As I mentioned previously, having a new writing project means having a new playlist. Nearly all of the Bridgetown trilogy music leaned more towards darker atmospheric moods, so the hard switch to a new musical style has felt a bit like whiplash.
Meet the Lidwells! features a family band that plays what some would call power pop: quirky and upbeat, often guitar-oriented, sometimes a bit odd, but never an uncomfortable listen.
Well-known examples would be Fountains of Wayne…
or Veruca Salt…
or Matthew Sweet…
….you get the picture.
So why power pop? Well, the story of the Lidwells is partly set in the late 80s-early 90s; they’re a band heavily influenced by the Beatles (thanks to their parents) as well as late 80s college rock (thanks to their elder siblings). Much like the Beatles, they started out writing simple poppy love songs aimed towards the young teen market. Over the course of five chart-topping albums and numerous hit singles, their sound evolves from that catchy pop to more adventurous alternative rock. And just like the Beatles, weary of the ups and downs of fame and tiring of the game, they decide to go out on a big note with their strongest album.
Right now, while I’m working on notes and piecing together a coherent story, I’m also making it a point to look for more music to listen to that would fit this project. It doesn’t necessarily have to be explicitly power pop, of course…as long as it’s somewhere in the neighborhood. And I’m specifically looking for both male and female singers, as it’s important to the story.
So yeah…if you have any suggestions/recommendations for bands and songs, please feel free to let me know in the comments! I’m always open to new tunage. 🙂
Or: Albums Wot I Listened to Incessantly While Writing the Trilogy in the Belfry, 1996-2004. It’s by no means a complete list, as I’ve left out a ton of albums that didn’t get nearly as much play but may have shown up in heavy rotation for a shorter time. I also didn’t list the albums that popped up during the revision years, which would probably be another long list in itself.
I’ve put them in semi-chronological order of release. These are still some of my favorite albums; I would highly suggest checking many of them out, perhaps finding a copy or two for your collection if you don’t have them already. It’s a wide mix; there’s electronica, alternative metal, alternative rock, and even a classical album or two. A lot of these albums still pop up on rotation when I’m working.
To be honest, it does feel kind of odd to finally be listening to a different style of music for my latest project. [Meet the Lidwells! is full of power-pop goodness, so there’s a lot of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne involved, and a lot of listening to The Power Pop Show on KSCU.] But I highly doubt I’ll stop listening to Fantastic Planet or Sea Change any time soon…
I love listening to this mix. It was made in September 1998, when I was finishing up the original first draft of The Phoenix Effect. I was in full-tilt mode on my writing habits by this time: write a few pages during the day, transcribe and revise it at home. [I believe my comic collecting habit had gone full swing as well — driving halfway across the state on Wednesday afternoons to pick up my weekly list over in Hadley. Not that that stopped me from working later that night anyway!]
There were a hell of a lot of great albums that came out in 1998, and many of them ended up on heavy rotation during these sessions. [That’s another post entirely, maybe next week!] Many of the tracks from those albums ended up on this mix.
Massive Attack, “Teardrop”
Every now and again, there’s a song that just blows you away upon first listen, and this is one of them for me. I bought the import version of Mezzanine because I loved this track so much. It doesn’t exactly fit in with any scenes or characters in particular, but Liz Fraser’s always-angelic vocals and the band’s sparse-yet-intense music fit the mood of my story perfectly.
The WEA rep handed this band’s promo cd to me and stated it would be right in my wheelhouse, and they weren’t wrong. Not quite goth, not quite darkwave, not quite alternative, but somewhere in between. Another mood piece I could use when I needed to write a scene full of bite.
Mistle Thrush, “Shine Away”
[Sorry for the quality…this is the only video of the song I could find.] In a bit of serendipity, the lead singer of this band was good friends with my then-manager Tom, and he handed me their Silt album to check out. It’s full of that heavy guitar-laden dreampop I love so much.
Dishwalla, “Until I Wake Up”
When their second album And You Think You Know What Life’s About dropped in August, I was all over it…it had their excellent songwriting of 1995’s Pet Your Friends but a much louder and heavier sound, and much darker lyrics. This is my favorite track of theirs, and it fit the mood of frustration a lot of my characters were feeling.
Primal Scream, “Higher Than the Sun”
Their Screamadelica album remains one of my favorite albums of the 90s (really, you should own it if you don’t already). I always loved the dreamlike trippiness of this track. This was another track that influenced my idea of what it felt like for my characters to visit Trisanda: excitement and fascination…but also a little disorienting.
Radiohead, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” The Bends got a ton of play out of me even during the sessions for True Faith, because it’s that good of an album. I liked how the track seemed to hint at community but was really more about trying to escape its stifling grip. In a roundabout way this became another theme in the trilogy: trying to avoid the grip of outside influence.
Their Blue Wonder Power Milk was released the same day as the Dishwalla album and was another big favorite of mine; they’d moved past their synthetic-sounding first album and become more of an organic band here. This track was one of the inspirations for my wanting to pair Alec and Akaina together; they knew they were different in so many ways, but their spiritual connection transcended that.
I listened to Dummy quite a bit in the summer of 1995 when I was writing True Faith, and this track just stayed in my head for a long time afterwards. By 1998 I was a big fan of triphop and catching up with all those bands that I’d missed the first time out; it’s a perfect subgenre for setting a mood.
