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My well-loved copy of The Joshua Tree (including green mystery paint smudge).

I recently learned that this year marks the 25th anniversary of U2’s The Joshua Tree album. Yes, I felt exactly like you do at this moment- old. In fact, I’ll wait for you to run out to the local bar, down some shots, and dance the cabbage patch on a table as an act of complete age denial. Seriously, go. I’ll wait….

…You’re back! Ok, now I’ll wait for you to take your Advil and slather on your Bengay. Better? Alright, back to what I was saying. There have been few albums in my lifetime that I have adored like I did/do The Joshua Tree. I played the crap out of that thing and it was an LP (see, I understand the need for Bengay). In fact, I still have it and the love is evident in the wear and tear of the cover. I was so enamored with the album that at one point I drew said cover for an art project and later used the lyrics from one song to inspire another art assignment. It’s that song that still inspires me.

Middle school art assignment inspired by Running to Stand Still by U2 (Yes, I know it looks like Angelina Jolie had a bad reaction to some shellfish).

Running to Stand Still just spoke to me from the first time my young ears heard it and for some reason it’s managed to keep a place in my soul. The lyrics that inspired the drawing were: She runs through the streets/ With her eyes painted red/ Under the black belly of the cloud in the rain/ In through a doorway she brings me/ White gold and pearls stolen from the sea/ She is raging/ She is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes/ She will suffer the needle chill/ She is running to stand still

Considering I wrote the above from memory (but double checked my lyric insert from the album- only missed 2 words), the influence is obvious. The way my artistic brain works is that it takes non-visual stimuli and then produces a picture in my chaotic noggin. My typical M.O. has been to then put that image onto paper via charcoal, pencil, paint, or whatever other medium I chose; but lately that’s changed. My medium of choice has shifted and now those images are transferred to paper in words. Their original words/lyrics inspire new ones and I use that inspiration to better describe characters, places and emotions.

The Joshua Tree, in all honesty, has been on a shelf in my life for sometime. I haven’t thought much about it unless I come across my stack of albums while on an expedition into the depths of my closet in search of that missing yoga block or roller blade (yeah, doesn’t happen often as my jiggly bottom will contest). But the album and more specifically, the song, were recently revived in my life.

You see, I’ve started this new habit with my writing– playlists. As I work on a piece, songs just seem to come to me that help inspire my writing. As the songs find their way to me I stick them on my designated playlist and then I can plug my earphones in and listen to it instead of the clicking of the keys or the constant scratching of my Bearded Dragon (another story to come).

If I have a song that makes me instantly think of a certain character I’ve created then I listen to it while I’m penning a specific scene. Some of my character couples have “their song.” In my first novel (YA) I was actually drawn to some ’80’s songs when writing all of my main couple’s mushy scenes: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel and Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper. For another character who is a badass, teenage warrior with some temper issues, I used You by Candlebox and Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down. The list also included Duffy, Pink, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Soft Cell, Muse and even Pearl Jam to name a few. When you look at that list it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense (unless maybe you’re snooping through the secret patient files from several celebrity rehabs), but in the world I venture to while writing, it makes perfect sense.

Running to Stand Still is also on a playlist, but not the one above. It is the theme song for the main character in my second novel, Moonshine Ministry. The song perfectly describes my main character, Cleo, and what she is experiencing both internally and externally. What amazes me most is that I’d written several chapters and completely solidified her in my mind before the song even reemerged into my life; and several of the things in the song actually reflect occurrences and struggles in the book. It was an amazing coincidence…or was it?

The playlists for my writing have been so successful that I recently employed the tactic with my acting. I have a “Lady M” playlist and I have to say, it worked miracles for taking me to the places I needed to go inside that character. I listened to #1 Crush by Garbage (professes intense if not psychotic love) before the show opened and later, to help take myself to “crazy town,” I listened to Ani DiFranco’s version of Amazing Grace (full of broken, random voices and an eerie quality). I followed that up with Fade Into You by Mazzy Star (if I had time) and then always listened to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. My Lady M was driven to insanity not by the guilt of the murders but by the guilt of what she had driven her beloved husband to do, so the lyrics about the baffled king and “she tied you to her kitchen chair and she broke your throne and she cut your hair” drove that guilt home and made the tears come easily.

So, those are my random (and rambling) thoughts on The Joshua Tree and the use of playlists for inspiring art. I’m curious on what others have to say. Did you love The Joshua Tree? If so, what song was your favorite? Is there another album that is special to you or inspires you? Do you use playlist? What’s on them? Please, please share. I love knowing that I’m not alone in my quirkiness.

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