Painting Soundtracks

I can be a bit obsessive when it comes to music. I frequently listen to albums on repeat, especially when I’m working on art. Music helps me stay focused and inspired. Here’s a little taste of what I listen to in the studio…

If I’m working on something a little dark or Sci-Fi, I will often listen to the album Drink the Sea by The Glitch Mob.

I have several albums I love listening to while I’m painting a fantasy piece. If it has a mystical aspect to it I’m guaranteed to listen to Seven Lions.

If the piece is more nature based I might listen to Of Monsters and Men.

Then sometimes, I just listen to whatever is calling to me, like Masterplan, Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, Placebo, M83, Blackmill, Metallica, Evanescence and many more.

 

My Musical Love Affair: Pearl Jam

Prior to 1992, my musical tastes could have gone a few different ways. The small collection of cds that I happen to be cultivating was an eclectic mix of many different genres. Among the first 3 cds I ever had were Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison, and Wilson Phillips’ Wilson Phillips. Add to that the handful of tapes I’d bought (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and a pair of “tape singles” featuring Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” and Faith No More’s “Epic”) and it didn’t necessarily tell a complete tale of “this guy is going to be into this type of music”.

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Growing up, my sister and I were somehow convinced, even with MTV, that the radio only had one station. And it only played the Oldies.

Seriously. If every time you got into the car with your parents the station NEVER CHANGED, you might think there was nothing else.

It got so bad that during the summer the Beach Boys put out “Kokomo”, my sister would call the station to try and get them to put on Madonna and when that failed, she’d opt for “Kokomo” (which they would play because it was the Beach Boys).

Fall of 1992 that changed. Chad Shonk for some reason or another brought over a cd to play while we got ready for another night of D&D. And from what little I heard, I didn’t think much of whatever it was. The next morning (or more like around Noon), when everyone staggered out to their cars in order to go home, Chad forgot to grab the cd.

It sat in my player for about a week, never spinning… until Chad requested his property back. So I thought, “I should probably listen to this band for free since he seems to like them.” So I sat on the edge of my bed, powered up my stereo, and clicked play…

I don’t want to do the cliche’ thing of saying that listen changed my life. It’s not like I suddenly went out and bought a guitar and started a band and made it big because of that night. That said, it might be the first album I’d ever heard that I immediately liked on the first listen.

That weekend I returned it to Chad and promptly bought myself a copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten.

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In that following year it was a mad scramble to find whatever we could that Pearl Jam had done. Back in the days prior to the internet telling us the complete discography of every band, we had to go to the “cool” record shops and dig through the bootlegs they might have. I paid $20 for a taped concert just to get 1 song I’d never heard before (turns out it was a Who song). But every couple of weekends the search would begin anew.

A year later, I purchased Vs. on the day it came out (the first time I’d ever done that). I did it again with Vitalogy. I went to the midnight release of No Code and Yield. Each time I have a slight fear before I press play on the new album. I worry that this will be the point they lose me. I worry that they will become another band that I “liked”. I worry I’ll become one of those fans who, disappointed with the “new stuff” goes on and on about how they used to be good… or whatever happened to those guys or even worse “I wish they’d stopped X albums ago”.

Yet, it hasn’t happened yet. Sure I like some songs more than others, but overall they have yet to disappoint.

In those early days, if I had to chose my side in the Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana grunge war, there was no question where my allegiance was going. I bought Rolling Stones with them on the cover, scanned MTV for any word or bit of news about the band. When Cobain committed suicide my first thought was whether Eddie Vedder would be next (and selfishly thinking about all the songs I would never get to hear if that happened).

While in college I discovered that I could download some of their concerts… so I did. So many concerts (dozens)

I’ve written about my first real concert with them (at the Fox Theater in Atlanta) here. Not only is it my favorite concert of all time, it still is the concert I judge all others by.

I’m lucky too that my wife loves them too. That she’s seen them with me every time I’ve seen them. When they were boycotting Ticketmaster, Courtney and I drove up to Charlotte, NC to see them and then drove home after the concert. 10 years later we did something similar in Columbia, SC, with me somehow finding my way home through blurry eyes. She was the one who scolded me when my Fan Club membership accidentally lapsed and we had to get tickets for the 2000 show like “normal” people.

