Becoming a Rock

This is self-indulgent. It’s okay – I’m a writer.

I’m walking. Down my wooded driveway in the crisp winter afternoon, earbuds in ears, hoodie pulled down low, hands in pockets. I am listening with my whole body. Each movement in step with a tune only I can hear. The footfall on the rocks, the slope of my neck, the way my ponytail whips in time, all a coordinated effort. The man singing in my ear hits fever pitch – a wailing, high falsetto that keens and spirals and splits the atom with its intensity, then it wavers, falling from the crescendo like trickling water in my eardrum.

I keep walking, but the girl deep down inside me fights the urge to slink to the ground, slithering and boneless, and curl up into a fetal ball. It’s a mental image I have often, and have never told anyone about. When I listen to music that really hits me there, I want to slide soundlessly to the ground and become a rock.

It’s ok. You can say it. Weird.

I’ve tried to explain. But how can you explain something as bright and as wordless as the stars?

Even as an itty bitty, I knew music (and Joan Jett) was everything.

There are so many avenues I could take to try and explain a thought process without a rhyme or reason. I could talk about synesthesia, the autism spectrum, anxiety and depression, that uneasy marriage – I could talk about the indulgent melancholy of being a writer, the ebb and the flow, the dark and the light, the way we flirt with the abyss, the way we crave distraction, always distraction –

So many words, phrases, paragraphs – stories inside of us, all. To write is to let out tales, a trickle at a time, bit by bit, a stream made of consciousness. To hold a book in your hand that you’ve written is the penultimate accomplishment, or so it feels, but if I can tell you this secret: no matter how many poems, stories, or books you write, you’re still full of letters. They trickle out of your ears, your eyes, your fingertips. Every person is a story waiting to be told, a page to be turned – every sound is waiting to be described – every feeling is in need of a narrator.

And while it is a blessing, this over-abundance of letters – just like any lake, if you swim too long in deep waters, you will tire and drown. You will need your life support. Music has always been mine, since the toddler years, when I sat in front of the stereo with my Dad’s too-big headphones dwarfing my face.

And indeed there will be time to wonder “do I dare?” 

I measure out my time in intervals of obsessions rather than ages. My memory grows fuzzy with so much of the past. I don’t remember much of 23, but I can tell you exactly where I was in Auckland when I first heard Salmonella Dub (riding in a black sedan with a guy named Bernard who was telling jokes while navigating down the hill in Parnell, headed towards Stanley Street, the sun glinting off the water ahead; like diamonds) and exactly how I felt. Every time I hear a pacific beat I think of my heart, too big for my chest. I think of the way the light is different there; I think of Bernard’s blond hair; I think of the smell of fish and chips.

Music is photographic, staining my insides like ink, an invisible tattoo to match the visible ones, of which I always crave another.

The other day, my friend Jennifer told me that every time she hears “I am the Highway” by Audioslave, she pictures me walking along listening to it, because I wrote about my experience with that song and it stuck with her. I was blown away, not only that she had read my random muttering praise, but that she had retained it, remembered it, associated it with me. I was touched.

From time to time I take to these digital pages and wax poetic about some artist who means everything to me in a way that must, to an outsider, seem like obsessive keening. How can I explain? How should I presume? Do you know I rein myself in? For my life is measured by muses, and god, have there been many. My current one, a tall, troubled drink of water with haunted eyes and vampiric trill, inspired an entire novel (Thanks, Pete).

I am in love with telling stories. So too do I love the storyteller. The sadder the story, the more I love you. Perhaps a storyteller that writes gothic odes to the moon and Bacchus, fairy tales about wolves, about druids, liturgies to the autumn months, when leaves are dying yet at their most beautiful. Who writes odes to cover pain, who has bitten off the matter with a smile. 

I was ruminating on this (read: navel gazing – us writers have it down to a science) obsessive nature to my aforementioned friend Jennifer – who I should note, is an absolute gem; a patient, lovely, sincere person who approaches friendship with her whole heart – in a stream of text messages. I’d been texting back and forth with her all day, sharing snippets of information I’d read about Peter Steele whilst falling down my latest wormhole. Because I do that, you know, I fall willingly in with my whole heart, my whole body, my whole soul, and then I bother the shit out of everyone. I have always been this way, but sometimes, I feel just a little bit weird about it. About me. I do not think they will sing to me.


