Iggy Pop once said that literature was like cocaine for the mind (because it sharpens it), and that music was heroin (I’ll let you extrapolate). He’d recently read a book at the time (I forget which one) and was so inspired that he created a whole new album’s worth of music. I should think that the author would be feeling pretty chuffed about that; his ideas and perspectives helped to inspire an iconic musician to create new material. Music, and I’m generalizing here, is more about communicating emotions. The ideas generally tend to be pretty straightforward and accessible, at least in the commercially mainstream sphere. In my situation, my writing is and was heavily influenced by my mood. The following songs were ones which I used to help get into the ‘zone’ for writing specific characters and scenes. I am not trying to say that these songs are the best ones for writing, I am just trying to share with you which ones ended up influencing my novel the most.
Skorchawk Bezerk “Theme”
When I first heard this, I immediately tuned out of the real world and into my novel’s universe. The opening riff sent visions jolting into my mind which have persisted to this day as I write this blog post. The song affected my mood in two important ways. The first way was its aggression, which helped get me fired up for writing about the good old ultra-violence. Second, it helped me get angry about people being taken advantage of, which is essentially what is happening to the Bezerks. Every aspect of their lives is controlled by their clans from their diet to the posture in which they sleep. It makes me angry just to think about it. Sometimes people see my resting bitch face and ask me what is wrong. Every once in a while I have to make something up because it’s simply too awkward to explain that I am fuming over the maltreatment of some of my favourite fictional characters.
One of my more consistent waking dreams set in the series’ universe is a mission where a set of dropships drop off a small army of soldiers near an enemy installation. A spy tipped the enemy off to their arrival and they are barraged mercilessly from below. Although this scene doesn’t actually happen during the novel series itself, I have often considered writing a fourth book as a collection of short vignette pieces all set in the same universe, with all proceeds going to kidney research. More on that later, once the trilogy has been completed.
Krohl Massacring His Fellow Soldiers
The only part of the song which really inspired writing for the novel was the heavy base line- for some reason it really helped me to visualise Krohl running through the small dunes of a desert in slow motion before cutting through a small group of soldiers with a double-ended blade staff.
The opening theme song for the the masterpiece Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex helped my mind get in the zone for a nice blend of cyberpunk science fiction and ethereal fantasy. The Matrix borrowed many of its visual elements from this franchise and I am not ashamed to admit that I have done likewise.
I’ve often visualised Flameberge’s escape from his birthing chamber frame by frame to this music. The desperate energy, the anger, all of it fit together so logically in my mind. It was also one of my favourite scenes to write in the series so far.
Flamberge has several moments where his anger and deadly energy heap upon themselves. The beginning of the song seems to give it a voice almost perfectly. I also very strongly encourage you to listen to the next song on the album, Last Year’s Nest. This album, which I listened to constantly throughout 2003, was the emotional bedrock upon which the character of Flamberge was built.
Limp Bizkit will be remembered for many things. It tried to rip off Korn after Korn stopped being cool. Their faux, try-hard hip hop take on “Nu Metal” made a brief splash before Linkin Park did it slightly more emo, and solidifying the genre as the speshul little brother of the grownup rock styles. Not only that, but it was basically created specifically for whiny teenagers that thought they were being edgy by telling the establishment to go screw themselves whilst handing their money over. For all the legitimate reasons why I so strongly dislike this band, I do have to admit that I got really sucked in when their Chocolate Starfish album came out. The last half of this song in particular helped me to get into the mindset for a large-scale battle which happens in the first half of the first novel.
I’ve always had the final battle in my third novel set to this song, in my mind. The mix of electronic sounds and heavily distorted, passionate strings mirrored the duality of biology and machinery in the same being. The battle takes place between heaven and hell itself, ultimately deciding the fate of many significant characters throughout the series.
When I Was Feeling Particularly Shirty
This was the first Tool song I ever heard. It was in the far more innocent time of 2003, a store was playing the video clip out of its store front. I started in about three minutes in and I was mesmerised. I’m not sure if I blinked for the rest of the video. Sometimes whenever I was doing a workout or out for a jog, this helped me to push harder. I was always willing to overlook the somewhat condescending tone so I could get some fairly gratifying anger out during physical activity.
