Music for Smalls Lighthouse: Ear Treasure

A terrible thing—maybe the worst thing ever—happened to my creative life last week, but I didn’t start feeling the repercussions of it until Sunday morning.

As far as writing routines go I have nothing ironclad that I would share on social media with any amount of smugness. It’s nearly always a crapshoot when I sit down at my desk.

For years I stood by my assertion that silence maintained the best vibe for my writing sessions. My reasoning changed over the years: “Listening to music distracts me from achieving creative flow” gradually turned into “Writing distracts me too much from my enjoyment of the music I’m listening to.”

But a few years ago I discovered a musician from England named Michael Tanner. (I think he dwells near the heathen woods of Sussex inside a hollow tree somewhere between a witch’s house and Arundel castle? The beauty of it is that I don’t care.) Michael Tanner’s music has become, over time, the only sound besides the voices inside my head that I want to hear when I’m writing.

Of the eight or nine albums in my music files, my go-to work by Michael Tanner in the last year or so has been one called Music for Smalls Lighthouse. A lot of its appeal to me for so long existed because I am always impressed and enchanted by the sheer imagination of Michael Tanner.

Seriously: I’d been so enamored of his music for so long that I totally thought he had made up Smalls Lighthouse, and everything I thought he’d made up was glorious!

Music for Smalls Lighthouse ran like a soundtrack in my head for a film that included long shots of mermaids rising up out of choppy seas and close-ups of men in canary yellow slickers getting soaked by rain and sea spray. I saw rain lashing windows, the sweating interior walls of the lighthouse, fire flickering to light oil lamps and tobacco-filled pipes, steam rising up from well-deserved cups of tea after a long day. Even the thought of JMW Turner flitted through my mind from time to time.

The fact that these images kept forming and evolving in my head by just listening to Tanner’s album inspired me every time I sat down to write. It became familiar, calming, and remained inspiring.

This was all before I found out there is an actual Smalls Lighthouse in the Irish Sea that has a tragic story attached to it—a story which, obviously, inspired Tanner to write Music for Smalls Lighthouse. (I’m American. You know how dumb we are about places on this earth where we’re not engaged in a war of some kind.)

Once I started reading about the tragedy that befell two caretakers at Smalls Lighthouse in the early 1800s, the spell I’d been using to help me write was broken and all I could think about was a dead man’s makeshift coffin bursting apart and flying into the sea while another man slowly went insane as he awaited some means of rescue from an unthinkable nightmare.

To his credit, Tanner’s composition did a great job of evoking these images, too, once I learned about those ill-fated lighthouse keepers.

So. What now? Well, The Blackening, a recent work Tanner did with fellow musician Alison Cotton has started making a home inside the folds of my brain. And as long as I don’t think about the artwork for the album too much, I have a feeling I’ll get a good couple of years out of it.

Buy Music for Smalls Lighthouse

Buy The Blackening