May 23, 2023

Music to Write to: A Playlist by Daniel Weizmann


Just about every writer I know has a crazy intense relationship with music and not just the rock critics. Music, with or without words, seems to trigger something in the heart that, like the board game Mouse Trap, sends a boot flying into a bucket that topples over words spilling down a staircase of the mind’s eye. Or something like that.

Some of my biggest literary heroes were accomplished musicians—Henry Miller on piano and Saul Bellow on violin to name just two—and of course it’s no accident. You can hear the cascading, swirling rise and fall, the total immersion of melody in their prose. They say Stephen King plays a mean guitar, and Barbara Kingsolver is a secret classical pianist, but you really don’t have to be a maestro. Even Janet Evanovich, author of the Stephanie Plum series, says she has to blast some disco before she sits down at the keyboard—I love that! 

I use music in two different ways. First, I do what many writers do—I turn on the instrumental music, exotica and jazz, to lose myself at the keyboard. Not every kind does the trick. It needs to be both quiet and hectic, um, insinuating forward motion—I don’t know any other way to put it. Think In a Silent Way or Latin Village

The second way I use music when I write is more unwieldy. Once a chapter is in later drafts, I use songs and song lyrics to “seal the deal.” What I mean is, a chapter is never finished-finished until I can identify the exact right song and lyric line to match the underlying feeling. It’ll sometimes take a dozen misfires before finding the song and line that catches the chapter’s true essence. 

Then, when the draft is ready, the whole story becomes a mixtape.  


Listen to the full Last Songbird playlist here.


Here are a few highlights of the playlist for The Last Songbird

Here Comes the Night – Them

The ache of twilight, and loss, caught on 45 rpm. But, as comedian Charles Fleischer used to ask, “If Van Morrison took Jim Morrison to the gym in a van, would Van Gogh go too?” 

Elevate – St. Lucia 

One thing I love about this one: it’s like a prism you can look at two ways—a cry of aloneness or the birth of self-determination. In my story, it’s the moment Adam learns that “the code of the detective is to solve a case once it has begun.” 

Mama Can’t Buy You Love – Elton John

This was the song that sparked my whole story. More specifically, a vision—of Elton’s limo pulling into a mini-mall liquor store parking lot off Cahuenga, with some wayward teenagers gawking on. This one stabs me in the heart. 

Fools Rush In – Bow Wow Wow

So many great versions of this Mercer / Bloom classic, from Ricky Nelson to Lesley Gore to the King. But listen to that guitar solo—BWW cooks! 

Up the Neck – The Pretenders

Don’t get me started about Chrissie Hynde—the most sublime poetry, delivered on a dagger. “A wish is a shot in the dark, when your coin’s down the well.” 

Good Times – Willie Nelson 

I was looking for a song that caught that feeling when, beaten to a pulp, you almost give up—but don’t. Of course Mr. Nelson was the man to turn to. 

Because You’re Frightened – Magazine 

Howard Devoto—no, make that Dr. Howard Devoto (awarded by the University of Bolton) is the strongest lyricist of the post-punk era—the standard of neurotic realism in human relations all others should be held up against. “You want to hurt, you want to crave. You want to praise and curse and blame. You want to believe just what you like. Then you want to hurt and crave again.” Yup.  

Funkentelechy – Parliament 

Who but P-Funk can throw down a hydra-headed pop psychology infomercial with the line “peck me lightly, like a woodpecker with a headache”? 

To Know You – Wild Nothing

Which came first, the dream or the music or the scene or the words? I honestly couldn’t tell you—from the second I heard this song, I knew just where Adam had to go.  

Soul of the Sea – Heart 

The Dreamboat Annie LP was a constant foghorn to me writing The Last Songbird—as beautiful as the sounds from a seashell. That’s why I named her Annie.

Madeleine Letellier is the Marketing Manager at Melville House Publishing.