Look, I make no claim to be Pearl Jam’s biggest fan or anything like that. From reading blogs breaking down every song in their catalog, to reading about the concert exchanges online from various traders… I haven’t reached that level of obsession. I’ve never followed them around on tour (nor have I ever seen more than 1 show on any of their tours).

I do have a spreadsheet showing every concert I’ve been to and the set lists laid out so that I know which songs I have heard in concert and which songs I still need to hear (“Oceans” and “Breath” are two I have never seen from the Ten era that I’d love to be played). Also on this spreadsheet is every song they’ve ever put out in an effort to make sure I have all their songs.

I take offense when I read on a forum about how the show I happened to go to wasn’t as good as the one in X place. That the set list wasn’t as “cool”, or that it was too “paint by numbers”, or even that the crowd “wasn’t as into it”.

So there is a bit of an obsession.

And I believe in fandom. Heck, I read comic books and watch TV shows and go to conventions that are only based on fandom. I believe that while we can LIKE a great many bands, we can only LOVE a select few. Pearl Jam is at the top of that mountain for me.

I love the fact that songs which meant one thing to me in my teens might mean something different to me now.

stewie - like that band too much

In a couple of days I will be seeing them again, for the 9th time (I can’t count Lollapalooza 1992, we only saw 2 songs and it was about a month before Chad brought Ten over), having again drive to Columbia, SC from the suburbs of Atlanta (I still don’t quite understand why Atlanta gets skipped on these southern tours every other time). I don’t have any expectations as this will be the first show I’ve seen not on the heels of an album release. In theory, that could allow them to play almost any song in their arsenal. You see, Pearl Jam is not a band with a locked in set list. It varies night to night, and while there are staples that will be played, it also means some of the more obscure stuff might sneak in there. Maybe a song you haven’t thought about in years. So, yeah, I’m excited. I want the crowd to be into it. I want the band to be into it.

I want the evening to last forever.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Minimoogs, Synthesizers and Trent Reznor

First off… I don’t have a blog post for today. I’ve been thinking about what to write for the past two days with zero luck. I even went through an old archived blog and found nothing I might re-post. But I had this video open in my tabs because I’m a Trent Reznor fan. I know. Hard to believe this nature loving, taoist likes Nine Inch Nails. I’ve always said, I have a dark side. 😉

Regardless, this is an interesting interview. I’ve always had a thing for electronic music and I find it interesting learning how artists find their way into using synthesizers. Maybe you’ll find this interesting too. I found the video in this Rolling Stones Article – Trent Reznor Recalls Making Early Albums, Moog Influence.

Route 3: Sean’s Playlist

I like music. I like it a lot.

When I’m in my car I’ve got my Cake, Chance The Rapper, The Roots, Red Hot Chili Pepper, Kanye West, or Tito Puente Pandora stations on constant rotation. Music helps get me through the day, long writing sessions, and just Sean-3allows me to unwind.

So when writing Route 3 I’ve created a mix-tape of sorts that our protagonist, Sean Anderson, would have queued up on his MP3 player.

I’ll admit a lot of my tastes influence what Sean probably listen’s too, so hey, sue me. We both like good music.

Below is a small sampling of what Sean rocks out to when heading to school, or saving the day.

 

 

 

LOGIC

Logic – Under Pressure (Album): This guy has me constantly thanking Pandora for mixing him into my Chance The Rapper rotation. With a laid back flow, the Maryland born and bred Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, a.k.a Logic would be a constant fixture in Sean’s ears. Logic’s masterful rapping, including insightful lyrics speaking about his newfound success and struggles could form a great reflection to Sean’s own triumphs and trials.

Added to this, Sean would more than likely keep his head bobbing on his “road trip from hell” to the awesome beats/ production being laid down by legendary producer No ID.

