– by Albert Berkshire
I had no intention of writing this today, or any time in the near future. Perhaps, not even at all. But as anyone who writes for a living knows, when it hits, it hits. Tidal waves, I call them.
I was listening to my Riding Mix in the studio this morning. It’s a mix I created to which, on those rides when I’m alone, and it isn’t bear season on the lower-elevation trails, I like to listen. It has good energy. I need that when I’m on my mountain bike.
I listen to music most days when I am working, writing, creating. I love the emotion that comes from music. Some music lights a fire under me, invigorating me, making me work hard and fast. Other tracks slow me down, bring tears to my eyes – may more these past weeks than in the past. Even now, Thunderball by Domino is making my brain move at an alarming pace. My fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts…and then the song slows. It gives me a moment to reach for my peppermint tea that has sat neglected on the table for the last five minute.
This morning, I was listening to a Phontaine track from the mix when I found myself on the iTunes store looking for more Phontaine. I thought there might be something new to download. I never managed to complete the query as I when I typed in “P”, a previous search for Polyphonic Spree came up. A viable alternative, I thought to myself – and the cat on the desk. As it is with most things for me, one thing lead to another, one click took me to something even more unexpected, and suddenly I was watching an NPR Little Desk Christmas performance by The Polyphonic Spree. Tim DeLaughter, the lead singer – and possibly cult leader of ’The Spree, makes me smile. He is the emotion of his music. And sadly, his songs, like those of Kishi Bashi don’t really go on forever. So when his NPR performance ended, I started to scroll through the NPR Podcast listing to find another.
And that’s when Margo showed up.
When I was in my twenties, I had a torrid love affair with the music of Margo Timmins. She was, in 1990, one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful women in the world. But she was more than that. She was (then, and still is now) an amazing voice. Now, I know there are two other members of The Cowboy Junkies, but they aren’t, and then weren’t, Margo. They play exceptionally well, but Margo, like Tim DeLaughter, is the emotion in her music.
The thing is, I don’t really like country music. There was a Garth Brooks cover of a Bob Dylan song back in the 90’s that I liked. Gord Downey from The Tragically Hip put out an album as Gord Downey & The Country of Miracles that was more folk than it was country, but beyond that, the only purebred country song that makes me smile the long and lingering smile is Seasick Steve’s cover of Hank Williams‘ I’m So Lonely I Could Cry. It’s that good.
But Margo…Margo was extraordinary. Turns out…she still is.
The song that struck me was the one I always loved – and never knew why. I listened to the words today. Possibly five or six times. I needed to do that today. Misguided Angel finally resonated with me for a real reason. The song relates, in a way I can’t, or perhaps, won’t properly describe, to a character that has been living in my head for a long time. It’s taken me years to get her out onto paper, and in the truest irony of my life, she doesn’t even have a name. (Nor, I think, will she.) For the most part, I never knew her story was going to be told. It was in me, as is any writer’s story, but it was never properly provoked into making an appearance.
Or maybe, I never asked her.
I can remember the day I started writing. I mean, really writing things that mattered to me – as a writer. You see, not everything I write matters to me. It is my job, and I do it. But sometimes I write things, perhaps like this, today, that mean something to me. Anyway, I remember starting to write from the heart. And when I say “from the heart”, I don’t necessarily mean romance or pain in the psyche kind of writing (although that is almost complete, I warn you). I mean writing with passion. The passion that permits my brain to surge ahead of my typing skills and renders my somewhat-obsessive-compulsive self to disregard my myriad of typos until a later moment when I will right their grammatical trespasses. But I never thought about when I started writing as a date, an occurrence, or a catalyst until my friend Shelley asked me when I wrote my best stuff.
The answer? When I was unhappy. When I was a misguided angel, of sorts.
And now, almost three years since Shelley and I had that brief conversation, I realize that it doesn’t have to be my heartbreak or unhappiness or loss or even turmoil that is adopted as the driving force for a story. It can be someone else’s.
Today, it was Margo’s.
The look on her face when she sang Misguided Angel was one of pain. I could feel every word she sang. I could understand the angst of her character. I could relate, in ways, perhaps most people would care not to understand, to the internal struggle of her misguided angel. It was powerful.
When I was younger, in my 20’s, actually, I had a friend who had the refreshing and youthful beauty of Leslie Caron, the stage presence of Sarah McLaughlin, and the deep passion of Margo Timmins. It was a trio of characteristics that set her apart from our other friends. It made her stand out. She was a conflicted soul. And back then, I used some of her pain to write. Yet, back then, and even until now as I just wrote those words, I never realized I did that.
Other people’s pain is an amazing inspiration.
There’s a line in Misguided Angel that Margo sings with such matter-of-fact explanation of her character’s less-than-ideal lover’s passion, to which I can’t help but relate as a writer. “…it’s in the way he walks, it’s in the way he talks. His smile, his anger and his kisses.”
Passion, it seems, brings out the best and the worst in us. But more than that, it leads us down the path we really know we should travel.
I followed it. And I wrote a novel.
Thanks Margo, real or otherwise.
Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He hears music as a gift, appreciates the meaning of words, and relishes in how singing a verse can redefine the meaning for every listener. His love of storytelling, and his passion for the written word has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.