was an army of people young and old sporting sideburns and dyed black pompadours, people from every corner of the world, all of them wearing Elvis merchandize like myself. I felt a sense of belonging, especially at seeing so many younger Elvis fans. The army around me had the same sense of religious fanaticism you might get from a crowd of sports fans.
  27. We had to be taken to Graceland via these mini buses, each group regulated by guides because there were so many of us. Once we were through the gates and I was standing in Elvis’ front yard, we had to wait until we were allowed in. Each group had a certain amount of time and you had to keep walking. You couldn’t double back and check out a certain room again, or move freely.
  28. As we waited, one of the guides told us facts about Elvis’ legacy and my brother told me that given my encyclopedic knowledge and fervent zeal, I could easily get a job here.
  29. What struck us most about the house was that it wasn’t quite as grandiose and extravagant as you might expect given Elvis’ absurd wealth and fame. It’s definitely fancy, but it’s also quite homely and snug. It feels very much like a place that was lived in, rather than some cold, soulless mansion. It’s the kind of place that looks bigger and grander than it actually is if you’ve only seen it in pictures.
  30. I felt a pang of emotion when looking at the swing sets and tricycles used by a young Lisa Marie. Elvis and his wife Priscilla divorced when Lisa Marie was at a very early age, and a few years later Elvis passed away. It’s sad to think of the childhood memories she missed out on.
  31. Sadder still was the moment of looking upon Elvis’ gravestone. All around were beautiful wreaths and works of art made by fans from as far away as Taiwan and Denmark. My brother confessed to feeling a surge of emotion as he looked down upon the memorial.
  32. The highlight of my trip came when news broke out that Lisa Marie Presley was conducting a radio interview here at Graceland, and I was able to get quite close to the front of the crowd gathering at the barricades. I was probably an arm’s length away from her, and proceeded to take the best pictures I could, all the while feeling completely paralyzed with awe.
  33. Before leaving Graceland I checked out the gift shop and bought myself a TCB necklace, something I’ve always wanted. The TCB stands for “Taking Care of Business” which was Elvis’ motto. He outfitted his entire entourage with pins bearing these letters arranged around a lightning bolt, and the logo can also be seen on Elvis’ private jet, the Lisa Marie. If I were ever to get a tattoo, that’s what I’d get.
  34. One time someone in the USA came up to me and informed me they hated Elvis. I told my brother and he went into a rage.
  35. I went to see an Elvis concert in Bristol, where a live orchestra provided the instrumental accompaniment to his voice, and a 3D holographic image of Elvis from his Vegas concerts gave the closest thing you can get to experiencing Elvis in concert. It’s an amazing production, and it’s been so successful that they have taken to touring the world. The one I went to sold out fast and we were lucky to get tickets.
  36. King Creole is my favorite fictional Elvis film, but my favorite motion picture overall is the documentary Elvis On Tour. The montage sequences were supervised by a young Martin Scorsese and if you’ve ever studied Mean Streets or Taxi Driver you can tell how his distinctive cinematic genius has touched the production.
  37. In 2014 I visited the Green Bay area of the US state Wisconsin, and on the last day of my time there, my friends took me to an amusement park called Bay Beach. There’s a ride there called the Zippin’ Pippin’ which is said to be Elvis’ favorite ride. I made sure to get my picture with the plaque boasting to that effect, before braving my fear of roller coasters with my friend Elizabeth to give it a go.
  38. My all-time favorite Elvis song is “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, and I put a dollar in the jukebox at a bar in De Pere, WI called The Old Number Seven to play this song. I was playing darts and drinking beer with my American family, and when the song started playing I took a special joy in seeing my best mate Anne-Marie singing along.
