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Becky with the Silky Copper-Colored Hair: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon Meets Beyoncé’s Lemonade Part 3

This post is the third in a series about teaching Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade album in conjunction with Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon. You might want to read the first post and second post first.

Guitar advises Milkman, “Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down” (Morrison 179). Before Milkman will be able to fly, he will have to give up everything that prevents him from becoming free (Foster 135). Over the course of his journey, he loses all of his possessions: his car, his shoes, and finally, his watch (Foster 165). Part of what weighs Milkman down is his father. Milkman has learned unhealthy lessons from his father, who taught him to value money and possessions as a marker of his worth. His father insists the only way to freedom is to “own things” (Morrison 55). Macon Dead, Jr. believes that Pilate has nothing useful to teach Milkman, which turns out to be false (Morrison 55).

Like Milkman, Beyoncé has learned some unhealthy lessons from her father in “Daddy Lessons.” In order to understand the “generational curse” of “the historical impact of slavery on Black love,” Beyoncé must “[reckon] with her partner’s betrayal” to understand “how familial, historical, and societal forces have shaped his behavior and [take] action to heal these wounds” (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé”). Cuchna and Shodiya argue that the thesis of Beyoncé’s film is “the past and future merge to meet us here” (“‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé”).

In order to become free, both Beyoncé and Milkman will need to confront this past and shed the “Daddy Lessons” passed down from their fathers. In Beyoncé’s case, these lessons include suppression of emotion as a sign of strength (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé”). In the middle of this song, Beyoncé includes a home video of herself and her father cut with a clip of her daughter, Blue Ivy, jumping on the bed. As Cuchna and Shodiya argue, Blue Ivy’s appearance underscores the importance of Beyoncé breaking the curse—her daughter’s future happiness is at stake (“‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé”). A funeral takes place, symbolizing the metaphorical death of this curse with the fictionalized death of Beyoncé’s father (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé”). Milkman has to contend with the fact that his father’s treatment of his mother impacted his own relationships with women. He wonders, late in his journey, about his mother: “What might she have been like had her husband loved her?” (Morrison 300). Milkman begins to realize that Macon, Jr. loved “property… to excess because he loved his father to excess” (Morrison 300). Macon, Jr. saw his own father killed in a property dispute in which his father was clearly in the right, and it has affected his entire outlook on life. Like Beyoncé, Milkman must contend with a generational curse before he can become free. This freedom is represented in the novel by flight.

Milkman discovers that his great-grandfather, Solomon, was “one of those flying African children” (Morrison 321). In this clip, Toni Morrison talks about using this myth in the novel:

This myth likely arose from the story of the Igbo Landing which was the site of a mass suicide of Igbo people who were taken from what is now Nigeria to Georgia’s St. Simon’s Island (Momodu; Powell). Beyoncé also alludes to the Igbo Landing in her song “Love Drought,” which features Beyoncé leading a group of eight African-American women to wade into the water. The group, however, does not drown themselves, but rather engages in a form of baptism to “be born again into a life of healing from the pain of racial injustice that was outlined” earlier in Lemonade (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Love Drought’ by Beyoncé”).

This song appears in Lemonade’s chapter “Reformation,” as Beyoncé “band[s] together” with the group of women “to create new lives for themselves,” an act accomplished through joining and raising their hands “in unity, suggesting the communal power of Black women” to effect miraculous changes (Cuchna and Shodiya, ‘Love Drought’ by Beyoncé”).

This baptism sets the stage for the next chapter in Lemonade, “Forgiveness.” Like Milkman, now that Beyoncé has come to terms with the truth and understands how history has impacted her, she can become free. While Beyoncé accomplishes this freedom through creating community with Black women, past and present, Milkman accomplishes freedom with the healing assistance of a woman. As Pilate presciently declares early in the text, “it’ll be a woman save his life” (Morrison 140).

