Soundtrack to messing about with other people’s words

I had some things I was going to say about dialogue today, but in thinking about talking, I got distracted by this question: Why couldn’t I have chosen work that would allow me to listen to whatever I want? I know people who listen to podcasts all day long and perform billable tasks at the same time. There isn’t a single thing in my workday that can be done to the accompaniment of someone else talking. Even most music is out. I love the image of ploughing through a task with headphones on, you know, like the programmers in The Social Network. But that is not my lot.

I can’t recall the context now but one of my sisters once told me she liked to imagine me lighting into a new manuscript to the opening scene in Pulp Fiction,including both the restaurant robbery and “Miserlou.” I was delighted. Mostly, does this mean she thinks I’m a little bit cooler than she usually lets on?

In fact, most of the time I’m not listening to anything. Or rather I’m listening to the manuscript I’m working on as I read it, in my head. But there are certain stages of the process when I can loosen the grip on silence a bit and for that I have a couple of playlists that I add things to a few times a year when I realize I’m in a rut. The first consists of classical, most of it admittedly fairly pedestrian:

Schubert, Trout Quintet (Jeno Jando, Kodaly Quartet, Istvan Toth; conducted by me, with gusto)
Bach, Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould)
Bach, Cello Suites (Pablo Casals)
Grieg, The Complete Piano Music (Einar Steen-Nokleberg)
Fanny Mendelssohn, Das Jahr (Lauma Skride)
Handel, Messiah (London Philharmonic. No really, not just for Christmas.)

The other list is jazz. I went through a stint this winter of trying to bolster my jazz situation. I wish I could say it was due to some nobler inspiration, but really I was just watching Homeland at the time and wanted more of whatever Carrie was listening to while skulking in her car. Here’s what’s stuck:

Brad Meldhau, Highway Rider (I also have a few of his early albums, but this is more … outdoorsy or something.)
Oscar Peterson, Night Train (except for “Hymn to Freedom,” which just derails me from anything else I’m doing)
Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
Bill Frissell (with Ron Carter and Paul Motian), Eighty-One
Bill Frissell, Blues Dream
Keith Jarrett, Koln Concert (old fave that’s been in steady rotation most of my life)
Keith Jarrett (with Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette), Up for It

Lyrics are allowed in when I’m typing up my notes (and for the most idiot-proof of inputting tasks). With every project I reliably hit a weird little lull I can’t quite explain somewhere in between typing my editorial notes in note form and turning them into real live sentences. I’ve usually been with a project for a couple of weeks straight at that point and I’m keen to get it to the author and I’m SO CLOSE. For making this happen I rely on Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne album. Every time. For whatever reason, those first few seconds of “No Church in the Wild” snap me into instant productivity. I feel I should account for this, tell you that I hear those lyrics and what they’re saying about women, or on the other hand apologize, to those who care more, for this album being kind of ancient by now. Sometimes typing up notes just wants what it wants.


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