  39. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is my favorite song overall, but there’s an Elvis song for every occasion. If you want something inspiring and uplifting that touches on social issues, then go for “In the Ghetto” or “If I Can Dream”, the latter of which is based off of Martin Luther King’s speech. If you want a more edgy rock and roll sound, then I’d recommend “Hound Dog”. And you can’t leave out “Suspicious Minds”, which is generally considered his greatest song pound for pound. I tend to pick which of his songs to listen to on the basis of my mood at the time.
  40. Following up that last point, Elvis is in 23 Halls of Fame for his musical achievements. That’s why I encourage people to give him a go, because there’s a lot of variety to his songs. He’s considered a legend in the genres of rock and roll, country, pop, blues, and gospel!
  41. Elvis served as a huge inspiration for so many successful music artists. It’s well documented how the likes of John Lennon and Bob Dylan worshipped him, but even modern singers discuss how influential he has been on their careers. Notable examples of Elvis fans that come to mind in today’s industry include Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, and Harry Styles.
  42. I was so pleased when playing Fallout: New Vegas that there was a street gang of Elvis impersonators. It’s one of my favorite games and when I play I always join that faction.
  43. Essential movie-watching for Elvis fans includes Lilo & Stitch, Blade Runner 2049, and Forrest Gump.
  44. Fun fact: Charles Manson had a plot to assassinate Elvis Presley and even showed up at one of his Hollywood residences, looking deranged and suspicious. Fortunately, Elvis employed all his high school buddies as his personal bodyguards, the Memphis Mafia, and they told Manson to get lost.
  45. One of my favorite things about Elvis was his generosity. There are so many stories of Elvis giving expensive gifts to complete strangers, such as cars and houses, a job if he could hire them, a wheelchair if they needed it, and every year he gave huge donations to charities, hospitals and schools. But Elvis wasn’t perfect- he was as flawed and human as the rest of us. He made mistakes and lost his temper, and he really would have disliked the Christlike image in which some people regard him.
  46. My brother loves Frank Sinatra, and in 1960 the great singer hosted Elvis on his television show in a special episode welcoming him home from the army. Previously, Sinatra had regarded Elvis and the rock and roll movement with disdain, thinking that they were just a bunch of crude reprobates. However, after meeting Elvis he came to admire him very much, after seeing that the rebel image Elvis had was just that- an image, a marketing tool. Privately, Elvis was a very humble, polite person who deeply loved his mother- traits that won Sinatra over.
  47. Elvis was a huge football fan, a fact that makes my heart happy. He loved to both play and watch the game, and was a complete nerd when it came to the sport. He loved being tested on football trivia and knowing the names and numbers of all the players. If he were alive today I’m sure he’d be a fan of the Tennessee Titans, and celebrating their weekend win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round of the playoffs. However, his favorite team was actually The Cleveland Browns, who just this season finished 0-16. It’s not that surprising though, because believe it or not, the Browns were utterly unstoppable when Elvis was young. Otto Graham was an ice-cold badass, the most winningest quarterback in NFL history, who won Cleveland the 1954 championship game by throwing for 3 touchdowns and rushing for 3 more, not long after Elvis got back from the Louisiana Hayride.
  48. Elvis’ favorite player, however, was the immortal Jim Brown- perhaps the greatest player of his era pound-for-pound. Of course, Elvis became friends with Brown and there’s an awesome photo of the two giants in their respective fields chewing the fat.
  49. This talk of football and music brings to mind the inherent zealotry of fandom. I’m not the kind of Elvis fan that’s going to come up to you and fill your earhole with preachy rhetoric about how great he is- which admittedly sounds ironic given this post- but all the same, I am nothing if not shy, so I don’t try to convert people. My approach to music- and life in general- can best be described as live and let live. That said, I can get quite defensive if someone comes up to me and slanders his name- much in the way I can get heated when people insult Aaron Rodgers.
  50. It’s reported that on the last full day of his life, Elvis had tried to get Lisa Marie a print of Star Wars: A New Hope, which to me is the perfect fact to end this list on!

