As part of our music-themed month on the blog, we’ve been asking our authors to talk us through four songs that have in some way shaped their writing. Andy Miller is as mad about music as he is about books, and could easily have written The Year of Listening Dangerously. After much agonizing, he managed to whittle down his vast record collection to the foursome below:
I have chosen four pieces of music that have inspired me here; really it ought to be four thousand plus. Please consider this a fraction of a fraction of a sliver of a snapshot of a tiny piece of an unfinished jigsaw with no straight bits and no corners extending in all directions forever. Got that? Good. Let’s go.’
The Kinks, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ (Pye)
‘I’ve always been inspired as much by music as I have by books – possibly more so – and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is my favourite LP. It was my favourite LP before I wrote an entire book about it (for the 33 1/3 series) and, perhaps surprisingly after doing all that, it still is. Ray Davies has been a huge influence on my writing. His songs are a very English mixture of humour, melancholy and irony. This is the title track from ‘…Village Green…‘, first released in November 1968. It’s deceptively simple and artfully deceptive. Sing along but don’t take it at face value, in other words.’
Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time, ‘An Open Book’ (Folk Modern)
‘I usually get obsessed with a particular piece of music or an album when I am working on a book – previously Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom and Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator). In the case of The Year of Reading Dangerously, I listened to a lot of Can, Popol Vuh and NEU! etc, because I was writing about Julian Cope’s book Krautrocksampler, and a lot of Neil Young because I am always listening to a lot of Neil Young, in this case his appropriately-titled LP Time Fades Away. But the record that sustained me through the protracted and difficult process of writing TYoRD was Keep Going by Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time, especially this song ‘An Open Book’.
“You think that life’s an open book
Filled with pictures that you took.
You close the book, the story ends
And it was so hard to make friends.
You close the book, the story stops
Sometimes you stay down from the knocks
You can’t always come out on top.”
P.S. At the Port Eliot festival in August, I saw the Lilac Time play this song in a church mostly lit by candles. It was very delicate and moving and it felt like the end of something; the end of this book about books, I suppose. Time to open a new one.’
Neil Ardley, A Symphony of Amaranths (Regal Zonophone)
‘Neil Ardley, who died in 2004, was a prominent English jazz pianist and composer who was also the author of more than 100 popular books on science, technology and music, including The Way Things Work, which sold more than three million copies worldwide. You can read more about this extraordinary man at www.neilardley.com and I encourage you to do so. Anyway, this 1971 LP A Symphony of Amaranths is an incredible fusion of all the things that made Neil Ardley work: ideas, jazz, wit, science, children, orchestras and the written word. It is also the place to go if you want to hear Ivor Cutler recite Edward Lear’s ‘The Dong With A Luminous Nose’ accompanied by a celestial musical ensemble. It inspires me because, like the best books, only one person could make all the disparate parts sing together in harmony: its author. Also, you can listen to it, write to it, read to it, drive a car to it, eat a meal to it and probably do everything else to it too. It is unique. Please give it a try.’
Stanley Brinks and the Wave Pictures, ‘Orange Juice’ (Fika Recordings)
‘Last summer I delivered my talk ‘Read Y’self Fitter’ at the Green Man festival in Wales. Many hours later I was meandering around the site, quite drunk (Green Man is an excellent festival). I accidentally found myself watching Stanley Brinks backed by the Wave Pictures. They were performing a song which seemed, in my intensely relaxed state, to offer a pracitcal solutions to the problem of existence: “you, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, ephedrine and orange juice.” Also the song was very funny and everyone was singing along with it and the guitarist of the Wave Pictures kept playing these snaking, melodic guitar lines and in that moment, I felt really, really happy and that almost never happens. Imagine my delight on discovering when I got home that the song was called ‘Orange Juice’ and it sounded just as fantastic when sober in my house as it had done while pissed at the foot of a Welsh mountain. I have listened to it approximately 1,000,000 times since then. One day I would like to write something that makes the reader feel as good as this song makes me feel. Play it and if for some bizarre reason you don’t like it, don’t bother to tell me. Thanks.’
Words by Andy Miller.
The Year of Reading Dangerously is out now.
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