On the subject of music from the first half of the 20th century, I found an old journal entry dated January 31, 2009 that in hindsight tells me I really did remember more than I knew:
I sometimes listen to big band, swing, and lounge jazz from the pre-1955 era when I have a strange, detached sort of melancholy going on. In a way I guess it’s sort of invoking ghosts of the past. The authentic recordings sound like they’re being played from the end of a long, empty hall and it kind of feels like listening to spirits… not in a creepy way, but in a sort of soft “opening of the worlds” kind of way.
I’m not sure I can ever describe it accurately. It’s not music I listen to specifically just for the sake of the music like I do with more recent artists, or with the classics. It’s music that carries a strange sort of essence with it; not the essence of 1940’s NCO clubs and air raid shelters like Hollywood would have it so much, but the essence of a dark room in some big city apartment building with the neighbor’s record player on a little too loud. Maybe there’s a war on somewhere or maybe it’s just another day… the smell of an extinguished cigarette, the creak of an old wooden floor, the sound of a lone motorcycle on the street below but not much else, and somewhere on the street the dim glow of a neon sign half a block away.
My mind is full of vignettes like this from different times and places, and while I’ve no idea how they got there, it’s always the same things that switch them back on. Maybe it’s just an author’s imagination hard at work.
I think it was one such mood and listening to a short playlist of old big band and jazz recordings that got me to start writing [my second novel], oddly enough.
You know, in hindsight this was all just brewing beneath the surface and I was clueless. That room I saw, I’m fairly sure, is my room in an old warehouse in Berkeley in the late 40s where I lived with gay beat poets. I could picture it so clearly in my mind and still can. This pretty much proves (to me at least) that my second novel- which was a gay-themed romance in a dieselpunk setting- was somehow born of my past life experiences as a young Bohemian in Berkeley. I remembered those days fondly in my previous life and now I think they may have steered my writing well into this life.