Music has often inspired titles and moments in my stories. The title Substitute for Love I owe to Madonna and The Kiss that Counted to Catie Curtis, for example. What’s rare is when particular songs – their lyrics, tone, power – drive the creativity so much so that I know it’s a song that the characters have heard and responded to as well.
After all, the characters are real people, right?
Take Radiohead’s angry, unvarnished “Creep.” In Captain of Industry, Suzanne Mason refers to the song as one she listened to nonstop throughout college. The lyrics, with lines like, “Your skin makes me cry,” would be powerful for her, as would the potent mix of rage, embarrassment and inadequacy that the classic recording conveys.
A first dance full of smoke and fire between Cinny and Natalie in Unforgettable of course has a reference to “Smooth,” the hot-summer-night collaboration of Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana. KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” is the bounce in Jennifer Lamont’s step in the early days of her modeling career.
For Captain of Industry the connection to music developed over time. Sometimes I heard a new song (like “Surrender”) and realized it fit. Other times my mind turned to a particular song while writing scenes (“Suddenly I See”). Some songs were perfect for the moment and the characters’ tastes (“Creep”).
Because it was a wonderful distraction from actually writing, I created a playlist in my media library, though I only listened to it away from the keyboard. I do feel behind the curve as authors often publish playlists for their novels. Like I’ve left 2004, whee! Why devote a blog to something that’s sort of passe? Because I don’t want to forget the list. Thanks, estrogen.
The songs range in content across humorous and coy first love, brash desire, and bone-melting longing, with styles from R&B to Heavy Metal to Pop and Rock.
- Shooz – Herbie Hancock Instrumental drum riff.
- Suddenly I See – KT Tunstall (featured in the opening of The Devil Wears Prada) “And everything around her is a silver pool of light.”
- You Are My Kind – Seal, Santana “Stay with me baby / And that’s all I ask of you.”
- Living for Love – Madonna “Took me to heaven and let me fall down / Now that it’s over I’m gonna carry on.”
- Retrograde – James Blake (the use of dissonance to create sexual tension seemed perfect for the early years of Jennifer’s and Suzanne’s history) “Ignore everybody else / We’re alone now.”
- Centuries – Fall Out Boy (with Suzanne Vega) “And just one mistake / Is all it will take.”
- Pump It Up – Elvis Costello “She’s been a bad girl / she’s like a chemical.”
- I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins rec Annie Lennox (Does any other voice cut glass around the heart like Annie’s?) “And I don’t care if you don’t want me / I’m yours right now.”
- Must Be Crazy for Me – Melissa Etheridge “Don’t tell your friends / You’ve been hangin’ round.”
- The Body is a Stairway of Skin – Over the Rhine (Karin Bergquist, vocal by Dido) “Breaking is the one thing we all fear.”
- Was – Kenny Wayne Shepherd “It wasn’t wrong or right / How deep that knife could go.”
- Inside the Fire – Disturbed “See her, you’ll never free her / You must surrender it all / In your life to meet again.”
- Creep – Thom Yorke, Radiohead “But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here.”
- Fight Through It – Melanie Fiona “I’ll fight through it / I’ll fight for you.”
- Wishing it Was – Eagle-Eye Cherry, Santana “Always feel safe when things are bad / So I cannot let you come near.”
- Elastic Heart – Sia “Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart / But your blade it might be too sharp.”
- Surrender – Matisyahu “You are my tide, you are the one / Sing a song of creation / and an anthem for the young.”
- Come and Get It – Paul McCartney, rec Badfinger “Did I hear you say / That there must be a catch?”
- Feel Like Fire – Dido, Santana “I feel my love / Can give me what I want / For all time.”
A commentary on craft: The only song on this list actually mentioned in Captain of Industry is “Creep.” See previous blogs on use of song lyrics Asked and Answered: Song Lyrics and Should You? Song Lyrics in Fiction.