Fire in the Fields Underneath the Blazing Sun (Theme Music Monday)

I first heard this song in 1988, at age 13, and it fired my imagination like few songs had ever done.  The first verse talks of a people defeated and enslaved, but not broken.  Even as they suffer “for someone else’s selfish gain” they sing songs to their God.  The second is darker, more metaphorical, with its talk of “chambers made for sleeping forever.”  It was not until I was somewhat older than I understood what that meant (“waiting for the train labeled with the golden star” should have clued me in, but I was thirteen).

Though I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get the historical references (the Jews’ enslavement by the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Holocaust, respectively) at first, the sentiment and imagery struck me to my heart.  This was the universal cry of outrage at human cruelty: “Man hurts man, time and time again, and we drown in the wake of our power. Somebody tell me why?”  But more than that, it was the hope that comes from faith.  Even at thirteen years old I could understand that.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the album, and especially the song, “Lead Me On” jump-started my dream of writing.  Though at thirteen, I was hardly writing prose, I began to compose narratives, imagine characters, and inhabit the themes.  I suppose I would be writing if I had never heard “Lead Me On,” but I think I would be a very different writer, a very different person.

It was while listening to this album that my mind started to imagine Tarafore, the fantasy world of my young imagination.  While many things have changed, the image of a group of warlords rising up to break the world, the conquer, to enslave, stuck with me.  The themes of faith against tyranny, sacrifice against cruelty, hope against domination have informed my writing – my best writing at least.

I believe in this song.  This song is a part of me, a part of who I am.  It’s one of those things that’s helped shape me.

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Would I Spend Forever Here and Not Be Satisfied? (Theme Music Monday)

It had to come down to this, the song that is not a part of any one book I write, but everything I write, the song that is as fundamental to my imagination as reading C.S. Lewis, watching the first Highlander, or hearing the legends of King Arthur.

Sarah McLachlan’s 1993 U.S. breakthrough song, Possession.

 

I had heard sweet-sounding music.  I had heard dark music (though, frankly, not so real and thoroughly dark as an obsessed and ultimately suicidal stalker).  But I had never heard the two brought together so powerfully.

Although I don’t usually like music videos, I’m glad I saw this song first.  The American video (shown above) conveys the intricate dysfunction of the lyrics.  Close ups of Sarah’s face create an sense of intimacy, a sense of being closer than we actually are, putting us viewers into the shoes of the stalker.  But the film is marred, intentionally distorted, projected over moving sheets and rough walls, then filmed again, producing a surreal face-scape and mindscape.

I was eighteen years old when I first heard this song.  Prior to fall 1993, my musical tastes were mediocre at best, with a few bright spots.  I mostly listened to whatever was on the radio, and gravitated toward the shoddy hard-rock of the era (okay, Metallica has never been shoddy in concert, but they were the exception).  Aside from Peter, Paul, and Mary, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Amy Grant, and Heart, my musical tastes sucked.

Then I saw Possession, and everything changed.  I became enthralled by powerful, complex lyrics, complex but understated musical compositions, and emotionally charged music.  Granted, I still liked hard rock, but Queen and Meat Loaf (okay, nothing understated about him, but still) became more interesting than typical radio songs.

My imagination shifted, and although I was still a dumb kid and an awful writer, a corner had been turned.  VH-1 played it between midnight and 2 am almost every night, so I stayed up late, losing sleep just for the chance to see the video, to hear the song.  I never thought I would be one of those people who says that a song changed their lives, but this one did.  No joke, no kidding.

I’ve seen Sarah McLachlan in concert three times, in 1994 on her Fumbling Toward Ecstasy tour, in 1999 at the Lilith Fair, and in 2011 on her Laws of Illusion tour.  Possession has blown my mind every time.  It still does something to me every time I see the video, every time I even hear the song.

