Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Joyful Playlist

I tend to go on and on about the "Ragged Glory" playlist that lasted me the whole time I worked on SPARKS, from the first draft to the last copyedits. The songs all have a ragged, soaring, triumphant quality that I wanted in the book. I don't think playlists help much with rough drafts, but they're fun to make and help me a lot on revisions. You play a song with the right vibe and try to build the scene to work like that song is playing in the background.

Today I made a very important decision that I think will change my life: I typed "Slade" into the "Create a Station" field on Pandora. The station this created has me jumping off the wall as I bang my head and sing along to "Somebody to Love," "Cum On Feel the Noise," and "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress."

It makes me want to talk about my "joyful" playlist, which I switched to for a couple of scenes in the book during revisions. Songs that sound like the band and singer are so happy they can hardly contain themselves and want you to feel the same way. Here's what's on that:

"Oh Yoko!" by John Lennon. The harmonica solo at the end is pure distilled joy.

"Hold Me Now" by Polyphonic Spree. I'm not sure what they're on about in this song - I'm never sure what these guys are on about. But they sure sound uplifting. It's like an indie "Up With People."

I always wanted to start a band called "Up To Here With People."

"Good Lovin" by the Grateful Dead. Once I was at a show where they played this, and a rainbow appeared in the sky. I told a dead head about it and he said "Yeah, that happens a lot at Dead shows. There's a lot of psychic energy." I'm pretty skeptical about stuff like that, but there's no possible scientific explanation to explain how all those VW micro-busses in the parceling lot are still running.

"We Are Golden" by Mika. Fun!

"Don't Stop Believin' (Glee version). I never felt like the show lived up to the promise of the pilot. I like it when their music really sounds more or less like something a really good glee club would do (plus guitar and drums). They usually just sound like karaoke versions. But I sure loved that pilot! Did they ever get around to the gag I assumed they were going for where "new directions" sounds like "nude erections?" The "Halo/Walking On Sunshine" mashup is on there, too.

"My Favorite Things" by The Mountain Goats. One of their dozens of "unreleased" numbers. A minute long song about hearing John Coltrane on the radio while dancing with someone you're probably about to sleep with. "you put your arm around me and it felt real fine /and your ankle brushed up against mine /  and resonating in my bones / the precise, crisp, drumming of Mr. Elvin Jones / god damn it! / i love john coltrane!" I swear he actually sings the exclamation point. John Darnielle tends to sing in italics. He does not sing his songs so much as he declares them.

"Oh, Mary Don't You Weep" by Bruce Springsteen an the Seeger Sessions band. The Seeger Sessions band sounded like what old folk music should have always sounded like, but it's a sound that couldn't exist in a world without mixing boards. An 18 piece folk band with a banjo, a tuba, an accordion, and a ragged band of gypsies vibe. I really hope he brings this band back - or makes up for the loss of Clarence by sort of merging the E Street band with some of these guys (which is pretty much what he's already started).

"Janglin" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. These guys (like Polyphonic Spree) sort of seem like a cult. But what a swell cult! One line I just can't get past here is "We want to heal ya / we don't mean to kill ya." Well, good. I wouldn't want to listen to a band that meant to kill me (and wasn't a Norwegian black metal band).

"Kick Drum Heart" by The Avett Brothers. A bouncy song on an album that is generally not bouncy.

"In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel seems like it fits into every playlist ever. All building up to the line "can't believe / how strange it is to be anything at all" which is sort of what Sparks is all about. I would have written that right in, but Flux is pretty hardcore about not quoting any lyrics. This made writing the scenes where they listen to "God Only Knows" and "This Year" and "It's All right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" an interesting challenge. This is not a song Debbie would like, though. It took forever for this band to click with me, and Debbie is not into artsy, avant grade-type stuff. Maybe one day she will be. Not yet.

"Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service. This makes me think of my wife.

"Love the One You're With" by Stephen Stills. When I was about 14 I went to see a Shakespeare in the Park thing where they did Midsummer Night's Dream with hippies in place of fairies, and between acts a band played this. One of those songs (like "You may Be Right" by Billy Joel) where, if you pay too much attention, you'll start thinking the singer is acting like a complete douchebag, but they make it fun anyway.

"What Is Life" by George Harrison. My favorite of his solo songs. "Waiting ON You All" would have worked in any Sparks playlist, too.

"My Roller Coaster" by Kimya Dawson. One of her happier songs. All the people in this book need to listen to more Kimya Dawson records. We all do, probably. The importance of "Nothing Came Out' by her band, The Moldy Peaches, to SPARKS can not be over-stated. Sounds like a funny song if you've never been "there," but I think it's really their most doggedly serious song.

"Queen of the World" by Ida Maria. I love Ida Maria. This is one of her happier songs, where the depression underneath is more effectively buried. She features very prominently on the playlist for another upcoming book tentatively titled Mad to Live, and "We're All Going to Hell" is on the Satanic YA book playlists (of course).

"Valerie Plame" by the Decemberists. "Engine Driver" turns up in most of my other playlists, but this one delights me more. Something about opening a song with "Valerie Plame / if that really IS your name" makes me smile.

"What Light" by Wilco. THe "Sing, Sing a Song" of my generation.

"The Happy Wanderer" by The Polkaholics. These guys are the greatest band in Chicago. They are a guitar-drum-bass combo that sounds like early Green Day, only they play polka. All polka is happy. It is happy music for happy people. "The Beer Barrel Polka" teaches us that something can start in Scranton and go to Number 1. The lead singer, Dandy Don Hedekker, is the name sake of the appliance store in the book I Put a Spell on You.

"Constructive Summer" by The Hold Steady. The Ragged Glory playlist was heavy on these guys.

Just added today to this list  is "Stuck On F**in' You" by Lady Gaga. Sounds like a Beggar's Banquet outtake. She should do more songs like this. I found myself wishing that whole last record was a big more organic (but in that Jim Steinman and Meatloaf way, if that makes any sense).

Some other music writings I've done:
On Green Day
The Gospel of the Mountain Goats
The Hold Steady and the Gaslight Anthem: Two Gangs Fighting In the Same Springsteen Song
On 90s Alternative as Oldies

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