Do the kids stand a chance?

As you get older it’s tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell. Evidence for this has never been hard to find. I remember my own parents’ complaints and my grandparents’ as well. I think that as you become an adult, you need to fight the temptation to believe that change is bad. Remind yourself that along with more chain restaurants we also have more tolerance. Global warming and an increasingly skewed wealth distribution are at least partially offset by more fairness and globally available information. Right? At least partially right.

vampire weekendI’m checking the links for the music in each of my novels and I’ve gotten as far as song four of nine. In y1, it’s not until the fourth song of the novel that we get to sample the musical tastes of a grown-up Zane. As an adult, he has discovered that certain songs help him alter his appearance. As he concentrates to morph his shape slightly before he enters the teen boot camp that has held Afi prisoner, he turns to the song “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” by Vampire Weekend.

So today, I listened to several videos of the song and I just spent time at a few sites that analyze the lyrics. A break of several years has served to make the message more stark. When unlimited comfort and entertainment is dangled in front, not to mention Egyptian cotton, who can resist?

Some people can. The intervening seven years since this song came out has seen the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the re-election of a president more in favor a social fairness than most, and several changes by law and court ruling that promote a more just society. Yes, there is plenty on the other side of the ledger too, and I’m not going to start listing that here. Suffice to say, at least doom is not the clear cut winner.

I also noticed something else. Every version of the lyrics I could find online today referred to the “pinstriped men of morning” who are “coming for to dance”. Yet I distinctly remember words that sounded something more like “the bitch of manamomith is coming for to dance”. Can’t find that version anywhere. Also there used to be something about a hollow embassy which seems to have been replaced with the verse about a soft pillow and the need to advance.

Did the band decide to chance the lyrics? I’ve no problem with that; the new words might present a clearer image. But why wouldn’t a famous band changing the words to a hit song have provoked a few articles on the internet?  If it did, I can’t find them, and I am pretty good at looking.

Well, whatever the story is, the song remains one of my favorites. Enjoy the excerpt from y1 below, and then the Miike Snow remix. But listen carefully to the words.  Drop me a comment please if you can solve the mystery.

Toby offered to be Mr. Zeitman, thinking that might work better, but Zane brushed him off. “No. We’ll both look up when they say that name and they’ll know something is amiss.” Then he added in a mumble to himself “I can handle this.”

So as Zane changed into his best dress clothes below deck, he concentrated on trying to force his face to age slightly. Music had always helped him work with his body, much the way music helped him exercise, so he searched his iPod quickly for a song that would be just right. He laughed when he found Vampire Weekend’s November 2008 tune “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”. Perfect. He picked the Miike Snow remix because he loved that way that the ominous lyrics intertwined with the twinkly sounds. The contrast made a sort of hot and sour soup that swam through his head, helping his body to make its subtle changes while he dressed.

At a few minutes before nine, a canoe with a small outboard motor came out of the cove to the left and approached Miss Demeanor’s port side. The sailboat had dropped anchor and Joy had the helm. Afi was below deck nowhere to be seen. Toby had donned his cleanest shorts and only collared shirt, the best he could do. Zane, in the khaki pants and dress shirt, looked more like the guy in charge. Toby could have sworn that the illusion was helped by the fact that Zane seemed to have put on a few pounds, and, now that Toby looked at him, that his face looked older as well. Were those fine lines from just a week of sea and sun? They say the ocean ages one quickly, but…

The Samoan man lowered the throttle on his tiny engine, then introduced himself as Va’iga, an assistant headmaster of the school. He pulled up alongside Miss Demeanor and helped the two men climb down its ladder to board the little transfer boat. After his greeting, Va’iga was quiet for the duration of the short journey, leaving Zane to stare at the water and think about the backstroke as the lyrics to “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” continued to play in his head.

After they climbed off the canoe and onto a small dock that was well concealed by shrubbery, it was only a short walk to the school’s simple wooden office. Toby noticed the state-of-art burglar alarm as they entered. They learned that the headmaster Dick Stafford lived in this sturdily built and well-secured house, which also had a guestroom for Mark when he visited.

They were greeted by Mark Hadley himself, who turned out to be an attractive, well-groomed man with a full head of silvery-blonde hair, and a smile that turned off and on in an instant. He apparently liked to gaze straight into a person’s eyes while asking rhetorical questions such as “Don’t you think we have no greater asset than our youth, our hope for tomorrow?” After a few such questions to both men, he focused on Zane as the decision-maker, and the one most likely to answer “Absolutely, no question” to Mark’s satisfaction.

Toby enjoyed playing the part of the accompanying aide, and watched with some marvel while Zane seemed to grow into his own role. The boy not only looked older and fuller, Toby was also willing to bet that he was taller. Dress shoes and standing up straight? Incredible.

The meeting was short, and the tour even shorter. Mark mostly spoke with pride about how he had personally built his chain of academies from nothing over the past ten years, helping hundreds of youngsters through his sheer intelligence and hard work, and how he now had great plans to expand in the next decade. Toby thought that the man sounded like a walking infomercial.

