Still in Rotation is a guest post feature in which talented writers tell Midlife Mixtape readers about an album they discovered years ago that’s still in heavy rotation, and why it has such staying power.
Jon Chaisson and I have never met each other: our friendship is purely digital. We first crossed paths, in a binary fashion of course, when we were both tweeting the same Peter Hook book reading back in 2013, and since then I’ve come to rely on him for music book recs on Goodreads, thoughtful commentaries on new music releases, and general social media/music tomfoolery. I love this guest post about the motivational power of music for writers.
Sea Change (2002)
by Jon Chaisson
Beck’s Sea Change came out on 24 September of 2002, but I suppose I can be forgiven for missing out on it originally, since it was also the release day of the long-awaited In Absentia by Porcupine Tree, one of my favorite bands. I was up in the air about Beck; I’d loved Odelay and felt so-so about Mutations, but 1999’s Midnite Vultures left me cold. It wasn’t until a month or so later when I finally broke down to get it after hearing so many positive reviews.
Nearly every night in the early 2000s was spent in my parents’ basement in central Massachusetts, bashing away on the keyboard at my writing nook. I was working on my most ambitious project yet, a science fiction trilogy based on my recent studies of spiritualism. I had the perfect schedule: leaving work at 2pm, a few hours of rest and relaxation, dinner with the family, then a good solid three hours of writing work from 7pm to 10pm.
I always had music going during these sessions. On Wednesdays after work I’d drive over to the center of Amherst for my weekly comic book and new cd run at Newbury Comics. I’d listen to them all, but a select few would end up on continual rotation as writing soundtracks. Sea Change was one of them.
It’s Beck’s break-up album, written after the dissolution of a nine-year relationship. It contains some of his most serious and straightforward lyrics to that date, an album of introspection. It’s not a primal scream at all, however…it’s about coming out of a bad situation and taking a good long emotional and spiritual look at oneself. There’s desolation and pain, but there’s also healing and acceptance, such as in “Guess I’m Doing Fine”.
Come late 2004, my trilogy had stalled. I’d focused too much on hitting word count and making a quick turnaround for book three — I’d written book two in exactly one year and wanted to hit that same goal — and in the process I’d lost the plot and the drive. I grew increasingly frustrated with myself for that, though I let it pass due to other more important personal events that would take place the following year, including getting married and moving across the country. I tinkered with it as a backburner project while I started others, but it wasn’t until around 2009 that I finally returned to it.
Sea Change was right there when I’d decided to finally finish it. It was a chance hearing of “Little One” on my mp3 player that brought the specific mood back for me: the mood of the music I listened to during those writing sessions five years earlier, and the mood of the story itself. Somehow I’d caught that moment perfectly, understood exactly what I needed to do, and I knew I could do it this time.
Just last month I started a new story in the same universe. Sea Change, now along with its spiritual kin, 2014’s Morning Phase (my pick for last year’s best album), have returned to heavy rotation, and I don’t think they’re going to leave any time soon.
Jon Chaisson owns way too many mp3s, and he’s not the least bit embarrassed about that. In fact, he’ll probably start talking to you about some obscure music factoid or his latest album obsession if you’re willing to listen. He even goes on about it at his blog, Walk in Silence (http://jonchaisson.com). He’s also a writer, and he goes on about that too, at Welcome to Bridgetown (http://welcometobridgetown.com).