One of on-going features I want on my blog is the ability to introduce readers to writers. I’m starting this week with Mary Ellen Walsh, who lives across the country from where I call home.
She’s working on a novel — X Marks the Spot – what she describes as “a Generation X, rock and roll love story set on Long Island. In coming weeks, I plan to have an interview with her about the writing process, agents, pitches and the changing publishing world – traditional or self-publish?
We were talking on-line the other day when she mentioned that Peter Frampton turns 65 on Wednesday, April 22. That led to a discussion with her about Frampton, music and writing.
“We writers tend to sit and observe,” she wrote me. “Musicians are in the moment. When I’m too much inside of my head as a writer, I crave playing the guitar, singing and performing. It keeps me real and in the moment.
“Music is and has always been a lifeline to me,” she wrote. “Much like writing, I feel music cuts through all the facades masks and boundaries we can sometimes surround ourselves with. Music is spirituality; it’s breaking the 4th wall. It means being real, getting to the heart of human existence. I followed him. Listening to his music wasn’t enough for me. He actually taught me how to play because I followed his music.”
I often listen to music while writing.
Spotify is my writing partner.
A question for fellow writers: Do you listen to music while working?
If so, share some of your playlist.
Here is an essay by Mary Ellen Walsh.
In 1978, my friend Mary McM. and I saw the movie of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. Mary was one of those tall, black haired, quirky Irish girls always knee-deep in shenanigans. She had a brother. This gave her mischievous credibility in knowing stuff. I had one gorgeous, shy sister and I knew nothing about anything, yet. Syosset, Long Island (NY), a hub for movies, had two theaters—a Triplex and the United Artists Cinema 150 Theater near the end of Route 135 that cut across the island. People came from all over Long Island to experience movies in these plush theaters.
Mary and I blew 75 cents on a pack of Marlboro Lights at the Exxon gas station next to McDonald’s. We crossed over Jericho Turnpike and walked to the Cinema 150. As George Burns narrated, we were more concerned with peeling the cellophane wrapper off and hiding our 13-year-old gawkiness from the attendant so as not to get caught.
She taught me how to light a match with it still attached to the matchbook. We lit cigarettes coughing smoke into our hands, flicking ashes onto the floor. As Peter Frampton came on the screen, the decorative curtains opened farther and the film stretched to full, wraparound 120 arc with incredible Dolby sound. Frampton ran up onto a gazebo stage wearing white overalls with Billy stitched on his lapel. “Billy…Shears….” The Bee Gees crooned. Frampton strapped on an electric guitar and sang Ringo’s part to “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
“Oh, he’s cute,” said Mary. Wham! In the 17th row, I practically levitated out of my seat. I didn’t know what hit me—teenage lust! But, it seemed different like an encoded message I was supposed to receive. I was edgy, buzzing—plugged in.
In 1978 many genres of music that still exist today balanced on the head of a pin—The Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, punk in sharp contrast to disco, Grand Master Flash, and rap music. Frampton was my portal into rock and roll. If you’ve ever seen Frampton play, he doesn’t sneer at you like Billy Idol. He’s a lyrical, jazzy guitarist with a distinctive style, who owns that voicebox (Framptone) sound and is incredible live. His manager Dee Anthony and A & M records knew it, capturing him live in Frampton Comes Alive selling something like 16 million albums, to date.
On that day, I fell in love…with the guitar.
We walked home hyped up on adrenaline. “I want that!” I told Mary. “I have to do something with this me that I am, you know—do something.” I begged my parents for money to buy records: Frampton’s Camel, Frampton, and spent hours locked in my room listening. My mother had gone back to work, and every day after school, Frampton kept me company. Rewinding through his previous band Humble Pie, Frampton led me to lead singer Steve Marriott, one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever. And he led me deeper into Bowie, whom Frampton went to school with in England. The puzzle pieces of the British Invasion were spelled out before me. It wasn’t enough. I wanted to play what he played. I begged my parents for a guitar and took lessons.
When my son was ready for his first concert at 9, Frampton was performing at a Theater in Westbury, Long Island, touring his Grammy winning instrumental Fingerprints album.
We bought tickets. “Mom,” Robert leaned over during the concert, “How cool. He’s talking to us through that thing.”
“Yes he is.” I smiled. Robert heard the message, too, almost four decades later and now plays a mean bass. Sometimes my son and I perform together with his sister, Kelly, who also plays guitar and, Melanie, who sings. Happy Birthday Peter Frampton!
(A version of this essay previously published on Syosset Patch.com. Rest in peace Mary McM! Mary Ellen Walsh is an award-winning journalist who teaches creative writing. She is working on a novel X Marks the Spot, a Generation X, rock and roll love story set on Long Island.)