Reading The Notebooks is like viewing a reality-based existential scavenger hunt. You’re inside the mind ofas she triangulates herself, her characters and her memories. Sure, reading the installments out of order contributes to my particular need to go back and find references, but that’s part of the fun. There are callbacks and little paths to explore. It makes you wonder about the thousands of threads contained in the physical notebooks. The writing and the fluid transition from storytelling to commentary to humor to reflection renders any segment of the composition enjoyable on its own. This is one reason Life Litter works so well as a song. In a way, “life litter” is an appropriate term for a song.
This song, Episode IX of Washed Memoir in Real Time (WMRT), is called “Wordsmoke” and lifts its title, words and audio (with eternal gratitude) from Life Litter’s The Notebooks episode 003 — Wordsmoke:
She’s sitting at her desk in staircase 21 at the back of college. It’s a Thursday night. Last night of exams. She is about to turn 21. Her toenails are French manicured, ready for a week of partying post-Finals. There are piles of flash cards and neat mind maps. A schedule of Finals pinned to the wall with blue tack, the subdued murmur from the college bar downstairs and the lights of the spired city over a shoulder out the window.
She doesn’t know who she is. She only has a vague idea who she isn’t. She knows she isn’t one of the Cool London Girls with skinny jeans and eating disorders. She isn’t into theatre, or drum and bass. Before Oxford, she’d never even heard of drum and bass. She doesn’t do coke; has never even been offered it. There are lots of classic movies she hasn’t seen until recently: A Clockwork Orange; Pulp Fiction. She’s vaguely preppy, in a confused, provincial and inauthentic way. She has started to experiment with skinny jeans (even though her heart stays with low rise bootcut) and she straightens her hair religiously. There are ragged nests of fried hair under her sink. She likes Krispy Kreme donuts, by the box, as a study aid and has, for months now, chosen a particular seat in the Law Bodleian opposite a cute guy. In fact, just yesterday she managed to talk to him for the first time and get his phone number. His name is Geoff with a G. He’s less cute up close when you talk to him — so many people are, aren’t they — but never mind.
He provisionally agreed to come out and party tomorrow night, post Finals. He told her he has his eye on an internship at JP Morgan next year in the City.
For such a smart girl, she’s really pretty dumb.
How do you make a town like Oxford your own? It belongs so completely to everyone else who has gone before, but of course, they didn’t feel like it belonged to them either.
There’s an iPod in a blue-glowing dock playing Sigur Ros and there’s a landline next to it that is ringing.
I snap back to myself. It’s Thursday 8 June 2006.
Throw down my notes. There’s no point anymore; at this stage, it’s just a comfort thing. Like a soother, a worry stone, Catholic prayer beads. Turn them in your hands and recite: “Quistclose trust …. remoteness of damages …. indirect loss”. The mind maps set off a chain reaction in my head, like a lit fuse, tripping down all the right neural pathways.
It’s Matt. Matt is my friend who also lives in staircase 21. He came dead last in the room ballot so ended up with a crappier room lower down the staircase and without the view. I assume he’s been studying too. It’s what we did. And drank.
“Let’s go to Hassan’s.”
We walked the fifty metres or so to Hassan’s. It’s the nearest kebab van, a haven of warmth and chip fat on Broad Street.
“What will you have darling?”
“Chips and cheese. And hummus.” I can’t make up my mind. “And beans and an egg on top.”
Matt is restless. “Should we look in to the champagne and strawberries evening the Law Society is putting on?”
“I can’t drink tonight. Last night. And the Law Society isn’t putting it on. It’s sponsored by Freshfields.”
“I thought it was Fieldfisher?”
“Nah, Fieldfisher did the Fresher’s week drinks in Freud’s.”
How do you make it yours? How do you define it? You don’t. You move through it and have the same experiences as everyone else. Probably you have sex with the same person as everyone else and contract the same STIs too.
Or maybe that’s just me. Because my first boyfriend had his merry way with anyone he pleased on the nights out in sticky-soled nightclubs above the big Sainsbury’s in the Westgate shopping centre. Mornings after, when he was nowhere to be found and no one meeting my eye, I would ask innocently “where’s Stan?”
