“A good book…leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.” Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (p.22).
It’s the day after Scott Weiland was found dead of a drug overdose. Nic broke the news to me. I was not shocked in the least. Not like I was with Cobain’s death. Age and pop cultural literacy have lead me to expect such news. Layne Staley’s death (April 2002) was glossed over in my mind in much the same way Weiland’s death was more recently: well, that was inevitable.
But what is significant is that the death of Staley didn’t have more of an impact on me. Alice in Chains’ self-titled album came out the year I left home for undergrad literature studies (1995); that album always takes me to that first autumn away from home as a barely-average student who played Sega and discovered the true wonders of THC-enhanced music during long walks. Something more important changed after a semester sabbatical journey across the northern states and into Canada. Two of the few CDs I took with me were Dirt and Jar of Flies. When I returned to school in the spring of 1997, I would nap for 30 minutes every afternoon after classes and before studying and listen to Jar of Flies on that well-worn CD. It was as if it were some sort of torturous inspiration to continue through the trials and tribulations of really learning to read great literature and really executing literary analysis.
Over the next two or three years, I started my evolution from a journal-writing whiner and mediocre academic hack into a self-proclaimed writer. And there was the discovery of Rachmaninov and Monk and Coltrane and Miles D and Tyner and Mingus and Clarke. But looking back, Jar of Flies is my most listened-to album of all time, having accompanied my naps since my senior year of high school until my modern manifestation. And Dirt is a close second, as it was (and will be again as soon as grad school Part II is complete next week) almost always the album that helped me pound out the first hour of any freewriting session before and during grad school Part I (NYC 2002-2003) in which I wrote the first 100 pages of my still-unpublished tome called Toil and Sound. And during the next seven years of working on that novel, Dirt fueled my writing warm-ups as Jar of Flies stimulated terrifying half-asleep dreams of death by suffocation.
So, what of Weiland? Well…jazz, classical, and grunge/90s alternative married in my mind to create the perfect organized chaos I felt I needed to complete my writing and my studies. Classical is always for reading and editing. Jazz has a crossover effect: depending on the mood, I can read with “Kind of Blue” or write with “Big Nick.” But the dark, drug-influenced rock that has been along for the last twenty years of my development into humanhood is used for long drives (during which I often compose in my head) and real writing. I’ve completed a few good short stories and a hopefully not-dead-but-definitely-bloated novel on a regular diet of Dirt, Jar of Flies, Core, Purple, and Tool’s Undertow (1993), AEnima (1996), Lateralus (2001) and 10,000 Days (2006). Weiland’s singing voice has inspired my writing voice as much as Staley’s and Keenan’s.
Nic’s grad school has been my grad school, too. Whilst she’s studied, full years of not-so-lazy Sundays have been given to cooking, cleaning, bad television. And my own heroins–coffee, whiskey, and beer (in no particular order of importance but in certain order of consumption). Thanks to my own return to grad school (2014-2015), it has now been well over four years since I had a regular writing habit. A writing habit of fragments. And…ellipses. And sentences starting with conjunctions. And fuckoff to the dreaded, soul-sucking “howevers” and “therefores.”
Other than the handcuffs of convention that academic writing puts on its practitioners and instructors, there is the other unfortunate part of going back to grad school: being limited during study and dry writing to classical music. Don’t get me wrong. I will never grow tired of Beethoven’s five piano concertos back-to-back. Nor will I stop listening to a new favorite, Dvorak. But…
Staley inspired empathy through his voice: I’ve never done the drugs that he and his old man did, but I sure have had my share of dreams in which I shot heroin (the aftereffects were terrible: I woke up.). Weiland inspired wonder: to this day I have yet to figure out why she slept in the bathtub, except for the fact that water cleanses, you know?
To inspire empathy. To inspire wonder. These are the work of great writers and poets. So, come back to me, inspired words. The academically tired seeks to be done with orthodox transitions and impeccable conclusions. The academically tired craves running his eyes over Moby Dick for the fourth time, or Americanah for the first time while soaking in the glory of Schubert’s incomplete symphony or Coltrane’s “Afro Blue.” The academically tired needs months of five-hour writing stints finding his voice again while listening to the voice of StaleyWeilandKeenan.
Alas! The academically tired just spent an hour and half procrastinating on this page while his last annotated bibliography sits one-fifth finished.