When I was seven–way back in 1973-I was already deeply addicted to music. I loved lyrics, I loved the sound, the rhythm…it had me. I knew my entire life would be surrounded by music. And I loved singing along to my favourite songs. Music was almost as important to me as books. Almost! In fact, I even worked in a record store at the time. Yes…I was a child labourer. And I wasn’t raised in the third world, either. I grew up in Toronto. In 1973, I found myself living next door to a place called Target Tape & Records. It was in the Baycrest area. I worked there most days, and I was paid in record albums. Vinyl record albums. The coolest thing. I still remember ripping off that plastic and taking a big whiff of the vinyl inside. To this day, it excites me to think about that moment when you first open an album!
Music was in my soul, and I listened to it every single day. The Beatles were kicking it for me in the early 70s…all the glitter and rock and reggae was kicking it too, but the Beatles…something about the lyrics resonated with my love of words. I was digesting every book I could get my hands on, while listening to every album I could get my hands on.
Enter the misunderstood lyrics. I sang my heart out whenever ACROSS THE UNIVERSE came out. And you know what? I KNEW the lyrics couldn’t possibly be Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David. Why would the Beatles sing about my brother? Why would they not make sense? Actually, quite a lot of their stuff didn’t quite make sense to me in their experimental phase. But I’m almost positive it made sense to them–to somebody. Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly make sense to anyone. But that was okay. It was the process of singing, connecting with the music and the words (right or wrong) that I was addicted to. I was happy to substitute whatever the hell they were saying with my own variation…just so long as I could sing along with the song.
That, to me, was what it was like to be a kid. The kid who could happily sing such words as Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David, was also the kid who could believe that a girl could turn into a blueberry; that a boy could get zapped into a TV; that an Indian Prince could be so insolent as to build his castle with chocolate when he lives in the hottest country in the world.
I remember that little boy believing all of those things…I remember the wonder I felt as I read the amazing books around me. Green eggs? Sure! Boys stranded on an island, going crazy and fighting over a conch for the power to control each other? Why not? Giants discovering an island of little people? A giant peach! All these things and more were mine. And they were mine to the extent that I wanted to ADD to them. I wanted my imagination to contribute to the world that these creations came from…a world of nothing but thought. I could do this. After all, I could sit and sing along to the Beatles. Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David.
It was all about wonder. Wonder in song, wonder in words.
Are you writing for children, tweens or teens? Don’t forget to go back! You can inject yourself with the wonder you felt as a child by RE-READING those books you loved back then. When I feel myself slipping too far into the adult world, I sure as heck don’t start singing “Jai guru deva om” (which are the actual lyrics in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE!). No way. Why would I want to do that. I pick up a book I first caressed when I was seven or eight and I slip into that mindset. I allow myself to read it the way I first read it. I sing Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David.
You have to let yourself slip away to remember what it was like to be a kid or a teenager. You have to allow those experiences to come back to you. The best way for me to do that is to read those old books; books that have since gone through another generation. To this day, I still have the copy of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY I had when I was a little boy. I still feel like that boy when I pick the book up and read it. In fact, reading it helps me to remember the boy who wanted to write a story as good (Imagine being brazen enough to think you could write a book on a par with Roald Dahl! Only a child could have that kind of confidence.) …so that he could make other boys slip into an unreal world where wonderful things can and do happen. A world where you could even eat the dishes.
Put your pen or laptop down every now and then. Sit for a minute and recall that child you were, long ago. What books did that child read? If you don’t still have beat up, faded and falling apart copies of those books…you can read them for free. There is a way! Just go to your local library. They’re still there. Find the books you loved way back then and slip back into them. Before you know it, you’ll be remembering things you thought you forgot forever. You’ll be that little boy or girl who had imagination enough to think they too could write a book and share it with the world!
Find that inner child…it’ll make you a better writer.
♪ ♫ Jag Ooh Ooh Ooh, David ♪ ♫
Enjoy this fabtastic version of Across the Universe, by Rufus Wainwright: