Monday, August 3, 2009

What I Learned From The Black Eyed Peas

Some of my friends think of me as an artistic snob. I was listening to classical music while everyone else was listening to Paula Abdul. I was watching The Color Purple while other people were watching...okay, I don't really know what other people were watching because that's how unplugged I was from popular culture in the 80's. How about Rad?

At the time, I admit that I was steering myself in a certain direction. I wanted to experience deep emotion, and, being a snob was the only way I knew to go about it.

Nowadays, I'm more open-minded. I look for good art any place I can, without as many biases. Enter the Black Eyed Peas and their hit "My Humps." Truth be told, this song was probably floating across the airwaves for months before I came across it. I'm even pretty sure my friends tried to get me to listen to it only to find me leaving the room. But, actually, it's a pretty fun song. I dance to it when I hear it in the car, sometimes accidentally shifting into neutral, which makes my Toyota Corolla produce a rather loud noise.

This weekend, it was all about "I Gotta Feeling." I had it playing on my computer as I was working on my latest story.

True, these songs do not contain the richest, most complex lyrics I ever encountered. They usually comprise simple one-liners that repeat over and over again. Yet, I can't help the way they affect me. They get me moving. They make me happy. And, perhaps most importantly, they're catchy.

That's a strange word isn't it? Catchy. Like a viral infection. Sometimes the strangest things stick in my head while other things, more formally artistic things, just slip away. This only goes to prove something that comes up in our blogs a lot. Rules shouldn't rule us. And, something that I've only recently tried to strive for is the idea of creating writing that's catchy. It has been tough. I have to set aside all of the formal stuff I learned. Instead, I have to tune in to a different frequency, be more sensitive to my readers, use my intuition. This other level, this catchy level, feels precarious. I can't trust anything. The writing only works when it works.

I won't say that I'm any good at writing in this new way, but I feel like I'm moving in the right direction. It takes hard work. The energy seems to come from my entire body, not just from my brain. I have to notice when my heart flutters, or when goose bumps appear on my arms. I have to notice when my mouth waters, when my ears itch. Suddenly, the act of writing is a more pliable thing, a fish flailing in a net rather than a piece of dead wood.


  1. Catchy. Yeah, I like catchy. I'm listening to Metallica a lot lately. I love heavy metal. I like the guitars because they're catchy. I've always been an eclectic sort of girl who keeps the classics and the artsy stuff at the top of her list - but I stay open to everything else. I just wish I had more time these days to discover more of that "everything else"!

    I found that a lot of times when I write poetry I'm delving into the more "catchy" end of things. I've learned a lot about language by learning how to write poetry. I learned about sounds and images and how they can work in harmony. (This is sooo leading to that post about poetry we talked about...)

    I also agree that writing these catchy things is a lot more tactile than other aspects of writing. It does involve all of our senses. I think this is where all good writing originates - and probably why many of the classics have stuck around. Fitzgerald sure has some catchy stuff that hasn't left my head! Then there's other artsy works, like you say, that have simply left my head.

    Do you think it a lot of it has to do with taste? Because I know my dad wouldn't think Metallica is catchy.

  2. Catchy is good! That's why I listen to Swing sometimes; the lyrics are fun, clever even, for example--"I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you." So sweet, so simple, yet so spot on.

  3. I love this post! It's pretty much a new concept for me to write something that's catchy. I loved following the rules in writing before and writing what I thought was "right." And's so fun to be able to CREATE. To play with words in a new way and to at least attempt to create a story that intrigues on more than one level.

  4. Great post, Davin! Many people may say they don't like classical music, but hum the melody of Ode to Joy (Beethoven's 9th) and almost everyone will be able to hum along. It could almost define "catchy." It's also quite simple, and therefore easy to remember.

    On a side note, earlier this morning I went upstairs to check on my son (seven, going on eight). He was on his computer listening to Pink Floyd. The song was "One Slip" from A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It's catchy.

  5. Art is art in my opinion, no matter what the form. Even songs with silly lyrics..if it instills joy in someone and makes them feel something, anything...then the musicians job is done. I think the purpose of all art is to make us feel something. It felt so amazing when my readers (aka, my friends) told me they cried while reading my manuscript.

  6. Michelle, I'd love to see that poetry post. And, I agree that being willing to look at more art means be willing to make more time for it. I'm sure some of this has to do with taste, but I'd tentatively argue that catchy is catchy, at least a little. There are a lot of annoying ads and songs, for example, that just stick in my head even when I don't want them to. It's a small world after all.

    Rebecca, that's a nice example. I wonder if there's something to the fact that catchy things are often short. Maybe there's a size limitation to what can stick around in your head.

    Cindy, that's a great way of putting it. Yes, it does feel different to write in this way. The newness has been making it more fun for me.

    Rick, I think you're right that there is something to the fact that catchy things are simple, easy. Maybe that's why I tend to write in a more stripped down way. Then again, my writing has gotten more flowery lately. Hmmm...

    Stephanie, yes, one of the biggest compliments I can get on my writing is when someone tells me that it made them cry. Laughter is pretty nice to. It is all about emotion, as you say.

  7. I don't know about "catchy," but I think you're sort of talking about the same thing Salman Rushdie was when he said (and I misquote): "At some point your reader thinks, Enough with your surrealism and your thematic developments and advanced structural ideas; just tell me a fucking story."

