Posts Tagged R.E.M.

The Undercover Soundtrack – Consuelo Roland

for logo‘Skinny-dipping in greenish-hued waters’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is award-nominated novelist, poet and essayist Consuelo Roland @ConsueloRoland

Soundtrack by R.E.M., The Beatles, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Youssou N’Dour, Bob Marley

Lady Limbo began with a cancelled flight and a personal tale of sexual liberation imparted to my mother at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The details of a mysterious organization reside in a little black book belonging to a helpful ground hostess whose name is forever lost in the torrential downpour of a stormy Paris night. It was fun to turn things around and evoke a world where men are paid ridiculous stud fees to be at the beck and call of willful women who can afford to be extravagant. Occasionally a perfectly ordinary, independently minded woman – such as a sexy ground hostess – will use their services.

23smallFrom a little black book to a husband that vanishes into thin air is not such a literary leap of the imagination. The only tangible clues to the ‘disappeared properly’ man’s identity are the vinyl long playing records (LPs) carted into his current incarnation: Daniel de Luc, husband. A man who favours alternative rock, old circus music (think extravagant carnivalesque LP cover art), and African jazz is perhaps not going to be your average conventional spouse.

A voice for intensity

When Daniel de Luc barges into my novel with all his unpredictable here-now-gone-tomorrow energy he arrives together with cult band R.E.M. Their music is constantly playing in my car. The wickedly intelligent lyrics have the enigmatic aura of a Poe story.

Periodically Daniel withdraws from the world (and Paola, his wife) by listening to R.E.M. with its anti-establishment undertones. It is Daniel’s theme music; the friend he turns to when he has to figure things out.

The music of R.E.M. is ideal for Lady Limbo as a kind of activist male anthem. I feel as if I know Daniel as well as any real live man of my acquaintance when I listen to them. My first R.E.M. CD came from a male friend brought up in Europe; the opaque music brings this association with it too, helping me to give a voice to Daniel’s intensity and his foreign outlook.

The only R.E.M. song named in Lady Limbo is the mesmerising Nightswimming. There are echoes of the early party scene when Paola watches partygoers engage in open group sex in a night-lit swimming pool. But her immersion in Nightswimming has its own redemptive beauty and truth even while it suggests the foolishness of being human. The song that Chris Martin of ColdPlay once called ‘the best song ever written’ becomes a bittersweet tribute to relationships and feelings that can never be the way they once were.

It’s all in the night’s song: we are creatures of the night, skinny-dipping in deep greenish hued waters charged with sexual tension and lustful predilections. In Lady Limbo it is the bright light of day with its criminal banality that comes to terrify Paola Dante, and the night’s deep-throated mystery that seduces her.

Music of ambivalence

From music of the night to nights at the circus.

Circus music, with its relentless glee, is the perfect music of ambivalence. It fills a gap between Paola and Daniel with its nostalgic evocation of a carnival atmosphere, and yet its excessive gaiety is strangely disturbing. In Lady Limbo the ghosts of death-defying acts plummet to the sawdust over and over again.

My research uncovers that the atmospheric circus music of yesteryear is for the most part produced by a calliope (steam whistles played by a keyboard) , a very special mechanical instrument. When Daniel hears the frenetic delight he, like The Beatles’ John Lennon who employed snippets of calliope music in Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, is transported to a seat from where he can smell the sawdust on the big tent floor.

A circus music thematic appears; it expresses a magical interpretation of life and independence of spirit that is outside the norm, and somehow beyond society’s approval or control. Old time rumours about the circus as a haven for runaways, freaks, outcasts, and even baby abductors, add a mysterious resonance to Lady Limbo.

Lady Limbo front cover_JacanaJamaican rebellion

From nights at the circus to African jazz and Jamaican rebellion…

Youssou N’Dour (You to his fans) provides the cross-cultural musical bridge I need between Africa and Europe. N’Dour’s cosmopolitan nous absorbs the entire Senegalese musical spectrum, often filtered through the lens of the genre-defying mbalax sound, which takes traditional Wolof music and combines it with Islamic and Cuban influences. Daniel is as intrigued by N’Dour’s roots (a maternal line of griottes) as by his professional exploits. From my perspective, N’Dour’s tenor voice has an unusual prophetic quality that fills a car as it coasts along dark cliff top roads.

In Lady Limbo the past has been neglected, mishandled and deliberately avoided. Since Paola is as guilty as this of Daniel I have her mull over Daniel’s difficult boyhood in the hotel room darkness with Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff playing on the radio in the background.