KANYE

Kanye West- College Dropout/ Late Registration/ Graduation (Albums): Ok, ok hear me out. Mr. West has become a sort of polarizing figure for a lot of folks. To be honest with you, I don’t focus on anything with him outside of the music. I’m not big into celebrity news/ gossip, and when it comes to Mr. West, for me, all that matters is the music.

The Kanye that Sean would be rocking out to would be what I’ve deemed “The Backpack-Polo Trilogy” (College Dropout/ Late Registration/ Graduation). Not saying that I haven’t enjoyed any of his work that’s dropped after these three album’s, but for me, and Sean by extension, this is classic Kanye, and includes some of his greatest work.

This was the bashful braggart. The socially conscious/ fun rapper, who could belt slick lyrics laced with lines that would make you think and want to dance at the same time. The backpack carrying, polo shirt wearing, rapper/ producer. For Sean this would be a guy who would tap into the smart swagger that he himeself feels he embodies, but which has taken a hit due to death of his own mother.

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Dave Brubeck-Take Five (Single): Gonna cheat here a little, as this would be
a song that would be suggested to Sean. This would be a track that Charles has slipped into the car radio while he and Sean are fleeing across the country. Charles is a bit of a “old head”, as the young folks say, and his musical tastes represents that somewhat.

So he’s a bit of an aficionado of all forms of music. Ranging from classic hip hop, to bluegrass music, Charles likes a little bit of everything, and this includes jazz. After a few conversations where he’s been able to pick Sean’s brain a bit, Charles decides to pull up Dave Brubeck’s seminal work, “Take Five”. It’d be a track that would keep Sean cool, calm, and collected as hell continues to rain down around him, while also opening new doors of music for our young protragonist.

IZ-WonderfulWorld

Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole- Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World Medley (Single)- Even writing about this song gets me all misty eyed and what not.

I can get sappy sometimes.

This for me is the track that I picture Sean’s mother playing for him when he was younger. This was the song that Sean played every night on a portable CD player by his mother’s bedside at the hospital, as she battled cancer. This was their song. This track by the Hawaiian born and raised Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole is the type of song that just leaves you feeling good and happy with life.

The song has a melancholy feel, but at points uplifts you. In my opinion, it’s the best rendition of both Somewhere Over The Rainbow and What A Wonderful World that I’ve heard in a while. So, to just find a moment of peace in the tumultuous events that play out in Route 3, and reminisce on his mother, Sean would have this on repeat on his playlist.

———————————————————————-

Hope you enjoyed this trip down Sean’s musical lane.

One question for my fellow writers/ creators: what artists/songs do your characters listen to?

I’ll Ride the Wave Where It Takes Me

There are many things which make me feel like a man out of time. I joke about it. That I was born too late for having a job in this country (I’d much rather be at one place for decade after decade rather than jumping from one employer to another). I was born too early to see us out there in the stars (since the space program seems to be a little stalled on the man missions to other places right now).

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But one place I might have been in the sweet spot was with music. I was reaching my teen years with the onslaught of Grunge which wiped away the awfulness of Hair Metal (which even now their looks seek to both embarrass and confuse. Where up until that point I was bouncing from whatever might have been on the radio (though there were a couple of years there that both my sister and I thought there was only one radio station – Oldies  – because that is the only point on the dial the radio ever sat on). A strange thought since I change the station on every kind of whim if a certain song is no longer holding my interest.

More than that is with this discovery of something that could be mine, it has been with me every since. I typically cannot sit down and write without it. Most days I’m fortunate enough to have it on while I work the old day job, my headphones assisting me in blocking out the background noise.

Music has become this important piece of my life. Songs and albums act as markers in my past in a way that no singular action could otherwise. And the playing of that particular tune, sending me spiraling back into my own life, and forces me to relive moments both glorious and terrible. Certain songs that can no longer be listened to because of an event I must now associate with them.

