Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for #Zero by Neil McCormick with a guest post courtesy of the author himself.
My thanks to Anne Cater for the tour invite, unbounders and Neil McCormick.
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Unbound (18 April 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1783526629
- ISBN-13: 978-1783526628
- Amazon UK
Zero is the latest craze. Young, sexy and brilliant, he is a multi-hyphenated (singer-songwriter-rapper-producer) superstar for the digital generation. According to his publicist at least. He’s also a narcissistic, insecure, hyperactive, coke-snorting, pill-popping, loud-mouthed maelstrom of contradictions skating over the thin ice of terminal self-loathing.
He has touched down in New York with his sycophantic entourage for the launch of a new single/album/movie/tour. It is countdown to Year Zero. But the boy at the centre of the media feeding frenzy is cracking up. Inside the echo chamber of his own skull, he isn’t sure he deserves all the attention, doesn’t even know if he wants it anymore and is being driven half-mad by the mysterious absence of the love of his life.
As the crucial hour approaches the young star cuts and runs, setting off on a wild trip across America pursued by paparazzi, fans, fortune hunters and his Mephistophelian manager, Beasley. He’s about to find out that when you have the most famous face in the world, you can run… but you can’t hide.
Guest Post: What I listen to when I write.
I can’t really listen to music when I write, which may be a strange admission for a music journalist. I was actually listening to the Chemical Brothers new album, No Geography, whilst getting ready to write this piece but I had to turn it off as soon as I started typing. I think I love music too much and get over absorbed in it. I need something approaching silence to tune into a space where my thoughts can turn from amorphous clouds of feeling and ideas into words that I can almost hear and shape into coherent sentences to be channelled onto the page.
My inner voice can get drowned out by music. But only really when I am reading or writing. Otherwise, my Dearly Beloved complains that I have music on all the time. I listen whilst I go run, cook, drive the car, do housework, catch up with emails and even when I am reading something less demanding of complete attention, like a newspaper or social media feed. But if I am writing a music review, I have to turn the album I am reviewing off.
It doesn’t have to be complete silence though, strangely enough. I can pretty much write anywhere, in noisy cafes and echoing airports, on rattling trains and in the hubbub of random background conversation. Music pulls me in but noise is something I can completely tune out.
My happy medium is ambient music. When I was spending long sustained periods writing my novel #Zero, I put on a lot of ambient music, almost as if to create a cocoon in which to envelope myself in my own concentration. The more neutral the ambience the better, with the lowest levels of movement, either melodically, rhythmically, or harmonically. Brian Eno has a lot of great ambient works that operate on this subtle atmospheric level. It is hard for me to recommend particular albums and pieces, however, because the whole point is that I am not really paying attention. If something drags my consciousness out of the writing and into the music itself, I would probably turn it off. And I don’t like “chill out” music, that kind of pseudo ambient muzak for the aging rave generation with all its burbling synths, sonorous beats and trite zen aphorisms. Anything too obvious or cheesy just irritates me. I would rather listen to static. I’m a fussy fucker, as you can see.
Funnily enough, my novel #Zero is full of music and I listened to plenty whilst dreaming it up. One narrative element is a journey across American music, and there are passages built around hip hop, blues, country and Broadway showtunes. But in particular, I listened to a lot of modern pop, to help establish the milieu of my main character, a young breakout star mononymously known as Zero. To be fair, it goes with the territory of being a music critic. I have always been fascinated by pop’s evolution, by the way sounds and beats change to perk up the ears of each new generation of listeners. I give short shrift to the notion that there was a golden age of pop and everything after is just dross. Human beings are innately creative, and each generation responds to its own stimulus. There is so much intriguing new music pouring out from every corner of the connected world right now. All you have to do is pay attention.
I had to write lyrics for some Zero songs, and I was conscious of making them work on the page but also in the more ephemeral notion of imaginary music. I spent a lot of my youth writing songs, and so I really had some fun with that. Zero is riding off the back of a massive global number one hit called Never Young, a song that I described as an anthem for a disenfranchised generation, which is easy to say and not so easy to pin down. I belatedly realised I had set myself the almost impossible task of conjuring up a brand new all-time classic. I imagined something like a cross between Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ with the singalong swagger of Mott The Hoople’s ‘All The Young Dudes’. The chorus I came up with was ‘We were Never Young / We were born into a world / You had already destroyed / Life has just begun / It’s the beginning of the end / For all the girls and boys.’ I have my own melody ringing out in my head but the beauty of words on a page is that every reader can conjure up their own version. I have actually recorded some music inspired by the book. But I couldn’t even listen to that whilst writing. Way too much going on.
I have a couple of favourite ambient albums that have congregated in a stack adjacent to my desk. Orphée by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is one, an evocatively beautiful piece that I can listen to both consciously and unconsciously. He died of an accidental drug overdose in 2018, just a couple of years after releasing this. It was a loss to music, because Jóhannsson was exploring a very fertile area where minimalism, electronica and lush orchestration combined with real emotion. I can listen to some jazz the same way, both attentively and inattentively. In particular, I love Miles Davis’s 1970 double masterpiece Bitches Brew, a funky soulful sci-fi blend that I can never get to the bottom of. I have a big stack of ambient / world / jazz / dub compilations picked up over the years. But when in doubt I reach for my Brian Eno playlist on Spotify. He is an absolute master of neutral sound, so I can tune out to tune in.
About Neil McCormick.
Neil McCormick is the Daily Telegraph’s chief pop and rock music critic. He is an author, radio pundit and television presenter, with his own music weekly interview show, Neil McCormick’s Needle Time, broadcast on Vintage TV. His memoir, Killing Bono (originally published as I Was Bono’s Doppelganger) was turned into a feature film in 2011. He lives in London.
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