Caught between reality and fiction Daniel is the flawed paradox at the centre of Lady Limbo’s complex mystery. Marley’s reggae anthem for justice, just a one-liner in Paola’s musings, pre-empts Daniel’s act of protection at the end of Lady Limbo. All of this the music reveals, and overlays and underlays. Only the music, capable of endless interpretation and re-interpretation, tells the truth.

Portrait by Dina Photography

Consuelo Roland lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She writes novels, poems, essays, and short stories. Lady Limbo, a psycho-sexual mystery, is her second novel. She is working on book II in the limbo trilogy, due to come out next year. Her debut novel The Good Cemetery Guide, now an ebook, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and was also selected via an e-mail poll of readers as one of 30 Centre for the Book’s ‘must read’ South African Books. She is also a member of the League of Extraordinary Authors. Her Amazon page is www.amazon.com/author/consueloroland. Connect with her on Facebook and on her website. Tweet her @ConsueloRoland

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jessica Bell

for logo‘How differently a child perceives the world’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by contemporary fiction author, poet, editor and singer-songwriter Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell,

Soundtrack by R.E.M., Talking Heads, Eurythmics

I can’t cope with music playing in the background when I write. It’s distracting. Why? Because I am also a musician, and every time I hear music, it’s hard to fight the urge to sing, or pick up the guitar. That said, it would also be very rare for any piece of writing of mine to not include music in some way. Writing is my ability to breathe, and music is my oxygen. Neither one can exist without the other.

Jessica BellFive years old

When I had the idea to write The Book, I knew immediately that music would have a place in the story. Though it’s not a feature, it’s important to my main character’s arc. About 60% of The Book, set in the early 1980s, is written from the perspective of a five-year-old girl named Bonnie. I hint, through the journal entries of her mother, Penny, and the transcripts of Bonnie and Dr Wright, her therapist, that due to her premature birth, she has trouble learning, and significant behavioural problems and eccentricities. However, I try to juxtapose this through Bonnie’s matter-of-fact point of view. The reader is then able to see how differently she perceives the world compared to the adults in her life.

This is where my soundtrack comes in.

Wrong words

When I was a kid, I remember getting song lyrics wrong all the time. The worst misunderstanding I can remember is from REM’s Losing My Religion where the first line of the chorus became ‘let’s pee in the corner’. This gave me the idea to show the reader some quirks in Bonnie’s personality through the way in which she misunderstood lyrics.  However, in the end, this is not what I focused on. Because I wanted to emphasise Bonnie’s overly logical perception of the world, I made her comprehend the lyrics perfectly, and comment on how they didn’t make sense.

Bonnie doesn’t grasp the fact that lyrics can be metaphorical and/or symbolic, she only hears what the lyrics mean literally. Through this, I was able to show that despite the adults around her being conditioned to believe she had a learning disability, she is actually quite skilled at vertical thinking, and might very well have the qualities of a genius hiding behind her over-emotional demeanor.

Burning

For example, I used Talking Heads’ lyrics from Burning Down the House to illustrate this. Bonnie confidently explains that you can’t put fire out with fire, and that fire isn’t wet, so why would you need a raincoat? After her mother tries to explain that the lyrics are like art and don’t have to make sense, she shrugs and decides to accept the fact that despite the song not ‘making logic’, at least it is great to dance to. This not only shows that she can make sense of language, but also shows that despite not agreeing with something, she is willing to overlook it, and embrace its value. A pretty strong trait to have as a five-year-old, yes? It’s also something that young, stressed, ill-informed parents of the 80s would boil down to her being just a quirky five-year-old girl, and not notice how smart she is.

Bonnie also questions the deeper meaning of lyrics. After hearing Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, she says:

I rooly rooly like that man that sings the sweet dreams are made of weeds song. I askted Mummy if all bodies are looking for sumfing, and she said they are. And I askted what she was looking for, and she said that she was looking for love, but she already founded it, so she’s not looking anymore. I askted her to show it to me. But she said that love isn’t tangible. I don’t know what tangible means, but I would still like her to show me the love she found.

The excerpt above also draws attention to Bonnie’s misunderstood wisdom by showing how capable she is of rational thought. Annie Lennox must be a man because she has short hair and wears a suit and tie in the video just like Bonnie’s father does; and the fact that logically, if you find something, you should be able to hold that something in your hand.

The Book_by Jessica BellWhat we know

Trying to understand music through the eyes of a child was an amazing and eye-opening experience. It really made me realize how much of what we ‘know’ is almost like a stamp. We learn something, and assume it is correct, because that’s what we’re conditioned to believe. But Bonnie questions a lot of basic things in life that we take for granted, and it made me realise how much adults can learn from children. Children tell the truth. Children’s opinions aren’t blurred by a lifetime of experience. Their opinions are pure and simple. And sometimes pure and simple is a smarter way to live than the tainted and complicated lives us adults lead. Don’t you think?

