When I first started doing so reasearch for my novel some years back, I looked into specific eras that I wanted to be inspired by. At first I thought I was going for something more 1920s because of how young planes were at this stage, but then later realized that I also wanted more of the lifestyles and technologies adopted in the 30s (roughly speaking). Still, I was really interested in how planes performed and were used during WWI as opposed to WWII.
That’s when I happened to stumble across firstworldwar.com. They’ve got all sorts of information on the war, ranging from first-hand accounts in the forms of hand-written letters to music and video footage.
Inspired by Music
I hadn’t expected to find music there, so I was especially interested in listening to the kind that was played and listened to around that timeframe. Here’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve sampled from their collection (using YouTube since I can’t upload MP3s without paying extra monies!):
That one is dated 1911, though the one on firstworldwar.com says it was written in 1911 and recorded in 1912. In any case, it predates the war, so it doesn’t make reference to it. I suppose like it because it’s fun and light-hearted and hasn’t been influenced by war. You get a glimpse of life in America before the coming storm.
Realizing that maybe this was a little earlier style of music than I was looking for, I found 6thcorpsmusic.us, which features music from around the WWII era. Lots of good selections there.
There’s a big gap between the two (from the early 1910s to the mid-1940s), and the range of musical influences I was looking for lies somewhere in the middle. Still, it was a fun research of sorts. I think listening to the music from different times gives you a certain kind of insight into what people were all about back then. What people care about is typically what they’ll sing about.
Why This Has Anything to Do with Writing
After listening to all of this vintage music, I thought, “Hmm…what if I came up with a song that was popular in my novel’s storyworld?”
All right, why not?
Well, I have this (dead) character, a traitorous double agent, who’s become a part of the contemporary culture of the people in my story–a legend, even. She’s a Mata Hari figure, of sorts, who’s inspired others to create several movies, songs and novels about her. And, as you can imagine, the tales that people tell about her have likely undergone some…change over time and distanced themselves from the actual truth, which is what makes them kind of legend. It’s just another look at how a tragedy can become a romanticized figure, despite what she did (committed treason) and what happened to her as a result (execution).
So I thought this would be perfect material for a song and a fun way to spin a tale within a tale–one that maintains relevance throughout the story.
“Dirty Little Spy” is the name I came up with for the song. It would be sung by a female blues singer (I only meet half this requirement, lol) in the key of A minor and at a fairly slow tempo. I guess the form would be something like AABABBC, for those who are into music.
I have put parts of the song into the story, but I don’t use all of the lyrics, as that would get clunky and awkward. Anyhow, it tells the story of this double agent I mentioned, whose last name is Feruupa (she was a Borellian citizen). Here’s what I came up with:
There once was a girl named Feruupa,
She worked the cabaret shows at night.
Then she met a man who was strange and new
And he liked her ways—so sly and cool.
“You could be a spy.”
So she thought the deal over and over,
And it just seemed so perfect and right.
She could travel the world and see the sights,
Maybe work by day and spy by night.
“I wanna be a spy.”
Baby, darling, it’s but a game.
Business, pleasure—it’s all the same.
So I fool you once, a pardon is due;
I fool you twice, the fool is you.
You never woulda guessed I was a spy.
So she took a job over in Darmoil.
When she came back she just weren’t the same.
Something changed her mind and she did the unkind,
Put one over her lover, kicked her country in the ‘hind.
“You never shoulda known I was a spy.”
For treason she made a date with the electric chair.
“How unfair,” she wailed, but it didn’t care
‘Cause she was just a no-good,
[The ending would get really, really slow…and then suddenly pick back up again.]
Naturally, I had to make this song something that my heroine would be influenced by. She’s got some silly notions floating around in her head about how glorious spying would be–notions which are soon challenged after she gets an offer to become one herself!
I’ve never tried writing anything with a jazzy blues feel to it before, so it’s something I’d have to experiment with more. However, I did find this really neat video on YouTube of a couple of guys just experimenting with unusual sound combinations. They call it “oud blues“. It sounds exotic yet familiar–exactly the kind of quality I was looking for. I thought it would be really cool if the song was played in a similar style but slower–something I haven’t exactly figured out how to accomplish yet, heh. Anyway, here’s the video:
Now, I do play some piano, but since I don’t play the oud or the bass it would be difficult to bring the entire song to life unless I use composition software. And I’m generally not a singer (too shy!) though I can sing things in-tune and in-key, so long as it’s within my range. So maybe one day I’ll be able to sit down and finish fleshing out the song into an entire composition.
Does music play a role in any of your stories?
If so, in what way? Also, how large or small of a role does it play?
Sometimes, I’ve noticed, authors will make passing references or allusions to songs and celebrities, or if there’s television or radio a reference to what’s playing on there–particularly when it’s set in the real world. Though, I have seen it done some in secondary worlds. In Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch he sometimes includes rebel radio messages spoken by the Lady in Blue, the leader of an ongoing resistance movement. I thought this was a nice touch.
Just the mere mention of things like music and even news that’s being talked about in newspapers, radio and other mediums, even word of mouth, can add an extra level of depth and richness to a story. However, I think it only becomes meaningful to the reader if it has relevance to the story itself.
What do you think?