Last week David Bowie died and I think the most devastating thing I took away from his death was the realization that I’ve been a Bowie fan all along.
Like any queer fanboy I discovered Bowie through the magic of the movie Labyrinth (and his fabulous codpiece which should have rightfully had second billing before Jennifer Connolly.) But even that’s a lie. As a kid I loved “Space Oddity” but I had no idea who sang it.
And so that’s how I discovered Bowie, through bits and pieces over the years. Never fully committing to true fandom, but somehow appreciating such a wide sample of his work—and the amazing things he’s inspired—that it all hit me at once. But even now there’s a tinge of guilt at the back of my brain buzzing about my co-opting of the word “fan.” I like a bunch of his stuff, but is that enough to call myself a fan?
This has always been how my weird relationship to music works. It gives me anxiety to even think about it. If you want to torture me all you have to do is gather all my friends and family together and put my music collection on shuffle, without giving me the ability to skip a song or say anything in my defense.
Music is such a personal experience for each individual, but it’s also tied heavily to our shared culture. And the dichotomy between these two aspects creates a breeding ground for social anxiety—especially for creative types.
Music and creativity – the ultimate combo
One day when I was feeling all moody and depressed, my writer friend Chris Meeuwes (of The Naturals) tried to strike up a conversation with me over Facebook about music. And as he started listing off his musical tastes, I got so anxious that I flat out told him “I don’t really get into music.”
Lies. All lies.
I feel bad that I kind of cut him to the quick and I still haven’t apologized because I’m awkward as hell, but the whole interaction made me realize that I kind of deny a part of myself to other people. Music is important to any creative. Anyone who says otherwise is probably some super advanced robot programmed to look human and feign creativity.
I used to listen to music a lot while I wrote, but nowadays I find absolute silence to be the best environment for me. If I do listen to something, it’s usually instrumental, typically classical – music with lyrics just messes me up. If I’m feeling particularly anxious when I’m writing, I’ll often turn to my playlist of Joe Hisaishi music so I can pretend that I’m in a Miyazaki movie.
But music is still an integral part of my creative process. When I’m working on a new comic or playing with a new concept, I’ll often put together a playlist that embodies the spirit of what I want to say in my writing. It’s not necessarily a soundtrack, although I will sometimes pair songs to specific scenes like I’m scoring a film. It’s more like the aural equivalent of a Pinterest board—a bunch of different feelings I want to evoke for inspiration.
But just the discovery of new music itself is an important factor in firing up the creative juices. I often feel like a song collector—dipping in here and there, taking whatever I like and leaving the rest. It makes it hard to pin down my tastes or even talk about it with people. There are some bands that I absolutely love—until I don’t anymore. And there are bands that I’m just discovering and I’m not sure I’m fully committed yet.
All I know is that there’s a large quantity of individual songs that creates the strange mosaic that is my musical tastes. And I know that makes me sound really pretentious, but in actuality I’m just a gay fanboy is all.
Coming out of the musical closet
The thing that people don’t realize about coming out of the closet is you never really stop doing it. There’s always going to be new people in your life that assume you’re straight. And even those who do know and accept you don’t ever really fully grasp what your queer experience is like.
When I was faced with an honest conversation about musical preferences, I went into panic mode because it sometimes feels like another closet I have to come out of. I like music that you can dance to, that has emotion and drama, to the point of being cheesy in some cases. I like music I can sing along with or that transports me to that creative zen place that makes my imagination flow.
But music can sometimes be a weirdly masculine thing. I grew up with a father who listens to hard rock and does so as loud as possible. I’m surrounded by friends who are into punk, metal, all sorts of things that don’t really blow my whistle. I’m not pointing the blame at anyone but myself—and I can even appreciate some of the stuff my dad is into when there’s the right level of theatrics and camp involved (Pink Floyd, Queen, etc.) And one time my dad admitted to me that he liked that Ace of Base song “The Sign” so at least I know I’m not alone in having an eclectic taste.
I think that deep down, the behaviors I learned growing up to hide my queerness from the world sort of robbed me of being able to fully appreciate music. I just wandered around until puberty not knowing how to even get into music. I mean, I remember one time when I told my mom to just get me a CD that has “Whoomp! There It Is” on it for Christmas.
In 7th grade I finally broached the music world when I became a fan of No Doubt, but even then I stole that fandom from my little brother who had purchased their CD for himself (he hasn’t been a fan since.) No Doubt started out being a little bit ska, a little bit alternative, with an in-your-face feminist vibe that was punk enough to be an acceptable choice for a closeted queer kid trying to stay alive in middle school. Early No Doubt was universal, I could appreciate the band and not feel like the weird gay kid because even straight guys liked them. I had my way in.
But it’s been a struggle since.
The K-Mo Mixtape
One of the things I’m finding really important to my writing is maintaining authenticity. It’s something I’m trying to focus on in the coming year. So I thought one of the ways I could get over my anxiety and start creating from my authentic self is to share my weird musical tastes with the world.
I threw this playlist together of 25 songs that have sort of guided my creativity over the last year. Some of them are new songs I just discovered, others are old songs I’ve loved for a while. One or two of them are from artists I really love, some of them are artists that I’m slowly getting into while most are just songs I’ve collected randomly.
These are the songs I turn to when I need a boost or need to vent. I’m sharing them both in the hopes that maybe you’ll find one or two songs to add to your own aural inspiration mosaic and because I don’t want to be embarrassed by something that plays such an important role in who I am as a creative.
So listen to The K-Mo Mixtape courtesy of this handy Spotify playlist and get inspired.
What kind of music do you listen to when you create? What songs can you count on to give you inspiration? Leave a comment below and let’s talk music without the anxiety.