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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Music is more than sound

Music is a powerful friend to the writer. It inspires and enhances thought; encapsulates experience and enhances moments. While I don’t listen to music when I’m writing I use it to awaken ideas during my thinking time. A song, even an old favourite I’ve heard a hundred times, rouses new images and character development in ways that other art forms cannot.


Memories are also teased out of their hiding places and I’m transported back to the times when a song meant so much. Listening to James Taylor live in Canberra on February 15th was one of those moments. Not only loving his songs but feeling such respect for a man, a living legend and musical icon, who could simply walk on stage without fanfare and do what so few can. That is to play and sing to his audience in a manner that showed he respected who we were and why we were there. His voice was as clear and as identifiable as the first time I heard it. Each song, the old and even the new, resonated with a sense of time and place. Each a story in itself. A story for James Taylor the creator, and a story for each listener.


His performance of You’ve Got a Friend, Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James and Carolina On My Mind raced me back to my first year of high school when I had my first tentative (and highly unsuccessful) go at the guitar. The songs were several years old at that stage (don’t want to age myself too much) but they were my favourites. I played badly, sang criminally off-key but loved it anyway. Entertained ideas of a rock star life. Despite my lack of musical skills I learned my first important lesson about the link between music and imagination. In every song I heard a story. In some a complete novel.


I laughed when James Taylor said he was grateful that You’ve Got a Friend was such a fantastic song because he’d had to sing it every day of his life. If his first hit had been a shocker, he would have had to continue singing it despite its awfulness. (Achy Breaky Heart came to mind! Poor Billy Ray Cyrus!) However, even though the story of the song remains the same for Taylor, for me as a listener the context changes with each year and set of circumstances I find myself in. I listen and imagine a new story each time.

In my first novel What Remains and the second Lily O’Hara book Wither, music is essential to the main character. She sings songs to mark the events that unfold for her. In some ways I’ve used music to tell part of her story. She comes from a musical family and sees how music helps make meaning of life. She sings to assuage loneliness, to honor her parents, to convey feeling and to farewell loved ones. In this way I owe a debt of gratitude to the song writers whose musical gifts have shaped my own creativity.


I did say at the Canberra Writers' Festival last year that if it had been the 1980s I’d have made everyone a mixed tape of the songs mentioned in my book! Instead I’ve listed the songs that are sung and encourage you to have a listen to them. I wonder if you will see the same story in them as I have.


What Remains (2015)

Tears of Rage Bob Dylan

Landslide Stevie Nicks

Shelter from the Storm Bob Dylan 

Flame Trees Cold Chisel

Both Sides Now, Big Yellow Taxi, Circle Game Joni Mitchell

Wither (2017)

Tears from Heaven Eric Clapton

Have I told you lately that I love you Van Morrison

Forever Young Bob Dylan

Should I Fall Behind Bruce Springsteen

Lonesome Road James Taylor

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