I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about how Zane likes electronic dance music, just like I think about how he likes video games and superpowers and chameleons. For me, this is part of the process of getting to know him.
With the help of a young man with musical tastes similar to Zane’s, I was able to put together my character’s own distinctive list of favorite songs, six of which are woven into his story. (One other song is a favorite of six-year-old Zane, one catches the mood of thirteen year old Zane, and a third song is enjoyed by Toby, an additional but older main character.) The songs are
- “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, by Alan Menken and Tim Rice (six-year-old Zane’s favorite song)
- “1999” by Prince, from the album 1999 (thirteen-year-old Zane likes this song)
- “Light my Fire” by the Doors (a favorite of older character Toby)
- “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” by Vampire Weekend
- “4th of July (Fireworks)” by Kelis
- “I Need A Dollar” by Aloe Blacc
- “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters” by MGMT
- “One Love” by David Guetta featuring Estelle
- More by Usher (RedOne Jimmy Joker Remix)
When my books appear on Kindle, I link the song title in my text to the chance to purchase it on Amazon. My other electronic versions are distributed through Smashwords where no such link is allowed. I’ve tried several approaches, but have finally settled on the one I like best. For every song, I’ve found a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer or of the song itself. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason. I have removed the references to the music in the paperback version, but both the songs and their context within the story can be found here.
What follows is
- a little description of how each song is referred to in the book
- a short excerpt from the chapter that contains the reference to that music
- my favorite video of the song and why I chose it. Enjoy!
Six year old Zane loves creatures with superpowers and in 1993 he is a big fan of the genie in Walt Disney’s Aladdin. He likes to sing “A Whole New World” by Alan Menken and Tim Rice while he plays with his pet chameleon Balthazar.
At the end of February, the television kept talking about a bomb which had gone off in the parking garage of some giant building in New York, killing five people. The man on the TV said the bomb had ended the belief that Americans were safe from attack.
His mom had taken him and Ariel to see Aladdin for a second time at the dollar theater because they had both liked it so much. The movie’s hit song, “A Whole New World,” had just made its way into the number one spot on the charts. Zane sang the title to himself. “A whole new world …” He didn’t sing very well, but Zane had liked the movie. He liked all stories about creatures with special powers, and he thought that the genie was really funny.
Zane was glad that no one else was upstairs with him that day as he sang because after Balthazar gave Zane one of his one-eyed knowing looks, his reptilian skin made its first transition from subtle greens and browns to a spectacular bright orange. Zane grinned. He didn’t know what orange meant with other chameleons, but Zane felt sure that it meant that Balthazar was very happy.
Then Zane took a deep breath. Forcing back his fear, he made himself remember that time last summer. That time he had been so scared. Every so often Zane’s dad made him go outside and play with whoever was around, and he had been playing hide and seek with neighbor boys he didn’t really like because they did more mean things than most. On this day, Zane had taken great pains to conceal himself particularly well because he especially did not like to be “it” with these guys.
As the one boy came close to the bushes in which Zane was so carefully hidden, Zane had noticed his bare foot was still sticking out onto the orange-brown soil. He dare not move it now. So he had thought hard about his foot muscles and did his best to flatten the foot tight against the ground, and to hold it very still. While he did this thing, the skin on his foot had started to burn and itch too. Zane looked at it, alarmed at first, and saw that his foot was blushing. At least, it had turned a shade of red orange brown that mimicked the dirt. And that had been his first inkling that he could do more than make his body’s shape twist and warp a little more than most people could. Zane had watched his orange brown foot in fascination while the neighbor boy ran on by.
Afterwards, Zane worried that he had imagined it. But then every so often after that, Zane’s skin would surprise him, just like his muscles had already sometimes surprised him with what they could do. After awhile, he could feel a color change coming, this kind of burning feeling, and he knew what to expect. So he finally figured that he needed a teacher. A wise teacher. Like Balthazar.
Zane watched the chameleon’s orange skin with fascination.
“Can I learn to do that when I want to, wise one?” he asked.
He tried hard to make the feeling inside that he felt when his skin did this all by itself. He concentrated hard on his arm. At first nothing happened. Then, yes. He felt the feeling. He made the feeling. His skin on his arm went from its normal light tan to a tan orange.
“You and I are going to be great friends,” Zane told the chameleon quietly. “You are going to help teach me ways to fight the bullies in this world. And you are the only one who is going to get to know just how really strange I am.”
Zane could have sworn that Balthazar turned even brighter in delight.
Options for Disney songs are limited, so I was delighted to find this beautiful video of contestant Lenisa singing “A Whole New World” for The Voice Kid Australia 2014. Her initial nervousness, the tension of her family, the responses of the potential coaches and her final triumph at the end will all put a lump in the throat of any viewer. You may or may not want to continue onward to see which coaches she picks, but please, do enjoy her voice.
