Music plays a large role in shaping the words I write.
In my current WIP, music plays an integral part in how the story is told. Rather than the story being told in Part/Chapter format, I’m incorporating that so very ubiquitous relic from the 1990s to help tell the story: the mix tape.
There was an art form to the mix tape. You didn’t just throw 15-20 songs onto a 90-minute cassette (or did you?) and simply write “MIX TAPE!” on the label. You chose the songs carefully, those songs revealing a veiled clue about yourself, or something you wanted to convey to the person you were making the mix tape for. My mix tapes were short autobiographical essays – something I covered in the essay “My Life as a Mix Tape, Parts 1 and 2,” in my book, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes, and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere. – that were constants in my mid-twenties. The bulk of the music on those mix tapes were what was burning underground in the alternative music scene, some of which became hits, others destined for obscurity.
My WIP takes place right around 1995-96, which would have been during my mid-twenties. So why the mid-nineties? For starters, there seems to be a trend towards writers obsessing over New York City’s past, and I’m one of them. As I’m writing this book, I’m reliving streets I used to roam, conversations I’ve had at bars and clubs, the women I loved, and the music I listened to. The mid-nineties was when the Internet first became a household word. When Friends and The X-Files were what we were watching on TV. This was a particularly difficult time for me, as I was feeling rudderless, the first onset of what would be depression coming down upon me. Music was the salve, what I could most identify with, especially when you consider the music at the time was very feeling-centric. Singer-songwriters who were confessional, stark in their approach. Kurt Cobain, yes, but also Jeff Buckley. Elliott Smith, too. They’re all dead. I don’t know why I’m bringing them up.
Music from the Nineties has something of a mixed reputation these days. The Nineties gave us Radiohead (praise Allah), Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Massive Attack, Pavement, the Chemical Brothers, the Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., Portishead, Mariah Carey, just to name a few. It also gave us some of the worst one-hit wonders ever. The “Macarena,” anyone? How about “Tubthumping?” “Mambo No. 5?”
There was also Hootie and the Blowfish. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Boy bands also ruled the roost. Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and N*SYNC, although the latter can be forgive for giving us Justin Timberlake. The Nineties also gave us Britney Spears. Actually, I’m not going to dump on Britney. I admit to liking a few songs of hers. “Toxic?” Three-and-a-half minutes of pure perfect pop. FACT.
But there was a lot of shitty music. If grunge – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden – did smash hair metal into thousands of aerosol-stained pieces, it also begat its slew of hideous copycats. Stone Temple Pilots. Creed. Filter. Limp Bizkit. Oh, Jesus, I just threw up in my mouth typing their name…
We also saw a greater influx of women in the music industry, through both the singer-songwriter – Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette, Fiona Apple, just to name a few. The spiritual daughters of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Carole King recreated the confessional tomes of Blue and Tapestry for the Nineties, paving way for future female singer-songwriters.
And there were the Women Who Rocked. The Riot Grrls, lead by Sleater-Kinney, Babes in Toyland, and L7, proved you didn’t need a dick to rock hard, just the attitude and killer riffs. Across the pond, PJ Harvey’s minimalist garage punk, Bjork’s mad-hatter beats and otherworldly banshee wail, and Garbage’s Shirley Manson’s darkly comic lyrics and no-bullshit demeanor left me breathless. Then there was Hole, led by America’s Sweetheart, the delightful train wreck known as Courtney Love. Live Through This was a festering, oozing wound of past traumas, unresolved anger, unaired grievances, dark psycho-sexual politics, and black comedy, and it’s still as emotionally gut-wrenching a listen today as it was when it came out the week after Kurt Cobain romanced a shotgun.
“The Lithium Shuffle” is the playlist I’ve put together to put in the frame of mind as I’m writing this novel. As I listen to this playlist, and write this novel, the idea of the novel as a mix tape began to come to mind. Instead of a book separated into “parts,” it’s “Side One,” and “Side Two.” Each chapter is a “track,” the novel an entire mix tape that tells the story of a suicidal woman embarking on a road trip across 1990’s America with a fictional character.
I thought I’d share with you a few songs (well, some of my favorites) on the “Lithium Shuffle” playlist, a playlist that’s growing daily.. Some of these songs make up the titles of the “tracks” on the novel. Enjoy!
Screaming Trees – Nearly Lost You
Pulp – Common People
PJ Harvey – Dress
Morphine – Cure for Pain
Sugar – Helpless
Garbage – Milk
Folk Implosion – Natural One
Nada Surf – Imaginary Friends
Yo La Tengo – Big Day Coming
Joan Osborne – Right Hand Man
Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out