Dusting Off My Drums

I started playing drums in my early teens and pretty much didn’t stop for twenty-five years. Picking up that first pair of sticks radically changed the course of my life. Not only did I make great friends, but I got to record and tour a little along the way.

Once drumming took a back seat, I was fortunate to find another passion in writing crime and mystery fiction. It’s been a real thrill getting to know that community as well, which—as luck would have it—includes several musicians. A few of us even tried to launch an ill-fated band featuring five crime authors. That project, like countless bands before it, was sunk by infighting over REO Speedwagon.

These days I still get the occasional chance to play. Most recently it’s with my good friend and former band mate, Jeff Whalen, who just announced his first solo record, 10 More Rock Super Hits. I was stoked to play drums for two songs on this stellar collection (pen name, S.W. Lauden; drum name, Steve Coulter). Having made two albums and a couple E.P.’s with him in the rock group Tsar, I can honestly say that the songs on 10 More Rock Super Hits are among Jeff’s best—but don’t take my word for it:

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Songs in the Key of Creep


Ever notice that certain words pop up more often in songs than in real life? I’ve long thought of “creep” as one of those words.

I first encountered it with Social Distortion’s “The Creeps” (1982). On the surface it’s like the soundtrack to a low budget horror film, but underneath is the fundamental punk rock need to make the mainstream feel uncomfortable. In this case, “creeps” is a physical sensation akin to spine-tingling fear or revulsion. The word was used in a similar way at the dawn of Seattle’s grunge scene with Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” (1989). Of course, other bands used the word “creep” in the 80s. One of my favorites is That Petrol Emotions’ “Creeping To The Cross” (1987). And Luther Vandross got in on the action with “Creepin'” (1985). In both instances, the word “creep” is used as a physical act similar to skulking, prowling or sneaking.

But it wasn’t until the 90s that we reached peak “creep” with Radiohead’s 1992 classic. Although the word “creep” is used in a similar way to their punk and grunge predecessors, Thom Yorke’s professed “creepiness” is delivered as more of a lament about loneliness and isolation. Stone Temple Pilots followed a year later with their song “Creep,” and pop trio TLC released a song with the same title in 1994. But it wasn’t just mainstream acts that waved a “creep” flag in the 90s. Guided By Voices got in on the movement with their lo-fi “Fantasy Creeps,” while Blue Meanies gave “creep” the ska-core treatment with “Creepy.” White Zombie even used the word in their 1995 album title, Astro-Creep 2000.

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Some Songs Make Great Short Stories

I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.

Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song:”

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Short Story in a Song — “Here Comes Your Man”

Discovering Pixies was like finding out that ghosts are real. Their music felt brand new and familiar at the same time—like it had been steadily playing in the background of all my favorite songs. I still remember the moment when a friend handed me a copy of Surfer Rosa. Songs like “Bone Machine,” “Broken Face” and “Gigantic” were a revelation. I’d played it to death by the time I got my hands on the band’s commercial breakthrough, Doolittle. From the opening bass line of “Debaser” and all the way through the anthemic ending of “Gouge Away,” Doolittle remains one of the most influential alternative rock albums ever. Interestingly, it was a mid-tempo song about drifters that gave Pixies their first hit. “Here Comes Your Man” would make a great short story.

The setting is a desolate rail yard. Box cars sit idle while desperate men stand around an open fire to fight the numbing cold. It’s a familiar scene for our narrator, the pointless monotony feeding his desire for the end to come. Despite it all, he waits patiently for death to arrive and take him away from his tired existence. And when it finally does arrive, it isn’t the shaking of a box car that rousts him from his daydreams but an earthquake. It’s not the ending he he’d hope for, but it answers his prayers all the same.

Read the full lyrics for “Here Comes Your Man” by Pixies right HERE.

Short Story in a Song — “Touch Me I’m Sick”

Grunge. If you lived through it, listening to the genre’s ubiquitous mega-hits might be a chore these days. Don’t get me wrong, songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Even Flow” are as undeniably great as they are stylistically diverse. If anything, it’s a testament to their cultural significance and broad appeal that bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam remain in heavy rotation almost thirty years after Seattle blew up. But for every legendary grunge act there are hundreds of mostly forgotten peers from Seattle and elsewhere—bands like Tad, 7 Year Bitch, Gumball, and Overwhelming Colorfast. Somewhere in the middle is Mudhoney, a garage-soaked powerhouse that helped define the “Seattle Sound” and continues to record and tour three decades later. “Touch Me I’m Sick” is probably one of their best-known songs, and it would make a great short story.