Random songs that carry strange and fantastic memories for me –

Kokamo by The Beach Boys – Summer 1988 – Cocktail soundtrack carries a Beach Boy song of all things: Kokamo. Because of the singular radio station in the house, aside from songs on MTV, my sister was obsessed with anything and everything Madonna. Now what does this have to do with the Beach Boys? Well, when you only think there is one radio station in town and you ask them to play Madonna on a daily basis during the summer they are going to tell you NO (especially if they only play the oldies). However, when you are 7 years old, like my sister was, you really just want them to play a song for you. And so Kokamo became the go to song to ask them (after petitioning for Madonna first, of course).

 

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Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana – Winter 1992 – We’re six months after Smells Like Teen Spirit has reached the airwaves, but it has only really been in my head space for a couple of months. But more to the point, this is pre-internet days where BBS(s) ruled the world. Where some people would set up their computers so that we could remote log in to them, play games, download or upload files, and then move on to the next BBS. And my buddy Chad had the idea to set one up on his computer… which worked well enough. As one of his first guinea pigs, I logged on, tried it out. And since the connection was sometimes spotty the following exchange happened:

Hello?

Hello?

Until the other one responded. Chad tweaked this a little bit because of a certain song playing on the radio.

Hello?

Hello?

Hello?

How low?

No matter when I hear the song I get a picture of my old vga monitor (which was large enough to kill an ox) with those words drifting down the screen.

Van Halen - Live - Right Here Right Now 2

Right Here, Right Now (Live) Both Discs by Van Halen – Every College Quarter Break between 1994 and 1999 – My parent moved to Richmond, VA right after I graduated high school in 1994, which mostly meant that when a quarter ended I had the unenviable task of driving 8 hours up I-85 by myself. In the days before iPods and satellite radio, I was not going to suffer at the hands of whatever radio station might be within range. And that meant a book of cds sitting in the passenger seat.

8 hours is a long time.

This is also the part where I confess that I am a Van Hagar fan more than a Van Halen fan. Don’t get me wrong, I like David Lee Roth, but I missed out on his antics with the band. By the time I cared about them, Sammy had been the singer for 3 albums. More than anything though, this thought was cemented by the double live cd I had. Every trip, without fail, I had to listen to the cd(s). It wouldn’t have been a proper trip without them. And, of course, they feature 95% of Van Hagar’s catalog.

Even now, when we make that drive, the desire to listen to those songs are powerful ones.

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Indifference by Pearl Jam – Spring 1994 – Those only familiar with the radio hits will likely not know this song, that’s fine. This serves as much as a lesson learned that I’ve since carried through every concert I’ve since attended. That Spring my future wife, Chad, myself, and our friend Lee had somehow managed to get tickets to their now legendary show at the Fox Theater. They were my favorite band at that point (and still are) so this was going to be amazing. We all ride down to downtown Atlanta together and go to our 2 pairs of seats (we were on level 1 and they were on level 2). The band played pretty much every song in their catalog and did a pair of encores. It still ranks as one of my top 5 all-time concerts I’ve ever been to.

But there is one song Courtney and I did not hear, and that was Indifference. Though, if you check the set-list for that night, listen to one of the copies of the concert that are out there, you might notice that it was, in fact, played as their final song.

See, the problem was that after their second encore they thanked us and the house lights came on. Now, I hadn’t been to very many shows at that point, but I understood that meant “Get the heck out of here.” So Court and I did. However, once at the car we began to wonder what was taking Chad and Lee so long. When they finally arrived we began our trek home and the following conversation took place:

Me – “That was amazing!”

Chad – “Yeah. I especially loved them playing Indifference. That blew my mind.”

John – “Uhm, they didn’t play Indifference.”

Lee – “Yeah, they did, it was the last song they played.”

Beat.

Chad & Lee – “John, did you leave when the lights came on?”

So now I don’t leave until the ushers and other concert staff start to poke me with sticks and the like. I don’t move until the band’s bus is on its way out of the parking lot.

Never again!

 

There are hundreds of others which move to a time and space trapped in my memories. And I am thankful to music for that. They serve as wondrous mile posts and exit signs in a way that I would have never expected.

What songs transport you?