Notes on Musical Cartography

When I often discuss musical appetites with people, I often hear “To be honest, I like all kinds of music, but I especially like [insert subgenre]”. I think this is true of most people- it is definitely true for myself. There is simply too much music out there- too much good music- for one to only adhere to a strict subgenre. I understand that some people enjoy more- or less variety- than others, however. For some, their preferred genre of music is intrinsic to their sense of identity; I believe the correct term for those who almost exclusively associate with death metal music to be “metalheads”. And that’s swell. It’s interesting actually, that a particular type of creative expression can resonate with certain people in such a strong way so as to create an entire community.

My roommates and I discuss music often. We have overlapping tastes, but we each have unique journeys as far as our acquisition of music. And sharing with one another our own musical landscapes is a source of intense interest, so I figured I would blog about it. I’ll start with my male roommate- I’ve caught him listening to all kinds of songs, from European electropop artists like MØ, to thrash metal/“harder-than-rock” bands like the inimitable Five Finger Deathpunch, and to older voices such as Billy Joel. He has a broad range of tastes and has supplied about 60-80% of my musical library, no exaggeration. But none of those artists- despite his fondness for them- really define him. There exists for people a deeper connection with music; there are the songs we enjoy, and then there are the songs that speak to us on an emotional or spiritual level, to which we attach larger-than-life qualities. I’ll explain what I mean in less abstract terms, but bear with me for a moment. For him- and for my other roommate (his high school sweetheart), the genre inextricably linked to their identities (both individual and collective) is Alternative or Punk Rock. I’m talking Yellowcard, The Offspring, and best of all, the incomparable Blink 182. If you were to meet him, he would say that he likes all music, but that he is drawn most of all to Alternative Rock, with Rap Music a close second. For her, her tastes are perhaps even broader; less sympathy is given to hard rock, but more to pop, Celtic Punk, even Country. But what unites them, what is so important to their identity- particularly as a couple- is the work of those Alternative Rock bands- American Hi Fi, Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20- that harken back to a time before I knew them, to memories I have to fill in with my imagination, to a nostalgia entirely their own.

But why is this relevant? Well I am going to let that last paragraph serve as a point of contrast, as I approach the crux of this blog post- the establishment of my own musical cartography. Since I have become friends with my roommates, my figurative library has expanded massively. I am going to share how I have received these songs, my own associations with them, and my relationship with music in general. The first and most important fact about myself is that before anything else I am a diehard Elvis fan. I have a lot that I love in my life; I am a brother, a friend, a son, a Cheesehead, a roommate, a creative writer, a blogger et cetera, but before all of that I am first and foremost an Elvis fan. My relationship with his songs arguably deserves its own post, but it’s important that I touch on it here as best as I can. I became a fan after my mom received a free CD with a small selection of his songs that came attached to the newspaper. She would play it in the kitchen whilst cooking or whatever, and I would come in and listen. By the time I was 12 I had firmly established myself as a fan of his work for life, and I got two CDs with about 65 of his songs altogether. I continued to listen to it all through my teenage years and my college days, culminating in a 2012 pilgrimage to Graceland (Memphis, Tennessee) during Elvis Week, where I came within just a few feet of Lisa Marie Presley.


That is the first part of my musical makeup. However, despite being a huge Elvis fan, his work largely stands unaccompanied in my core library. What I mean is, whilst I like and enjoy other rockabilly songs- I don’t necessarily identify with them on that emotional level. I am more of an Elvis fan than I am a rockabilly fan in general. No, as far as the other half of my heart, that belongs to the genre of hard rock, which I consider to be my primary subcategory of music. My favorite band is Mountain, closely followed by contemporaries of the 60s and 70s such as The Rolling Stones, Blackfoot, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. These are the kinds of songs that I listen to when I am alone, when doing the dishes or folding laundry, or taking a shower. These are the kinds of songs that I consider “Michael songs” that exist without any kind of vivid association. They are to me, what Alternative Rock is to my roommates.

