With over 70% of my hearing gone, I live my life in a fair amount of silence. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since 2011, know that I used to select an album I liked and play it on a continuous loop while I worked on the manuscript for a novel.
For The Sun Singer, the album was Georg Deuter’s “Nirvana Road.” For Sarabande, it was Mary Youngblood’s “Beneath the Raven Moon.” Deuter plays multiple instruments and his blending of them seemed to me very transcendent, a strong image I had for The Sun Singer. Mary Youngblood plays the Native American flute, and it speaks to me like a voice in the wilderness, at once a cry of pain and a hymn of praise, perfect for Sarabande. (I was listening while writing the first editions of both novels.)
I don’t recall how Youngblood found out about my use of “Beneath the Raven Moon” as a muse. Maybe “Google Alerts.” She contacted me, thanking me for enjoying and mentioning the recording. She said that since I already had that album, she would send me a copy of another album in exchange of a copy of Sarabande. So, we exchanged mailing addresses along with our latest work. I hope she had time to read it.
I have no words for describing what it meant to me to hear from her, for nobody plays the Native American flute better and every one of her albums spoke volumes to me. I was in a Blackfeet shop in Browning, Montana several years ago and one of the salespeople saw me looking at the flutes. When she asked if I wanted to buy one, I said, “Only if I start playing like Mary Youngblood.” She smiled and said, “Nobody plays like her.”
I knew she had listened to Youngblood’s music because she not only knew the names of the songs but also held the opinion that Youngblood created voices with the flute that technically should be impossible to create. Sadly, I left the flute behind because I knew it would sound worse than a kazoo if I dishonored it by trying to play it.
Some years ago, I stopped playing albums while writing because I could no longer hear them. It was a loss because when I was listening to them, I never had writer’s block: the albums jumped started the writing every single time. I played Deuter’s and Youngblood’s albums so many times, that if I see (or recall) the name of a song, I can hear it within the silence of my imagination. Their albums are primarily instrumental, so there were no words to interrupt my chain of thought.
While writing the three novels in my Florida Folk Magic Trilogy, my imagination played the blues and gospel, primarily the same songs I mentioned in the novels. I grew up with the blues and gospel, in part from my parents’ 75 rpm records and partly from the appearances of many of the singers on early television variety shows. The one good thing about the music I hear into the silence in this way is that I can turn it up as loud as I want it without bothering either my wife or our two cats. It also hasn’t been ruined by today’s digital recording methods.
The blues in my imagination and memory were a very effective muse. When I was in high school and learned that Beethoven didn’t stop writing music when he lost his hearing. I didn’t understand how that was possible. Now I can.