And then you blink and it’s time to go. Like the lights coming on at the end of Indiana Jones but Harrison Ford hasn’t chosen his goblet yet. You haven’t quite managed to grasp the right cup yet; the one that assures you of immortality. Surely it’s somewhere around here but you’re not quite sure where. Maybe it’s in Piers Gaveston but you wouldn’t know because you weren’t cool enough to get a ticket slipped into your pidge.
If you’ve read the above and/or listened to the track, you are now telling yourself, “I’m intrigued.” Just wait until you read the rest of Wordsmoke and understand more about the reference to “sticky-soled nightclubs above the big Sainsbury’s in the Westgate shopping centre”. Inspect the map to see where she saw Thom Yorke. Wait until to you hear more about Geoff with a G. NO SPOILERS.
I am no literary scholar, or even a voracious reader, so I gingerly compare Jill to Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. I am assuredly leaving out countless female and other inspirations by citing these two. Regardless, these comparisons resonate with me, primarily due to the honesty of the memoir style and a rhythmic presence. Whatever rhythms influence Jill, they are present in the writing and in the reading. The prosaic meter fits well with audio, both spoken word and music. Thus, the uncannily easy pairing of Jill’s words with music.
I’m proud of how this turned out and I feel good about this piece as a song and as a collaborative art work. The language adds so much. I really like the music too and it all works well together. However, the track correctly places the words at the forefront. I like the atypical production decision to keep the story going after the music ends. Of course, the LaBelaBel executives may demand a dance remix with a radio edit. It’s not me, it’s the industry. You expect me to live in your systems and your institutions and not create a dance remix?
This is the type of instrumental I’m hoping to make. It blends styles and switches between synth heavy electronica to esoteric guitars.
RZA sparked the beat, which was the very first thing that I recorded. I started by playing along to the beat in “Clan in Da Front”. Boom bap b-boom boom bap.
In addition to RZA, I was inspired byand his deft use of the mellotron. I do fancy a good tape warble. This inspired me to check out a mellotron plug-in. I didn’t really understand how a mellotron works until watching the video Peter shared in this episode of Polyester City:
After experimenting with with a few lines, things were sounding very Wu1. It needed a bit more Woo. I ran some guitars through the 2600. The connection to Woo is related to how they ran instruments through similar type of synthesizer as the ARP2600—a Roland System 100. I just love how it sounds…
One more compositional note. When putting this together, I utilized a process of layering every track on top of each other, looped and played together—before subtracting here and there. I love this way of making electronic music. It is like painting in reverse. You layer everything on top of each other, then peel back the layers until you have different ebbs, flows, flotsam; jetsam. If you have movements or changes, this necessitates polyphony and polyrhythms. I like the strong hip-hop beat that takes this track from beginning to end in addition to the ride symbol that brings some swing into the groove. The ride is an acoustic cymbal, recorded and played by yours truly. Nice to get some some analog sounds back in my drums.
I’ve previously discussed my affinity for spoken word lyricism/Sprechgesang. This didn’t mention spoken word, poetry and rhyme as the foundation of hip-hop. A separate essay is required to discuss my love of hip-hop and how most of the music I love is black music, or white people playing black music. But here, we’re talking more about spoken prose & music, which is a slight distinction. My admiration for this style certainly spurred the desire for a literary collaboration. Below are a few examples of songs that I like with spoken word narratives. I’d be interested to know what are some of your favorite songs in this style? Is there a difference between stories sung and stories told? What whence is a story sung but thrice a story folds? You’re right, that doesn’t make sense.
Even if I don’t understand the language:
While making this track,turned me on to new material from The Drop Nineteens, which led me to this song:
The following are a little different, since the have choruses/refrains, but I gotta mention:
Wait, was that video and song actually a Pepsi ad? I just noticed that every product is generic, except the Pepsi…AND,
One thing that is amazing about Substack is the quality of the writers, so many of whom are refugees from a broken publishing business model. A broken model that may sound familiar to musicians. Regardless, access to the Substack community and Notes allowed me to contemplate finding a literary collaboration. There are already great ones occurring including theutopian novel sound tracked by . I’m certain there can be more cross-genre collaborations occurring with writers, artists, and musicians on Substack. I hope this offering contributes to evidence in favor of such collaboration.
In conclusion. Mom, all I wanted was a Pepsi. I’m not crazy. You’re the one that’s crazy.
Wu-Tang, not Dr. Wu, Steely Dan nerds.