The music of Van Halen is streamlined and precise, yet sloppy and a little rough around the edges. At its best, it rocks harder than most anything else, and yet it’s poppy, accessible, and so catchy I’ll still be air guitaring to it in 40 years. In other words, they discovered that “sweet spot” formula to rock superstardom. It’s the same one that was utilized by Elvis, Hendrix, the Stones, The Ramones, Guns N’ Roses, NWA, Nirvana and anyone else who’s ever instigated a musical paradigm shift.
What’s any of this got to do with writing? Everything! Everything that influences my mood or outlook bleeds into my writing.
The cocky swagger in the riffs, drums, bass and vocals of Van Halen enters through my ears and infects my body and mind, like any other music that strongly resonates with me. I carry that vibe inside myself and when I write a paragraph that flows smoothly and hit hard, it’s like executing a triumphant guitar solo or tossing off a nasty drum fill.
I suppose there are better ’80s shredders than Eddie, from a technical standpoint. That’s what people will tell you, anyway. They don’t get it. People think that because, say, Ramones songs are “easy to play” that they’re inferior to someone like Yngwie Malmsteen. Guess who I’d rather hear, though. Yngwie, big as he is, will always sound/appear silly to the vast majority of people. He’s intended for a specific audience. Van Halen was for everyone.
It’s just like with my penchant for raw, cavernous, old school guttural death metal–Autopsy is never going to perform at the rock n’ roll hall of fame, amazing as they are. It just is what it is. They don’t have widespread appeal.
Everybody from preppy teenage girls to dirtball metalheads into Venom and Slayer loved Van Halen, though. Its power and appeal were undeniable and unstoppable.
Stephen King writes horror books. He’s written some truly terrifying tales over the years. His crossover appeal is out of this world, though. Everyone from your grandma to your pretentious goth cousin loves him. He writes horror like Van Halen plays rock n’ roll. The sweet spot.
My ultimate goal is to find my own sweet spot–to connect with readers in a genuine, warm, emotional way that truly makes them feel what I’m trying to convey. And I’m not going to realize that dream by listening to what anyone else tells me I should or should not write.
It’s all about capturing emotion in an inkwell and transferring it to paper. Lots of music inspires my writing.
I don’t often listen to music while I write, and if I do, it’s purely instrumental. The more ambient, the better. But I’ve still got that vibe from Van Halen flowing through me when I write. I’ve got Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War.” I’ve got Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” I’ve got Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” I’ve got Johnny Cash and the Sex Pistols. I’ve got Ice-T.
Yeah, music is an influence, just like lots of other things.
Around 1991, as a Van Halen/hard rock-obsessed teen, I saw an interview with Eddie on MTV, in which he talked about being self-taught and developing his own style, and not learning by “the book.” He said something like “If all you know is what’s in that book, that’s what’s going to come out.”
Tons of musicians have followed that book and produced a lot of boring music. The great ones do their own thing. Always. This is what the music world and the literary world have in common. I challenge you to name an iconic artist or author who hasn’t strayed from the beaten path to forge a new one. That’s what I intend to do, and I don’t care who believes it. I’ll show them. I want people to read my stuff and go “Wow. I’ve never read anything like this.”
So, y’know, thanks for offering all the tips and tricks, but save ’em for somebody who wants to be boring.
Thanks for everything, Eddie.