Castellano’s “Abbey Road” and a Challenge for Writers
Last March, Juliana Haygert put me on to this guy called Richie Castellano. Richie plays guitar for the band Blue Öyster Cult, and he’s what I would call the musician’s musician. He’s a phenomenal singer, and plays multiple instruments (guitar being his forté). In the video Juliana tweeted, Richie performed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” using overdubs and split-screen (if you’ve not seen it, you really need to–even if you’re not a fan of the song). Well, last week, my brother pointed me to a new video Richie has posted where he does a similar kind of overdubbed, split-screen version of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” Medley (i.e., the last couple of songs on that classic 1969 album: “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”). Here’s the video:
Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t deny the guy’s talent. I played this to my older kids, and one said to me, “You think this guy’s awesome, don’t you?” As a musician, I had to reply, “Umm… well, yes, actually!”
On his blog, Richie explains why he chose this particular song, and he also goes into the technical details of what equipment he uses, how he recorded it, and so forth. While much of this is interesting to musicians and people who like that kind of thing, I want to focus in on a comment he made that I think has application for writers.
If you watch the video, you’ll notice Richie plays violin, cello, trumpet, and trombone on this recording. Yes, he actually plays those instruments, and no, prior to rehearsing for this video, he did not play any of these instruments. In his blog he says he could have used samples (presumably on a keyboard) for these parts, but “in a moment of insanity” he decided to attempt the instruments himself. With help from his natural ability, his dogged tenacity, and some YouTube videos, he was able to come up with parts that, while not good by any professional performance standards, were good enough. He ended up using samples to help fill out the sound (overdubbing bad violin playing doesn’t make it sound better–quite the contrary), but the basic strings and brass were played on actual string and brass instruments by Richie himself.
Let me now quote from Richie’s blog–and this is the part I want to connect to writing:
My favorite part of this video was getting to play with instruments I’ve never tried. I recommend it to all musicians. Especially if you write and arrange music. It gives you a new respect for the people who are great players and it gives you a better understanding when it comes to writing for those instruments.
I would echo this sentiment to those who write. Have you tried stepping outside of your preferred genre? If you write YA, have you ever tried NA or adult? If you write contemporary, have you tried sci-fi, or horror? Now, just as Richie would not start hiring himself out as a professional violinist based on this video, I’m not saying you should switch genres as a career move. Rather, try writing a short story, or even a piece of flash fiction, in a genre you don’t normally write. If you’re not familiar enough with that genre, read something to get a feel for it (the equivalent of Richie’s YouTube research). There are plenty of readers on Twitter that would be happy to recommend good books in that genre if you don’t know it well. Even if what you write is bad, I think the exercise is valuable. It broadens your horizons, and perhaps gives you ideas you can apply to your chosen genre. It might also give you a respect for those who write that genre you perhaps didn’t have before.
So, writers, take a tip from Richie Castellano, and step out of your box every now and again. I think your writing will benefit from it.
Have you tried such genre-dabbling before? If you have, how did it work for you? If you haven’t, is this something you might try? Please comment!