They briefly met with Dick, the headmaster, who turned out to be a short, stocky American with a military haircut and a curt demeanor. They were only really allowed to see the eating facilities while not in use and to view a few students from a distance. Toby tried to memorize everything he could about the place while Zane continued to make nice. After a final exchange of platitudes, during which Mark announced that he would see to it that he was personally present to show the visiting doctors around in January, they were taken back to their boat. Toby could tell from fifty feet away that something was very wrong. Joy was sitting at the helm crying.

The following YouTube video really has no video to speak of, but it is a wonderful way to listen to the twinkly, fun Miike Snow Remix of this great song.

Buy the original song at Amazon.com.

Fie… errr…

fireIf there are two things sure to mesmerize humans, it is crashing waves and a dancing flame. There was no realistic way to bring the thundering sea into our cozy new mountain home, but we could definitely do fire. So, a chunk of our budget for moving here was diverted to replacing an existing small gas stove with something we could sit around and watch. We figure that you’ve just got to indulge some of those primal instincts.

Initially, I wanted to burn wood. I’ve always had a “real” fireplace and the sound and smell is part of the joy. But last winter we spent a week in a snowstorm with a well-designed gas fireplace, and I had to admit that the lack of chopping, hauling, and cleaning was a joy, as was the almost instant on and off that allowed us to experience flame for just a moment here and there anytime we wanted.

So gas it was. But I balked at the fake logs. I just don’t like fake flowers or foliage and I wasn’t any more fond of watching my flames dance through simulated bark. Lucky for me, modern times have brought better alternatives. I could have glass beads or tumbled marble or river rock. Wait, real rock? That worked.

Three months and more-money-than-we-expected later, we have it and it is a joy. Something deep in our collective unconscious takes comfort from the flame, as it draws us closer.

I used both the sea and fire a lot in the novel y1, as I let each draw my disparate characters together. Fire gets its first use in the story by way of another primitive glue, music. The book mentions and links to nine different songs; most of them are contemporary and from the broader electronic dance music genre. This one is a throwback, however, as one of the older characters in the book reaches out with “Fire” to the young man who has stowed away on his sailboat. Enjoy the excerpt and song below.

tropical-sunsetAs Toby’s much-loved sailboat Miss Demeanor finally made her way through the Nanuku Passage towards Fiji’s main two islands, Toby radioed ahead to ensure that a health inspector would be available to clear the boat so they could proceed out of quarantine anchorage with minimum delay. As he spoke with port control, he watched Afi expertly use the sails to turn the boat to pass to the north of Koro Island, and Toby decided that Afi made a great crew. Perhaps he would let the boy work on board until he turned twenty-one. In which case he should learn more about him after all.

It didn’t take much prodding to find out that before being whisked off for unnamed crimes, Afi had a hobby, of sorts, in that he aspired to become proficient in the Samoan fire knife dance. Apparently Afi had practiced a lot and on occasion performed for friends and family, and even for profit. His unusual flexibility had enabled him to perfect a few unique moves that other dancers could not even attempt. Toby wondered if wanting to fire dance in the South Pacific was a little bit like wanting to play baseball in U.S.

Years ago Toby had installed a high-end J.L. Audio marine sound system on his boat, and it was one indulgence he had never regretted. He prided himself on maintaining an immense collection of music on the best MP3 player he could find. Sometimes the quiet at sea was soothing. But often, whatever music suited his mood was far better. He had genre days. One day, nothing but classical music. On another day, it was all reggae. He had theme days, like days when no song would be played that didn’t have a word describing weather in the title. On this journey he had played mostly classic rock and roll, which Afi had seemed to enjoy well enough.

51R-CmnG45L._SL500_AA280_Once he learned of Afi’s love of fire dancing, though, he decided to find a couple of fire songs as they approached Fiji. With a smile of satisfaction he selected a few oldies from the fifties and sixties that referred to fire. When he played Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”, Afi smiled in recognition. But when the speakers began to blare the Doors 1967 hit “Light My Fire” Afi grinned at this one and started to sing along. Pretty soon both men were belting out the chorus. “Fie… errr…” drifted out over the waves of Savusavu Bay along with their laughter.

“What to do you think?” Toby asked.

“I think you have a great sound system.” Afi was honest. Toby waited.

“I think you found fire songs for me, which was nice.” Toby waited more.

“I think your music could use a little updating?”

Toby laughed. He had been expecting that remark for days.

Afi continued. “There are a lot of great new songs about fire too. Maybe in Fiji we can download some? And we can make a bigger collection, with the old and the new?”

“We absolutely can. Music is one of the supplies I continue to stock up on, even if I don’t need anything else. I usually just add more oldies, but we will see what we can find from the last five years. I promise.”

Listen to the Doors perform their biggest hit live in New York in 1968.

You can buy this song at Amazon.com.

Party like it’s ……

fireworksWho can’t fill in the blank on this one? In the introduction to y1, the millennium nears it end and thirteen year old Zane waits for the year 2000 while singing “1999” by Prince.