You can buy six year old Zane’s favorite song at Amazon.com
2. “1999” by Prince
Thirteen year old Zane is waiting for the year 2000 while singing “1999” by Prince from the album 1999.
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.
If 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!
Buy this millennial hit at Amazon.com.
Toby isn’t totally comfortable with his stowaway Afi, but once Toby discovers Afi’s love of fire dancing he makes an effort to play songs about fire as the two men travel on his sailboat. They finally bond when Toby plays “Light my Fire” by the Doors, belting out the lyrics together as they sail into Fiji.
As 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.
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.
4. “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” by Vampire Weekend
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.
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.
Two other main characters in the book share Zane’s musical tastes. As Joy and and Afi, her new fire-dancing husband of convenience from Kiribati, settle into the rhythm of life aboard Toby’s boat, Joy introduces Afi to the song “4th of July (Fireworks)” by Kelis knowing how much he will like the video with all of its fire. The music quickly becomes one of their favorites.
The threesome continued to work together with a soft, easy rhythm, but Toby knew that the situation worked well because he was clearly in charge. In some situations, like on a small boat on a big sea, democracy remains a poor tool for day-to-day decision-making. So he gave reasonable orders with ample information, and his crew of two complied and gave input when asked or when they felt they had something important to contribute. It worked.
The only area of command that Toby gracefully relinquished was his control of the music. Clearly he was never going to enter the third millennium tune-wise if he didn’t let somebody younger serve as the boat DJ. He had to smile as Joy and Afi spent hours collaborating quietly over Joy’s MP3 player and selecting song sequences for his evaluation. Many got a thumbs down within seconds, before the three of them finally realized that current dance music was the one genre that they all consistently liked. So the latter days of the journey were spent listening to 2010’s top hot dance club songs, which had been downloaded by Joy in Fiji.
True to his promise to provide Toby with more current music about fire, Afi frequently blared the new Kelis single “4th of July” while he and Joy often belted out the lyrics in an effort to drown out the sound of the boat’s engine. After a couple of days Toby joined in the singing, and finally Kelis’ song became the preferred way of dealing with the occasional engine noise as baritone, tenor, and alto combined with all the volume each could produce. Joy promised Afi that she would download the video for him once they got to Toby’s little island hideaway. He just had to see all the great fire scenes in it.
Toby had to admit that he was enjoying the camaraderie and even just the distractions provided by his crew. Would their loyalty be as strong if they knew more about him? He tried to remember how he had left things at his place. What all was lying around? Would his crew even recognize the evidence of the other life he led? Most likely not. Nervously cleaning up once they arrived would only make him look dodgy. His best bet would be to open the place up to them and count on his new friends’ lack of interest in anything suspicious.
You can buy it at Amazon.
6. “I Need A Dollar” by Aloe Blacc
Joy and and Afi discover that it is not not easy for them to make a new life in American Samoa. As Afi rides off on his bike to fire dance for tips so that they can buy groceries, Joy sings the song I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc in her head.
Afi, meanwhile, had used most of his remaining cash to buy a used bicycle at a thrift store that he found near their rent-by-the-week apartment. Joy was annoyed at the frivolity of the purchase and said so, until Afi pointed out with a trace of irritation that he was trying to find a way to contribute. If he could get around, he might be allowed to perform for tips at one of the tourist places, bringing in at least a little cash under the table while she sought out the more dependable teaching work for which she was qualified.
She apologized with a simple “I’m sorry” but that evening as she watched him head off to towards the nice hotels on his beat up bike with his fire knife dancing supplies on his back, the Aloe Blacc song “I Need a Dollar” played in her head. As she sang along to the lyrics of a man desperate to make ends meet, she thought that perhaps she had sold Afi short by not recognizing his talents or his ingenuity. She owed it to him not to make that mistake again.
Late that night they shared a mattress and the comfort of worrying together.
This video of Aloe Blacc performing “I Need a Dollar” with The Grand Scheme at Southpaw in Brooklyn, New York, lets you see the artist close up and feel the fun he has performing this serious song. But the best part is the last two minutes, when he mentions his Jamaican roots and then adds on a short version of the song, reggae style. His compassion comes through along with his smile.
You can buy this song on Amazon.
Zane’s situation has becomes deadly and now he must perform his most difficult shape shifting maneuver yet. Music helps Zane relax as he shifts his form and today he turns to “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters” by MGMT.
