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On Writing Scholarly

Springsteen, Six Muses And Me: Music And The Writing Process by Zoe Fraser


This article recounts the journey I took to explore how a prose writer draws inspiration from music and lyrics, as opposed to the traditional sources of written texts in books. Dancing in the Dark, my ‘prose album’ based on Bruce Springsteen’s record album Born to Run, appropriates and reworks Springsteen’s universal themes and female characters. It fleshes out untold stories suggested by Springsteen’s songs, amplifies the voice of a girl locked in the push-pull of staying safe in the house versus being free on the open road, and is juxtaposed to the traditional unquestioning masculine freedom quintessential in Springsteen’s lyrical terrain. Along the way in my writing process, I was accompanied by six Muses. Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Porter, Mary Fallon, Vicki Viidikas, Julia Kristeva and Marguerite Duras were my driving companions.

Keywords: music, writing, driving


Music can be a channel for grace, words can be arranged to form poetry,
love can exist and have a meaning. Things can be salvaged, the past
can be made to yield up something that is pure. ~ Helen Garner

I have always listened to music, listened intently, from the perspective of a writer, to the lyrics being sung, extracting the story being relayed, piecing together the narrative. I have early memories of listening to the records of folk musicians, kneeling in front of speakers, in a little posture of devotion, in my own melodic world. I was travelling, transported through song, feeling the rhythm, the beat through my body, and bringing to life the story in the theatre of my mind.

When I learnt to drive, this act of worship intensified, as it seemed to me that the act of driving, cocooned in my two-door red car with the music right up, was the most conducive environment to taking in a song. My body seated, yet moving forward, conscious of the road and the scenery flying past, awash in the pulsating pace of a driving beat, an unfurling lyrical narrative. Flying solo, these journeys felt like a different kind of travel to me. I would regret arriving at my destination. Like reading, I felt, for a time, tangled up in another world. I did not know who I would be when I got to the other end; the music still on my skin, the poetic words a serenade from the speakers, coursing through my mind, a haunting presence all day.

I would take the long way home, the window down, the volume up, the night unfolding just for me; street and traffic lights glowing off the side of my car, their streaking neon pleased me when I glanced in my side mirror, the wind in my hair. The soundtrack to my life the music I played in the car, against the backdrop of the night, somehow heightened my awareness of the narrative unfolding in the songs, looping around, never ending. Through this process, like reading, like writing, I was shifted; I would come home transformed. My driving became an important part of my methodology, in my ‘inspiration car’; like a musician might work out chords I would work out the stories in my head, they would percolate with my lunar auto roaming.

Haunted by Springsteen

I have known Bruce Springsteen for a long time. I learnt his music, his songs posed as stories, over the years through the radio. I had always been particularly fascinated by the story in ‘Dancing in the Dark’, by this man, wanting to shake off his body heavy with frustration like a threadbare overcoat, ‘sitting ‘round here trying to write this book’. A creature of the night, starved of passion, yet desperate to stay hungry for it. Radio on, bored, manic; he is offering himself, regardless of whether there is a ‘spark’, whether a fire is ignited by the interaction. His call is a warm shot in the dark, an attempt, even if no light is shed.

There will be dancing. Things will move.

I came upon a Born to Run special release box-set in a second-hand store in early 2011. I picked it up almost unconsciously. If I had thought deeply about the purchase, it would have seemed I was setting out on a path, driving down a road and I was not quite at the wheel. This purchase set in motion an organic process, fateful convergences and uncanny offerings, books, music, films all propelling me towards this writing. Soon he was all I listened to. I never tired of him. Bruce Springsteen became a constant male companion to this young solitary female trying to figure out what she wanted in life and in love and in stories. A presence I felt I had conjured somehow.

He began to haunt me.

I would hear his songs in the supermarket; I would discover an old much-loved song was actually a Springsteen cover. He appeared as the voice of reason to John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, a more comedic version of how I perceived him. Reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, Prozac Nation, there he was again; Wurtzel turned to him for solace during her long teenage years, lying in her bed, listening to him through her headphones. A kindred spirit:

Sometimes I lie in my … bed and listen to music for hours. Always Bruce Springsteen… I identify with him so completely that I start to wish I could be a boy in New Jersey… All that was left for me to do was shut down and enter the world of Bruce Springsteen, of music about people from where else, for people doing something else, that would just have to do, because for the moment, for me, there was nothing else. (Wurtzel 1994: 50-51)

When I watched the Born to Run documentary included in the box-set I was introduced to Springsteen at my exact age, talking about how, as a young artist, you have something huge inside you, yet you are unsure how to bring it out. Coupled with the songs of the album, a cast of characters emerged tantalised by ideas of escape and freedom, of cars and ‘suicide machines’, the possibility of love, spanning through the course of one fateful night:

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