Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.
People often ask me what kind of music I listen to when I write. I was watching a (good) movie yesterday in which the main character, when he needs to calm down or concentrate, puts on classical music, and you know, wouldn’t that be wonderful, wouldn’t I be cultured, if the letters my fingers keep making right now came accompanied by Tchaikovsky or something. They’re not. I’m very specific about my background music when I’m working. I can’t listen to rap, because with rap I pay too much attention to the lyrics, and when I’m writing I don’t want to pay attention to anything other than what I’m trying to write. I try not to listen to anything I haven’t heard a million times before for the same reason. (I don’t have time or headspace to “discover” music when I’m writing.) And, weirdly, music actually can’t be too good for my writing music: Some albums—Nevermind, Exile in Guyville, The Soft Bulletin, OK Computer, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road—are so great that they commander too much of my head space. When they’re playing, all I want to do is listen to them, and nothing else.
You’d think I’d be tapping away listening to Wilco or My Morning Jacket or Bob Dylan or some other old-washed-hipster-dad-mid-tempo-rock business, but that’s too slow for me. That’s walking around music, not working music. I write fast, and I need to listen to something that can keep up with me. I need drive, I need pace, I need intense forward momentum. I need to freaking move.
I need The Sword.
The Sword is an Austin-based acid metal band that was discovered at the 2005 South by Southwest Festival, where they made a big enough splash to launch a career that has lasted 16 years now but not one so huge that most normal people know who they are. (They are probably most famous for having a song on the original Guitar Hero video game.) I was obsessed with their album “Age of Winters” back in 2006—I have a distinct memory of listening to “Lament For The Auroch” on my iPod while walking into Shea Stadium for Game Six of the 2006 NLCS—and have followed them ever since. I would not classify anything they are doing as high art, but you could wake me up in the dead of night and demand that I name every single song from every one of their albums in the exact correct order and I could totally do it. I truly love The Sword. And this is because they make big loud intense music with huge epic dumbass riffs, and they make it really, really fast. Their music at times feels like an exact replication of what’s going on in my brain when I’m writing. It is constant forward momentum.
It doesn’t always have to be The Sword—other bands in regular rotation when I’m writing include Dinosaur Jr., Death From Above 1979 and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—but that’s the constant: Forward momentum. The trick to writing, I’ve found, is to sort of forget that you’re doing it at all. You get yourself so into the headspace of making something that you don’t even notice that you’re doing it. I’m well into the next novel right now, and after putting on the Death From Above 1979 Spotify playlist for three hours, I looked up and I’d written about 4,000 words. Were all of those words perfect? They were not. But they were the big blast burst rush explosion of what I was trying to say. I did not have to coax them out of my brain; the music shoved them out. I relate it a little to listening to fast, intense music while running. If you just follow the beat of what you’re listening to, you’ll run faster without even realizing it. Listening to this sort of rock—not heavy metal, not Megadeth junk, more like a bunch of guys who wanted to play Tool songs insanely fast—makes my fingers move as fast as my brain is. It is my exact speed.
And god, making this music seems so fun! I am incapable of playing even the most basic musical instrument, so I’m always in awe of what musicians are able to do. But there’s an inherent almost operatic drama in this sort of music—every song feels like the end of the world, so you better play the shit out of it.
That photo is from a show I went to last night, here in Athens, Georgia, at the Georgia Theater. Everyone has their own risk tolerance these days, but the Georgia Theater has a vaccination requirement, and I have to tell you, it’s actually pretty awesome to go to a public event where you know that everyone in attendance has been vaccinated. (Also, going to a rock show of an aging metal band that requires proof of vaccination will rid you of some of your stereotypes about what type of people are getting vaxxed and what type of people aren’t.) There was no way I was going to be able to talk anyone in my life to go see The Sword with me, so I went by myself. It was absolutely joyous. The band was great—as was one of the two opening bands, the absurdly named Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol—but they didn’t really have to be for me to feel like I was floating above the ground for two hours. There is a certain gratitude, I’ve noticed, in the shows shows I’ve been to in the last couple of months: Both the band and the crowd feel so fortunate to be there, so eager to reclaim some of what they have lost, that there is an undeniable vibe of communal joy. It makes you feel happy—and lucky—to be alive.
I’m too old to go bumping around in the pit near the stage (as was most of the crowd, all told), so I just stood off to the side, drinking a domestic draft, letting the noise surround and invade my brain and just, for one night, letting go entirely. I know you’re supposed to be crazily intense at these shows, but if you were to have gotten on stage and taken a picture of the audience last night, you would have seen me with a huge goofy grin on my face. I hope the band didn’t see me. I probably looked like a serial killer.
I know that we are still a long way from normal, and that every week seems to bring one more new step backward. But there is value, in this endlessly tumultuous time, in being able to lose yourself, to surrender yourself to forward momentum—honestly, just to fucking rock out. I feel better this morning. I really do. And so you know: I wrote this so fast.
I’ve struggled with how helpless and frustrated I’ve felt after the Supreme Court’s decision this week to allow Texas’ mob-justice abortion law to stand. I’ve been trying to find some productive way to channel that helplessness and frustration, and this Strategist piece was of some assistance, though just a little. All told: I think the only way to really help is to vote your ass off again next year. So enjoy the fall and the holidays—I very much plan to—because there’s a shitload of work to do in 2022.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Booing, New York. They’re saying “LEEEEEEEITCH.”
The Eternal Irrepressibility of Children, Medium. Are our kids handling this better than we are?
It’s Still Just the Unvaccinated Who Can’t Leave the Country Right Now, Medium. Sorry, unvaxxed folk: No trip to Scotland for you.
Best MLB Players of August, MLB.com. Love that Adam Wainwright leads this list.
The Game One Starter For Every Playoff Hopeful, MLB.com. Speaking of Wainwright ….
Internet Nostalgia: Milkshake Duck, Medium. It’s coming for us all.
The Thirty: Every Team’s Best In-Season Addition, MLB.com. Everyone had one but the Rockies, ha.
Grierson & Leitch, discussing “Candyman,” “Happy Together” and “The Fisher King.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I just don’t know what to do with this team.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we celebrated actual football with a Georgia-Clemson preview.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
BOOK I’VE READ THAT YOU SHOULD READ
Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies” series. Perhaps inevitably after last week’s trip, I’ve been digging through these again. I now want to watch all of these movies, maybe at once.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Avant Gardener,” Courtney Barnett. Every Courtney Barnett song makes me want to sit in the back of a bar and just listen to everyone else talk to each other.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Look what is now happening with people who live in my home.
Have a great weekend. Go Illini. Go Dawgs.