Information Society, “The Ridge”
This track is a long way from their 1988 “What’s On Your Mind”, that’s for sure. Essentially a Kurt Harland solo album under the InSoc banner, Don’t Be Afraid is a creepy darkwave affair with a bit of X-Files-ish conspiracy weirdness thrown in. I used this track as a base for Denni and her trials in trying to balance being a goddess and being a teenage girl.
Global Communication, “Epsilon Phase”
I picked up both their 76:13 and Pentamerous Metamorphosis cds at the same time, after being blown away by that Pulusha track (see Vol 3). Bonus points when I realized the latter was an ambient remix album of a Chapterhouse album! This is a lovely transcendent track that fits in nicely with the spiritual side of the story.
Portishead, “Half Day Closing”
A track from 1997’s self-titled second album. That record was a harder listen, though tracks like this fit in with the trippy headspace stuff I was trying to come up with.
Tin Star, “Raincheck” The Thrill Kisser was a surprise favorite of mine (and another album where I grabbed the import before it was issued in the US). It was a great mix of synth and guitar with quirky lyrics and music. Another mood choice, this time for those scenes where the characters need to make unfortunate desicions.
theaudience, “I Got the Wherewithal”
You might know Sophie Ellis-Bextor for her solo dance hits in the UK, but this was her pre-solo band, and I absolutely adored their self-titled album. It’s perky, snarky, and Very British. I really wanted them to break in the US, but alas, they surfaced with exactly one American sampler EP before the whole Polygram/Uni shake-up ditched a crapton of good bands.
U2, “Love Is Blindness”
This was another track that I used for Alec and Akaina. I hadn’t listened to Achtung Baby for a few years until I found a cheap cd copy at a used record store and it ended up on medium rotation for a year or so.
Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”
Another single from The Bends. Put here partly because I like the song, but I think I as also thinking about how what seems shiny and awesome on the surface is quite less so when one looks past all that. It doesn’t show up so much in TPE or the trilogy, but it shows up in a future Mendaihu Universe story: the enlightenment of the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu may be worth celebrating years after the events in the trilogy…but there’s an ugly undercurrent that never quite went away.
I was a latecomer to Hooverphonic’s first album, but I knew this track from hearing it all over the place. It’s a simple sci-fi sounding track that I thought would fit in with the rest of the mix. I may have thought about a side story using this song, but I never really got anywhere with it.
Rob Dougan, “Clubbed to Death [Kurayamino Variation]”
Yes, that song from The Matrix. I was completely sold on that film, because I’d always been frustrated by Hollywood’s inability to make an SF movie that wasn’t basically a horror or disaster movie with SF elements. This was a true science fiction film, even if it was filled to the brim with all kinds of action film tropes; it had a story you had to think about and figure out as you were watching it. It didn’t so much influence my own writing, as much as it confirmed that I was on the right path with my own story. This, of course, was my favorite track from the film.
…And that concludes the original four-volume Songs from the Eden Cycle mix! Hope you enjoyed it. I made a few ‘sequel’ mixes during the trilogy writing years, but I’ll share those at a later time. These four are the originals, the ones that I’d play on my tape deck in the car during the long commutes, the ones I’d listen to downstairs in the basement when writing. I’ll still throw them on now and again; sometimes I’ll even have them on my mp3 player that I use when I go to the gym.
Volume 3 of the Eden Cycle mixtapes was put together in November of 1997, right in the midst of the fourth quarter at HMV. I had a significant portion of The Phoenix Effect finished and a good handle on it all, so this mix was less about trying to figure out the characters as it was about trying to narrow down what kind of mood and setting I wanted. I was quite aware that I was writing a story where the actions had big circumstances. I understood that I didn’t want my characters to be acting in a void; whatever action took place, it was affecting more than the leads. The rest of the city had to respond as well, even if it was passive. The only way I could do this is to slowly but surely change the mood and the actions taking place within Bridgetown.
Volume 3, then, ended up being a study in trying to capture that idea; this time the mix wasn’t about the characters, but the setting itself. Thus it’s darker and more introspective than the previous two. The flow is a bit rough, and this was probably the mix I listened to least (unless I was listening to all four mixes chronologically), but there’s some excellent music on this one regardless.
Rabbit in the Moon, “OBE”
Originally a dance club hit back in 1994 (due in part to its brilliant use of sampling Tori Amos’ “Precious Things”), it got a second life as a track on the Urbal Beats Vol 1 techno compilation that came out in 1997. This was probably the height of the 90s electronica wave, and provided me a bit of moody futurism.
Shaï No Shaï, “Better with White”
This was an obscure French band I’d discovered via one of our many cd promos and listened to this quite a bit in the back room. This was also the height of the new age/Celtic folk boom (thank you, Riverdance), which gave me a lot of mystical background music for the more spiritual parts of my story.
Mansun, “Wide Open Space”
One of my coworkers handed me a copy of Attack of the Grey Lantern and I was completely hooked on the band. Latter-era Britpop, when all the party sheen has worn off to reveal that darker edge.
