My parents had an impressive collection of records that miraculously survived the torture of ten moves. As a collection, they found themselves stored properly in cabinets, not so properly in crates, sadly in cardboard boxes, and at one point, they were (gasp) stacked one on top of the other. They were kept in apartments with no air conditioning, in houses with swamp coolers, and in basements. In addition, they were suffered to be handled by young children. I like to think that my brother and I handled them with the utmost care and respect, but you’d have to ask the records themselves if that’s true. I haven’t seen them in fifteen years, so honestly couldn’t tell you if any survived to entertain my niece and nephew.
My mom used to play Yes and the Alan Parson’s Project, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. And her love of rock and roll didn’t get stuck in the 70s. In the 80s, she was listening to Cheap Trick, Guns and Roses, and Midnight Oil. In the 90s, she stole my brother’s Metallica tape and the Stone Temple Pilots from girlfriend. Once, she explained who Alice in Chains was to a young woman who was wearing an AIC tee-shirt at the time. The girl wasn’t a fan of the Seattle scene, and it is my understanding that she never wore the shirt again. Anyhow, if it’s got a beat she can dance to, Mom likes it. (Please note that I am not calling any of this ‘dance music’. I said that she can dance to it…and she does. A lot.)
She had one album called “The Point” by Henry Nilsson. I remember it well because it introduced me to “metaphor.” Nilsson got the idea while tripping on acid. He was looking at trees and saw they all had points. The branches all had points. The houses around him all had points. So, he wrote a story about a boy named Oblio…who wore a pointy hat to conceal the fact that he had a round head. In the end, Oblio has a pointy head and everyone else in the kingdom is pointless. Nilsson’s point is that everything has a point, even pointless things. I haven’t listened to the story in years. I recall it now only through a familiar stream of consciousness…music reminds me of my mom, and once I get to her records, “The Point” is never far behind.
Dream Theater was the first band that was “all mine.” My parents didn’t listen to them. My brother didn’t either. None of my friends had heard of them. In fact, I bought Images and Words in 1994 by mistake. I had heard a song in my friend’s car, really liked it, and when I looked at the BMG catalog, I saw Dream Theater in it and thought, “That’s them!” When I listened to the CD, I realized that I was very wrong. But, like I said…grew up with Alan Parsons Project and progressive rock. I loved Dream Theater in an instant. I couldn’t tell you what the song I was looking for was now. I never found it.
Over the years, I’ve listened to Dream Theater while working on homework, slaving over art projects, and writing. I would put the Awake disc on repeat and listen to it for days. Later, when MP3s came along, I would put all of the albums into a single playlist and loop them. Until I heard Tori Amos and fell in love with her angst, Dream Theater was the largest piece of my music collection. Years later it would come as a huge shock to me that I missed the release of Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which dropped in June of 2009. How I didn’t get my hands on it until November is completely beyond me.
I had just started working on January Black, (two whole weeks into NaNo!). It was a Wednesday night; CSI:NY was on television. My laptop was open and I was listening to the new album. On the second or third loop, a lyric ripped me right off my train of thought. I stopped the song. I paused the TV. I saved my file, opened up YouTube and called up the video for “A Rite of Passage
.” As usual with Dream Theater’s concept videos, I found it corny. But those lines that had snagged me sewed the seed for Matty’s journey:
Beneath an ever watchful eye
The angels of the Temple fly
Turn the key, walk through the gate
The great ascent to reach a higher state, a rite of passage
Dream Theater will play a role in “Gossamer” and “Virgo” as well. I don’t know which song(s) will inspire me, but one always does.
For January Black, I had a shorter play list than usual. This is due to playing to the list on my laptop (with a few hundred songs) opposed to my iPod (with every song collectively owned by my husband and myself.) The laptop has mostly albums I’ve purchased in the past few years, and since having a kid and picking up gardening, I haven’t put nearly as much money into music as I used to.
I follow Apocalyptica pretty religiously. I buy their new albums as they’re released. On the iPod, I would listen to all of their albums on random and looped, but while working on January Black, I listened mostly to Reflections while writing and 7th Symphony while editing. The video for Faraway vol. 2, featuring Linda Sunblad, had enchanted me years ago. (Unlike Dream Theater, their concept videos are never corny.) The band dressed as Bedouin and played their cellos in the sand for Sunblad, wearing a flowing white dress. They let the desert wing provide the drama. A snake makes a cameo. I watched the video every so often while approaching a critical scene in the middle third of the book, seeking to capture Iris’s concern. Sunblad does it with one line:
Some songs end up on my playlist for practical reasons. Since becoming a mom, it has become necessary to entertain my child while working. I write while he’s eating cereal. After watching an episode of House where the title character is listening to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” I thought that my son would enjoy the piano solo at the beginning. I underestimated just how much. I ended up playing it multiple times in a row, every time I opened my laptop, for more than a year.
Also requested by my child was “Rah-Rah Ah-Ah-Ah.” If you say it out loud, you may recognize Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” I have two versions of the song on my laptop, both in my January Black play list. My son knows them both well enough to make a distinction between them and request his favorite, “The Guy Rah-Rah,” he says, referring to Sam Tsui’s version. The Glee kids are “The Friends’ Rah-Rah” and he can take or leave them. After playing Tsui’s Lady Gaga Medley daily at breakfast for two Christmas vacations in a row, my dear sister-in-law advised me that I was enforcing obsessive-compulsive behavior. I see her point, but shortly afterward, he simply stopped requesting either song. I miss hearing him say “Rah Rah Ah-Ah-Ah,” but his eyes still light up when he hears “Bad Romance,” so I can’t be too upset.
Other songs end up on my playlist to establish a tone for me. Taylor Swift is well represented. “Love Story” reminded me on every play that Matty and Iris are teenagers and so is the intended audience. Meanwhile, tracks like “You’re Not Sorry” provided me with angst in Iris’s voice. (I mean that literally. Taylor was her character model.)
Some, like Christian Kane’s “Thinking of You” are present to keep me on task. Every play of that song reminded me that my young lovers, though apart, weren’t done yet. Every time I toyed with alternate endings, I would listen to this song and tell myself that I was happy with the ending. Getting to the end needed work, but the end was done.
Finally, there’s filler, in this case provided by Glee. While writing January Black, I acquired four volumes of Glee. The songs are fun, and the production value is exceptionally high. Some of the songs are better than the originals. But what I really like about the albums is the diverse range of genres represented, performed with show choir creativity. I could spend hours looking for such a group of songs, but the show has done it for me, which is great, because I have better things to do than build playlists.