Near the end of Song of Solomon, Milkman enters into his first reciprocal relationship with a woman, a prostitute named Sweet. Sweet bathes Milkman both literally and spiritually, after which, he bathes Sweet (Foster 166). The two then engage in domestic tasks of the sort that Milkman has never done, according to his sister Magdalena called Lena, who charges Milkman with “never pick[ing] up anything heavier than [his] own feet” (Morrison 215). One of the tasks Milkman does is to scrub Sweet’s bathtub; earlier, Lena accused Milkman of never “wip[ing] the ring from [his] tub” (Morrison 215). Clearly Milkman has become a new person. In “Freedom,” Beyoncé sings “I’ma rain, I’ma rain on this bitter love / Tell the sweet I’m new” (Knowles-Carter, Lemonade).

In this song, Beyoncé declares freedom from the “chains” of the “curses [she has] inherited” (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Freedom’ by Beyoncé”). Similarly, Milkman’s flight represents his attainment of freedom (Foster 136). However, Milkman does not fly until after he realizes that “without ever leaving the ground, [his aunt Pilate] could fly” (Morrison 336). In order to attain his own freedom, Milkman must “surrender to the air” (Morrison 337).

When Beyoncé reconciles with her partner in “All Night,” our class discussed how the healing accomplished through intimacy compared to Milkman’s relationship with Sweet. I suggested that some critics argue that the album should have ended with this song rather than “Formation” because it signaled reconciliation. Before I had finished the thought, one of my students interjected, “No.” I asked her to elaborate. She said that “Formation” is necessary because it declares Beyoncé’s intention to join with other women to stop racial injustice and gender inequity. This intention is not only displayed in the chorus of the song when Beyoncé sings, “Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation” but also in the lyric, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros” (Knowles-Carter, Lemonade).

 

These lyrics announce Beyoncé’s intention to “affirm her daughter, just as she is” (Cuchna and Shodiya, “‘Formation’ by Beyoncé”). Near the end of Song of Solomon, Milkman holds Pilate in his arms as she dies and says, “There must be another one like you… There’s got to be at least one more woman like you” (Morrison 336). At this moment, Milkman’s “symbolic acceptance of an alternative African-American beauty ideal,” represented by Pilate’s rejection of White beauty standards pursued by her granddaughter Hagar, finally gives Milkman the freedom to fly (Ashe 589).

Morrison says in her foreword, the flights of the men in Milkman’s family “are viewed differently by the women left behind” as evidenced by the “Sugarman” / “Solomon” song passed down to Pilate (xiv). As Morrison says, “to praise a woman whose attention was focused solely on family and domestic responsibilities, Milkman summons a conundrum: that without ever leaving the ground she could fly” (xiv). Because she accepted herself, as she was, she has always been free. The cryptic final sentence of Morrison’s foreword reads, “My father laughed” (xiv). I asked my students why they thought Morrison’s father laughed, reminding them she wrote the novel to explore what the men he has known “are really like” (xii). One of my students said, “I think it’s because even though she was writing about men, she still managed to make this book about women.” We laughed, too.

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll move from analysis of the texts’ connection to what activities and assessments we did in the classroom.

Works Cited

Ashe, Bertram D. “‘Why Don’t He Like My Hair?’: Constructing African-American Standards of Beauty in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. African American Review, vol. 29, no. 4, 1995, pp. 589-592.

Cuchna, Cole and Titi Shodiya. “‘Daddy Lessons’ by Beyoncé.” Dissect. 19 May 2020, open.spotify.com/episode/4o4BiQlgkVPAC7ORLK115t?si=CpbfA7d0TmCyrqYblnf5ng, Accessed 29 Jun. 2020.

Cuchna, Cole and Titi Shodiya. “‘Freedom’ by Beyoncé.” Dissect. 16 Jun. 2020, open.spotify.com/episode/73TaovV5bMxDMICYqnvlTe?si=jLafOY69Rp2u4iIH7JcWdQ, Accessed 29 Jun. 2020.