Whiskeytown, “Not Home Anymore”
Ryan Adams’ band before he went solo, Whiskeytown was part of the wave of alt-country bands like Wilco. I loved the creepiness of this song, the feeling of ghosts long departed. This would be part of a theme with spiritual travel in the book (such as characters traveling to Trisanda). Even though I had an idea of a soul’s transcendence from the body, I wanted a darker edge to it — there was always a reminder that things could go horribly wrong.
Lauren Christy, “Breed (Coda)”
A much slower, dirge-like version of her single that closes out the Breed album, this was another hint at that darker edge of spirit travel — the never-ending hunger to be connected to the body, no matter how far one wanted to transcend. I’d use a variation of this as a major plot point in The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light.
Another dark song…this time a feeling of displacement, of being somewhere you don’t want to be. The frustration of being aware of a situation you may not be able to handle alone. This was a reminder to myself that it wasn’t just about the main characters.
The Chemical Brothers, “Elektrobank” Dig Your Own Hole was crazy popular in 1997, and it’s no surprise, as it’s one hell of a great electronica album. My favorite track off it was partly due to its excellent Spike Jonze video, but I also loved how twitchy this song is — the extant energy within a spirit barely contained, begging to be let out. This theme was used a few times in TPE and once or twice in the trilogy, but I have more plans for it in future Mendaihu Universe stories!
Cocteau Twins, “The Thinner the Air”
One of my favorite CT album tracks, and one of their most dreamlike tracks. Another song inspiring the state of the soul: at rest, but always aware. I’d use that theme with Caren’s oft-spoken mantra throughout the trilogy, hra khera, hra mehra (to be here, to be at peace).
Seal, “Crazy [Acoustic/Instrumental Mix]”
One of my favorite tracks of the 90s, I chose this version as it flows better with the previous track…for me, it’s the moment when the already aware spirit finally chooses to take action. This happens numerous times in TPE as well as in the trilogy; sometimes the characters are forced into action, other times its out of desperation, but each time it’s a pivotal moment.
Jocelyn Pook, “Oppenheimer”
One of my favorite promos from this time is a compilation called Invocation that features spiritual songs from all different cultures and genres. This was my introduction to Jocelyn Pook, as well as the full speech from Robert Oppenheimer about the atomic bomb; many find ‘Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds’ is an ominous line, but I felt that ‘…I suppose we all thought that, one way or another’ really brings it home, chillingly, in terms of humanity taking responsibility for its actions. The theme of responsibility became a very strong one in the trilogy.
Forest for the Trees, “Dream”
Time to lighten the mood just a bit. This is the opposite of the previous track; this is celebrating what the responsible human spirit can do. I always made it a point to balance the two within the trilogy as much as I could. [And yes, I’m well aware that the main verse is stylistically incorrect.]
The Verve, “Bittersweet Symphony [James Lavelle Remix]”
This track was ubiquitous in 1997, and their biggest hit. I loved this version, having found it as a b-side to one of their other singles. Like the track before it, it’s a wish for the soul to reach out, to branch out, to move, even when all around is stasis. (James Lavelle would pop up later in 1998 as the leader of one of my favorite bands, UNKLE.)
Orbital, “The Box [Single Version]”
Another excellent electronica single of the era, this particular track’s twitchiness and minor key works with my theme of balance: even though the soul wants to reach out, it also needs to be aware of what it’s reaching for and what the outcome will be.
Another promo I fell in love with, Goodbye is a lovely synthpop album with some damn fine songs on them. This particular track resonated with me as feeling like the opening credits theme to a romantic anime series; I was still obsessed with anime then (it was still hard as hell to find through normal avenues) and the album was a good reminder of this story’s origins and how I wanted to portray it.
Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”
Interestingly, The Downward Spiral is an album I listened to constantly in the mid-90s, but I find it a hard listen to now, given how raw it is emotionally. This track is a perfect ending song for the album, though, considering it’s a song of, well, maybe not redemption, but acceptance. It’s dark as hell, but there’s hope at the end.
Pulusha, “Isolation, Pt 1”
Another track off the Invocation compilation, and the track that introduced me to Global Communication (whose member Mark Pritchard is behind this track). This is an especially important track for me, as it inadvertently helped me figure out a plot line I’d been fighting for a long time: when a character’s soul departs a body, what takes its place if the person is still alive? I’d been listening to this track when I finally figured out the answer: balance. Even as all the characters were seeing their world as Mihari or Misuteru, they were refusing to see that, deep down, they were in fact both; it’s just that culture has forced people to chose one or the other as dominant and the other as weakness. If one leaves, the other stays. This realization broke down a hell of a huge wall for me and cleared the way for the rest of the novel and the trilogy. In essence, this is when I came up with the cho-nyhndah theme.
Hope you enjoyed the mix! Volume 4 will come up soon, and I think you’ll like that one…there’s a hell of a lot of great tracks on that one.
This next mixtape was made a few months after Volume 1, when I had a little more of an idea of where I wanted to go with the story. The songs on this mix, then, were not about trying to evoke a specific mood; this was more about trying to figure out who my characters were.
There was a reason for this: in my previous projects, the characters were always based on someone. In the pre-1993 projects, they were usually inspired by certain traits of people I knew personally. For True Faith, I’d based characters on certain actors that I could see playing that role. For The Phoenix Effect, however, I wanted to do my homework. These characters would be true creations and not cameos.