Zane had seldom altered his shape to appear female, but except for his height there was no particular barrier to doing so. He could approximate breasts and wider hips. A wig would work wonders. He could add years, and a more ambiguous ethnicity. He would practice making himself as short as possible. The stooping of age would help. Meanwhile, he needed to learn more about a part of Penthes that he had, up till now, ignored, like most people. That was the beauty of the janitorial group. They just did not get a lot of attention.
In his office, Zane began to gather supplies. A janitor’s jumpsuit just a bit too small for Zane, women’s sneakers, and an unattractive salt and pepper woman’s wig were locked in this bottom left drawer along with an old iPod holding the brightest, shiniest pieces of electronic dance music and remixes that Zane had been able to find.
This last item was so much more than his favorite songs. Over the past months he had discovered how he could use music as a tool to push his body to new limits, with the music he loved helping him concentrate as he became ever more adept at controlling his appearance at will. He had finally, reluctantly, let himself begin to refer to his gift in his own mind as “shape shifting” and he now thought of this particular music as his cache of shape shifting songs.
He plugged the iPod into his computer and let himself enjoy the wonderful Holy Ghost remix of MGMT’s “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters”. Zane savored the ocean imagery and the upbeat tempo of the song for a moment, then as he began to coax his body into another’s form, Zane tried to imagine how wonder itself might be shaped.
Listen to Zane’s favorite version, the Holy Ghost Remix.
You can buy the orignal song from Amazon.
8. One Love by David Guetta and featuring Estelle
Joy and Toby have become separated and may never see each other again. Although Joy tries to make the best of her new life, she realizes that, in spite of all that has happened, Toby is the man she loves. As she goes about learning the mundane details of surviving in a new land, the song “One Love” keeps playing in her head.
Joy felt like she was living two lives at once. In one life, she taught Samoan third graders by day, dressed demurely in lightweight long-sleeved tops and loose colorful skirts to her ankles, and pretended to be Afi’s wife by night. Given the vast number of options open to humanity in 2010, it wasn’t a bad life. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t hurting, she had a friend nearby, and she was doing useful work. Life came a lot worse.
In her other life, she sailed the ocean, barefoot in a tank top and gym trunks. Her hair blew free while her body moved softly with the thunk of the boat hitting the waves and with the rhythm of her latest favorite song. For the past few weeks David Guetta and Estelle’s “One Love” had been about every third selection on her MP3 player, and when she wasn’t listening to it she was generally singing the song in her head while she imagined Toby’s hand on her thigh as he sat at the helm of Miss Demeanor. She would see his hint of a smile as his fingers started to rise higher up her leg and then each time he would turn to her, with his soft brown eyes asking her a question. As the song picked up tempo she felt herself smiling her answer back to him and then he always set the sails and they went below deck where the song was playing loudly and life was very, very good.
Of course, that other life existed only in her mind. But anyone who had ever been in love would know that it was the more important of her two lives.
I confess to having a weakness for amateur videos that make me feel like I am standing right there at the concert. This seldom viewed video of One Love being performed at Electric Zoo in 2011 took me in with its tag line of “Right place right time last song”. Ah yes, I know that feeling. Enjoy.
You can buy this song at Amazon, of course.
9. “More” by Usher
y1 is the only novel that I ended with a song. After all the adventures of the book have concluded and before the epilogue starts, the foursome of main characters gather for one last walk on the beach …. over flaming coals. Yes, that is something this group would do to celebrate.
After an uneventful week and a half at sea, they reached Toby’s island a little after dawn and happily stretched their legs with a long walk on the beach. Toby had decided to keep the place, but he thought it wise to scale back the island’s processes so he did not have to visit so often. Zane, Afi, and Joy spent the day helping him dismantle the hydroponic gardening apparatus and securing the house, and its energy and water gathering capabilities, to better exist without a caretaker for longer periods of time.
As the afternoon wound down, they prepared for a feast out on the sand. The coals glistened while the fish were cleaned and cooked. Wine was poured. A salad was made. Amid stories and jokes, they ate the last of the food.
Then Afi turned on his favorite new RedOne Jimmy Joker remix of Usher’s recent dance floor hit “More.” As the pulsating sounds began to capture the group, Afi gave them a questioning look.
“Like the man suggests, is now the time to bring fire to our dance floor?” he asked.
“Why the hell not?”
A stretch of clouds in the west provided a flame like show of color while Afi arranged the embers carefully into a small orange and grey rectangle in the sand. Then one by one, each member of Miss Demeanor’s crew stood up, improvised a jolly bow to the others, and calmly, yet purposefully, walked over the glowing coals.
This amateur video shot in Rotterdam in 2011 manages decent audio quality along with a nice mix of close ups of, crowd enthusiasm, and panning out to capture the dancing and gymnastics on stage. Great fun.
You can also buy the song at Amazon.