Cuchna, Cole and Titi Shodiya. “‘Love Drought’ by Beyoncé.” Dissect. 26 May 2020, open.spotify.com/episode/1DGACEEJICFbSYCF3RVJZX?si=gpBgSsdjQp2rd6dNWdFeMw, Accessed 27 Jun 2020

Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Revised ed., Harper Perennial, 2014.

Momodu, Samuel. “Igbo Landing Mass Suicide.” BlackPast, 25 Oct. 2016. www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/events-african-american-history/igbo-landing-mass-suicide-1803/, Accessed 27 Jun 2020.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, Vintage, 2004.

Powell, Timothy B. “Ebo’s Landing.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 28 Feb. 2004, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/ebos-landing, Accessed 27 Jun. 2020.

Becky with the Silky Copper-Colored Hair: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon Meets Beyoncé’s Lemonade Part 2

Yesterday, I shared a little bit of background into the connections between Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album and Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon. Today, I am going to explore those connections more deeply.

Song of Solomon is the centerpiece of a unit on Identity and Culture in our AP English Literature curriculum. We focus on essential questions such as

  • What makes us who we are?
  • How does culture influence us?
  • Is defining identity based on difference a divisive or a constructive force in society?

I think the text could work well in a variety of units, however, and one of the reasons I teach it in AP Lit is that it is a good text for Question 3.

The first year I paired Lemonade with Song of Solomon (2018-2019), I did not teach the entire text of Lemonade. I pulled out specific songs from the visual album. However, the power of the paired texts prompted me to teach the entire visual album the following year. Cole Cuchna and Titi Shodiya argue that Lemonade is a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” a concept borrowed from nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner, who “believed varying art forms, such as poetry, music, dance, theater, costume, and set design should be seamlessly synthesized to create an artistic expression that was much more than the sum of its parts” (“Beyoncé: Lemonade”).

Cienna Davis argues that the visual storytelling in Lemonade situates “Beyoncé within Afrodiasporic genealogies and alongside histories of Black trauma” (24). One might argue the same for Song of Solomon. Milkman undertakes a journey to discover himself and his family, but this journey also helps him uncover “the story of his ancestors and the trauma hidden in it that has affected his family generation after generation” (San José Rico 153). This knowledge helps Milkman feel connected to a larger community and begin the process of stopping the cycle of trauma passed down through his family (San José Rico 153). Both Beyoncé and Toni Morrison employ African-American folklore to explore this history of trauma.

The first year I paired Lemonade with Song of Solomon, my class’s first encounter with Beyoncé’s album occurred after we had read up to chapter X in Song of Solomon. Hagar has just been unceremoniously dumped by Milkman after they have been lovers for twelve years. She has taken to stalking him in the evenings and threatening to kill him. Following a discussion of the chapter’s events, we viewed Beyoncé’s video for “Hold Up.”

In the video, Beyoncé evokes the Yoruban orisha Oshun, dressed in yellow and striding out into the streets with a rush of water (Roberts and Downs). Oshun is a goddess of water and sensuality, and folklore describes her legendary temper, especially when she has been wronged (Roberts and Downs). Beyoncé wields a bat and carves a swath of destruction throughout the video. I asked students if perhaps Hagar could be considered alongside Beyoncé. These lyrics for “Hold Up” became the basis for our discussion:

What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy?
Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy (Knowles-Carter, Lemonade)

Had Hagar decided she’d rather be “crazy” than be “walked all over lately”? Suddenly Hagar’s anger and desire for destruction made more sense to my students and was grounded in both folklore and a modern story of infidelity. One student described the connection between the texts as a “eureka moment.” Seeing the way that Beyoncé wielded folklore led students to a deeper understanding of Morrison’s use of folklore.

Hagar internalizes Milkman’s rejection in a startlingly similar way to Beyoncé. Hagar is driven to murderous rage after seeing Milkman with “a girl whose silky copper-colored hair cascaded over the sleeve of his coat” (Morrison 127).  At the end of her song “Sorry,” Beyoncé sings, “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair” (Knowles-Carter, Lemonade).