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

A Band Called Death

I don’t remember caring much about music before I was about 12. Maybe that’s the way it is for most kids. I’m not sure. Most of what I listened to was either on MTV or through the oldies’ station on the radio. In fact, there was a window of time that I did not (nor did my younger sister) know the radio had other stations because it was always on that same station playing those old pop-rock songs (no, I don’t know what we thought the dial was for). Then as I got older, my tastes looked to the heavier music: Metallica, Helmet, Alice in Chains, Faith No More… before eventually coming into the various Grunge bands.

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Yet there was one music type that eluded me. The only representative of Punk within my budding music collection was The Misfits. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it was more that I just didn’t have that exposure to it. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear the Ramones or The Clash or The Dead Boys. Even today my access to most punk is through online sources and not through my iPod.

That being said… over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary: A Band Called Death (it is on Netflix and well worth watching).

The gist is this: Death was a punk band before punk bands existed. In the early 70’s, when it would still be a couple of years before the world knew of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, there were 3 African-American brothers from Detroit who was doing their own thing. Their love of “Rock” which caused them to buck the trend. To eschew Motown for a heavier sound. One influenced by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.

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Three brothers who did their own thing and for a little while it worked. The Documentary basically tells their story of how they seemed poised to break and then, mostly because of the name of the band, DEATH, they kept getting turned down. A band with a name like that was going to have a hard time convincing people to look past the title. And so the rejections kept adding up, and like many things, when you are told “no” enough you stop wanting to get your head beaten in.

And the brothers moved onto a different sound with a different name.

I’ve checked out their music and must say that it feels ahead of its time, and my iPod is about to have a little bit of new/old songs for me to listen to.

But maybe the biggest thing I took from the documentary had to do with the fact that one brother effectively decided the fate for the whole band with the name (it was his idea to start), and then later by not giving in on changing the name to something… more agreeable. Think about it… you’re being told that the music you’re doing is good, maybe even great, but that pesky name is going to be a problem. What if you just changed it?

And my initial thinking would have been, “F- it, change the name and get paid. It doesn’t change the music you’ve already written and the music that you may write in the future.”

I mean, this would be the opportunity to have others hear your work… isn’t that, at least partially, why you got into music?

Maybe part of my thinking comes from the fact that I see titles as almost placeholders. In fact, in the stories I’ve worked on, the title is the thing that eludes me for the longest time. And even at the end, when I finally fight through the forest of words to come upon that single word or phrase which works for that tale… I’m not married to it.

So if they (whomever “They” are) asked me to change a book/story/comic title in order for more people to see it… I would make the change.

In a heartbeat.

However, if you see the title of your story as a true extension of the art, then wouldn’t the very nature of that change mean you were altering whatever you intended the reader to see?

Let’s go deeper then. Instead of focusing on the title, what if they were talking about changing the story? Not just editing, but really an overhaul to what the story was about.

Would that be right?

At what point would being asked to change something become too much? Where is my line? What aspects of the writing is worth fighting the good fight over and what things are just something to let slide. Pick the battles worth fighting.

And isn’t that the same thing as what David Hackney and Death was trying to fight against? They wanted to have control over their brand, their identity, but the more I think about it, I believe they just wanted to do it on their terms. Had they lived 30 years later, they would have been able to get their music out. Get past the gatekeepers and let the public determine their fate.

These are the thoughts that spin in my head as we close in on the end of the year. With the advent of the Kindle and then other readers/tablets/apps, we’re now in a world where I can have complete control. Right now, I’m in the process of finalizing my very first novel, The Dark That Follows. And in this new world, I can write my book and not have to answer to anyone. I can hire an editor to help me out, but at the end of the day I get to be the final arbiter on what stays and what goes. It will be my vision 100%.

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And that is terrifying.

Because it is all on me. There are no final checks hired by some company to make sure that every bit of grammar is correct. Or that the cover looks right. Or… or….or…

All on me.

It’s made me realize that sometimes having all that control isn’t always the best thing. That old adage of “be careful what you wish for” fills my brain. This is the path that I have chosen, and the path I’m going to abide by. For better or worse.

So I salute you, Death… in my own way, I’m just following in your footsteps. I just hope I don’t have to wait 30+ years for someone to know it exists.