Friday, March 5, 2010

Do-Re-Mi-So-Fa-La-Kaboom ...


By Shane

Music inspires.

Music destroys.

Music relaxes.

Music blows cinders into flame.

Music makes us you shudder and sniffle, laugh and cry, pee our pants with fright and run around the yard cackling, delighted with how our lives ain't so damn bad after all. Sometimes, all at once.

Don't believe that music can affect you that powerfully? Then take this test. I put a video directly under the "Video's coming" lines below. Put your hand over the screen so you don't see the title at the top of the video, and click on the play arrow. Then tell me you didn't jump out of your skin ...

Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Video's coming ...
Almost there ...
Almost there ...
Almost there ...
Almost there ...
Almost there ...
Almost there ...
NOW!



Whew. Talk about your musical blood spurt. I watched that same scene with the music taken out, leaving only the screams and knife thrusts. It's still taut, but it's not the same.

But hey, I don't have to convince YOU of that, right? You know that music can soothe the savage beast--or breast?--or make someone run through lava, napalm and bullets to rescue a loved one.

Which is what we thriller authors have to do while writing: make our readers believe they've just run through lava, napalm and bullets to rescue their loved ones. And we do it without Bernard Herrmann's slashing power-strings, composing only with words. So, then, where does music come into the writing process?

For me, it's inspiration. I use music as my personal lightning storm, as the zippety-zap I need to supercharge my passages with the power of Wow.

Mostly, that means power music. Stirring, hard-charging, kick-ass, triumphant. Lots of brass, pounding and riff-chords. The Shane avoids ballads like the plague when writing. Too sloooooow and whiiiiiiny. Ballads make my verbs sag like Grandma's, uh, well, you know. (Sorry, Gram.) Power music, conversely, makes 'em sit up and show off a little to the reader. Not in a "Look, Ma, I'm Writing!" sorta way (well, sometimes, but that's why God made editors), but subliminally. If I'm fired up on the music, my words will be too: finger bone's connected to the brain bone, etc. With any luck, the crackling electric will pass on to you and make your hair stand up while reading.

So to that end, a random selection of Shane's Ravin' Favin' Power Mavens that Conspire to Fire and Inspire Your Desire:

"Mess Around" by Ray Charles. If you can lay quietly with hands folded when those hard-boogie opening notes hit, then you're clearly in a coffin, being lowered into the ground.

"Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin. Talk about metal power, this bad boy is it.

"Bugler's Holiday" by Leroy Anderson. Reville will never sound the same after this power-bugle blast.

"Paranoid" by Black Sabbath. Greatest metal rock song ever. I wish someone would remaster it to get rid of the tinniness of the '70s recording; I want those guitars to blow out my speakers. Ozzy Osbourne before he became all cuddly for TV.

"I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick.

"Tubthumping" by Chumbawumba. Goofy lyrics, mesmerizing tune.

"Scotland the Brave," "Whiskey in the Jar," "Some Say the Devil's Dead" and more by The Crofters. This Canadian band marinates Celtic music in moonshine and crack, then blows it out their instruments. "Scotland the Brave" is their take on the traditional bagpipe tune, and it makes you (well, me, anyway) wanna dance around the loch without yer knickers swigging Olde Reekie. From their album "Hold My Beer While I Kiss Your Girlfriend."

"My Woman from Tokyo" and "Highway Star" by Deep Purple. "Smoke on the Water" was their most famous song. This twin spin is their most better.

"The Hucklebuck" by Doc Severinsen. I never knew Johnny Carson's musical sidekick was a real musician till I heard him play this one. (And he composed the theme from "The Tonight Show," one of the best TV themes ever.) His "Hucklebuck" is a power-jazz version of the song made known by Chubby Checker, and it's SO swingy and fun.