I text Jen, “Other than David Bowie, I’ve never felt a kinship with an artist this strong.” I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to feel so much. She responds that it is my compassion and empathetic nature that brings me down this road, that I feel such a kinship because I’ve felt the same pain, and I recognize the darkness. “It’s like a mutual empathy experience that he just doesn’t know he’s a part of.”

Those words hit such a chord, made such perfect sense to me, that I had to write it down. It’s no surprise that my friend Jen is an empath, too – how else would she have such perfect insight, and know exactly what to say?

I have known them all already known them all. Songs and words and notes and letters, reaching out from the ether, across time to a space where sincerity is allowed, and distance immaterial.

An artist whose sardonic meloncholy flirts with the room, words flying on gossamer wings, voice deep like good red wine. That tall drink of water who wears a mask to cover the mask that is also a mask; you need surgical tools to pry beneath, to see. These deadrockstars and their masks – they stay on even after their faces have returned to earth – thankfully, the voice makes it way through, and endures. The words shine a light in the dark, guide our way to shore, at least till human voices wake us, and we drown. 

The vulnerable, anxious empath in me reaches out and finds something to clasp. Something I recognize. Something that if it were not blinded by death and circumstance, might love me back, would understand.

It is the soundtrack to this story that is my true self, the one most people don’t see. The me singing loudly in the car, the me making footfalls down the path, the me with eyes open to a September sun or a wolf moon, depending on the day. Slithering to the ground, becoming a rock.

“Peter” means “Rock” 😉 
Poem sampled: The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruf(rock) (I had to) (Sorry)



Growing Up With You.

Here it is, the end of October in Georgia and it finally feels sort of like Autumn. I’ve got my cup of Earl Grey, a raspberry linzer cookie, and I’m wearing a pair of white chucks that I bought over the weekend – now orange is the only color I lack in my ever-growing collection of Converse All-Stars, because I am a madwoman who collects things. I’ve started my new novel, a week before NaNoWriMo kicks off, because true to form, I always start things early. So far I’m liking what I’ve written. It may be short-lived, but I am breathing deep and just enjoying right now.


Told ya. #obsessed

I’m in heavy music-listening mode right now, too, which always happens as the seasons change. You can find me driving, music blaring, singing along and dancing badly, on any given day of the week. Music is my life-force…that and reading. When I’m doing both, you know I’m heavy in creative mode and that my brain is working overtime, trying to absorb every little bit of inspiration and sustenance it can. It’s kind of like expecting a child – a weird analogy, I know – but your entire body is involved in this creative process, forming a new life, limbs, heart and eyelashes, and it takes all the nutrition, sustenance and mental stamina you have to produce that perfect thing. So is writing to me. Many writers need the quiet, for everything to be focused solely on their work, but not me. I need background noise, a cacophony of music and books and life tumbling at me from every direction, to singularly focus on my work. It’s a type of mania, and I welcome it, after long years of trying to hide my quirks and double down on a more organized way of thinking. Once I embraced it, I started to bloom.

I’m pretty much exclusively listening to Daniel Johns at the moment. You’ll know him as the blond baby of a frontman for Silverchair, or perhaps the enigmatic and mysterious singer in the Dissociatives. Yeah, I’m showing my age. And when I sat down to write this post, I thought, “Really Lillah, another post about a musician you admire? They all know – you’re obsessive about your music, it influences your writing, blah, blah blah.” After all, I’ve been down this road before – Dwight, David and so on – but the truth of the matter is, music is inexplicably knitted into my writing and vice versa (and so it is with books, with reading, too) and I cannot separate the two. When I’m in creative mode, I’m listening to my tunes. And when I’m listening, I want to sing back in praise, in thanks, to the artists who have helped me along the way.


If this picture of Johns doesn’t define the mid-to-late 90s, I don’t know what does.

