Although I find it too distracting to listen to music while I write, inspiration for my stories often arises from music. While I was writing In Leah’s Wake, songs brought me into the emotional state necessary to write difficult scenes. Songs set a mood, which helped me envision places, and songs helped me to identify and shape the book’s themes.
The novel opens with Zoe and Will listening to the Van Morrison song “Tupelo Honey,” a sweet love song that gives their relationship context by suggesting happier, better days. “Showdown at Big Sky,” which Will puts on the stereo next, foreshadows the problems on the horizon, and “Face in the Crowd” speaks to the profound loneliness Will feels as he waits up for Leah that night, imaging all the unthinkable horrors that might have befallen his daughter.
Later in the book, the song “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” from Evita, gave me a glimpse into Zoe’s fractured emotional state—remorse compelled by abiding love—as she drives home, wondering what to expect next from her rebellious teenage daughter: “I still need your love after all that I’ve done . . . I love you and I hope you love me . . .” “Stardog Champion” from Stardog Champion by Mother Love Bone, suggests power, so appropriate to the post-fight euphoria felt by Todd and Lupo after a showdown with Will.
Often, songs transport me to a place. Listening to Miles Davis one evening brought me, in my mind, to the coffeehouse Zoe visits with the policeman, Jerry Johnson. Music also helps me to clarify themes. One night, on our way home from dinner, my husband, Dave, played the Bruce Springsteen album Greetings From Asbury Park. The song “Growin’ Up” struck a nerve and I insisted on listening to it over and over. I saw Leah, a good kid, just trying to grow up and make her way in the world.
I heard “Champagne Super Nova,” from the Oasis CD What’s the Story? Morning Glory, when I stepped out of the shower one morning. Our house was wired for sound and Dave was playing the new CD he’d just bought. As with “Growin’ Up,” I insisted that he replay the song, and then replay it again. The pivotal scene, where Justine asks Leah for a cigarette and Leah allows her little sister to smoke, blossomed as I listened to the music.
As I wrote, music came to play a defining role in the book, and I would often search for the right music after writing a scene. The Liszt piano solo “Hungarian Rhapsodies” mirrors Zoe’s frenzied mind as she drives home from her motivational workshop, the day after Leah shows up drunk at 3:00 a.m., after a wild party. The same happened with “Paranoid Android,” from Okay Computer by Radiohead, “I’m On Fire,” from the Bruce Springsteen album Born in the USA, “Stardog Champion,” from Stardog Champion by Mother Love Bone, “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess, and “Misguided Angel,” from The Trinity Session by the Cowboy Junkies.
Without music, In Leah’s Wake would be a very different – and for me, the writer, much less compelling book.
For those of you who, like me, find inspiration in music, here’s the soundtrack. Enjoy!
“Growin’ Up,” Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen, Sony Records, 1972
“Tupelo Honey,” Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison, Polydor/Pgd, 1971
“Showdown At Big Sky,” Robbie Robertson, Robbie Robertson, Universal Int’l, 1987
“A Face In The Crowd,” Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty , MCA, 1989
“John Barleycorn,” John Barleycorn Must Die, Traffic, Island Records, 1970
“Not A Pretty Girl,” Not a Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco, Righteous Babe, 1995
Hungarian Rhapsodies, Franz Liszt, Leslie Howard solo piano, Hyperion, 1999
“Testify,” The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against The Machine, Sony Records, 1999
“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” Evita (Music From The Motion Picture), Madonna, Warner Bros./WEA, 1996
“The Ride of the Valkyries,” Wagner Without Words, Conducted by George Szell, Performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, Sony Records, 1991
“Chase The Blues Away,” Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology, Tim Buckley, Elektra/ WEZ, 1966
“Champagne Supernova,” (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis, Sony, 1995
“The Candy Shop,” The Massacre, Fifty Cent, Aftermath, 2005
“Vital Transformation,” Inner Mounting Flame, The Mahavishnu Orchestra Jazz, Sony 1971
“Strawberry Fields Forever,” Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles, Capitol Records, 1967
“Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5,” Mozart: The Five Violin Concertos by Itzhak Perlman violin, Weiner Philharmoniker and James Levine, Deutsche Grammophon, 1995
“Surrey With The Fringe on Top,” Steamin, Mile Davis, Prestige, 1956
“Come As You Are,” Nevermind, Nirvana, Geffen Records, 1991
“Paranoid Android,” Okay Computer, Radiohead, Capitol Records, 1997
“I’m On Fire,” Born in The USA, Bruce Springsteen, Sony, 1984
“Stardog Champion,” Stardog Champion, Mother Love Bone, Mercury/Universal, 1992
“I Loves You, Porgy,” The Melody At Night With You, Keith Jarrett, EMC Records, 1900
“Hasta Siempre, Witchi-Tai-To, Jan Garbarek and Bobo Stenson Quartet, EMC, 1973 Records
“As The Years Go Passing By,” Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King, Stax, 1967
“Misguided Angel,” The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies, RCA Records, 1988
“Davidian,” Burn My Eyes, Machine Head, Roadrunner Records, 1994
“Here I Am, Lord,” Wonder, Love, and Praise, Daniel Schutte, New Dawn Music, 1981