Our narrator is alienated as a result of some kind of affliction. It might be physical, emotional or both, but whatever it is doesn’t keep him from expressing a strong desire for human interaction. Whether it’s real or imagined—a terminal disease, an STD, drug addiction or an anti-social state of mind—he believes himself to be contaminated by something contagious. The rot that infects his body and mind seeps into his actions and words, making him confrontational as he tries to lure a woman home to share in his misery. She seems reluctant, and who could blame her since it’s obvious that he’s the one most likely to die alone.

Read the full lyrics for Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” right HERE.

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

 

New Interview at Story and Grit

Very excited to be over at Story and Grit today. Jessie Rawlins asked some great questions. I talk about my Greg Salem series, music (everything from Johnny Cash to REO Speedwagon), and podcasting—among many other things.

Hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.

Read the full interview HERE.

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “Waiting Room”

Even 30 years after I first heard it, Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” still fills me with angsty anticipation from the moment the opening bass line kicks in. It’s three minutes of post-hardcore perfection that triggers some kind of Pavlovian response in me. And while I may not publicly drool as often as I used to, I do find myself almost hypnotized by the pulsating tension. The mysterious lyrics would make a great short story.

Our narrator sounds like he’s saying a lot without saying much at all. Instead of intricate detail, we get broad strokes and powerful imagery that evoke feelings of frustration and isolation. As if “the waiting place” from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go has been stripped down to its non-psychedelic core to reveal the mind-numbing horrors of inaction. Whether this is a song about a Dante-esque Limbo, the effects of mood-altering prescription drugs, or an actual physician’s waiting room—our hero has had enough and is ready to rise up. He’s calling on all of us to stand up with him and spring into action. Are you ready?

Read the full lyrics for Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” HERE.

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Some Songs Make Great Short Stories

I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.

Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song.” Here are the first twenty:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “September Gurls”

There is an important moment in every budding rock musician’s life when they first discover Big Star.  Although the they never achieved mainstream success during their original run in the early 70s, their legacy as a quietly influential rock band is unquestionable at this point. Why that is—how a band can be so far ahead of its time—is one of the themes in the tragic 2012 documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” Among the small catalog of songs they released during their short career is the fan favorite, “September Gurls.” Not only does it have one of the most heartbreaking opening guitar riffs ever, but the evocative lyrics would make a great short story.

Our narrator is heartbroken and alone, obsessively reliving a short relationship that burned hot. They met in September, presumably at the beginning of the school year, but the flame burned out by the time December rolled around. His life has been cold and lonely ever since. It’s only when he climbs into bed at night and dreams about her that he feels whole again. And then the cold sun rises and our hero is forced to survive another winter day.

Read the full lyrics for “September Gurls” HERE.

More “Short Story in a Song” posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “Motor Away”

I was lucky enough to catch Guided By Voices on the Alien Lanes tour in 1995. I was working as a journalist at the time and writing part-time for my friend’s fanzine. We already had the band’s previous albums in rotation on the stereo, but everything changed when this one came in the mail. We got the last three tickets in Los Angeles and had our faces melted off at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood. There are plenty of great songs on this impressive collection, but “Motor Away” has always been a stand out. The repetitive riff and driving rhythm are vintage GBV, but the lyrics would make a great short story.

Our narrator is a road warrior who has spent his life chasing a tired dream. The long, winding road that stretches to the horizon in both directions is littered with the bleached bones of missed opportunities, broken promises and failure to grab the brass ring. He’s the last man standing from a once proud army that haunts him day and night. Despite the odds, he’s made it further than any of the others he originally set out with, but he’s still no closer to reaching their ultimate destination. And every day he wonders if this will be the last before he finally turns the wheel and drives off into the sunset.

Read the full lyrics for Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” right HERE.

More “Short Story in a Song” posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.