My writing habits require me to either have music or have silence when I’m working. And, I don’t know which I will need when I’m starting to work.
There’s a reason why I tend to work late at night-it’s quiet and I get to choose if I want music or not, and what kind of music I want. The trick is…what music do I want to listen to when I’m working, when I need music?
The biggest thing is that it has to be connected to how I’m writing. Not always perfectly, but I have collected long lists of songs that fit what I need in terms of mood, pacing, and what makes me smile when I’m trying to handle scenes and big dance numbers (i.e. fights).
There’s no particular organization to this list, beyond “top ten” and the reasons why I enjoy them in terms of how I write. And, of course, links so you can listen to it yourself and enjoy it in full.
In The Air Tonight
Let’s be clear, I’m a fan of both the original Phil Collins version and the Protoman cover of this song. Just the pacing and the lyrics are perfect for anything from traveling through Miami, preparing for the good old fashioned mega-violence, or even old enemies getting together to face the true threat. And that’s what works for me when I listen to songs and music, it’s the images that come into my head when I’m listening to the music.
In fact, if I ever become a Real Author™ and somehow get to write a Monster Hunter novel in Larry Correa’s universe, there is this one scene that I have paced out in my head, right down to the arrival using this song.
There were so many songs from the Ghost In The Shell movie soundtrack that just fit the movie perfectly, and you have the dilemma of picking just one…Nightstalker is that song. The sound of the low-speed chase, the melancholy of Major Kusanagi that she’s been dealing with in the entire movie about her own identity as she goes to rescue the Puppetmaster that has been stalking her as much as she’s been stalking them…and the music being done on both artificial and traditional Japanese instruments gives the whole thing an otherworldly air. An air that makes you wonder how it’s going to end, and if the ending is going to even be remotely happy.
The whole album is worth listening to, especially Ghost City, Making of Cyborg, and Floating Museum. It’s not what you expect from a cyberpunk classic…and that’s what makes it awesome.
If there was one movie that I could just say “this is how the Old World of Darkness should have been,” The Crow was that movie. The stylized design of the city it was set in, how it was paced, how the cast acted…it made me extremely sad and upset that it cost Brandon Lee his life to make this movie.
One of the things that made this move work so well was the soundtrack. In many ways, the soundtrack was an introduction for many people to Seattle’s grunge movement, punk, goth, and many other artists. And, one of these artists was The Cure. And the song that they had on the album, Burn, was the very platonic ideal of the “superhero preparing for the fight” song. The scene that the song was used for was superbly done in the implications of every act that the newly resurrected Eric Draven did worked out perfectly with the music.
For some reason, I keep remembering that the band hated the song and never really liked playing it or having fans refer to it. I can’t find any evidence for this rumor, but not for a lack of looking.
It does make for a great entry song for people to discover The Cure, so that’s something.
Nine Inch Nails is one of those bands that I have a love/hate relationship with. When they work, they work. When they don’t, they really don’t. And, Trent Razor is the reason for this-when he’s good, he’s great. When he’s bad, he’s terrible.
Another song from The Crow soundtrack, Dead Souls is from the scene of Eric chasing down his first target, Tin Tin. And, the pacing just works out so perfectly that every single time I think of an urban chase scene over rooftops, this song pops up.
It rumbles like an elevated Chicago train. It rolls down the streets like Detroit iron, the power of classic American muscle cars back in the day when they were powerful and terrifying lumps of animated metal. You can imagine the stalk from above and it doesn’t matter who is doing it. It could be the reincarnation of vengeance. It could be the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. It could be the Detective. But, you can see them in your mind’s eye…just out of sight. Just out of reach.
I first started hearing this instrumental on Cold Case, which was a very interesting concept for a show. Nara has this very interesting pace to it, what I call “revelational music.” It builds up, you hear more and more until you hit the point of revelation. This is the “ah ha!” moment, the build up to the climax of the scene and the episode, and then…you have the full revelations and the release that the revelations give you.
It’s beautiful in that regard. It makes you enjoy the discovery and the revelations.
I have a love/hate relationship with Yoko Kanno.
I hate that there isn’t more of her music for me to love.
Yes, listening to her is like getting hit over the head with a sock full of Johnny Quest. But, she’s made the songs that I consider to be the soundtrack of my life.