George Harrison, “Isn’t It a Pity”
I’d always loved this track of George’s, and that summer while listening to All Things Must Pass, I realized this encapsulated some of Alec Poe’s views of humanity: so much potential, yet falling so short, so often. You don’t see it as much in the first two books of the trilogy, but it really comes to the fore in The Balance of Light.
The Smashing Pumpkins, “Tonight, Tonight”
Their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album had been a big seller at HMV during the winter of 1996 and this track had gotten a lot of airplay everywhere. [I particularly loved the Georges Méliès homage in the video, having studied A Trip to the Moon in college.] In reference to my story, this kind of hinted at how the Mihari (aka the Mendaihu) would approach being spiritually awakened; excited and curious.
Depeche Mode, “Home”
Another song connected to Alec Poe; the song, like a lot of Depeche Mode’s love songs, is deeply emotional yet extremely self-conscious. Poe has a hard time dealing with people sometimes, but his initial meeting with Akaina (even in TPE) changed all that.
Beck, “The New Pollution”
Back when the Mihari and Misuteru (aka the Mendaihu and Shenaihu) were awakened in AI bodies, this track fit pretty well as a simple yet effective ‘alone in a new world’ feel.
Tori Amos, “Little Earthquakes”
I’d been a passive Tori fan, but one day back in 1994 I’d heard a college station play this track, and I realized just how intensely beautiful the track was. I’d initially thought about using this as character development for Akaina, but soon realized it fit Saone Lehanna’s character so much better. A character who’d been changed against her will and had to deal with the consequences.
This would be a song for a bunch of the characters who had to deal with those new changes they’d gone through. This song in particular reminded me of those like Alec and Caren who had to come to terms with the fact that they were no longer exactly who they’d been just a short time ago. While some would accept it, others like Saone and Caren were angry.
Live, “White, Discussion”
And there are those who refused to give in so easily. This song inspired me to think of how to deal with the tension; conflict between the Mihari and Misuteru, conflict between the awakened and the unawakened. Even conflict in how ‘pure’ some people had become in spirit. The spiritual awakening of my story was not going to be a peaceful one.
Delirium, “Silence [feat. Sarah McLachlan]”
I’d gotten into a lot of new agey music around 1994-6, which partly influenced the worldbuilding of the Mendaihu Universe. There were also a wave of chillout electronica bands at the time (like Delerium, Enigma, and so on) that helped set the mood for various characters’ spiritual mindsets. Tracks like this one (which got a lot of airplay then) got me to think about how recently awakened characters would handle their situation. How would they see the world and those around them? How would they balance what they were sensing psychically versus using their other five senses?
Sneaker Pimps, “Post-Modern Sleaze” Becoming X is another album on my platinum album playlist, especially for its gloomy triphop sound. I didn’t use this track for any character in particular, but it did fit both Akaina’s and Saone’s situations.
Republica, “Ready to Go [US Mix]”
One of the first cds I bought from HMV when I started! I liked the energy in this track; fast forward and unrelenting. This was more a mindset of who I would see living in the McCleever and Waterfront Districts. This is what I meant by the original opening of TPE, with Nehalé witnessing the unbridled, directionless energy that evening.
Stabbing Westward, “What Do I Have to Do?”
Their second album Wither Blister Burn & Peel got a lot of play during my post-Boston, pre-HMV era, when I was still trying to figure out what to write next. This ended up being a good balance with the previous track; while the former is positive and uplifting, this one is negative and angry. The spirits Nehalé felt that he was afraid of.
Sarah Brightman, “Cape Horn/A Salty Dog”
I knew this was a cover of a Procol Harum track about sailing, but Sarah Brightman’s classy, poppy version made me think of an anime I’d seen a few years previous (I’d forgotten the name) that had a wonderfully exciting (and a bit cheesy) sequence of a giant spaceship setting out towards the stars. This brought to mind an image of the Meraladians making their way to Earth, and the Earthers making their way back to Trisanda eons later.
The The, “Good Morning Beautiful”
It was around this time that I realized that spiritual balance was an interesting theme worth investigating in my new universe. Matt Johnson’s devastating warning about being a passive believer raised a hell of a lot of questions for me, questions that would become central to the Bridgetown trilogy.
Elton John, “Believe”
That same theme is brought up here, though in a much more positive way; the question here isn’t whether one wants to let belief take over; it’s now what it is that they’re letting take over. In this case, it’s love and compassion. That would be the Mihari/Mendaihu tenet from here on in.
Soul Asylum, “Black Gold”
This one is a holdover from the 1993 Vigil story. The lyrics ‘this flat land used to be a town’ gave me the idea of setting a story in the far future; not just with sciencey gadgets and everything, but with the disintegration and disappearance of the old historical parts of the world. I’d use this later with True Faith (with NewCanta as an enclosed circular city) and especially with the trilogy (with Bridgetown as a megacity and the idea of small towns becoming Wilderland outposts).
Joy Askew, “Corrine”
A sort of rewrite of “Dear Prudence” in a way, and a track that had popped up on a promo compilation I’d gotten from the record store. I liked the idea of having a character who’d kept themselves shut up for a length of time — not out of mental instability but because they were afraid of what they’d become — and I later realized this is what Caren Johnson would be like.
