On Soundtracks - and Ursula K. Le Guin
On occasion, I see song listings in the back (almost forgotten) sections of novels I read, usually what the author was listening to while immersed in their creative flow. And I admit as a reader, I usually gloss over this. As a writer, of course I have songs that capture the mood of my character, scene, or even the dialogue, but I assume there's a disparity between what I get out of my Work in Progress (hereafter called WIP for the sake of convenience) and what the reader gets out of it...
Let me explain.
Last year (this is me, so you should expect random tangents that end up not-so-random. This is your final warning. TURN BACK NOW), it would be safe to say that my musical childhood died. I listened to Wham in middle school (Whatever happened to Andrew Ridgeley, anyway?), David Bowie in high school (fueled by Labyrinth, of course, but my favorite Bowie phase was when he teamed up with Brian Eno), and I got into Prince late - in college. Towards the end of 2017 I maniacally scoured the obituaries for any other names - one or both of the Johns from They might Be Giants, Sting, et al - thankkfully all still alive - and I breathed a sigh of relief when the year was over.
And then... Ursula K. Le Guin last week.
Social media posts abound mourning her passing, and I won't go into depth about the box of tissues that was sacrificed as I re-watched her speech at the 2014 National Book Awards. But The Wizard of Earthsea was the first book I found in the adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy section at the bookstore (there was no YA sci-fi/fantasy section back then, and I happened upon Anne McCaffrey, Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Jane Yolen, and Madeline L'Engle purely by chance in our school library), so it holds a special place in my heart - the ADULT section!! Like a grown-up!!!
There was, of course, no soundtrack listing in the appendix, just a map, a story, and a glossary. When I first read it - I read it in a day, earning a stern reprimand from my math teacher when I fell asleep in her class for lack of proper rest the night before - it was me and my flashlight, under the covers, reading until the sun came up. No music at all - the prose was enough. I read it again, two days ago, and as an experiment put on some Austin Wintory in the background, just loud enough to not be obtrusive. I was just as immersed in the story as the last time I'd read it a few years ago, but when I got up to take a break (thanks, Fitbit for the reminder), the music lingered where the end of the chapter left off. I'm going to make the bold claim that Wintory is our generation's Nobuo Uematsu, but it's also safe to say that Le Guin wasn't listening to his work when she wrote the first book in the Earthsea Cycle since he wasn't even born yet.
So my opinionated and highly irrational stance on soundtracks at the end of books is this: if a novel is good enough to read again, I'll have my own music in the background during the re-read, because in most cases I'm not really "listening" to it. The experience an author has writing his/her novel and what the reader gets out of the same work can't possibly be the same, because the human experience varies from person to person.
And from a purely practical standpoint: I'm listening to an awful lot of old-school Chicago and Ed Sheeran for my current WIP, and my last project was written to Pink's entire music catalog. I wouldn't want force any of that on any unsuspecting souls. It's best to leave it for this blog, for folks who seek it out, I think.
And for Ms. Le Guin, just this: Perhaps, one day, when she's taking a break from exploring new worlds wherever she is now, she could answer my call for a muse, or, more likely, she'd come down and slap me across the head, maybe knock the writer's block out.
Wouldn't that be something?