alligator pie, big whiskey and the groogrux king, kathryn stockett, lyrics, primitive, putting family members in fiction, putting your children into creative work, squirm, the help, writing about your children
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the new Dave Matthews Band album my family got me for my birthday. As with all albums by my favorite musicians, I listen and listen and listen to absorb the songs. Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King has been no different.
With most albums I’ll quickly find a couple of favorite songs that go through my head over and over. That’s not quite what’s happening with Big Whiskey. I’m catching snippets of most of the songs streaming through my mind, although I do have a favorite. It’s “Squirm.” The use of the word ‘primitive’ in the song is inspiring writing possibilities.
And now I’ve gotten sidetracked. I wasn’t going to write an album review, so let me start fresh.
When I listen to a new song, I don’t always catch the lyrics right away. This is okay because it allows me to sense the overall texture of a song, but eventually, I do get to the lyrics. When I finally heard the lyrics, and one line in particular, for the song “Alligator Pie” on Big Whiskey, I had this sledge-hammer-on-the-noggin moment. Here’s the line:
Stella said, Daddy, when you gonna put me in a song?
Boing! Stella is one of Dave Matthews’ twin daughters. How incredibly sweet! He wrote a song with one of his kids in mind. His other twin, Grace, makes an appearance in the lines:
Grace is all I’m asking. When will Grace return?
Although “Grace” has a double meaning and could stand for more than a name with this use, I think it’s significant that both daughters’ names appear in the same song.
When you’re a writer/artist/musician, there’s this tension between the people in your life and your work. Often, people are afraid that you’ll stick them in your work in an unfavorable way, forgetting it’s more likely that you’ll want to honor the people you love and cast them in a good light.
Hearing Stella said, Daddy, when you gonna put me in a song? made me imagine this little girl, tugging on her daddy’s sleeve, giving him the what for and indicating that she understood that having Daddy put her in a song was a sign of love.
My family members make continual appearances in my blog posts, even though I don’t use their names out of respect for their privacy. I write about them so often that each of them has his/her own category.
When it comes to my fiction, family members may appear, but not as the complete people I know in real life. I tend to take one personality trait or habit and use it as the seed for a character. By the time I’m done, the character is a distinct person in my mind, not a carbon copy of a family member. I still remember the seed, though, and this gives emotional weight to the character in my mind. I’ve got to hope that this emotional weight transfers through the character to the reader, making the character more believable, more real – just as Stella’s query to Daddy makes her more real to me.
Incidentally, the theme of writing about those closest to you is a major focus of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.