She repeats that last line. Students understood the woman with “silky copper-colored hair” means nothing to Milkman as she occupies only Hagar’s thoughts (the text never mentions Milkman’s thoughts about the woman, which led us to conclude he doesn’t have any). My students quickly nicknamed the mysterious woman with silky copper-colored hair “Becky,” drawing a straight line to Beyoncé’s lyrics.

Near the end of Song of Solomon, Hagar catches sight of herself in the mirror and says “No wonder… I look like a ground hog. Where’s the comb?” (Morrison 308-309). Hagar concludes that Milkman does not love her because of her appearance, so she decides to “fix [herself] up” by buying new clothes and makeup and having her hair done (Morrison 308). While waiting for the hairstylist to be ready for her, Hagar walks in the rain, and all of her plans are undone as her bags fall apart in the street (Morrison 313). Hagar herself falls apart, contracting a fever (Morrison 314). As she lies dying, she asks Pilate, “Mama… why don’t he like my hair?” (Morrison 315). Remembering the woman she saw with Milkman, Hagar assumes that Milkman loves “silky hair” and “lemon-colored skin” (Morrison 315-316). In the Lemonade film, Beyoncé incorporates the poetry of Warsan Shire, including “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love.”

One student drew a parallel in his essay between Hagar’s dying words and Beyoncé’s rendering of Shire’s poem, citing the lines “I tried to change. Closed my mouth more. Tried to be softer, prettier, less awake” (Knowles-Carter, Lemonade). Both Beyoncé and Hagar express a belief that changing themselves will make them more deserving of love.

Tomorrow I will share some connections between the song “Daddy Lessons” and the lessons Milkman learns from his father.

Works Cited

Cuchna, Cole and Titi Shodiya. “Beyoncé: Lemonade.” Dissect. 23 Apr. 2020, open.spotify.com/episode/40hut8DPmX25CTG6s46bMS?sid=LocUPWnQTVKprV9zul4mwA, Accessed 27 Jun 2020.

Davis, Cienna. “From Colorism to Conjurings: Tracing the Dust in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.” Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, vol. 16, no. 2, 2017, pp. 7-28.

Knowles-Carter, Beyoncé, director and performer. Lemonade, HBO, 2016.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, Vintage, 2004.

Roberts, Kamaria and Kenya Downs. “What Beyoncé Teaches us About the African Diaspora in Lemonade.” PBS News Hour, 29 Apr. 2016, www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/what-beyonce-teaches-us-about-the-african-diaspora-in-lemonade, Accessed 6 Jul. 2019.

San José Rico, Patricia. Creating Memory and Cultural Identity in African American Trauma Fiction, Brill, 2019.

Becky with the Silky Copper-Colored Hair: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon Meets Beyoncé’s Lemonade Part 1

As I mentioned yesterday, my manuscript for English Journal was not accepted, but I also don’t have time right now to revise it, so you get to read it in its rougher unpublishable state. In this series of posts, I will be discussing what happened when I decided to teach Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade with Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and also offer some scholarly background into why the two texts work so well together. The short version? It was magic.

Publishing it this way might enable me to make the story more of a multimedia experience, so I’m calling it a win. Credit to my former student Geethika for the title of this series. A note on citations: I transitioned from using MLA to APA on this blog because I found I liked APA better and it’s also more commonly used in education, but I used MLA in this article because it is English Journal’s citation style, and I didn’t want to revise all the citations.

Image credit Kristopher Harris, used under Creative Commons License

Pop culture phenomenon and megawatt music star Beyoncé opened her film Homecoming, a recording of her 2018 Coachella concert, with words borrowed from Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon: “If you surrender to the air, you can ride it” (qtd. in Knowles-Carter, Homecoming). Song of Solomon differs from Morrison’s other novels in that its protagonist, Macon Dead III, known as “Milkman,” is a man. In the foreword to the 2004 edition of her novel, Morrison explains that she began writing Song of Solomon after the death of her father (xii). She asked her father, by way of hoping for inspiration, “What are the men you have known really like?” (xii). Morrison describes that “radical shift in imagination from a female locus to a male one” as a “challenge” (xii). However, as my students and I discovered when we paired our reading of Song of Solomon with a study of Beyoncé’s visual concept album Lemonade, Milkman’s relationships with women in the novel drove his development as a character, ultimately teaching him that “if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it” (337).

