For a long time my writing has been influenced by music. I had an idea a while ago, to write a series of vignettes for an album. There would be a vignette for each song, then in editing I would cut down to the songs that feel relevant to the finished story. This way I can write something different from my novel and I can work on these on the go, not thinking too much about it but editing when I come to type up. I’ve tried to keep a narrative throughout so that although the vignettes feel random, they are all connected just like songs on an album. I have ten albums that I want to do this for, a real hodge podge of my favourite albums.
I’ve decided to start with Lana Del Rey’s ‘Ultraviolence’ because it is my favourite album of hers. For me, Lana Del Rey is all about a nostalgic, slightly melancholy vibe, something which I’ve been exploring more and more in my writing. Her music always takes me back to being a teenager, attempting cat eye flicks and those long summer days spent on the beach. Her music is very cinematic and always has a story to tell. I have tried to use the themes that are already there in the music, while making this my own piece of writing. For each vignette I’ve included the title of the song and a couple of lyrics that particularly influenced me.
This is just an artistic experiment, it’s not meant to be perfect, but I hope you enjoy reading…
Get my little red party dress on,
Everybody knows that I’m the best,
She sat on the edge of the wall, her bare legs swinging as she chewed her gum and tried to make a bubble. Years ago she had walked along this wall, arms outstretched for balance, her mother close by to catch her.
It was dusk and the uncertain warmth of spring had faded to a chill that made goose pimples line her skin until the blonde hairs on her arms stood on end. She ran one palm roughly over one arm. Still out at this time and anyone could see. Would they know what she was doing?
Waiting and dreaming of drinking from the bottle and listening to music she didn’t understand, being called a tease and tripping up in her sisters high heels. Her red dress inching higher as she danced more and cared less.
She wasn’t the only one.
Rebecca sat beside her, face painted in haphazard tones and mascara spotting her eyelids, almost reaching her eyebrows. She kept looking over and smiling shyly.
“Do you reckon he’s forgot?”
She pretended not to hear and looked along the high street, eyes trailing to the zebra crossing, the butchers and florists as though she was in a desert. A southern belle looking for her returned cowboy.
She looked over. Smile and then stopped herself, scooping her bag off the dusty ground.
He used to call me poison
Like I was poison ivy
I could have died right there
Cause he was right beside me.
There was a mark on the inside of her arm, the red angry print of the bed sheets where she had lain awkward for too long. She lay a while longer, staring at the lines in her skin and wondering what it would feel like to age. To feel the outside wrinkle while on the inside she would remain the same, unchanged. Forever. She was still afraid of the same things and holding on to far-fetched dreams.
He pulled her close, pulling her easily through the sheets. Her hair caught under the pillow and she flinched, but he didn’t notice. His wide arm snaking around her middle, crumpling the satin slip that didn’t suit her.
“I heard you wake.” He said.
“I heard you’re breathing change.”
Last night he had brought her back down to earth, screaming her name and then calling her poison. The days before had been nothing but dreams. A perfect slumber.
“Sorry.” He whispered, but she didn’t hear the word. She just felt his voice vibrate in his chest all the way to the side of her face.
Shades of Cool
My baby lives in shades of blue
Blue eye and jazz and attitude.
She had started watching him, without really meaning to. Trying to name the colours that made him – the particular shade of his eyes, the flecks at the side of his hair, the grey patches on his leather jacket where he caught his elbows, always bumping into things.
She had found she was stuck. Without her, he had no one else.
Her fingers traced the bruises and she tried to name their colours too.
When he called her name she smiled to hear his voice and the sound of her name on his tongue. When she heard him it didn’t matter. The other things. The lies and deception and the friends faded into the background of black and white photographs. Because in the little flat, rolling his tabs for him and padding about bare foot and watching films made old by their crappy TV, no one else mattered. Just him and her and the memories of what they had once been. Once upon a time. The memory made unbreakable by nostalgia, printed in shades of grey and blue. Who they had been and what they had seen, before the bills and the drink and the looks from across the street. Everybody else was unsure. But it didn’t matter.
There was no breaking their secret world and at it centre, there he was.
They say I’m too young to love you,
I don’t know what I need
They think I don’t understand
The freedom land of the seventies.
The house was what she had dreamed of when she was young. Paperbacks with their broken spines and his records and the Knick knacks she couldn’t throw out filled the space along with her friends incredulities.
She wandered wall to door to wall. Wearing lipstick with her hair tied back to try and look older, so when the neighbours called they wouldn’t notice the gap.