I’d known about Phish since my college years when my freshman year roommate played Lawn Boy incessantly, but it wasn’t until Billy Breathes that I finally got into them. This is one of their rare tracks that ended up getting a lot of radio airplay, but it’s a great track nonetheless. I used this to balance out the previous track; while the former was about hiding from oneself, this was about celebrating it. This is what Caren so desperately wanted to be.
Hope you enjoyed this mixtape! As you can tell, I was still trying to figure out not just the story but who was involved in it, and how they’d evolve. The next volume is a bit similar in that regard, but the themes are a little more stable and less meandering. By Volume 4 (my favorite of them), I knew exactly what I wanted.
The TDK D90 blank cassette. My tape of choice for almost all of my 90s mixtapes.
One thing I’d always done during the course of a writing project is to give it a soundtrack. Whether it’s a playlist, a list of specific albums, or a mixtape, it serves to create a specific mood that I’m looking for. With The Phoenix Effect, having envisioned this as a multi-book project even then, I’d given the series the name The Eden Cycle (referencing both obvious religious imagery and EdenTree, a megacorporation that would be a part of the plot). It seemed fitting to give the mixtapes the same title.
At the time, my idea had been of souls inhabiting AI cybernetic bodies — which in hindsight created a lot more trouble than it was worth — so the imagery I was looking for was much darker and creepier. That said, however, I chose not to focus on dystopian pessimism; instead I wanted my story to ascend past that into something positive.
This is the first of four mixtapes I made during 1997-8; this one was made in mid-April of 1997, just before I went on a road trip out to Ohio to visit a friend of mine. One of the major reasons for making it was so I could listen to it during my commute and think about what I was going to write. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing the other three original volumes from this era. The links are to their YouTube/Vimeo videos (they’ll open in a separate tab), and I’ll also provide a brief background as to why I chose the song for the mix.
Poe, “Hello [Band Version]”
I liked Poe’s Hello album, but the kickass single remake of the song felt like a perfect opening to a mix tape. It fit in with the cyberpunk feel of TPE that I was originally aiming for as well. An ‘opening credits’ song, if you will.
Failure, “Heliotropic” Fantastic Planet was getting a crapton of play on my cd players, both at work and at home during my writing sessions. This track’s spaciness, loudness and extremely heavy, crunchy bass evoked the exact amount of tension I was looking for. It had that feeling of being outside on the brightest day with the heaviest of hangovers.
U2, “Mofo” Pop was still getting a lot of play as well, and I loved how twitchy this one was. I used this track as a kind of gauge to remind me of how Bridgetown felt on a spiritual energy level: a sprawl of millions of people, each with different levels and directions of this energy, all dissonant and discordant.
David Bowie, “Dead Man Walking”
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest of Bowie collectors — I think I only owned maybe five or six releases, tops — but Earthling (released earlier in 1997) connected with me big time. I loved its techno influences and its paranoia. This track fit my image of Nehalé: a man who was destined to take a specific action that would affect a vast number of people, and he had to force himself to come to terms with that.
Psykosonik, “Need to Die”
There was a brief surge of darkwave techno in the mid to late 90s (super-generalization: darkwave = gothy electronica) that I got into, and Psykosonik’s Unlearn was handed to me by one of my HMV coworkers (Thanks, Doug!). I put this here mostly as a mood piece, but I did like how it fit in with one of the TPE themes: people didn’t necessarily have to die to be reborn spiritually.
Live, “Lakini’s Juice”
Another mood piece, this one suggesting (to me) discomfort in a situation one could find themselves in. I believe I used this as inspiration for Poe’s constant irritation at not being able to complete tasks put before him.
Elysian Fields, “Lady in the Lake”
Their Bleed Your Cedar album was handed to me as a promo, and I liked its swampy feel. The album (and this track) helped me focus on how a recently awakened character would have to deal with their situation; both feeling disconnected from everyone (I’m the only one like this) and superconnected (I can intimately sense everyone around me) at the same time.
Moby, “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”
As a Masshole, I had to appreciate Moby covering the Mission of Burma classic (as well as putting out a punk album, considering he’s more known as an electronic musician). Just like the original, this song was a perfect example of dedicated and determined nonconformity that fit in with Vigil.
The Verve Pipe, “Veneer”
Not that long before this, I’d seen this band live in Boston, and they did a beautiful and transcendent version of this track (which, as it happens, is about a long road trip through Michigan while high). To me, it evoked a sensation of being elsewhere; in the process it inspired how I had my characters react when they first visited Trisanda.
Richard Einhorn, Anonymous 4, “Exclamavit”
I’d heard Einhorn’s Voices of Light on NPR one evening when I was driving into Boston in the summer of 1995, and I was completely floored by the gorgeousness of it. [It was inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc and can be heard as its soundtrack on the Criterion dvd.] I wasn’t the biggest orchestral music fan at the time, but this slowly set me on my way. This particular opening felt like another good ‘opening credits’ piece, and thus opens Side B of the tape.
Pulp, “Common People”
The album version of their classic single is a much more sinister affair than the single version (there’s an additional verse that truly reveals the disgust he holds back in the rest of the song). While the plot of the song doesn’t quite fit the plot of my story, it does reflect the bigoted view of The Other that was part of my story’s plot.