I mentioned earlier that our tastes overlap. I have grown to enjoy the works of Blink 182 and The Goo Goo Dolls especially, but they are not “quintessentially Michael” in their character. Perhaps now I am beginning to make more sense. Now that I have started to give you more of a profile of myself, I want to explore and examine that which I am most interested in- and which I am eager to know whether it exists in the same way with you, my readers. The songs outside of my self-discovered core library, which have been recommended to me by others, are so intriguing to me due to the way in which I came to acquire them. I am known for not falling for a song instantly. I will perhaps hear the same song played a dozen times in the stereo of my roommate’s black Chrysler Sebring “The Panther”, when all of a sudden, I will become quite enthralled by it. It has to be listened to at the right moment, at the exact time when I will associate it forever with a place, person, experience or emotion. Long after its discovery, my listening to it will always and forever recall a very specific nostalgia, an echo or an image in my mind’s eye, that can never be erased. We will now run through some specific examples, so that you do not think I am waffling, or being a pretentious pussywipe.

First up is a recent example. I have had a changeable relationship with classical music. It’s not a part of my identity, but a piece may resonate with me if given the proper association. It must be noted quickly that I don’t necessarily enjoy these associative songs any less than I do a given Elvis or Mountain song. They aren’t “pure Michael songs”, but on any given day I may prefer to listen to them above all else. There is no sense of superiority or inferiority here, only a difference in my conception of it. A few months ago I started listening to some classical music randomly, as I judged this to be the best and least intrusive accompaniment to my writing schedule. One of the pieces I listened to was Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, an absolute pimp of a composer from 19th century France. Seriously, this piece is indicative of a straight-up badass. It’s supposed to be based on a legend where, at the stroke of midnight every Halloween, Death plays his fiddle, which calls forth the dead from their graves, who start to dance for him. I learned all this from the comments section of the Youtube video, believe it or not. It is important knowledge, and you consider the song more closely upon gaining it. It is so full of whimsy- it’s like Leopold Stokowski’s score for Disney’s Fantasia– it evokes the majesty of a faerie tale, the violins with connotations of a sinister, Slavic horror, the whole thing a dance so wondrous you can’t help but be swept away, taken in by it’s strange Satanic depravity. But you want to know how this piece became immortalized in my associative library, don’t you? At the time I was reading Clive Barker’s horror novel Cabal, and in it there are undead, shapeshifting bloodsuckers, that dwell in the catacombs beneath the mausoleum of a graveyard, and venture out only at night. They are mostly sympathetic characters in the book- though no time is wasted in the establishment of their horrific and bestial side. They each seem fantastic and unique. It was only months later, that I started listening to Danse Macabre once more, and now every time I do, I am reminded of the events of Barker’s novel. I see the lovers Boone and Lori rushing throughout the wilderness of Canada’s Alberta Province, their struggles, their heartaches, their passion, their despair. I know, from my experiences past, that this association will stand for a long time.