When I Absolutely Had To Cheer Up
From 2010 I was bursting with inspiration for the novel, but entering a rut at work. I tried to stimulate my voracious appetite to constantly improve my mind by applying for secondments, graduate programs and doing private night study in a post-grad degree, as well as begin this novel. I essentially had to listen to this song every morning on the commute to work before I could face the day, and it’s basically my get out of jail free card in terms of beating the grumpies.
Samurai Outcast “Theme”
I am a huge fan of graphic novels, Lone Wolf and Cub being one of my favourites. At the time of this blog, I am on the 15th Volume of the 28 Volume collection of the original series. In Volume 11, Talisman of Hades, the story A Poem for the Grave features a disgraced samurai guard captain by the name of Zako Gennoshin. One of my characters from the second novel, Zoang (borrowing several letters from Zako’s name), is is very strongly influenced by his fall from grace. Exiled from his lord’s service for saving his men rather than dying for the burning castle, Zoang has traveled far and wide to seek a way of restoring his honour. When the opportunity arose to adventure with our second novel’s heroes and kill the evil Fajun, he jumped at it. He bears many burdens in his heart, and keeps many things secret from even those closest to him.
Smartass Ninja “Theme”
I heard this song for the first time on the radio and my mind instantly went “This is so Kyce!” The irreverent tone matches his shtick perfectly; he lulls his victims into a false sense of security by pretending to act silly and acting carefree. Once he is in action though, he is able to kill five men in the space of a breath. He maintains this facade around his fellow adventurous in the second novel, which often makes me wonder- is he naturally like this and relishes the opportunity to mask it by using it as a diversionary tactic or did his unbelievably harsh training and upbringing totally destroy that part of him, reducing it to just an act? I also like the song’s lyrics in that they can be applied to both a love scene and a deadly standoff (both of which he partakes in when he gets a rare chance in the spotlight).
Cybernetics Expert Alec Pollard
I’ve enjoyed imagining one of the foremost robotics experts that had ever existed (and amateur surgeon) having this music or something similar blaring in the background of his lab/workshop/surgery in the second novel. It’s something that he would share with the love of his life, Melanie Hamilton (regardless of how much she liked it or not). It’s also nice and ironic when you consider what happens to him later.
I discovered the band Sigur Ros in the criminally late year of 2006. The lead singer sounds like a terminally ill owl, but the song builds into a whirlwind of power. I think this matches the moment when Marcus transforms into what he believes is fully human and communicates how all the people around him would have felt. The lack of intelligible lyrics ads to the sense of wonder and appreciation.
The Battle between Marcus and Fajun
Discovering a new song that changes how you perceive a vital part of your novel is an absolute joy. This one immediately guided the atmosphere for when the novel introduces the mysterious Fajun (a demonic warlord), and when he squares off against Marcus. Any fighter worth his salt knows that they need to keep their attention on the other fighter’s eyes in order to read their movements. The eyes of Fajun don’t hypnotise as such, but their blankness is so difficult to read that it actually makes it more difficult to avoid his attacks, putting him at a tangible disadvantage.
One of my favourite parts of this song is the reference to the opening lines of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. It’s one of the greatest opening lines in literature: “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” In order for Marcus to begin his journey towards full humanity, his original self goes through a traumatic ‘death’, which raises another question about his identity- did he actually die and get replaced by something created by the Tabetoren or did he in fact get reborn as another version of himself with the same ‘soul’?
I mostly like to think that Natania became a priestess mostly out of altruistic motives, but part of it is definitely to prove something. She wants to prove to herself that she is wrong; she knows that she is a monster, but she had reached the stage where there was nothing redeeming about her besides. When she became a priestess and did not fit in, it was like everybody could look right into that part of her, confirming her worst fears about herself. I hope that during the second novel she manages to find some piece with this, much like how I want this for myself as I write her.
Something To Keep Perspective
For all this analysis, time and emotional outpouring, this story ultimate means nothing. For someone like Johnny Cash to borrow these words from NIN’s Trent Reznor and declare that his immensely influential portfolio of music equates to an ’empire of dirt’, then surely this story is ultimate worth less than dirt. It is vapour within the breath of a whisper. And it is simple delusion to imagine it to be any more meaningful to anyone. Instead, I hope that is fulfills its purpose as it is written and if anyone else gets anything out of it, I guess that will just have to count as a bonus to celebrate later.