Chasing Furies (Theme Music Monday)

 

Chasing Furies: probably the best band you’ve never heard of. They were together for one year, 1999, and made one album, With Abandon. But what an album it was. Loosely defined as “alternative rock” (whatever that means), their songs ranged from almost-sappy “Wait Forever” to the achingly melancholic “Fair Night’s Longing” to the unsettling, powerful “Writhe for Hearing.”

“Writhe for Hearing” is the song I most wanted to talk about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on Youtube. I’ve linked to the lyrics, but we all know the lyrics only tell half the story. If anybody finds this on Youtube, Vimeo, or a similar site, please tell me and I’ll post the link.

The song speaks of the desperation of holding on, of keeping faith (in this case, in someone, the unnamed ‘you’ of the song), even when it seems like madness … and the desire-beyond-words of finding some proof, some body, to tell you that you’re not insane.

“I writhe for hearing lunge for seeing/Someone else that I’m not hoping/I’m not crazy/I’m not joking/I won’t let you go”

The chorus expresses this powerfully, as Sarah MacIntosh’s clear voice races through discordant guitar riffs like Alice through a Wonderland hedge maze.

So how does this fit with my writing?  This is Theme Music Monday, so what’s the theme?

For those who don’t already know, my Red Lands series features six normal people dragged out of our world into the darkness between the worlds.  A seventh, Garrett Maines, finds them and guides them west, into the greater danger of a dead world.  His goal is to break into the Red Lands and defeat their master, to save the life of his ex-girlfriend.

This stranger is going toward darkness, into the depths of madness and sorcery, and he’s taking them with him.  But he’s their only guide, their only way home.

Garrett feels that this quest he’s undertaken is right. He believes it. But he doesn’t know it, not in any objective, measurable way. It’s so far out of the real of the normal, out of what even seemed possible, that he has trouble believing it himself sometimes.

But he has to believe it.  When hope fails, so does everything else. When hope fails, we fall into desperation and despair.  When hope fails, we lose sight of the far-away goal and seek what little comfort or escape is at hand, regardless of the long-term consequences.

If The Red Lands has a ‘message,’ it is this: hope is not only powerful, it is necessary.

Needless to say, Garrett has trouble explaining his mission to anyone else, even if they’ve passed through the darkness and into the dead world, even if they’ve seen the impossible, too. And even when they believe him, they sometimes think he’s crazy. Who risks his life to save his ex-girlfriend, someone he broke up with, someone who broke his heart?

Who does that?

Garrett has to stay strong if he’s going to protect his new friends, get them home, and defeat the master of the Red Lands. Staying strong means facing and overcoming his own doubts. Overcoming his doubts means facing up to the madness of risking his life for someone who broke his heart, someone he has no intention of going back to. And “Writhe for Hearing” embodies that struggle.

Did I Have a Dream? (Theme Music Monday)

I’ve always been inspired by music.   I get a lot of story ideas while listening to music, whether I’m inspired by a lyrical fragment (almost always taken out of context) or the overall shape of the soundscape.  I almost always listen to music when writing.  I make a new playlist for every series and listen to it in my car, which always gets me in the mood to write.

Music been a pretty solid constant in my creative life since before I was even really writing fiction.

Right now what I’m focusing most on is Strange Fire (Book Three of The Red Lands).  As many of you know, The Red Lands spans the worlds, beginning on our Earth, continuing through a nightmarish liminal space (the road between worlds), through a dead world already conquered by the sorcery of the Red Lands’ master, and into the Red Lands themselves, a mad purgatory forged by the will of its master, the Red Knight.

Garrett Maines, the main character, sometimes finds himself doubting his sanity.  He stepped into this nightmare journey willingly, to save the life of the woman who broke his heart, the woman he walked away from.   He has to believe that the nightmare is a reality, and that it is a reality he can overcome.

I’ve got several songs on my Red Lands playlist, but the one that stands out most, the one that sums up everything The Red Lands is about is Nocturne by Rush.  Listen to the song, and you’ll get a feel for the madness, darkness, and hope of The Red Lands.