While Zane struggled to flex his orbicularis oculi, a small but industrious segment of the world’s population was spending much of its time confronting the possibility of chaos and doom. These computer programmers, mostly aging geeks who knew machine code and legacy programming languages like Fortran, Basic and C, found themselves hired by companies the world over to fight small personal battles with ancient (that would be 1950 through 1980) software. Their mission? To see that computers, and all the myriad of utilities, finances, government records, shipping, and communications now largely run by these machines, would not all come to a grinding halt because decades ago well-meaning programmers just like themselves had told computers that years only had two digits.

As the year 1999 neared its end, another segment of the world’s population wrote increasingly horrific articles about this villain, dubbed Y2K, telling of confused computers leading to the end of modern society. As the end of December approached, security forces the world over went quietly on the highest of alerts. Just in case.

Prince’s 1982 hit “1999” was re-released again in time for year’s end, and at least seven other recording artists did timely covers of the song, leaving much of the world’s population singing that they personally intended to start partying like it was 1999. It was an exciting time to be alive, this end of a millennium.

But wait. It wasn’t actually the end of the millennium, and everyone past the age of four knew it. Because the Gregorian calendar, based on a perceived date for Christ’s birth and now in common usage the world over, had begun with the year one, not the year zero, everyone knew that December 31, 2000, not 1999, would mark the real end of the millennium. And no one cared. December 31, 1999, was the big day. It was the day on which the odometer turned over, the day on which all the nines rolled into zeroes. It was the day that everyone cared about. It was the day on which the world might end. It was the day on which everyone wanted to be somewhere safe. Or somewhere special. Or both.

20121101_215834If there is one thing harder to find on the internet than videos of performances of Disney songs, it would have to be videos of performances by Prince. Click on 1999 below to see this wonderful one from France that captures the energy of this great song. Enjoy!

1999

(You can buy this millennial hit at Amazon.com.)

With the second song of each book, I pick up on the intensity of the theme a little more. Click on to read about x0’s “We are the World“, z2’s “Only the Strong Survive“, c3’s “Heads Carolina” and d4’s “I Follow Rivers“.

It’s about you.

zen2zany 1Or her. Or him. But not me.

I’m about halfway through d4 now and finally starting to roll. Today I came up with the final tweak to the final scene in the book. Mind you, there is many a occurrence in-between that I haven’t figured out yet, but I know from experience that once I get the very end in my head, I will find a way to get there. d4 will happen.

And with that done, part of me moves on to the next book.

This time around, however, it is the last one in the collection, and that is scary for me. It helps that I know already that this last book is not about me, it is about you. Whether you are young or old, healthy or struggling, male, female, who ever you are, I am going to be writing about how you were born with something you need to say, a truth you hold deep within yourself, and how desperately you need to find a way to sing it, dance it, whisper it or shout it. Pretending otherwise will just frustrate you. Your truth needs to be told.

There. Doesn’t that sound like a fun story? I will do my best to make it so, I promise.

(Please drop by the Facebook page for Zen to Zany and drop off a “like” for the image above.)

Fireworks a few days late

fireworksI suspect that I care more about accuracy in my books than I should. I write fantasy, for heaven’s sake, or at least a fantasy/science fiction hybrid, but I still like to get things right. So when my fire dancing  character from Kiribati went looking for music he liked that referred to fire, I was compelled to eliminate any song that had not come out before 2011, the year in which the story y1 takes place.

And that’s a shame because that took a few good songs out of the running. To celebrate July 4th 2013, I am letting myself revisit some of the songs I wanted to use but didn’t.

Katy Perry’s Firework had the lyrics that fit, but its late 2010 release was just a month after the scene in the book where it belonged. Sigh …. so close ……  Here’s the video with some great fireworks images to enjoy.

Firework

Katy Perry – Firework

Monarchy’s The Phoenix Alive had just the sound I was looking for, but it came out in April 2010. Enjoy the official video here.

Phoenix

Monarchy – The Phoenix Alive

For more on my adventures including music in novels, check out my xo blog here to read the rather comical saga of how and why I how I negotiated with Sony/ ATV. Check out my z2 blog here for a little fun with bubblegum music.

Make a joyful sound!

After writing about peace songs on my other blog, it occurred to me to wonder what were the best songs ever written about joy. I am rather joyful tonight. And music, being such a shared activity, is  a wonderful way to communicate happiness. Luckily, a website called Songfacts provides a handy list of songs about  happiness. Check it out  here.

Turns out that after I went over their list and narrowed it down to my own top five, I had to add in one of my own.  So, this is the list of my top six personal favorite happy songs:

Dancing in the Street – Martha & the Vandellas
Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine
Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Joy To The World – Three Dog Night
Ode To Joy – Ludwig Van Beethoven
What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

This list is a little more eclectic than my favorite peace songs, although I hope to seek out a few more and produce a personal top ten that is a little more contemporary. I’m also very happy to “take nominations from the floor” for the best song of joy ever. Got a favorite to nominate?