"Legs" by ZZ Top. One word: Woooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

"Imperial March" by John Williams. Power doesn't get more evil and dark than this theme from Dick Cheney ... er, I mean Darth Vader from "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." Williams has SO many ear-catching songs it's hard to pick just one--"Indiana Jones" is a close rival, as is the inspirational theme from the Olympics. But the Imperial March has it all. To wit:



"Stripes March" by Elmer Bernstein. I love marches. The one from the movie "Stripes" stirs without being too John Phillip Sousa-familiar.

"The Magnificent Seven" by Elmer Bernstein. Elmer is tied with John Williams as my favorite movie composer, and possibly favorite composer of all time. This title song from the Western movie and "Marlboro Man" cigarette theme (from when tobacco companies could advertise on TV) tells you why.

"This Could Be the Start of Something Big" by Steve Lawrence and Edye Gorme. Sinatra-era swingy with the husband-and-wife harmony duo.

"Mexican Shuffle," "Green Peppers," "Bittersweet Samba" and "Lollipops and Roses" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Lordy, I love this group. The pace of the songs is infectious and makes me smile every time. Can't write serial killer slayings with these on, though. Too infectiously catchy. Serial killers demand heavy metal.

"I've Been Everywhere" by Johnny Cash. No way I can keep up with all the place names in this song, but I try (and fail) every time. Pair it with "Promised Land" by Elvis Presley, and you've got some great summer driving music. If you can afford the gasoline ...

"Brown Eyed Handsome Man" by the cast of "The Million Dollar Quartet." Updated for the stage musical, this version is even harder-chargin' than Jerry Lee Lewis's classic. And, no 13-year-old cousins.

"I've Got My Mojo Working" by Muddy Waters. No explanation necessary.

"I'm a Man," by The Yardbirds. Muddy did the magnificent original. The Yardbirds turned it rocking-er.

"Orange Blossom Special" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. No, I didn't believe it either--Mr. Bojangles doing power bluegrass? But I heard it, and I was hooked.

"Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" by Paul Robeson. You want Old Testament shivers, listen to this version of the classic Jericho song. Robeson's got one of the deepest power-bass voices ever.

"Powerhouse" by Racalmuto. You've heard this song on Bugs Bunny cartoons, when Bugs was doing something in a factory or for the war effort. I spent years trying to find this song, cause I loved it in the cartoons. Stumbled across it by accident, and now it's mine.

"Good Girl Gone Bad" by Rihanna. Proving that ballads don't have to suck, check out this song. It's a bit slower than I normally like, but awesome nonetheless. There's also a dance version that'll knock your socks off. And the rest of your clothes.

"Just a Girl" by No Doubt. An inspiring Chicks Kick Ass kinda song, especially when the song plunges from the opening solo into the power guitar. Mercy!

"Guadalcanal March" by Robert Russell Bennett. From the "Victory at Sea" masterwork by Bennett and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. I love almost all these songs, but Guadalcanal March tops the stirrage charts. When I listen, I can almost smell the green ocean crashing over the gunwales of the destroyers plunging toward Japan. You may recall this music was integral to the documentary series of the same name that BNC aired in 26 half-hour episodes in 1952 and 1953. The visuals came from actual allied and axis war footage (which I thought remarkable for 1952), the Leonard Graves voiceover was stentorial, and the allies were Pure and Noble and Avenging. Here's what it looked like:



"Suds in the Bucket" by Sara Evans. I'm not a big country fan, but this is such a driving song that even the steel guitar is kewl. And Sara's voice is like sticking your finger in an socket. In a good way.

"Born to Boogie" by Hank Williams Jr. Yep, he's the son of the country music legend, and the kid composed and performed a truly rockin' country song that makes me dance all around the writin' office.

"Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet. You either love or hate this song. Guess where I fall?

And finally, to end my concert, I offer you "Wizards in Winter" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Talk about Christmas on moonshine and crack!




You can hear them all on iTunes, which is where I downloaded most of my collection. Thanks for singing along.

11 comments:

Mysti Lou said...

I'm saving this list for my "damn it, all my music sounds the same" days. I bet you like the best of George Thoroughgood, and most of John Lee Hooker too?

