You never quite know how a book will turn out. You never know what piece of you you'll have to give up to write it - what you'll take from it, and what it'll take from you.
I had the idea for The Spell of Summer firmly in my head - I had the cover and I had the blurb and a brief outline of the plot (very brief). Next, I went hunting for music. Music often inspires me into emotion, and emotion inspires me to write ... so there I was seeking a song that would help to bring this book alive.
I found The Living Game and was so taken with it that I contacted the very friendly and wonderful Jeris, who helped me contact everyone else I needed to for permission to use the track in a book trailer which will hopefully be out in February.
Why this song? That's sort of like asking, 'why this plot?'. The thing is, you never completely know why. It called to me in a big way - called right to my heart. I heard it and then I listened to it for half a day and couldn't get it out of my head. When permission was given to use it, I listened to it again and burst into tears. In a nutshell, here are some key words that sprang to mind for me on listening to The Living Game: Life, freedom, flying, love, sunshine, warmth, heart, childhood, believing, faith, trust, Native American (don't ask me why - I don't think this will feature in the story at all, but I did think this when I heard it), going back to your roots, joy and sadness rolled into one, letting go, living, being true to yourself, magic and how life is magical, how we are so close to abundance but always resist it.
I haven't mentioned to Jeris the multitude of feeling the song brought up in me, so I'm delighted to now be able to pose some questions to him on his thoughts and how he felt when putting it all together, as well as some info on the process...
Q. I get the impression that you heard the lyrics and those were what inspired you to create this song - is that correct? What were your thoughts / feelings on hearing the lyrics?
A. That's usually the case, but I think on this one I actually discovered the acoustic guitar part from Javolenus first. Javolenus always has these dynamic, raw acoustic pieces that really make me wish I played guitar, but I'm a piano guy, used to be a trumpet guy. And Javo has a ton of content too, it's amazing.
After I've discovered a piece I really want to use it's sometimes strange how easy it is to find another piece that just seems like a perfect fit. I always think of this quote: Syzygy to serendipity … the putting together of opposites leads to the fortunate finding of things not looked for … You don't know what you're looking for but you know when you've found it. Either that, or in looking you somehow manifest it because you're selecting from a field of possibilities with intention … you see what you wanna see and you discover what you want to discover.
Anyway, after finding the guitar I just let the sample loop and then I usually start listening to pellas. I think on this one I actually went straight to Panu's uploads. The best way to describe Panu is from a review that was left on ccMixter for "The Living Game": Panu has a wonderful way of summing it up … that comment was left by Speck, another very prolific contributor to the site. That comment is exactly how I feel about Panu's work; his songs, lyrics, and his acoustic guitar as well. He always comes from a place that's sort of the musical and lyrical version of the "overview affect" - that's what astronauts call the feeling of looking at earth from space. He always sees the big picture, the human condition, as if writing about his journey at the end of a well-lived life … and the lyrics of "Living Game" are a perfect example. Especially this line …"I’ve never chased the money, the spotlight or the fame, I’ve led with my heart and I’ve done my part, in the living game." And also the line, "I'll run this race, and I'll take my place in the living game". They both seem fitting for that life-in-review sort of final-hour proclamation.
Q. Did you have the song in your head before you started mixing the music, or did it develop as you went?
A. So, once I found "The Living Game" I knew this was the song since it just resonated with me so much. The other line that really got me was, "Give me the heart of a little child, fearless all the way, bring a sense of wonder, at the start of each day." That one reminded me of Einstein; I think that was what was so great about Einstein, his endless child-like curiosity. He continued to see the world with a child's eyes right up to the end. If only we could have known his last words, they died with him because he whispered them to a nurse that didn't speak any German. Anyway, the quote is, “People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.” Sorry for all the quotes, but there is one more that I really gotta mention and that's by biologist Thomas Henry Huxley … “Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads or you shall learn nothing.” That one kind of stuck with me during the creation of this song as well.
Q. How long did it take you to put The Living Game together?
A. I usually just record straight through and mix it all, from discovery to finish, in just a few hours. Probably should take months because I don't have the mixing skills, but then again, because I don't having the mixing skills I tend to make it worse the more time I spend on it, lol. But yeah, the reason why it's usually such a fast process is because it's a feeling that I want to capture. To me it would be like being a photographer and seeing some quite beautiful image and then saying, "Oh, that's nice I should come back and take a picture of it next week."
So, on this one I spent a few hours trying to manipulate Panu's vocals to fit the song. Like I mentioned before, sometimes things just work and you don't have to do anything. There's been a few remixes where I didn't change the vocals at all, pitch or time, and it still worked out. This was NOT one of those times! I spent several hours and then sadly decided I was going to just sing it the way I was hearing it. Not that there was anything wrong with Panu's vocals, just didn't work with Javo's guitar the way I wanted and manipulating it too much was losing its substance. So, I felt like the best way to keep the substance was to just keep the lyrics.
I'm pretty shy about singing and I live with some roommates so I had to wait 'til a day or so later to record it when nobody was home. What I usually do in this case is bounce the track and listen to it over and over while I'm at work, singing in my head. I've recorded a few songs like this, where the whole song - melody, pitch - is all sung over and over in my head until it becomes familiar. Then, when I actually go to sing it out loud for the first time I'm like whoa … that's not how it goes.
Q. And is there anything more specific or personal that you'd like to add about the creation of this particular song?
A. So, going back to Panu's lyrics … now that I was the one singing it, it suddenly meant even more because now I had to really reflect on my own life. I had to ask myself if the song was honest. That's the thing that either makes or breaks a song - is it honest, or is it B.S? The more I sang it, the more truthful it seemed to get. I had to really get content with myself, my life, how I've lived … "Dancing in the circle, chasing answers till they slipped away". In the end, Panu's mantra become my own …"I'll run this race, and I'll take my place in the living game".
I would also like to give some credit to the guy playing the solo on the electric guitar, who goes by "unreal_dm" on ccMixter. Now that is an example of a sample that kind of just worked without a lot of effort. I might also add that he is also probably the most prolific of the bunch of us and he actually knows what he's doing with the mix!
Well, I'm totally smitten with the song and the process! And the passion conveyed here is so very clear - thank you for a great interview :) I only hope I can deliver the same amount of passion in the story.
For all details about the upcoming novel, take a look at its book page, which will be updated periodically to include new events, and look out for the book trailer in February!
A huge thanks to Jeris for guesting on this post. Be sure to check out his other musical works here: http://ccmixter.org/people/VJ_Memes/uploads