There’s a great Lennon tribute album called Working Class Hero from 1995 that I listened to a lot then, and I loved this version of the Plastic Ono Band track. This ties in with the previous Pulp track, a forced cultural disconnect that one can only accept for so long before one has to fight back.
The Offspring, “Gone Away”
Part of the reason this one was on here is that I heard it so many times during that Ohio road trip! Again, tension and discord. This time because something’s been taken away and you can’t do a damn thing about it.
Filter, “Hey Man, Nice Shot”
This track inspired my love for the Slow Build: starting off quiet and sparse, but gradually growing louder and more intense in energy. The original Chapter 1 of The Phoenix Effect used this song as a template, which carried all the way to the opening of A Division of Souls. The ADoS opening is supposed to feel like someone slowly turning the volume louder and louder until it climaxes in an intense burst of energy.
Okay, how many times is this track on one of my mixtapes? One of my favorite songs of all time, and even at the start of the project I knew it would be the Ending Credits track to my story. [NOTE: I’m planning on writing a script of the ‘director’s cut’ for the ending of A Division of Souls and posting it over at the Bridgetown blog later this month, which uses this song as its soundtrack.] The story is done, everyone’s exhausted, and the day has been saved…but the fight is far from over…and roll credits. [Seriously, folks…go buy Fantastic Planet. It’s a fucking phenomenal record.]
U2, “Wake Up Dead Man”
A denouement track after the epic ending track preceding. I knew TPE was going to end on an unresolved note, leaving it wide open for its sequel. The day has been saved, but the work’s not over. Relationships between certain characters have been strained or broken; others have refused to give in so easily. For me, this song is a plea for the war to cease before it goes too far. [I never forgot this idea and eventually used it in The Balance of Light.]
The Tragically Hip, “Grace, Too”
Canada’s favorite band with one of their favorite hits, which I remember seeing on MuchMusic back in 1994 (partly because I loved that the video was created using monitor feedback). A lift from the previous song, in which we shift viewpoint to someone who knows they’re in the lower classes but still has high hopes for themselves. This idea would later become the gathering of the Mendaihu at the Moulding Warehouse in A Division of Souls.
Jamiroquai, “Virtual Insanity”
…and after all that, ending on a slightly more positive note (somewhat), the final track brings a kind of…well, not hope, but an awareness. This was a big plot point even in TPE: the characters had to become completely aware of their situation, where the conflict wasn’t in trying to figure it out, but in coming to terms with it and choosing either use it, abuse it, or avoid it as long as they could.
Hope you enjoyed my little bit of tunage sharing there! I’ll be following up with the other three volumes in the original series soon!
Say what you will about U2’s Pop, it’s an interesting album to say the least. It’s not quite an extension of their electronica-influenced albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa (or their foray into deliberate non-commercial territory under the Passengers moniker, Original Soundtracks 1) as it’s a deliberate side-step. It’s twitchy in places, barren in others. They freely admit that it was an unfinished album, a record they should have spent more time on, had they not had a major tour to prepare for.
It’s not their strongest, but I still enjoy it. It kind of reminds me of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire in a way, as it sounds like a band in the middle of evolving. I remember when it was about to come out while I was at HMV; the PGD sales rep (back when U2 was distributed by PolyGram) was obviously trying to upsell it because hey — Big Name Band, right? But he knew he couldn’t quite pull it off. He was let down by it, having felt it was one of their weakest albums. Well…in the context of their career path, when you hit the stratosphere with The Joshua Tree and you keep getting more ridiculously popular, any move aside from UP seems like a step down. And to most critics, this one felt like a severe misstep.
To be honest, I felt the exact opposite about it. I was actually let down by Zooropa, having felt that album was more like Achtung Baby Outtakes Wot Weren’t B-Sides. Pop felt a lot stronger and more cohesive to me. It ended up being one of the first albums that received heavy rotation during my first round of writing sessions when I started The Phoenix Effect. I kind of liked its similarity to the Beatles’ White Album…it starts off pretty strong with “Discotheque” and “Do You Feel Loved”…and progressively gets stranger and darker as the album goes on. The final track, “Wake Up Dead Man” is the polar opposite of its opening track; one is dense and trippy, the other is wiry and exhausted. The whole flow of the album works perfectly for me.
This was precisely what I needed for my writing session soundtracks! I wanted to hear something that was a little left of commercial, something strong but not singles-oriented, something that had ambience. Something that inspired the tension that I’d need in the new novel I was writing.
My writing nook down in my parents’ basement (it wasn’t called the Belfry yet…that name wouldn’t come for another few years) was right near the bottom of the stairs, using one of my uncles’ old desks and one of my dad’s dusty rolling desk chairs. I had my Windows 3.1 PC that I’d bought with my own tax return money and a big heavy CRT monitor donated by my sister. I didn’t even have Word 97 at that time, as I don’t think it would have fit on the system…I wrote everything using the Write program instead, and that worked just fine for me.
When I brought my longhand work home from the Day Job, I’d sit down at the PC and start transcribing what I’d written. This is pretty much where I taught myself how to revise; I knew I’d have to flesh out a lot of what I’d written, so I figured that was the perfect time for it. I’d figure out what tone I was trying to capture with the prose and expand on it. And sometimes, the instant revision would give me an idea of what I’d need to write the following day.
