Writing Influences: Keith Murray

I wanted to feel confident with my decision to be a writer, or at the very least, an English major.

English Majors are the butt of every joke. From the very beginning, children are taught to hate writing, and to disrespect their English teachers. It’s socially acceptable to have a disregard for language, despite that it is the foundation for which all things are built and exist. But of course…that’s not what we are taught.

We are also not taught that writing is akin to art, photography, music, dance, etc. No. Writing has no value whatsoever.

As you can imagine, I sought to hide this very dark part of me. At family dinners, I murmured responses regarding rigorous college work. (Truthfully, there was nothing extremely difficult for an introvert who wrote fan fiction as entertainment on the weekends.) Writing was my dirty little secret, and the things I wrote about were also private. But I didn’t like that I concealed my passion. I should have the ability to openly express my interests and skill set without someone asking, “…And what are you going to do with that?”

Keith Murray made me comfortable with saying the inevitable aloud, and sharing my interests with those I admire.

When I first started listening to We Are Scientists in 2007, I was immediately intellectually attached to them because: most people I knew in the music industry were high school dropouts with no educational aspirations. Me, being a musically inclined intellectual, adored that these men had their education and pursued their passions outside of their degree. At twenty-one, I realized I didn’t have to be just an English major. That title alone could not dictate my existence as the butt of every joke. Now the doors were wide open to an array of artistic exploration.

After reading a series of interviews, I learned Keith Murray was also an English major. This made me giddy with excitement. Interwoven within some of WAS’ early skits on YouTube are references to post-modern literary theorists like Jacques Derrida. These were the jokes I understood! A talented musician I admired knew first-hand what it was like to be someone like me –– a scrawny, bibliophile who had a hard time finding the right pair of jeans.

In 2011, I was a graduate studying creative writing at CSUN, and purposely skipped a night of class to attend a We Are Scientists show in Los Angeles. After the set, I approached Keith Murray, and since it was first official time speaking to him one-on-one, I could only thing of one thing to say:

“I’m an English major just like you!”It just fell out of my mouth, as awkward as I was standing a foot shorter than him.

He smiled, and jokingly asked, “And what the hell are you gonna do with that?”

I grinned, “Well…I guess I’ll be a musician.”

Afterward, we engaged in a short conversation about analyzing literature versus writing it. There was a small discussion on becoming a professor, which I considered after reading the interview where he mentioned that if he had not been a musician, he probably would have gone the same route. But above all, the most important thing that happened in that twenty-minute conversation was being comfortable with who I was/am. There, in front of an established musician, I declared who I was without reservations; I didn’t feel guilty for having dreams of being a best-selling author.

Before the night ended, I mentioned something about being literary pals, and starting a book club. He chuckled, and then it was my turn to give him praise for all of the words he’s given me. Words that have coaxed me out of my anxious obsessions. “Textbook,”  a song off of WAS’ debut album, With Love and Squalor (kudos to you if you know that literary reference) helped me recognize the symptoms of my mental illness.

Years later, I would hand Murray a copy of my first collection of short stories. He would pick it up, pretend to read it, only to say he couldn’t accept it until I’d inscribed a message onto its pages. It was bad luck to give someone a book without a personalizing it. It was the highest honor I’ve ever received. And while I don’t know if he’s ever read it, part of me feels good that I had the courage to be artistically vulnerable.

I’m sure Keith Murray won’t take any credit for my confidence. But the praise for his support (both then and now) is there, written in the acknowledgements of my graduate thesis, and scattered into the heart of everything I write or will write forever.

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