It freaks me out to think that I’ve been a fan of Daniel Johns for the better part of my life (to be fair, they came on the scene when I was just an adolescent, and they weren’t much older themselves). But it’s true and I owe the guy a lot. It sounds stupid, but I honestly do. Just by pure coincidence, or maybe it’s me projecting my experiences onto someone else’s art (likely), but for every major turning point in my life, he has been there. A song always seemed to fit at just the right time. He has got me through some times. And while I haven’t followed his career with the same fervor as I have say, David Bowie, I have looked in on him from time to time with interest, always eagerly consuming his latest work and finding comfort and meaning in it.

I think the reason I love Daniel Johns (and Silverchair/the Dissociatives) so much is because I grew up to it. As he navigated his journey into adulthood, through pain and trauma, illness and wisdom, so did I. He’ll never know me, but he’s a kindred spirit all the same.

As a goofy 14 year old, already showing the beginning signs of anxiety, I listened to “Frogstomp” and wished I could be so profound and in tune with my feelings. When I was a young teenager, subsisting on nothing but diet coke and energy pills, trying not to gain a pound back after a lengthy illness in which I almost died, I found “Ana’s Song”.and discovered I’d like to be healthy again. After my Grandfather died and I thought I’d never climb back out of the grief (it was the first death of a family member I’d experienced, and because I wasn’t able to see him much as a child, I mourned the relationship we’d never have), I found “Miss You Love”, which helped me through. As I found myself in the beginning of an abusive relationship, in my early twenties, just having moved to New Zealand and having no idea what to do next, I listened to the “Neon Ballroom” album and knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I did. I recall long nights, holding in tears but letting Daniel’s haunting falsetto cry for me instead. As I began to get up the courage to leave my abusive partner and go back home to a place I wasn’t sure was home anymore, the “Diorama” album gave me some strength.  Home, feeling guilt for leaving and the fear of the unknown life I wasn’t sure I even wanted anymore, Daniel’s new project with the Dissociatives seemed to bolster me with its lyrics about the loss of love but carrying on in a new medium. “Straight Lines” talked of embracing yourself, and the things necessary to make yourself whole. And now, embarking on this journey as a writer, putting my stuff out there even when I’m terrified to, I’m loving listening to Daniel’s solo album, a far cry from anything he’s ever done, laughing at his butt-hurt diehard fans who hate it, and feeling so proud of him for doing the damn thing on his terms. God, I love it when artists push out of their comfort zone and do something wholly unexpected (I think I just found common ground between Dwight, Daniel and David – the three D’s who are not so unalike, eh?). And hey, my 7 year old kid and I have jammed out to the reworked Beatles tunes on Beat Bugs (which Daniel works on ) more than once together, so we’re finding that common ground. And so it goes.


Growing older gracefully and eyeliner on point – I could use some tips, man. I’ve got the hat part down.

You guys, my eyes often glaze over when people write about music. I don’t read album reviews that much, and I only flip through the pages of Rolling Stone every so often. I don’t kid myself that anyone is interested in my musings on Daniel Johns any more than they are about Dwight Yoakam or Patti Smith or Bowie or Ma Rainey or anyone else I love and hold dear. I don’t write this to preach to the converted (who my age doesn’t like Silverchair? C’mon.) but just to further reiterate that music is so important. And that I’m grateful for it, for the artists who inspire me. It took me way too long to start honing in my skill, and actually start putting words to paper; I found every excuse. And I still do, if given half the chance. But when I listen to a song like “Forever and a Day”, I literally can’t stop myself from sitting down and putting my feelings somewhere, you know? The feelings consume, they overwhelm, and when that happens, I count myself lucky to do what I do. I have the tools to express myself right here, and endless inspiration coming out of my earbuds.

I get nervous talking like this, afraid my obsessive personality will show, that people will know how deeply I feel every little thing, how deeply I love. But it’s about pushing out of that feeling, swimming in the deepest waters, and showing who you really are, that makes the artist.

Thanks, Daniel, and all the rest.

Happy Autumn, and may you find your favorite album again, as beautiful and relevant to your life as you left it.