I’m working at my table, listening to my Phil Collins station on Pandora (don’t judge, yo), and U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love)” comes surging out of my speakers. The Edge is doing that thing he does, Bono is singing his heart out, and I am immediately returned to high school. I was gobsmacked when I heard this song for the first time, full of anger and sadness and hope at the lyrics, and full of joy at the sound. And full of the conviction that there was Somewhere Else out there, a place that was better for me than high school ever could be. For a girl growing up in Central Nowhere, it was one more shred of evidence that my real life was waiting out there. I knew I could find my place if I just followed the music.
Tonight, hearing the song again, all that teenage passion and angst comes bursting out of me. It flows through my fingers and onto my pages. The song takes me where I need to go, because music is magic.
I really do believe it. Music does things for me that nothing else can do. If I don’t listen to at least one song every day, I get droopy, like a plant without water. If I had to choose between going without music or clean underwear, I’d choose clean underwear (you can turn them inside out!). I know lots of people that would choose music. Does this make us weird? Possibly.
Gabe’s got his own music magic going on. When I started BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, I wanted to create a character who falls into music and drowns, somebody who thinks about nothing else. Then I discovered/decided that Gabe was a trans man, and then I realized his music love would be useful, because it would be something to distract him from all the stress in his life. It made sense to me that he could lose himself in a passion like that. And what’s hilarious is how Gabe’s musical tastes evolved—he likes some of the stuff I like (vintage funk and soul, Devo), but he also likes other stuff I don’t (Queensryche).
Once I knew Gabe was in love with music, I decided he needed a radio show—it would be a great place for him to practice being Gabe without the risk of being seen. Staying hidden doesn’t quite work out, of course (a book needs tension, right?), but it makes sense that a music geek would want to share the love in a public way. Radio was the perfect medium for his passion.
I also knew music would be a bridge-builder for my audience—a way that folks with a matching body and brain could connect with a guy whose brain and body don’t agree with each other. Music is a shared emotional experience that almost everyone can identify with. If I was going to create a book with a character people might not understand, I hoped they could at least appreciate his passion.
Back to tonight and my kitchen table. On Pandora, U2 has kicked into Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” The first time I heard a Prince song, I fell smack in love, and when I saw him for the first time (in the video for “When Doves Cry”) I thought he was the sexiest beast ever. Now that crazy, crushy feeling is pouring onto my page. Next song: “Another One Bites the Dust,” by Queen, which totally reminds me of my brother, which makes me think of all my childhood jealousy, so I get it down after I’m finished with the crushy stuff. Now it’s Toto’s “Africa,” and suddenly I’m at the Southwest Conference Concert Band at Kearney State College, scared to death to meet all the cute boys and learn the tympani parts for our concert (seriously, you haven’t heard “Africa” until you’ve heard a high school concert band play it). Now that shy, hesitant feeling is wandering into my writing.
You see why I need it? I couldn’t write YA without it. But really, I couldn’t make sense of anything if I didn’t have music to help me. Gabe’s the same way. Here’s the best part: music doesn’t ask anything in return for our devotion. It just loves us, and Gabe and I love it back. And when we need to know our direction in life, we follow where it leads us.