Tag Archives: Jackson Browne

Who is on your soundtrack?

Hotel California

My characters show up at my inner door as if I’d invited them for an interview. My list of questions has grown over the years, and music has always been there. Recently I peeled back a new layer with the question: Who is on your soundtrack?

When I was a kid my dad played guitar in a local band that performed nights and weekends. He did a lot of ground-breaking rock and roll and country from the 50’s and 60’s. When I was about ten, he bought me a clock radio for my birthday saying, “I know how important it is to have your music.” I had no idea what my music was. The radio in the barn was on all the time, but in such a rural area we had limited access. The place we lived had a one-horse radio station that tried to play a little of everything, but always sounded outdated.

I embraced music from Elton John, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, Styx, Foreigner, and the Eagles. The first time that I heard “Hotel California” I didn’t understand it, and realized there was a vastly more experienced world that I knew nothing about. I was thirteen. Life out there was smarter, faster, and had much sharper teeth. I’d need to figure out how to be better prepared. So I tried to toughen up with Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, and Led Zeppelin.

My mother’s tastes were altogether different. No country allowed. Her soundtrack included Andy Williams, The Carpenters, Moody Blues, David Gates and Bread, and the classic voice I came to loathe: Streisand. She played Barbra relentlessly. If I ever hear “Evergreen” again, I’ll need a straitjacket.

The 80’s were unkind to me. Miami Vice was all the rage, and while I lived in South Florida – they played Glenn Frey to death. I liked “Smuggler’s Blues” all right, just not in the first ten minutes of every set. “Desperado” was getting air play timed perfectly to every miserable low point in my life. To this day, I can’t hear the opening piano notes without wanting to reach for a 12-gauge. Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” and Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” bought me a couple speeding tickets. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had me “Free Fallin’” right out of divorce court. And Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” still brings to mind everyone I’ve lost along the way. If you think about it, you’ll find a song to go with every emotional touchstone you’ve had, and so will your characters.

Musical tastes shift with age, but core music through the formative years becomes a person’s soundtrack. Music that speaks to them of first experiences and lessons learned. Those songs move them forward and take them back, like good friends who never bailed and always called “shotgun.”

So when you ask your characters, “Who is on your soundtrack?” pay attention to the teens and early 20’s answer. You’ll find a deeper truth beneath the surface of who the present themselves to be. Unrealized dreams, guilty pleasures, and hidden regrets will reveal their humanity and provide a third dimension.


Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing


Filed under writing

We Have Not Lost Poetry

A few years ago I bought a book called The Devil Never Sleeps authored by Romanian ex-patriot Andrei Codrescu.  I had listened to Codrescu for years on NPR, and I was interested in reading his essays (which, by the way, did not disappoint).  As I read his observations about Romania and Eastern Europe under Soviet control, I was struck by his adoration of and faith in poetry.  It’s no exaggeration to say, from Codrescu’s viewpoint, poetry was the source of hope to those who suffered decades of communist despotism as well as a subversive force undermining the monolithic govern

He made such a compelling argument for the purpose, power and necessity of poetry, I had to stop and ask myself what ever happened to poetry.  I loved poetry as a young person and even continued to write poetry as an adult.  Of course, half of being a poet is relishing the poetry of others—and I couldn’t remember the last time I read a volume of verse.

[So I’m giving in to temptation here; this is a poem I wrote when I was sixteen after moving back to my hometown following an absence of four years; do you have adolescent poems you’re still willing to share?

“All The Animals”

I left something here,
            a childhood memory, a melody,
            a bit of soul chipped from the tenderest part.
I thought it was refound
            but something different,
            something animal,
            was in it’s place.
So it does no go to come home
            to all the animals,
            the souls of my childhood changed

For a while, I had a sad, empty feeling when I thought that I had “lost” poetry.  Moreover, I had the sinking feeling that as a people, our culture had lost poetry as well.  Where was the Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman or Robert Frost of this age? 

Then one day I was driving down the road listening to Bruce Springsteen and the “aha moment” burst upon me: I haven’t lost poetry; as a people we have not lost poetry—we just set it to music.  I hereby predict that coming generations will “read” the songs of our greatest songsmiths and judge them more as writers than musicians.  Annie Lennox, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, as well as hosts of R&B and hip-hop artists will be required reading for our great-grandchildren fifty years hence.

This great realization made me reflect back over the songs I’ve written over the years (yes, acoustic guitar and harmonica; but nothing to brag about).  Some of mine, I’m afraid, will not rise to the level of literature (“Harmless While I’m Sober” comes to mind).  But some others—recent as well as distant—may actually be worth reading in coming ages.  Herewith, a song of unrhymed verses I wrote in the early 70’s while I was a college student.  It is like poetry, sort of.  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday.

“Early in the Sun”

Early in the sun I see those high red clouds
            like contrails of some angels God is sending somewhere.

I think of you for minutes, hoping that you will remember me
            without these chains I have been wearing.

I will not ask you lightly for the things you will feel pressed
            to give from loving, for they are yours.

Ah, but if you understand our loves are shorter than our lives,
            then love me quickly, before they pass.


Filed under Lazarus Barnhill, life, musings, writing