As Beyoncé explains in an interview with Vogue, “I come from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationship. Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful” (Knowles-Carter, “Beyoncé in Her Own Words”). Lemonade has been described as a journey (Edgar and Toone 12). Indeed, Tidal, the music and podcast streaming service owned by Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z, described Lemonade as “every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing” in its announcement of Lemonade‘s release (Pinkard). Morrison contrasts the “stereotypically male narrative” with its “accomplishment of flight, the triumphant end of a trip through earth, to its surface, on into water, and finally into air” with this feminine journey (Morrison xii). However, Beyoncé incorporates many of these motifs, including a trip through earth and into water, in Lemonade. University of Pennsylvania professor Jeanine Staples argues that Lemonade’s cultural references create a “tapestry of journey method through iterations of consciousness and experiences that are tied to a feminine and Black feminist tradition/s” (29). Cole Cuchna and Titi Shodiya describe Lemonade as a “deeply personal exploration of identity, history, and spirituality, a visionary expression of a woman’s journey from betrayal to redemption, from tragedy to triumph, from subjugation to freedom”(“Beyoncé: Lemonade”).

Like Beyoncé, Milkman must make his own journey to reckon with his family’s history, including a similar lineage of romantic and familial relationships, and it is only once he learns this history that he is able to fly.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade album and accompanying film explore the threat of infidelity in a relationship between a Black woman and a Black man, but Cuchna and Shodiya explain that more deeply, the visual album is “a gateway into an education on how America’s history of slavery and systemic injustice affect the structures of the Black family” (“Beyoncé: Lemonade”). Reviewing the film for Humanity & Society, Corey Miles argues that the film’s chapter titles, beginning with “Intuition,” “Denial,” and “Anger,” then advancing to “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” and “Redemption,” develop the “emotional progression for how black women negotiate their relationship with black men, specifically their husbands and fathers” (136). Miles contends that the first half of the album wrestles with Beyoncé’s anger about the infidelity of both her father, Mathew Knowles, and her husband, Jay-Z (136). The middle of the album underscores feelings of apathy that gradually give way to redemption, forgiveness, and empowerment. After the Lemonade album was released, writer Candice Benbow collaborated with African-American women to produce the Lemonade Syllabus, a compilation of recommended reading celebrating Black womanhood. While several novels by Toni Morrison make Benbow’s list of recommended fiction, Song of Solomon is not among them, likely due to its male protagonist; however, my AP English Literature and Composition students found many connections between Song of Solomon and Lemonade.

Tomorrow, I will delve more deeply these connections.

Works Cited

Benbow, Candice. Lemonade Syllabus. Issuu, 2016, issuu.com/candicebenbow/docs/lemonade_syllabus_2016, Accessed 6 Jul 2019.

Cuchna, Cole and Titi Shodiya. “Beyoncé: Lemonade.” Dissect. 23 Apr. 2020, open.spotify.com/episode/40hut8DPmX25CTG6s46bMS?sid=LocUPWnQTVKprV9zul4mwA, Accessed 27 Jun 2020.

Edgar, Amanda Nell and Ashton Toone. “‘She Invited Other People to that Space’: Audience Habitus, Place, and Social Justice in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.” Feminist Media Studies, 2017, pp. 1-15.

Knowles-Carter, Beyoncé. “Beyoncé in Her Own Words: Her Life, Her Body, Her Heritage.” Vogue, 6 Aug. 2018, www.vogue.com/article/beyonce-september-issue-2018, Accessed 15 Jun. 2020.