It was a learning process the entire time, and I knew I’d want a writing soundtrack to go with it. Pop was one of the first, and pretty much stayed with me for a good number of years until the single novel morphed into the Bridgetown Trilogy.
The other day Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said the following on CNN:
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuesday said Americans may have to choose between purchasing a new iPhone or paying for health insurance.
“You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” the House Oversight Committee chairman told CNN’s New Day, one day after the House GOP unveiled its plan to replace ObamaCare.
“And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”
As you can well imagine, the blowback on social media was swift and deafening. The one thing you do not want to argue with a poor person is whether or not they deserve something you deem frivolous. You do not want to kick down, because they’ll kick you right back even harder. [Noted, he did attempt to walk back the comment, but his follow-up was still basically “you poor folk will still need to go without Fun Stuff if you want to be healthy.”]
Why do I bring this up here at Walk in Silence? What does this have to do with my obsession with music, anyway? [And for a very slight few of you: oh god why is he bringing up politics and ruining an otherwise decent blog?]
Let me tell you a little about my post-college years, from mid-1993 to late 1996. Yeah, I’ve talked about this before in previous entries, but rarely in detail. Stay with me on this.
See, when you’re too damn fucking broke, you’ve got student loan debt, the average apartment rent in Boston at the time is around $400-500 a month, your paycheck averages around $200 every two weeks at a job that you don’t necessarily want but is what’s available for someone with little to no business experience, but you’re absofuckinglutely determined to make a name for yourself somewhere in the working world…you do any damn thing you can to make it happen.
You survive on take-out and what groceries you can skim from your parents. You borrow money from your parents to attempt getting caught up. You defer those loan payments. You maybe skip a payment on the credit card so you can buy food for yourself. You deal with a long-distance relationship because your girlfriend is too broke to stay in town for the summer and has to live with her mom for the season, which means the only mode of contact is writing letters and, very rarely, a phone call.
And because of your committed career choice as a writer, with absolutely no publications to show for it just yet, and you’re still learning the ropes, you know you’ll need a Day Job to cover expenses. And pretty quickly you know you have no interest in business sales — you dislike trying to sell something to someone that you yourself aren’t interested in (in this case, a telemarketing job selling toll-free numbers to small businesses), and you really dislike the idea of having to aim for a quota in order to keep your job. You briefly entertain a position doing transcription, but you don’t really have the ear or the speed for that. So that means you’ll end up working at some blue collar establishment, like an ice cream parlor, or a movie theater. You’re not above that; it’s what you’ve done for day jobs in the past.
You were on your parents’ insurance until you graduated back in May of 1993. You don’t even fucking think of entertaining that expense, because you know you won’t even be able to afford it. Not without cutting elsewhere. Like moving back home with the family. They’ll have you, of course, but you’d feel like such a goddamned failure because you graduated with a BA from college and can’t even get a fucking career off the ground, let alone living in a city where all the jobs (what there are of them) may actually be.
So. No insurance. Low-paying job. Hardly any food in the refrigerator. All your college friends have moved on and left the city. The only thing that you get by on is a pack of cigarettes that you make last for two weeks or so, water, tea and instant coffee, toast or cereal, and food that you didn’t pay for from your Day Job (hot dogs and soda is a frequent dinner, with a chaser of popcorn).
Your next door neighbor, a guy you know from college who’s living comfortably on his own due to having rich parents (he owns a number of kind-of-expensive toys from Sharper Image to prove it). He’s your only friend of note at the moment, and even at that point he’s more of a clueless prick than a friend. He wonders why you won’t come out with him to dinner at that restaurant or to see that movie, even when you tell him repeatedly that you can’t afford it. He wonders why you won’t splurge on things you need, considering you have a credit card and all. And because he’s pretty much the only person you know in the city to any degree, he’s your hangout buddy. And because you don’t know what else to do with your miserable fucking life, he’ll easily talk you into doing things that get you deeper into debt.
You’ll make one stop at Beth Israel Hospital one early winter morning early in 1995 when you have an insanely sharp pain in your groin area and you have no idea what’s causing it. You have no insurance, so when you’re filling out the hospital forms, you say you have no frigging idea how to pay for it, if at all. You tough it out and decide to be a charity case. After staying overnight at the hospital (where you’ve been shoved aside and left out in the hallway for hours before some intern comes by and finally realizes you haven’t been seen), you’re told that the pain is caused by an overlong twisted vein that’s been starved of blood. Not caused by an injury or anything…just a weird medical issue that can happen to any male. Things are readjusted and you’re given the information that to permanently fix it, you’ll need to have a minor surgery done.
You already know that’s out of the fucking question. You deal with it, get discharged, walk to the subway and ride home. You call in sick (no sick time pay, by the way) and take the day off. [You won’t get that fixed until two years later when it flares up again, and thankfully this time you have insurance to take care of it. And sick time.]
Eventually this will all come to a head in the summer of 1995, when your original plan to renew your lease in that apartment in Allston falls through. No roommates (your original roomie moves out, the replacement backs out), no phone (cut off due to overdue bills), hardly any food (which your ex-roommate ate anyway), and still no way to get ahead.
You finally make the decision, say fuck this shit, and move back home with your parents, which you will do for the next decade, just so you can get caught up with bills again and fix your completely decimated credit rating. It’s the most frustrating, the most depressing, the most goddamn aggravating decision you’ve ever made in your life.
