The Writer and Music

As you probably know from the sheer number of soundtracks I make, music plays a big part in my writing process. It helps me get into the zone, into characters’ heads, and moves things along. Sometimes, for reasons I don’t understand, certain bands or songs will announce themselves as vital to the story in progress.

For example, These Arms Are Snakes are pretty much entirely responsible for the Infected series (with some assist from Porcupine Tree, Pansy Division, and Aesop Rock). In the chaos of the noise, you could find Roan there, trying to bury himself. He used noise to block out all other noises, smells, and sights; he tried to confound all his sense with sound, and hide from his depression. Did it work? Kind of; sometimes. And that was enough for him. You take the comfort you can get.

Right now I’m working on what I’m calling my social justice superheroes story. A group of misfits, mostly average working stiffs, who gain superpowers at a police protest, when a secret, experimental weapon blows up. Our group has to not only figure out the corruption at the heart of the city, but possibly fight against the “official” superheroes of the city, who may just be part of the problem. A band has pushed itself to the top of my rotation while I write this, and that band in The Twilight Sad.

A super odd choice. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a Scottish band that do exactly what their name tells you – they make you sad. Or angry, or disappointed, or all of the above. The music can be driving and propulsive, the singer has a great voice, which his prominent Scottish brogue makes quite distinct, but there’s no getting around the fact that, most of the time, they’re stone cold bummers. They write about bad childhoods, and bad relationships, bad choices and bad lives, of supposedly happy endings gone irredeemably sour. They toured with The Cure – that’s how depressing they are.

So how are they the soundtrack group for this story? I’ve been thinking about it, and while it can be difficult in the moment to figure out why a group specifically has attached themselves to your story, I have some ideas. None of my misfits are satisfied with their lives at the time they are changed; they are frustrated, bored, aimless, or scared. They feel particularly powerless in their jobs and possibly their lives. Only one seems to have any forward momentum at all, and she’s the youngest of the group. Who knows what would have happened to them if they weren’t changed by the power. But they were, and now they have a chance to not only take back some of their lost powers, but make the world a better place for everyone else as well. So the Twilight Sad is a perfect soundtrack of where they’re coming from.

To give you a sample, I’ve picked out a couple songs that seem to be important to the story in progress.

Okay, this is the song that I see as the theme song in particular for this story, but it’s a questionable choice. Why? Well, there’s no getting around this – this song seems to be about straight up murder. There’s a tad of wiggle room in this story – many Twilight Sad songs have some vagaries to them, making you fill in the blanks about what a line or a reference could possibly mean, although repeated lines are super important – but essentially I think this about two people killing an abusive family – or maybe just a family of assholes. And one of the two is not as into it as the other; in fact, they may be a hostage of the other. Fun times! This is a deeply fucked up, chilling song. And yet, if you completely divorce it from the source material, the repeated line “you and I will bury them” “is kind of a rallying cry for my misfits. They feel overwhelmed and outclassed by “professional” superheroes, and yet, if they stick together, they will bury them. Not literally. There’s no Holdens in this group. (Well … maybe one leaning that way …)

Um, yeah, this song is hardly any lighter. It seems to be about a murder too – maybe not a planned one, an accidental one this time. Still, hardly kittens and puppies, is it? A note – when you come to a song with the album’s title buried in the lyrics – as this one is – that song is never cheerful, and the implications of the title are suddenly darker, if they weren’t dark enough already. Speaking of which …

The title of the album comes up in this song too, although I think this one is murder free! Well, maybe. Depends on interpretation. The lyrics seem to imply a terrible situation – maybe a literal apocalypse, maybe a figurative one – and also basically say this is a death pact of some sort. Nothing good is happening here. So if death hasn’t happened yet, it will happen. Kind of like the Trump presidency.

It’s almost a relief that this is a song about revenge, although the repeated refrain “and I’m dancing over your grave” doesn’t stop signaling the darker aspects of a song that, completely divorced from meaning, sounds musically pretty upbeat. There may be a literal interpretation of someone being buried alive, but I’m not reading it that way. The frequent mentions of masks and disguises suggest a revenge a long time planned, and a long time coming, but really satisfying when it does happen. Plus, Throw Yourself In The Water Again is a great title. Not as great as Drown So I Can Watch, but close. (Yes, that’s a song of theirs too.)

So if you want an update on what I’m writing, I may, in the coming days, tease a bit of it here. But it isn’t as dark as the music suggests, I swear! I mean, it has little bits of darkness in it, but isn’t completely a downer.

And if you have time or inclination, I encourage you to look up some of the Twilight Sad videos on YouTube. For the most part, they’re as creepy as their subject matter. In the rare cases they’re not, like The Wrong Car or The Room, the fact that they’re going so hard against their subject matter actually makes them slightly creepier. Go figure.

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