From National Anthem of Macross (which makes you feel patriotic for a country that doesn’t exist at all) to Tank! (which still makes me want to see cowboys), her music runs a gamut that if there is something you want to hear, it’s there. It’s out there. You just have to find it.
But, one song that I keep coming back to, that I keep thinking about for an anime opening theme is from Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex, and it is the starting theme for the 2nd GIG series, Rise.
Why? A lot of reasons-
Mixture of Russian and English? Check.
Vaguely military/action tone? Check
Ties into a cyberpunk anime that I still love, even if it’s nearly twenty years old at this point? Oh, yes, a definite check.
It’s the mash-up, the sheer glee of mixed connections that was an important part of the ethos of Stand Alone Complex that makes it wonderful to listen to, and to pace out ideas for my stories.
Them And Us
Another song from Trent Razor, with his collaboration with Atticus Ross, for the movie Patriots Day, Them and Us is the sort of song that you listen to because it’s the soundtrack of a thousand grubby little criminal acts and drug deals. The ones that have gone wrong, the covers blown off agents deep in the cold. And, trying to escape consequences.
The off-tone sounds of “normality,” building up a little faster and a little louder. We know something is about to go wrong, something is about to break bad, but we don’t know what.
We get another track in, jacketing up the tension. Things get tighter and tighter…then, something just pops…and now there are the consequences. And then, everybody spirals off into the dark and the cold, a little more broken than they were at the start.
Let me be clear, if there is a better man on the electric guitar than Mark Knophler, you’re going to have to do a lot to prove it to me. From his solo work to his time as the front of Dire Straits, his music is a part of the soundtrack of my life and I could pretty much make a list of the ten songs of his that I like the most. And there will be a lot of songs.
Anyways, there are two songs that I want to share on this list, and Local Hero might not be the one that you expect. Written for the movie of the same name, the song is just Mark Knophler letting go with his full range of guitar skills. It is a bit melancholy, then a bit happy, then just…triumphant. It’s wonderful to listen to, and it’s just great.
It’s just so British, and it is so much the story of that little village on the coast and all of the quirky characters there.
On Every Street
This one is a sadder song, because it could pretty much be the last Dire Straits song ever. And it makes me sad because I could have gotten concert tickets to their last show as a band, but it was either that or buy dinner for the girl I was going out with at the time (and she dumped me two weeks later). So, there’s additional melancholy to this song.
But, for how the band ended, it’s just perfect. On Every Street has great lyrics, the perfect pacing and that last guitar solo…you listen to it, and you realize that it’s just exactly what you wanted.
One of my biggest mental quirks is “music to scene” translation, and every time I listen to On Every Street, I can tell you the script and the blocking for how I would end the very last episode of CSI (the original one in Vegas). It has a “where are they now” montage, the last scene where Grissom actually does spit it out with Sara, and just the guitar solo where they drive through Vegas and leave together, happy.
Seriously, listen to it and just think about how you would want a happy ending. Bit of melancholy, but that makes the happy even better.
The Garden of Allah
I’ve got a thing for “last songs from an artist,” it seems. It might not have been Don Henley’s last single, but it’s the last one that I can really recall from him, from the Actual Miles album. It’s a song that, according to Henley, is “is presented as a modern-day fable in which the Devil discovers he has become obsolete.” And, The Garden of Allah is the song that I think of when I think of 1990’s Hollywood and 1990’s LA.
It’s the time when the ‘50s and ‘60s facade of a city that had so many possibilities fell apart. When so much of the military infrastructure-from bases to military contractors to support industries-closed or left and the only thing that was left was the entertainment industry. And, the entertainment industry always had issues with understanding what reality actually is. It doesn’t help that politicians also have an issue with the concept of reality. And sometimes the only difference between politicians and entertainers is the audience.
The music video was one of those longer-form videos that had everything you could ask for from the era. Including great visuals, Kirk Douglas playing the Devil, and superb pacing.
So, there it is. Ten songs that serve as inspirations for when I’m writing.
I’ll probably do more in a few weeks, depending on a combination of mood and need to create postings. And, if you have a theme that I should emphasize, such as classical music or anime songs, let me know in the comments.