    I think a lot of writers, especially those of us who write literary fiction, feel in the beginning that our stories have to be heavy, which means that we write stuff that's not enjoyable to read. We have to get past that and write things that are not only humanistically relevant but also a joy to read.

  8. Nice post! It was the encouragement I needed for the day :)

    Lady Glamis: Have you heard of Apocalyptica? It is a Finnish band comprised of four guys playing electric cellos. They met at a classical academy in Finland and started doing Metallica covers. I swear, "Nothing Else Matters," was written for the cello. Their music is a perfect blend of heavy metal and classical. They've inspired a lot of my scenes for my novel.

  9. Morgan: That's one of the coolest things I've ever heard... I've got to go check that out! Much much thanks!

  10. Scott: I think you nailed that about new writers, especially literary writers, think their work has to be heavy and dull because that means it's important. I would know because I used to think that back in college. That's one of the reasons I'm writing about more contemporary subjects and ideas than other things I have swirling around in my head. At some point I'll figure out how to mix them and make it work.

  11. "Catchy" is a good way to describe evoking a feeling into writing. For me personally, "catchy" belongs to the goosebumps, the nervous energy, my mind working faster than my fingers, and the chocked up feelings I get when I read back to myself what I've written. "Catchy" doesn't happen all the time for me, it's a special emotion, like, "hooked on a feeling..."

  12. The catchiest thing I've encountered lately is a song that the CBC has been featuring. I can't remember who the artist is. The song goes "We should dance, we should dance. It would make us laugh - and live a little longer. We should dance, we should dance for an hour and a half - and feel a little stronger." Never mind that after dancing for an hour and a half, I would probably be passed out on the floor, a tripping hazard for other dancers. The song makes me smile, and it makes me want to dance. I would love to write that way.

  13. Scott, I think you're making an important point, but I am thinking of something that sticks around longer. Something more memorable. It is important to stick to the story, though!

    Morgan, I'm happy if I provided a pick-me-up!

    Suz, I agree that catchy writing doesn't come about too often. I'm not sure if one can aim to do it or if it just happens. I'm thinking I'll end up filtering more material to get to what I want.

    Sandra, I love the way you describe that. Yes, I'd love to write that way too.

  14. "We have to get past that and write things that are not only humanistically relevant but also a joy to read."

    Never! It's all about me.

  15. I knew that listening to the Black Eyed Peas would pay off someday!

  16. Davin: I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "catchy," then. Stuff that sticks with you after you've closed the book?

    Justus: It's always all about you! Hey, I wrote today. You? Hmm?

  17. "I wanted to experience deep emotion, and, being a snob was the only way I knew to go about it." That describes the grad-school-and-few-years-after me perfectly.

    It's interesting, this wanting to write "catchy." My first question is: really? you want to aim for catchy? My second is: how would you know if your work is catchy?

    In music, (have you heard their remake of Mas Que Nada? Pretty cool, and yes, rather catchy) There are catchy tunes and rhythms that I love, and then there are those that...refuse to let go. I am going to assume your goal is of the first variety.

    As to my second question, I still don't know the answer to. Something that comes from our own mind has already caught us. How would you know what hold it has on your readers?

    I suppose it is similar to asking how we would know when our writing is authentic and moving and engaging.


  18. Justus, It's all about me is a very valid way to go about it. Count me in! But, you probably won't, since it's all about you.

    Mariah, It was a wise investment. :)

    Scott, Yes, I guess I mean stuff that sticks with you. A line that keeps repeating in your head long after you've finished reading, or a scene, an eel-like scene, for example.

    Yat-Yee, thanks a lot for your comments! It may not be for everyone, but, yes, really, I'm playing around with the idea of being catchy...even of the annoying variety, potentially. I think it's an interesting challenge to try to sink your way in to someone's head. In the end, I wouldn't necessarily know if what I wrote was catchy. So much of this is unknown in general...most of the time I don't even think my work is all that interesting. But, I try to please myself, or at least sometimes I try to please only myself. And, sometimes the things I write are catchy to me. With all of the writing that I do, I wouldn't say that everything that has come out of me has "caught" me. Sometimes I'm exploring, and with long fiction, sometimes I end up writing things to connect other scenes, or to make things seem logical. In those cases, I often haven't even realized what I've written--I'm working on improving that.

  19. Ah I have listened to Black Eyed Peas before. Good band! Also I am looking for followers of my blog! Visit my blog at I too am a writer so I am trying to get my voice heard. Please follow if you like!

  20. Davin: I am getting a better idea of what you meant by wanting to write catchy. When I first read your post, that John Mayer song, "Say what you need to say" started playing in my head. I like the song: cool instrumentation, good fit for his voice. But the chorus is "say what you need to say" sung 8 times. By the time the last chorus is sung and repeated, I'm screaming in my head, telling him to take his own advice and just say what he needs to say and then STOP!

    So I guess that colored what I read.

    Also, you're right. Not everything I write has "caught" me either. And I have definitely lots of moments when I don't actually know what I've written.

  21. Right on, rules shouldn't rule us. have you picked up "Writing down the bones" by N. Goldberg lately? She nails this topic perfectly.

  22. No room for you, Davin, but I'll give you a tip: watch out for that Michelle; she likes "And Justice For All." Hint, wink, so on.


    I wrote a little yesterday, and I plan to write again today. It's like I'm a writer guy or something. We'll see.


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