What was all that about, anyway? And what does that have to do with Jason Chaffetz’s complete lack of empathy? And why here at Walk in Silence?
See, there was in fact one thing that kept me from going batshit crazy, from wanting to jump off a bridge, from wanting me to do something truly and colossally stupid. Something that kept me sane.
And that was music.
Not a day went by when I didn’t have the radio going, or was listening to my music collection. It was my one splurge. It was my sanity. My sanctuary. I rarely bought new releases, as I could only afford them every couple of months, and a few titles at that. No, I built up my vinyl collection by digging through the dollar bins at the used record stores around town. I had a pretty decent collection of classic rock and sort-of-recent releases at a fraction of the cost.
To a lesser extent, I’d also rent movies every couple of weeks from Tower Records. Those were cheap, maybe a few dollars for an overnight rental every couple of weeks. Did I feel guilty about that? Not one bit. It was how I rediscovered anime which inspired me to try my hand at writing science fiction instead of literary fiction. It completely opened my eyes and my mind to new creative avenues in my writing, and started me on the path to where I am today.
But the point here is: music was my sanctuary. It was one of the very few positives in my life at that time.
Did I make some dumb financial mistakes? Sure. We all do at that age. Maybe I could have sold more of my albums back to the stores for money — something I did a few times, actually — but that was just a temporary, finite answer to an ongoing problem. It gave me pocket money for one run to the supermarket for food. Could I have done without the music or the video rentals? Sure, but I probably would have been a hell of a lot more miserable than I already was.
Music was the inspiration for my writing. It was something I chose to afford because it gave me something to look forward to. It was something that helped me feel that little bit happier when I was going through a hell of a deep depression. It reminded me that there was a light at the end of this very dark tunnel.
And I would not let my finances, or anyone else for that matter, take that one oasis away from me. No fucking way.
This is why — this is one of many reasons why — when I hear from asshats like Chaffetz who decide that poor people must ‘do without’, even for things such as phones — which keep people connected to the world and help them stay available and contactable for job openings, health screenings, and loved ones — I get extremely angry and my filter goes out the goddamn window.
You, Jason, do not fucking understand what it is to live your live on the margins with barely a way to get yourself out. Not one goddamn clue.
If you haven’t seen my recent post over at Welcome to Bridgetown, I’m currently celebrating the platinum anniversary of my starting a novel (The Phoenix Effect) that would end up morphing into my Bridgetown trilogy. All this month I will be posting fun things related to the original as well as the trilogy, and I thought I’d do the same over here.
Twenty years ago I was a few months in on my relatively new job as the lone shipper/receiver at HMV Records. Even though I was one of the oldest hires there (I’m pretty sure I was closer to my manager Tom’s age than the young’uns I worked alongside), I was still feeling my way around.
The biggest change from the years previous was that I had a much closer connection to the music I was listening to. I was listening to a lot of radio at the time but didn’t have that much money to spend on new releases, but this job let me listen to a lot more stuff (and yes, I may have dubbed a number of cds onto blank cassettes while in the back room, heh!).
But the sounds were changing as well. The bright bounciness of Britpop was suffering from hangovers and bloating (see: Oasis’ Be Here Now, a solid but WAY overworked album); the American grunge was kind of losing its way (not to mention some of its lead singers to overdoses), and let’s face it: the college rock I knew of then was essentially the commercial rock of now.
That’s not to say the quality (or quantity) of alternative rock was declining…it was merely evolving with the times. In fact, 1997 featured some fantastic, solid releases from bands both old and new, taking the genre in new and interesting directions.
On a personal level this was a positive and much-needed evolution for me, as I’d been in dire need of a change in my life and outlook. I’d been broke, angry and depressed for about three years straight, gone through some personal issues that were Not Fun At All, and needed a positive change ASAP.
Not only that, this change in mood is reflected in my writing. I’d essentially started a new project resurrected from the ashes of one that I had to close down for personal reasons. And let’s be brutally honest: back then, I’d had a collegiate view of being a writer. I was a special snowflake with the Powers of Story [insert sprinkly *whoosh* sfx here] and I wrote Important Life Allegories™. In reality, however…my writing was crap, I knew it was crap, no one was going to take it seriously, and I was going to need to be a shit ton better than the level I was currently at if was going to get anywhere with it.
So that meant dispensing with the mindset of Writing as Superpower and take it seriously. Making it a daily process instead of a casual one. Relearning the basics of story construction. (This included doing a hell of a lot more reading than before; not just the how-to writing books, but the different genres of fiction and nonfiction I was interested in. This plan kick-started my habit of visiting book stores on the weekends and, thankfully, a love of reading.)
Music has always been a part of my writing process, and this time it was no different. This time out I’d be making mixtapes of tracks that would inspire my writing (the four-volume Songs from the Eden Cycle from 1997-8, the sort-of sequels in the early 2000s, and the recent Eden Cycle Sessions mp3 playlists). Certain albums released during this time would get heavy rotation play on my cd player down in my basement writing nook. And I’d listen to a hell of a lot of stuff on my fifty-mile commute, which was always a perfect time for me to brainstorm.
I’d made a decision to be a writer quite early in my life, but 1997 was when I decided to take that decision seriously.