About a week ago on Twitter, I shared this epiphany: “Since I revise responding to the endless reading aloud of passages, the novel’s “definitive” unpacking is my accent and cadences.” And since then, I’ve continued to think about this in terms of consequences and implications. I suspect the pondering is because, for me, vocalizing / revising is an atypical workflow in a writing career lengthy enough to deserve a Doctor–Who regeneration.
Please note I said “atypical,” and not “unprecedented.” Over the years, I’ve certainly read passages aloud–especially In those faux Hollywood moments when I’m trying to nail elusive prose while staring into a deadline. But not consistently; not without fail; not to the extent that the final revision is always the version that yields the most successful recitation. At the same time, I feel that when the novel is finished and I move on to a new project, chances are good I’ll revert to, well, a quieter way of working. My sense is that this book has chosen its own workflow–art, like leaking water, will find its own way through any wall. There’s no doubt new work will establish its own idiosyncratic, creative conduit–which I admit looking forward to, since the current stream of required throat lozenges is unexpected overhead in my writing.
But what I haven’t been pondering during the past week is why I’m writing the book in this manner; the tangled psycho-dynamics of that, while probably a therapist’s payday, might kill the work dead in mid-sentence. It’s better–and safer–to limit myself to the how and what of my current approach.
And to these ends, let’s first consider singer/songwriter Lou Reed–but not for his edgy material, dodgy early behavior or later French deification. What’s germane to this discussion is his famously limited vocal range. Reed’s voice and material mostly exist in a neat one-to-one relationship: three-chord, world-weary rock is performed by an insouciant, three-note voice. Well and good, but what I want to know is if soaring arias exist inside his head–impossibly high notes that the limitations of his voice filter out during the composition of songs. Even more importantly, is right-for-his-voice necessarily synonymous with right-for-his-vision? Is “Perfect Day” what Reed wanted to do, or simply what he could manage? And, ultimately, does this parsing matter in terms of assessing the song?
I’m thinking about Reed a lot these days because my own limited voice is the sole determinant of what remains on the page. Final revisions are being made based on the ease of my recitations. Let me say this again in a different way: I’m not further polishing images, I’m not further tweaking structure, and certainly I’m not fucking with wayward leitmotifs. I’m revising to improve my comfort when reading the material aloud. And this isn’t a way of obliquely saying I’m refining sentence meter because that was dealt with in the mists of time on much earlier drafts. What seems to be occurring is an adjustment of long vowels and the honing of emotional ambience in ways I can’t explain.
On occasion, superior instances of “pure” writing have been discarded in favor of less-crafted passages that better suit my voice. Which leads back to my wonderment about how Lou Reed writes–if he could sing like Pavarotti, would we have a different “Perfect Day?” And–critically–would it be a somehow truer version? If I had the accent and cadences of a Jeremy Irons, would the book be locked down differently? And if so, would the unquestionably more emotive version be any more authentic?
Another issue I keep thinking about is the affect of a vocalize / revise approach on open textuality. Consider again our old friend, Reed–there are not a lot of cover versions of his back catalog; something usually ascribed to the extreme nature of his themes. But I don’t think this is the main reason that other artists ignore his songs. For a two- or three-octave singer, there’s not a lot of room for interpretation in narrow-range melodies. Annie Lennox doesn’t sing “How Do You Think It Feels?” for reasons beyond the lyric’s portrayal of paranoid drug addiction. I’ve worked hard to create an openness in the novel’s text–encouraging a variety of emotional entries into the work and a wide range of interpretations. But if the final revision is thoroughly tied to my flawed and ragged voice, have I not implicitly suggested the ‘real’ interpretation of the book is my own recitation? If I let myself think too long about this, it becomes a real quandary.
All of this too-sensitive-to-live, artistic dithering has been front-and-center because I’m thinking about blogging an excerpt from the book. And in choosing which part to unleash on the world, there’s a temptation to select a sequence that’s less tied to my voice–except, of course, there aren’t any. This, in turn, suggested a post like this might be interesting–a public confession and presentation of my writing as a kind of visible-gear, Lexan clock. I thought it might philosophically prepare the way while the chosen excerpt is readied.
This is why I’ve decided to share an advance paragraph and, to make a probably unwise point, also provide its audio file–me, in Spector-ish, monophonic glory, letting you know whatI intended, even if it runs counter to what you might have taken away. In short, clarifying and suicidal simultaneously. For maximum impact, I suggest reading the paragraph before you listen to it.
And that’s it–back to the work itself, instead of this Prince-Hamlet posturing. After all, downstream of a few hundred-thousand words, the book can only be what it is–sounding, of course, like the odd wisdom of the De Niro character in Deer Hunter . . .
Another season’s whirring, across a less-shaded lawn, as the last elms in the neighborhood begin their rapid decline. The kitchen’s still there; it can still be imagined, complete with its strange dimensions: Too narrow and too long and then all at once wide in a way youremember as momentary. It’s where the savage intimacies of the family had most often been exchanged; collisions leaving many more scars than that drawer full of loose German knives. In the kitchen the family had been too distant and at the same time much too close; it had been a place where acceptance widened-out, only to narrow again. The dining room, however, is only theoretical; it’s now as detail-free as those interchangeable dinners that had marked each holiday and celebration. Reduced to an essence half a lifetime later, this room’s revealed to have been the kitchen in chandeliered Sunday Best; where weekday dictates and intolerance had been served up on good china. But its mislaid appearance has also faded these uneasy memories: The narcotic blessing of forgetfulness, though late, has at last arrived.