The Magic of Music and Storytelling
There is a lot of overlap between music and books, both being rich and powerful forms of storytelling. It’s not often that we really stop and think about how closely they’re intertwined, and how one can be used to enhance or improve the other. Rebecca Neely is an author that has been affected by music her whole life, and is here to tell us about how she now uses it to help inspire her work as a novelist.
Since the beginning of time, people the world over have embraced and celebrated the phenomenon of music in all its diverse forms. In turn, it embodies the essence of people by encompassing, reflecting, recording and communicating their diverse heritage, traditions, cultures, customs, races, ethnicities, languages and religions. Even geography, climate, economics and the use of technology contributes to the creation, artistry and performance of music. Indeed, as a whole it’s not only influenced by these myriad factors, but influences them in turn. From blues to hard rock, country to rap, easy listening to opera, folk to reggae, music transcends the very elements which contribute to its proliferation, bringing people together as varied as the music itself with universal and timeless messages of joy and sadness, hope and loss, celebration and ritual.
As such, music is, in its own right, a quintessential form of storytelling, a rich and powerful kind of collective history passed down from one generation to the next to enrich, embrace and enjoy. Both of these art forms possess what I deem the unique ability to feed the soul by entertaining, soothing, teaching, relaxing and inspiring. Because of that, I cherish the lifelong connection I have with both music and storytelling—professionally, as a writer, and personally.
I was raised on my parents’ records, which included Johnny Cash, the Platters, Patsy Cline, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, Carly Simon and Ray Charles. As a child, I still remember watching my parents dance in our living room to ‘Only You’ by the Platters – it was their song. Even then, I loved the story the music told, in songs like Cash’s ‘The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer’, John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’.
As a teen, I loved to listen to the radio (still do) and remember begging my parents to let me go to a Bruce Springsteen concert when I was thirteen. But it was a no go. I was too young, they said, but I’ve more than made up for missing the show in the last thirty odd years, attending concerts at venues all over Pittsburgh. When I was nineteen, I saw Rod Stewart in concert at the Civic Arena (long gone), and I remember feeling like he was singing every song just to me. Sigh. Another storyteller / lyricist extraordinaire. My favorite? ‘You’re in my Heart’.
In this day and age, seemingly every part of our lives is touched by music. Apps like Pandora and Spotify allow me to enjoy every genre under the sun, whatever my mood. Sirius Satellite Radio has given me an entirely new outlook on road trips. And shows like The Voice and VH1 Storytellers captivate me. But even more, I adore the magic of music, the magic that captures the words you can’t, that tells the story your soul yearns to, and speaks to your heart, forever to remain.
That magic and my love of music spills into my storytelling, and vice versa. As a writer, I’ve brought that passion to the page by drawing on a ‘playlist’, as many authors do, for the stories I’m writing. Sometimes a song seems custom made for a character or a scene, and sometimes I go looking for inspiration. If I cry while I’m writing a scene, I know I’m on the right track (pun intended). No matter, when a song touches me deeply, it’s that intense hit you in the gut emotion I’m trying desperately to capture for my readers.
Such is the case for my Crossing Realms books. Though they’re dark paranormal stories, they also contain themes of family, second chances, and acceptance. Here’s just some of my musical inspiration for THE BETRAYER, Book 3 in the series, coming soon.
‘Mama’ by Genesis. I can’t say enough about the powerful emotions this song elicits for me. It’s ominous, evil, dangerous, hypnotic, and underscoring it all is a desperate need, almost a frightening longing for love. The melody, the lyrics, the instruments all mirror the angst my characters are living through. It even speaks to the villain and his failed relationships. “It’s the heat and the steam of the city”—this lyric captures the setting of the books: the grit and energy of the city, along with its desolate, forgotten parts. And the desolate and forgotten people and beings inhabiting them. This song’s eerie, electric beat, cagey percussion and Phil Collins’ maniacal laughter drive it all home.
Randy Newman’s ‘Feels Like Home’, sung by Bonnie Raitt. Sheer simplicity, aching tenderness and raw vulnerability—in the lyrics, the piano and Bonnie’s voice—strip my soul bare, every time I hear this one. I was already married to this song when I first heard a rendition of it in the movie Michael. And I was already a huge fan of Randy Newman and later discovered his musical Faust, for which this song was written. My heroine, Jordan, is the epitome of ‘Feels Like Home’: “If you knew how lonely my life had been…” “If you knew how I wanted someone to come along and change my world the way you done…” Bluesy, fragile, with just a hint of grit, Bonnie and her voice convince you she’s lived these lyrics.
In my writing, in my life, music continues to inspire, energize and enlighten me. It’s constantly evolving, and so am I. It connects me to the people in my life; my boyfriend introduced me to Delbert McClinton, I’ve shared AC/DC and Waylon Jennings with my teenaged daughter, she got me going on Sam Smith and Alessia Cara. Music marks the moments of our lives. As such, it becomes a part of us, and we of it, leaving an indelible mark on our hearts, minds, and souls. Simply put, music is, in many ways, telling our stories.
What music is telling your story?