Getting Rough

I want to talk about music for a moment. I know this is a writing blog and all that crap, but music is something very dear to me.

Ever since I heard Lou Reed’s Berlin album when I 13, I fell in love with music. I loved it so much that about 10 years ago I made it my job for a few years. I had a band, we toured around the UK and Europe, released a couple of singles and dyed our hair every shade of black imaginable.

The band, as bands inevitably do, split up. We imploded in a haze of booze, promiscuity and too many late nights. It was an awful lot of fun.

Throughout the brief, bright life of the band, one of the concepts I always stuck to was that music sounds worse with the edges smoothed out.

Here’s an example:

So you’re at Music School, right? And it’s exam time. They’re testing you on your singing ability. Leonard Cohen fails the test (and also sleeps with the teacher’s wife) and Celine Dion passes with straight-As.


Celine and Leonard – we’re on first name terms now – are both classified as singers. But who would you rather listen to? If you say Celine, you’re absolutely welcome to click on that ‘unfollow’ button at the top of the page. It’s Uncle Lenny every time.

Same with Neil Young and Steve Vai. For all Steve Vai’s twiddly virtuosity, Neil Young’s fucked up, discordant mess is somehow more appealing. To me, at least.

I guess keeping a bit of the roughness, the spontaneity makes music more exciting. And I truly believe the same applies to writing. See how I just started a sentence with ‘And’? #rulebreaker

I’m not suggesting anyone dumbs down their writing or deliberately creates work that they think is shit; I’m saying that if something makes your work more vital, pumps a little life into it, then use it, regardless of the rules.

It’s unlikely someone is going to hand your novel back to you with a bunch of red-inked grammatical corrections. If they do, it probably says more about their psychological state than it does about the quality of your writing.

Take Brett Easton Ellis. The Rules of Attraction begins in the middle of a sentence. The middle of a sentence.

It drops you right in there, like you’ve just walked into a conversation at a party. Brilliant!

I could spend another 200 words giving you more examples like this, but you get the idea. You’re not an idiot. You made it this far already. Thank you.

Now I’m off to consider printing out my first draft and trawling through the mound of crap it almost certainly is.

Wish me luck.


  1. My rough-around-the-edges (and inside the edges) crush is Tom Waits. I’ll never forget when he first crooned to me about sailing away to Singapore. It was my first year of uni and i stopped what i was doing immediately, dropped on the couch (do you say chesterfield in the UK? -my mom still calls it that) and thought “this is so grownup” and now, i love him still.

    But Leonard Cohen? oh yeah – always, and forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s on my list of people I should really sit down and listen to properly. My dad often plays him to me when I visit, but by then we’ve usually drank too much Scotch to really appreciate it.

      And yeah, we use couch. I think we may have invented the term!

      I’ve never met anyone who uses the term ‘chesterfield’, but then I went to a comprehensive school when I was a kid.


      1. I don’t even know what a comprehensive school is! But then again, I’m french-canadian, and my mom always said chesterfield and I assumed it was from the god-save-our-queen influence.


  2. Funny you chose two Quebecers as examples. You’re exactly right about true artistry existing in a work’s imperfections. That balancing act is something that always fascinates me, whether concerning painting, writing or music. Creation and calculation are diametrically opposed. Voilà.

    Liked by 1 person

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