Nothing inspires me to write like great music. Here’s an artist or tune that’s been tickling my ears lately and serving as one of my writing prompts.
If not for Bob Dylan, Keyhole Marketing wouldn’t be around today. Well, by that name at least.
In 2012, on the way back from a trip to Yellowstone, I listened incessantly to his The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 albums, until one lyric hit me right across the face: You will start out standing / Proud to steal her anything she sees / You will start out standing / Proud to steal her anything she sees / But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole / Down upon your knees.
Not all those lines—I’m not condoning theft—but the phrase “peeking through her keyhole.” I loved the visual of standing on one side of the door and wondering what may live just a few inches away. Almost reachable, but still inaccessible.
Dylan’s a regular on my Spotify playlist, but lately I’ve been consumed with his The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete release. If you don’t know much about this album, Rolling Stones did a great piece in their November 20, 2014 issue. In short, Dylan was living in Woodstock in 1967, recovering from a mysterious motorcycle accident and trying to get away from all the craziness that had become his life. And there, while hiding away, he recorded over 100 songs in the basement of a pink house with The Hawks, guys from his backup band who occupied the house.
Nothing should have worked in that space. The walls were concrete and the recordings were made on sub-standard equipment. And yet the creative energy there overcame the acoustic limitations. Dylan wrote more songs in that time than he wrote his entire career. He was free to write and everyone was free to make music.
I encourage you to take a listen to the recently-released, remastered tracks. But if you can’t stomach Dylan’s sound, at least take a listen to the New Basement Tapes—a collection of lyrics Dylan wrote in that basement in 1967 but never put to song. The songs are produced by T Bone Burnett and written/performed by Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops).
It’s amazing to see how artists of today musically interpret lyrics written nearly 50 years ago. Sometimes they had full lyrics to write music against and other times they just had sketches of lyrics. Literal drawings.
With this project specifically, I agree with Dylan: “Their would be no music without the words.”