Knowles-Carter, Beyoncé, director and performer. Homecoming, Netflix, 2019.

Miles, Corey. “Beyoncé’s Lemonade: When Life Gave Us Lemons, We Saved the World.” Humanity & Society, vol. 41, no. 1, 2016, pp. 136-38.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon, Vintage, 2004.

Pinkard, Ryan. “The Formation to Lemonade.” Tidal Magazine, 29 Apr. 2016, www.tidal.com/magazine/article/the-formation-to-lemonade/1-25900, Accessed 27 Jun. 2020.

Staples, Jeanine M. “How #BlackGirlMagic Cultivates Supreme Love to Heal and Save Souls that Can Heal and Save the World: An Introduction to Endarkened Feminist Epistemological and Ontological Evolutions of Self Through a Critique of Beyoncé’s Lemonade.” Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, vol. 16, no. 2, 2017, pp. 29-49.

Generous Writing

You can learn interesting things in some unlikely places. I had the great fortune to be able to see U2’s Joshua Tree concert in June, and shortly after I attended the concert, I came across the interview (embedded below) on their website. If you are a U2 fan like me, you might want to listen to the whole thing, especially because I think much of what Bono says in the interview applies to learning in general and to writing in particular. He cringes about a few word choices he has used in the past, and he also says it “wigs [him] out” to listen to his singing on the album, so he hasn’t really listened to it. Of course, he had to listen to it in order to prepare for the tour, particularly because some of the songs are rarely performed, and “Red Hill Mining Town” had never been performed live before.

One thing Bono said at about 10:20 into the video has had me thinking ever since I saw this interview for the first time over a month ago. He remarks that he feels he didn’t get to finish the songs on Joshua Tree even though the band made “finishing” the songs a priority for that album. The incredulous interviewer asks which songs Bono didn’t get to finish. Bono says “Where the Streets Have No Name.” If you are a U2 fan, or even if you can’t stand them, you know that song. It’s one of their most popular, most enduring songs. I still hear it all the time when I go out places, like restaurants. Bono’s bandmates laugh at Zane Lowe’s incredulous response to Bono’s answer. Bono explains that he feels that “lyrically, it was just a sketch.” He imagines the song is an invocation, he is asking “do you want to go to that other place,” a place of “imagination” and “soul.” Over time, he has added this invitation into the lyrics when he performs the song, and he feels the “hairs on the back of [his] neck go up,” which I interpret him to mean that he feels the lyric is more finished with this line than it was as he recorded it.

Zane Lowe asks, “But how can you ask a question of an audience with a complete thought?”

Bono’s reaction to that question is what I found most intriguing about this entire interview.

Bono: Okay. Interesting. That’s interesting that you should say that..

Zane Lowe: Aren’t you waiting for us to answer the question for you?

Bono: Yeah, but what it is, and I shouldn’t really say this, but just as a… you develop vanity as a songwriter.

The Edge: He’s very hard on himself. Very hard on himself.

Bono: No, but you’ve got vanity as a songwriter, [and] I’m sure it’s the same for drums, the same for [unintelligible]. And it’s just, I knew I could write that better… Anyway, I think what you just said something really important there, and incomplete thoughts are generous because they allow the listener to finish them.

I would argue that the fact that Bono, and really the group as a whole, are hard on themselves and on each other is what makes them a band that has endured and has remained popular with many people over the years. What I mean by that is they are critical friends and help each other get better because it will help the team get better. Part of that means being honest about what is working and what is not.

I am considering using part of this video as a mentor text for thinking about writing this year because what Bono has to say about incomplete thoughts being generous made me think about what poetry does for us that other forms of writing do not do. I also really enjoy hearing someone who has been so successful in so many ways express how he feels he could have done better. One statement I make a lot when discussing writing is that it is never done; it’s just due. If we are writing a newspaper article, a statement of purpose, an educational philosophy, or an essay for school, or any kind of writing we imagine, if it’s writing meant for an audience, at some point, it’s due. We need to let it go and say it’s ready, even if we might tweak it ad infinitum.