Did you ever hear Church by Lyle Lovett? Despite the irony and humor of the lyrics, I cried the first time I heard it. Gospel, even post-modern gospel, slays me!

Hey Porter is my favorite song, I think. "I've Been Everywhere" is great, despite the commercial, which makes it a very unusual song.

The only thing is, I can't listen to this great stuff and write. I get pulled into the music of the world.

For stuff in the modern era, I've found the soundtracks to Juno, Whip It, and Where The Wild Things Are help me understand the young kids at work :)

Thanks for a lovely post, Shane! My clan, the MacEwan's backed the wrong side in the 1400s and haven't had any lands since. Your post reminded me of that side of my family, nearly extinct now. I'll always think of them drinking, bagpiping naked, and enjoying the hell out of Scotland, wherever they actually are :)

Mysti Lou said...

er, that's the world of the music. better go get coffee and skitter off to work :)

Kaye Barley said...

Great Post! You've named some of my faves too - but wait! No Willie Nelson?!

Shane Gericke said...

Naked bagpiping. Sounds like a good activity for Thrillerfest! Wonder if I can get Patterson to do it ...

As long as the clan is in your heart, Mysti, it will always be alive. (And probably in the dirt in which your Scotch grows, meaning you're toasting your family wity every sip.) My heritage is German on dad's side, Welsh/Scot/Brit on mom's side. So I can war with myself any time I want :-)Be sure to try The Crofters, particularly those three songs I mentioned. The bagpipes-on-crack is a sheer hoot.

Loooove Thorogood. Not Hooker quite as much, but quite a bit of it, yes. Haven't heard "Church," but I'll try, even though Lovett was insane to marry Julia Roberts. Modern gospel is very underrated and should be heard more. And, "Hey Porter" is great.

I forgot to add some of Sinatra's swingin' stuff that I like so much, so will mention my fave inspirational here: "Summer Breeze." Just perfect for a bright day at winter's end, heralding the arrival of good times.

Shane Gericke said...

Hi, Kaye! I didn't used to like Willie Nelson much, but a friend just adores him, so I gave him a fresh listen and now love him too. I didn't list him in this post because I need him in the quiet times, rather than for the blood-pulsing power songs.

But since you asked ...

NObody does "Always On My Mind" more soulfully. Nobody. I listen to it often. I also love "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain" and "Whiskey River." But not anything he did with Julio Iglasis. "To All the Girls I Loved Before" was musical carnage too awful to contemplate :-)

But even that's not as bad as my all-time favorite most hated song forever, "Having My Baby" by whoever the hell that was. Oy, my aching ears ...

Shane Gericke said...

Oh, Kaye, speaking of power, that's a great new photo of you in the Red Power Sweater. Tres cute! Love the books background too.

Kaye Barley said...

Thanks, Honey! Only fitting to have books in the background, huh?

Re: willie. A couple of my favorites are duets he does with Ray Charles (Seven Spanish Angels), and LeeAnn Womack (Mendocino County Line). His Red Headed Stranger album used to be my Sunday morning listening album - I may need to bring it out and renew that old habit.

By the way - have I told you how much I like your new webpage?? Terrific!

Terry said...

This is some serious music. You are into it.

My speakers sh*t the bed last night along with my dishwasher. Bad karma? Who knows. Replaced the dishwsher already. But the sound, not yet. I'll have to play this game when the speakers are up.

Great post!

Shane Gericke said...

I'll think good thoughts for your speakers, Terry. No one should go long without tuneages!!

I love music, but with rare exception, only individual songs. That's why I love iTunes so much. I can pick everything I want and not pay for the rest of the album. (Do people still call them albums these days?) Steve Jobs is a utter genius in inventing user-friendly stuff like that.

And thanks, Kaye, for the nice thoughts on my website. Delighted you like it so much. It was fun to do all the writing and photo-selecting for it, and I was finally smart enough to hire a pro to do the site design and coding. Some things are worth not being frugal about!

Shane Gericke said...

Hey, Mysti, just listened to Church as you recommended. Wow! Glad you turned me on to it.

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