She liked to listen to his music while he was out. Rock music turned up loud, lyrics made out of broken poetry, strands and phrases that made sense. She’d pretend he was at a gig, playing songs about his girl, singing songs with the same name as her. She’d keep the curtains closed even when he was gone during the day, letting the smoke unfurl slowly into the empty room. Standing adrift in a dome of melancholy inherited from the house. Dreaming of moving to another place, one she hadn’t dreamt of, because perhaps then it wouldn’t be tainted. Another city, another time, where she wouldn’t feel so lonely or young, where she wouldn’t be just his baby.
Being a bad bitch on the side
Might not appeal to fools like you
Creeping around while he gets high
It might not be something you would do.
This wasn’t his only house. He couldn’t take her away, let her escape, because he was tied here. Months had passed between them and somehow she hadn’t noticed why people stared. It had less to do with her age. It was more to do with the house he visited, rather than lived in. The wardrobe half-filled, his music collection dwindled.
The judgment had slowly seeped, like melted wax, through the windows opened just a touch to relieve the heat. Seeped through the door and on the radio waves, carried by the looks of disgust and cancelled plans and audible tuts. Suddenly she was more than stupid or merely naïve.
Girl on the side. Stealing pieces of somebody else’s life, living in a house made of glass.
Pretty When You Cry
I’ll wait for you, babe, that’s all I do, babe
Don’t come through, babe, you never do
Because I’m pretty when I cry
The day she told him she was going to leave she had spent the whole day waiting for him. His t-shirt only just covering the underwear he’d spoiled her with. Pacing floors until her face and her makeup was smudged with tears and her feet were purple with cold because the heating had broken and she didn’t want to call anyone, to risk anyone being there when he got home.
It was late. It was dark and even though it was winter it was still late. The house was still and she could feel the plaster boards prickling, the bedroom taking a great gulp of breath, the walls bracing themselves and the kitchen’s pulse beating quicker.
“I’m leaving.” She said, before he’d even put his keys on the table by the door or took off his jacket or given her a crooked smile that had once made her go weak at the knees.
He came across the room to where she sat under a blanket.
She felt herself flinch as he bent down to kiss her but he only whispered in her ear, “You’re pretty when you cry.”
I paint my nails black
I dye my hair a darker shade of brown,
Because you like your women Spanish, dark, strong and proud.
She thought that perhaps she could fix this mess. If she changed the house and everything in it and persuaded her neighbours she belonged. She toyed with the telephone cord and paced the halls and ripped her mothers telephone number from her diary and held it in the palm of her hand.
In the end she bought a box of dye and bottle of polish and sat on the edge of the bath, listening to the tap drip, ready for her transformation. She went downstairs in her best dress, the one she never had the excuse to wear any more. She sat at the table, posed like a girl in a painting or a woman at a bar.
But he didn’t come back and when he called with the sound of laughter and rain in the background, he said simply, “You said you were leaving.”
Guns and Roses
Heavy metal love of mine
I should have learned to let you stay
You didn’t want me all the time
But you were worth it anyway
‘Cause you were so much better
Than the rest of them
Out of all the others
You were the honest man
The house was now her own. Bills still miraculously paid. But she hadn’t found freedom. Instead the walls shrunk ever closer, moulding themselves around her body, making her feel as femur as a bird, like her wings were collapsing in and soon it would be something more vital like her chest, her sternum, her lungs, her heart.
The black nail polish had chipped and her roots were growing in, but she hadn’t noticed. A thick layer of dust had coated the windows and the tables and the light was never allowed in. She played music quietly and sat sketching on the books he had left behind, tiny little guns and roses scattering each page. Perhaps if he returned she would have realised, it didn’t matter how often, it was better to be wanted anyway.
Is This Happiness
Man to man, heart to heart
I love you but you drive me so far
Wish you well on that star
Is this happiness?
Is this happiness?
One day he finally came home, or to the house. He found bits of paper like confetti all over the floor, covered no longer in text but in ink, black thick scrawls. He found dust swirling in the air and windows jammed where they hadn’t been open in weeks, months, could it have been years?
In the wardrobe still hung the clothes, red dress, black shirt and a pair of pointed stilettos worn away at the toes.
Lying on the bed was the memory of what he could have had and a piece of paper that asked ‘Is This Happiness’ and beside it the things she had taken out of his suitcase before packing up to disappear down the stairs, along the path, over the lawn and into a black cab headed for home and the number and a name on a piece of paper she’d ripped from her diary.