The music that influenced The Book wasn’t just a trigger for the muse.

It was a voice.

The voice of logic.

Jessica Bell is an Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter. She also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. The Book is available from Amazon USAmazon UK and Kobo. For the book trailer see here. Connect with Jessica at her website, blog, on Facebook or Twitter @msBessieBell    

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Nicola Morgan

‘If I’m writing fiction there must be music… invasive music to kick me in the heart’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by prolific YA novelist Nicola Morgan @nicolamorgan

Soundtracks by Beautiful South, Belle and Sebastian, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, Muse, The Police, R.E.M., Sting

Music and I have an odd relationship. If I say “There was no music in my life until I was eleven”, you’ll think I’m being melodramatic or metaphorical. No. My extremely unusual childhood was full of amazing freedoms, but no music. Or rather, we didn’t listen to it at home, ever, and since home was school, I didn’t listen to it at all. There was a school choir and I sang in it, but that, being for chapel, was somewhat narrow in its tastes. Anyway, it wasn’t till I went to boarding-school that music appeared, and by then I lacked the musical parts of my brain. (Confirmed when I tried to learn the oboe as an adult.)

Yet, if I’m writing fiction, there must be music. And I’m pedantic about the choice. It has to be just right for that piece of writing. Once I find the album, I play it over and over. And over. Sometimes I have to play it through headphones because my family shout, “NOOOO!”

A kick in the heart

It’s not background music. It’s not just to block out the real world – though it must do this, too. But it must be more invasive. It needs to kick me in the heart, make me sing – sometimes literally. It needs to take me to a place where fiction dwells and worlds can be created.

What music? The word my family use to describe the music I write fiction to is “anthemic”. They will suggest a new band or album and say to me, “You could write to that.” It must have powerful melody, rhythm and emotion, in both the music and the words. And there must be words. I think as well there must be colour. And music with colour – an aspect of synaesthesia – is something that’s hugely a theme of Mondays are Red.

Losing my religion – in yellow

So, exactly what is on my Undercover Soundtrack? When I was writing The Passionflower Massacre (Hodder, 2005) it was R.E.M., mostly Around the Sun, though in fact I quite wanted to call the book Losing My Religion. R.E.M.’s music is rich and golden, warm and vibrant, mysterious and with odd meaning. And The Passionflower Massacre is a book like that. I think the book is more yellow, more summery than R.E.M., though, but the Around the Sun track is perfect.

Sleepwalking (Hodder 2004) was Sting. Sting and the Police are cold, thin blue, the wail of a heartless future. That’s how Sleepwalking feels to me. The Highwayman’s Footsteps (Walker 2007) was Franz Ferdinand, rich with reds and blues and excitement;  The Highwayman’s Curse (2008) was Franz Ferdinand again and The Kaiser Chiefs, harsh, cruel, jangly, angry, steel grey and blood red with the horror of religious hatred.

Wasted was a strange mixture: Belle and Sebastian, Muse (Uprising – love it!) and Beautiful South. With smatterings of REM again. It’s not a violent book, more thoughtful, and if it had a colour it would be an impossible blue lilac disappearing at all its edges. (For your interest, the main character is a girl with music-colour synaesthesia.)

Everything I want for a dark book

And the novel I’ve just finished, Brutal Eyes, is pure Coldplay – mostly Viva la Vida but with the recent revisions written to Mylo Xyloto, especially the phenomenal Us Against the World and Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Those two songs are everything I want in music for a dark book. You can hear every rasp of Chris Martin’s breath, every squeak of finger on string. You can hear his eyes close, his shoulders move. It has enormous emotional heart. I’d like to hope it lends some of that to the book. Funnily, Brutal Eyes doesn’t have a colour for me.

What did I write Write to be Published to? Nothing! I couldn’t possibly write non-fiction while listening to music!

Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author, with around 90 published titles, and a growing list of self-published titles. She is well-known to aspiring writers for the honest advice on her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! and a book – Write to be Published – published by Snowbooks. Notable works include her famously gruesome novel Fleshmarket; the Aventis shortlisted Blame My Brain: The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed; and Wasted, which was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and won or was shortlisted for many awards. Mondays are Red was originally published in 2002 and Nicola has now created a new edition for ebook format, including some extra material such as creative writing by school pupils. This time, she is publishing it herself, with the help of her agent. Follow her on Twitter @nicolamorgan

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