Iggy Pop told the New York Times that David Bowie actually wrote the main riff in “Lust for Life,” or rather, lifted it from a beeping technical signal they heard on Armed Forces Radio in Bowie’s Berlin apartment.
Mr. Pop and Mr. Bowie, seated on the floor — they had decided chairs were not natural — were waiting for the Armed Forces Network telecast of “Starsky & Hutch.” The network started shows with a call signal that, Mr. Pop said, went “beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep,” the rhythm, which is also like a Motown beat, that was the foundation for “Lust for Life.” Mr. Pop recalled, “He wrote the [chord] progression on ukulele, and he said, ‘Call it “Lust for Life,” write something up.’” (Source)
I’ve had similar experiences where I notice something interesting but am too hesitant or lazy to follow up on it creatively, but an older mentor tells me, “If you find it that interesting, make something out of it!”
Thanks to other Wikity users for posting this NYT article, which I loved when it was first published.
Peter Elbow is a teacher and theorist of composition. His work focuses on the writing process, and the ways in which teachers can help their students become better writers through embracing the messiness of the writing process.
A common problem for writers who want to write but are not sure on what specific topic: how do those long-term memories bubble up, those we do not have pulled up in the short-term? The answer is a trigger. Some triggers are easy (pictures of events, artifacts of celebrations or accomplishments, places and people), but those are the ones people interact with regularly, so they are not the problem we speak of! We need to work on ways in which to produce triggers people would not normally engage.
Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of free association in his theories on psychoanalysis. Like Atkinson & Shiffrin’s science on memory, much of Freud’s work is criticized and even discredited, but our purpose here is not to produce effective psychoanalysis as much as it is to pull from our memories some of the narrative elements that shaped us, and so it can be a launching point for our studies.
In free association, the participant is encouraged to begin talking/engaging on a topic or point. The key for the participant is to not censor their thoughts or to push them in a certain direction through conscious manipulation; rather, the participant is encouraged to follow the subconscious and continue talking about what they are moved to speak on. The only wrong answer in free association is the forced answer. This means free association can be non-sensical at times, include lots of filler as voice or fingers can keep up with memories, but when engaged it can provide a window into the past for the participant.
For a more contemporary write-up on the science of memory, see bubble-up.
In his recent book How We Learn, Benedict Carey looks at the context of the mind and how the information we take in through perception is shaped and molded for long-term memory through the conventions of narrative. This is a summation of psychological research and study for close to 100 years.
The most direct look at Carey’s book starts with psychologists Richard Atkinson & Richard Shiffrin’s (1968) multi-store memory model. While this research from 1968 has been criticized and subsequently amended or extended, the basis is that we have the opportunity to engage everything around us but only the ability to focus on a small amount of that sensory information. The information we attend to goes from the sensory to the short-term, where it will stay via maintenance (its immediate use) or rehearsal (a deeper understanding of its purpose). It is the rehearsal that puts information into long-term memory.
Example – you and a friend are working on a project together and hear a song on the radio (sensory). The project you are working on has brought some thoughts and terms to your mind, and you start changing the words of the song to match the project (sensory & short term). You both laugh about this, and throughout the afternoon continue singing the song, the lyrics changing around. The event becomes important, the feeling is a good one. That night you think about the song again and it makes you laugh, and you can remember the color of the light and the feel of the chair you were sitting in (rehearsal to long term). You saying the song again the next time you see your friend (maintenance & short term, rehearsal & long term).
For a creative writer, an important part of this process is understanding the role of narrative in the move from sensory to short-term and from short-term to long-term. Focus focus moves to something because of an importance (whatever that importance may be), and engagement with that importance has a purpose and often involves elements of constructing meaning and story to funnel that meaning. We are thus making stories in order for our memory to function.