I Write the Songs
I did a bit, of course, for the books of my Keltiad series, especially the Tales of Arthur trilogy, in which the narrator was the bard Taliesin, foster-brother and brother-in-law of the king. Though lots of the songs/poems were indeed original, I did tinker a bit with actual existing stuff (long since public domain, since they dated from the sixth century on).
But the songs I’m writing now, for my in-the-works rock series, are very different. And since I posted one here yesterday, and a couple more beginning last summer, I thought I’d talk a bit about the process that got me creating them.
(These are all copyrighted, by the way, so don’t go thinking you can grab them and fannishly have your way with them. Because if you do I’ll have my way with you, and you won’t like it one bit, oh no, you won’t…)
Anyway, the current songs are from varying periods in the overall 1962—at-the-moment-open-ended creative timeline of a fictional, hugely successful, British power-bluesrock band (think early Stones/Cream/Who/Led Zeppelin) called Lionheart.
Most of them are “written” by my co-protagonist Turk Wayland, Lionheart’s founder and superstar lead guitarist (protagonist Rennie’s boyfriend and, later, husband), though he has a writing partner in the band who sometimes solos with his own tunes. (And, interestingly, those are very different from the ones Turk writes.)
I have melody lines for most of them, usually the hooks, but as I don’t write music they’re all just in my head...
Turk is an English blues guitar god (NOT lead vocalist!) loosely modeled, talent-wise, on Eric Clapton without the drug problems. He’s really the rock star that never was on land or sea: intelligent, gorgeous, blond, complex, literate—calm and temperate in his personal life but setting the stage on fire when he straps on his Strat.
And Lionheart is as real as any fictional band can possibly be. With all the problems and wonders of a rock band of that era—the personality dynamics, ego clashes, business difficulties and general over-the-topness—and that had to be reflected in the songs.
But, funny thing, somewhere along the way Turk noticed there were no actual songs actually in the books, and he decided he wanted a few lines here and there. Always eager to please a main character in one of my novels, I sat down and wrote some.
And then he decided he wanted entire songs. He got quite insistent about it, too. Wouldn’t let me write anything else until I wrote them. (My characters often do stuff like that, but nobody’s been pushier than Fictional Guitar Hero.)
So to keep Turk happy, as the books have progressed I worked out a complete 14-album discography for Lionheart, including dates, album and song titles, A and B sides of AM singles, FM airplay hits, band members, musician friends sitting in (both fictional and real-life ones), studio, live and greatest hits LPs, even a complete touring schedule for 1969, including venues, travel days and time off. Oh, and I designed their logo too.
Because that’s the kind of writer (or crazy person) I am.
As for the songs themselves (I have over thirty now!), it’s been a fascinating experience writing them. Very different from anything else I’ve written: oddly enough, it’s more like writing advertising copy or even criticism/reviews than like writing fiction.
I wrote a few songs with Jim, of course (including some extra verses for “People Are Strange”, really cool ones too, which we cooked up together one night when I complained once too often that there weren’t enough damn words to one of my favorite Doors songs and he finally got tired of hearing me whine about it). But I never did anything like this for myself, or for, in effect, an existing, working rock group. Which Lionheart is, albeit a fictional one.
It’s been interesting to see how Lionheart is evolving as a band, and Turk as a songwriter. The early songs are shorter, punchier—though still less simple than, say, Beatle songs of that era. In 1967, Lionheart has their own Sgt. Pepper moment, and their music gets denser and more ornate; then Turk falls in love with Rennie (and breaks up with her, and reunites) and writes some love songs for her (and to get her back). And after that, the music gets personally topical in a generic sort of way.
It’s hard to explain, which makes me appreciate all the more the many artists I interviewed back in the day, who were so patient with me when I was trying to get them to tell me How and Why when it’s so difficult to put into words at all. Words other than the lyrics, I mean.
Too, it’s a bit problematic writing songs for a band you never get to actually hear. Lyrics, sure: two songs in each book as front- and endpieces. But not the tunes, so I have to compensate somehow.
So, bringing out long-unused rock critic chops, I describe in detail a couple of Lionheart performances in fabled venues, and rock persons of my acquaintance who’ve read these scenes have paid me the compliment of saying that I have made these shows sound so amazing they wish they could actually attend them. Man, I wish I could too… But that’s still very nice to hear.
Of course, on quiet nights alone with my laptop and my iPod I fantasize about someone like Clapton actually recording one or two of them, but that’s just a fantasy-writer’s fantasy. Still, you never know…hey, Eric, call my agent!
Jim once told me that he always knew when something came to him whether it was going to be a song or a poem, and it wasn’t simply because one came with music and the other didn’t—it was that they came from very different places. Which of course made perfect sense to me.
But I never really understood what he meant until I met up with Turk.