Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

7 albums that made me want to write

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In the overdrawn, ultra nerdy, raging debate over whether lyrics are poetry or not, I tend to side with poetry.

There is always a danger in finding yourself in lyrics, because so often you end up disappointed when you find out that they were written with no backstory in mind, with no reality anchoring them, but no matter what I learn about these album, it won’t shake how I’ve reimagined them.

I don’t know that my feelings on these albums is necessarily an accurate reflection of what the artists intended to put out, but in the end, I don’t think it matters what my interpretation is of a song, anyway. We all need to make lyrics our own, to some extent, if music is to stick inside of us, and influence us.

For me, I base the strength of an artist’s lyrics off of whether they make me want to write, and in some cases write better. While I have an ever-growing list of authors and novels that inspire me, I also pull inspiration from music.

Here are seven albums that have made me want to write:

1. “Only Theatre of Pain,” Christian Death
Seminal death rock band Christian Death’s debut album was one I first got into in high school. I’d never heard anything like it, especially the lyrics. Just look at the song titles themselves – “Cavity - First Communion” and “Spiritual Cramp” and you’ll get a sense of what kind of lyrics would fall under them. Like drugs, other people’s words can change your perception, and the songs on this album certainly changed me.

I picked this record up when I was 15 years old. It was the first album I owned that pushed more boundaries than anything else I’d been listening to then. The songs are full of images I’d never, ever had in my head before. They made me uncomfortable at first, but I kept listening anyway, absorbing the reactionary words and visceral images and wondering, “how did this band come up with all this stuff?”

This album made me think of articulating my own sources of anger and my own sense of questioning differently. It also made me change the way I thought of phrasing things; even though I was so young, it would take a long, long time before I got my writing to where I wanted it to be, but this Christian Death album started a lot of that off.

2. Elliott Smith (self-titled)
Elliott Smith’s second album is cemented as one of my favourite albums, ever. If there was a sound to those summer nights when you stay out until 6am, this would be it. It all made me focus harder on adequately framing, and phrasing, personal experiences.

3. “Rude Hieroglyphics,” Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a cheat since it’s a spoken word album, but it does come from two of my favourite musicians, who also happen to be authors. Let’s face it – spoken word is an acquired taste and there are so many variations on it that saying you’re into spoken word doesn’t really drill down on exactly what you like about it, or what kind of spoken word styles you’re into. Discovering this album from two of punk rock’s most acclaimed women helped build an important bridge for me in terms of writing for reading, and writing for performance.

4. “Every King a Bastard Son,” Rozz Williams
Here I am, cheating again! Yup, this is another spoken word album, but the experimental atmospherics make it come off as part acid trip, part nightmare, part personal deconstruction. This was the first spoken word album I ever bought. I was still in high school when I picked it up and it scared me so much that I couldn’t listen to it past a certain point for a long, long time.

Rozz Williams, original vocalist for the above-mentioned Christian Death, delivers each word on here with a voice that sometimes melts, sometimes splinters off into other, smaller voices. Listening to this album is an experience, and there aren’t a lot of records out there that you can say that about. This album really helped solidify my love for poetry, especially because it legitimized by growing teenage suspicion that poetry could be cool and alternative and dangerous.

5. “Meat is Murder,” The Smiths
When I first got this album I would lay on my bed at night and read along to the lyrics in these songs. This album, in my opinion, captures the Smiths at their lyrical best. There are characters and stories in these songs. I used to listen to tracks like “Rusholme Ruffians” and as the song came to an end I’d think, “what happens next?” This was an album that made me recognize a need to be succinct and direct, and to say what I wanted to say.

6. “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” Belle and Sebastian:
I wasn’t actively writing poetry when I first started listening to this album by these Scottish indie sweethearts; instead I was working on a zine and some music reviews and interviews. There is a strong storytelling quality to this album, and others by Belle and Sebastian, and listening to this record helped reignite something in me. It was a much-needed reminder of what I wanted to do with my writing and where I wanted to take it.

7. “Welcome Back to the Nothingness of Your Life,” Husband and Knife
Lyrically, this album stands out for me because it has no hesitation. Everything here is stripped bare in the most sensitive places. And overall, this album is one that I continue to get excited by, even though years have passed since I first started listening to it.

In the end, inspiration doesn’t always come from concrete factors, but just a really good feeling that other people out there are onto something good. And that makes me want to do something good, too.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page