It’s an important message for writers to hear, I think, that good writers, successful writers, struggle with the craft and wish they could do better. Bono, for example, disparages his rhyme of “hide with inside.” Honestly, that’s one of my favorite parts of the lyric. One of the reasons this interview struck me, and particularly the parts I quoted above, is that we sometimes dismiss writing because we did it, not realizing that others might respond to it in an entirely different way. Sometimes, we might not be the best judges of what works and doesn’t work in our own writing. All the more reason to give writers an audience—to offer them our incomplete thoughts and allow others to finish them.

Music is Life

Music is Life

Not a lot of people who read this blog know this about me, but I’ve been a musician most of my life. I never pursued it in any serious way, aside from playing in band in school and learning how to play the guitar. I also noodled around on several other instruments, including my sister’s clarinet, a neighbor’s violin, and the French horn owned by my middle school. Recently, I completed an online Introduction to Guitar course offered by Berklee College of Music through Coursera. I was rusty and thought I’d benefit from going back to the beginning, and I did. The instruction was excellent, and I learned things about music theory that I didn’t know. I received an electric guitar for Christmas. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since high school. At the time, they seemed so expensive and so outside the realm of anything I would ever be able to obtain that I gave up.

My Guitar
My Guitar

You could say that music runs in my DNA. My father played drums in school, and my uncle still does. He’s been a lifelong professional musician, in fact. My grandfather played the trombone. My great-great-grandfather played the fiddle. My great-great-grandmother and her mother played the organ. Many generations back, I have an ancestor, a rifle-maker tired of paying high prices for gun locks from New York, who supposedly charmed a gun lock manufacturer out of his secrets by playing the violin. In times gone by, if you wanted music, especially on the American frontier, you needed to make it yourself. Willa Cather’s short story “A Wagner Matinee” has long been a favorite because I connect to it so deeply.

I was, of course, lucky enough to grow up in a time when access to music was ubiquitous—through the radio, through music stores, through mixtapes made for friends. It wasn’t quite like today with access to new music on various streaming sites and YouTube, but it wasn’t hard to hear about new music. I can remember trying to make requests on the radio (they were ignored). I can remember taping music off the radio. I nearly wore out my copy of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet when I was 15—until I discovered Led Zeppelin and left Bon Jovi in the dust. There was a period of time in the mid-1990’s when I listened to The Joshua Tree on a loop in my car. Around 2005, I think, I discovered Jeff Buckley. A few years later, Jack White. I can’t say I stay as current as I did when I was young, but I love discovering new artists, and still try to listen to new music. There was a time in my 30’s when I felt like I didn’t know anything about current music, and I admit it was a bit of a panic. I suddenly felt old.

I was in college when grunge was popular. Nirvana broke my sophomore year. Pearl Jam even came to my university and gave a free or cheap concert (I can’t remember now). I didn’t go. Can you believe that? Big regret of mine. At the time, I didn’t think I liked them, really. In fact, if I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t go see as much live music as I should have. I saw some; I just didn’t take advantage of opportunities I had to see more. There really isn’t anything quite like seeing music live. I listened to so much music in high school and college that there are certain songs and albums I can hear that will take me right back to that time. I listened to a lot of things—hard rock, classical, big band swing, blues. Later on, I developed a fondness for old school country.

One of my friends recently posted this question on Facebook: “Imagine you’ve met someone who has been severely cut off from the world, and you get to introduce this person to music. What would be the first recorded song you would play?”

This is a fraught question for me. I like music so much that picking a favorite song is difficult, and I’m not sure I could do it. I also feel like this is one of those questions that says a lot about a person. Even picking one song that represents each genre I like would be too hard. It’s the kind of question that stops me cold in a quandary over how to answer. With all those caveats in mind, including the one that no such list could ever possibly be comprehensive or representative, I would suggest this person check out the following:

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.