The next example concerns the songs my roommates have introduced to me over the past 5 years, and how they have found their way into my library, becoming absolute favorites of mine. The key thing to remember here is that they are songs which I would never have otherwise discovered, would never have listened to or sought out on my own, and if perchance I did hear them, I would likely have been disinterested. But I’ve opened up a great deal to all kinds of music in recent years. Firstly I want to introduce the song “Take It All Back” by the American rapper Huey Mack. It’s a grossly underappreciated song. But my roommate- the male- prides himself on uncovering the hidden gems of music. We would listen to upbeat pop and rap songs such as “Hello” and “Acapella” by Karmin and “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco that I strongly associated with being in The Panther and driving around Eau Claire at night. They captured the excitement and adventure I felt at grabbing some Half-Off Apps at Applebee’s or some ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. The streetlights, the lighted windows of Mogies, sports bars, the traffic lights, the dipped headlights of cars. “Take It All Back” was a song that belonged to that group, but took on an even more specific association. We were driving one summer evening, turning from Fifth Avenue onto Water Street. On the corner is the Irish pub Dooley’s. Eau Claire is very much a “college town” whose identity is dominated by the university presence. Out on the streets were the spirits of summer. They were Blugolds without a doubt, living here for the summer. Perhaps they were juniors and seniors, enjoying the newfound independence of living out of their own house for the first time. We passed by these rambunctious crowds, and I remember us commenting on the revealing clothing of the girls. They were dressed in high heels, skin-tight black dresses with a plunging cleavage and so many thighs on display as to put KFC to shame. I don’t want to sound like I’m mocking or admonishing any of these girls based on the way they dress- I am simply observing. But it brings to mind the sorority girl stereotype. You can never truly know someone as you drive past them and look out of a car window. The imagination has to fill in the large open spaces, and you draw upon the stereotypes of our culture to help you out. I wondered at where their evenings would take them, what they would talk about, who they would meet. And Huey Mack’s song, which we were listening to as we drove past, came to fill in those large open spaces, it seemed to supply for me the information I was lacking, and I imagined the girls being like the girl the rapper describes in the song- spontaneous, wild, familiar with things foreign to me (smoking weed for instance!), and with an open, aggressive sexuality. They belong to a group of people in the social sphere I am curious about but have no access to; I see them walking in their loud parties on Water Street at nights- but where are they going and why? I had a friend from Eau Claire I visited a couple times, who actually lived on Water Street and who I felt might be more familiar with such girls. One time I visited him, and we were sitting in his living room, preparing for an adventurous (and for me, unfamiliar!) night out in the Twin Cities. In the corner of the room his friend was smoking a joint, and told us with glee about how this cheerleader was texting him, informing him of her breakup with her boyfriend, and being very forward and not in the least bit subtle about her desire to get close with him. I remember his amusement at her interest, and the subsequent song-and-dance routine in which he broadcasted how he was going to get ferociously laid down the line. It’s all a world that’s never closer than an arm’s length to me, but which I nonetheless find intriguing as I do all things.


Hopefully by now I am starting to make more sense. As I conclude this post, I want to remind you to comment if you experience music this way too. Let me know if I’m mad. I first heard the song “Emmylou” at the end of a long playlist which had entertained us all the way from western Wisconsin to the eastern edge of the state, when we turned onto the long country road on which my roommate’s family lives. The song may very well have been on in my presence before, but I did not truly hear it until we turned onto that road. My friend lives on a Native American Reservation near Green Bay, WI, and either side of the road are trees. Hearing the song always brings me back to that bright summer afternoon, the branches and all the greenery blowing softly. It might sound like sappy horseshit but it’s true- I swear. I can’t listen to it and not be taken back. It’s not so much the place as it is the feeling. My nervous excitement at meeting his family for the first time, our collective fatigue after a 4 hour car ride, the sentimental mood that put us in. “Well we’re finally here, my favorite road in the whole world” he seemed to say, as if he knew exactly how long and how often I had imagined coming here. It had existed hitherto only in stories, his own nostalgia, family trivia, which upon listening I had attached a romantic, mythical quality. It was as if his house, his family, the Fox River, and the whole of Green Bay, were not made real until I stepped foot there. They didn’t exist until I discovered them. They were stories.


I could go on. I could talk about my association of “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor with (in my opinion) the greatest athlete of all time Michael Jordan, or I could point to songs such as “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls that evoke memories of sitting cross-legged on the floor of my best friend’s room in Towers North- 459- and having manly “heart-to-heart” conversations. The latter is a song often prescribed to me when I let my roommates know that I’m having a depressive episode. I can’t listen to Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” without recalling a wild drive with my friends I took to the Twin Cities in 2012 to see my first NBA game (GO BUCKS!). I can’t hear Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” without remembering the drive back, when we all sang it and I was an emotional prick- despite being familiar with the song for years and previously being very indifferent to it. Car rides are especially vivid for me, as you can tell. John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” brings me back to the second-leg of an epic cross-country road trip, and the sadness I was overcome by at saying goodbye to my friend in Houston, Texas. The associations are both happy and sad, but I enjoy all of the songs. Hopefully I have given a coherent account of the “soundtrack of my life” or whatever term you wanna come up with. It is an endless source of fascination for me and my roommates, and I have enjoyed sharing it with you. Vowles Out.