Easily Led

“Easily Led” by Bob Freeman
Originally published by “The Black Glove”
November 4, 2009

signWhen invited to write an article for The Black Glove’s Horror Playlist I played over and over in my mind all the different approaches I could take. Geared toward a Top Ten format, I struggled over whether to take the easy route and list my favorite songs or albums, but such lists with me are fluid things, ever changing. and more representative of my current state of mind rather than being a concrete and immutable thing.

As The Black Glove caters to the horror genre, I began to think in terms of my writing and how music is a part of my overall creative process. When chained to my desk and in the actual throes of wordsmithing I tend to listen to movie soundtracks, classical music, or, most often, traditional Celtic Folk music. I find lyrics and vocals distracting to my writing process, as the words have a tendency to pull me out of the moment.

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Instrumentals wash over me and focus my energies, allowing my consciousness to become untethered to the surrounding world and I become lost in the sea of my imagination… however, I’m all about setting a mood and if I have a bit of forethought into what I’m sitting down to write, I will select certain songs to enhance that atmosphere before the actual writing begins. So what follows is a list of those songs that I commonly turn to for inspiration, seeking to invoke an emotional response as I prepare myself to wield the power cosmic.

If any musical genre has reached into my soul and made itself a home it would be the Blues and if we’re going to look to the Blues then it begins and ends with Robert Johnson.

Robert_JohnsonGrowing up in a house filled with Country & Western and early Rock-n-Roll, it was only a matter of time before I found the heart of the matter. A growing obsession as a young man with Zeppelin led me to seek out their influences and Johnson, oft mentioned by both Page and Plant — as well as every other Blues-influenced British invader — helped me to rediscover this homespun legend. Black magic and the Blues was a marriage made in Heaven, and Johnson was the Black Pope, singing with a poignant, angst-ridden darkness and playing that beat up six string with an infernal urgency. His catalogue is perfection, but “Cross Road Blues” is the benchmark for excellence, invoking sympathy, longing, and remorse.

A host of artists have covered Johnson’s repertoire, but few have been able to make his music their own. One band who did so was the Cowboy Junkies with their cover of Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues”. A track off of the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, if you’re looking for something atmospheric this certainly fits the bill with its unique blend of Country, Blues, and Jazz, all filtered through an alternative rock sensibility.

ddStepping away from the Blues for a moment, this is the part of my essay where I make enemies I suspect. Could there be a more divisive addition to my list than the inclusion of Duran Duran? The darlings of the New Wave invasion and poster boys for the Video Age, Duran Duran’s assault was a confusing blend of science fiction and occult imagery fused with a synth-pop dynamic. Their sound was unique and, as evidenced by the track “The Chauffeur”, evocative of whimsical poetic expression coupled with a sonic fusion of funk, jazz, and electronica.

My admission to a fondness for Duran Duran compels me to “man up” a bit, so perhaps this is a good time to explore another aspect of musical inspiration to which I turn. I often write from a very visceral and violent place, conjuring up epic battles in my stories that I like to think are tied to the spirited prose of Robert E. Howard. I can think of two songs in particular that never fail to get those respective juices flowing: “I am a Viking” by Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and “Gimme the Prize”, a track culled from the Highlander soundtrack, performed by the gods of epic rock, Queen.

malmsteen“I am a Viking” is Malmsteen at his frenzied best, with blistering guitar work married expertly to Jeff Scott Soto’s thunderous voice. Brutal and honest, “Viking” is a celebration of violence and mayhem… something also found in Queen’s “Kugan theme” which incorporates this same bloodthirsty revelry, complete with movie sound-bytes and Brian May’s simply majestic invocation of bagpipes on his electric guitar. And Freddy Mercury is simply fierce on this track. Raw masculinity raging unfettered in a near mythological explosion of feral energy.

The common theme here is the invocation and evocation, if you will, of atmosphere and mood. We shall now take a glimpse into the underground to discover Current 93. One of the tracks that finds its way coming from my speakers often is the simply exquisite “Lucifer Over London”. David Tibet’s sublime lyric over the droning and diabolical cadence of a musical mantra pours out as if it’s been painted on a canvas of pure and decadent magic.

cbjohnetteSurreal and engrossing, I have found myself obsessing over Concrete Blonde and the truly masterful vocals of Johnette Napolitano. As a DJ in the mid-nineties I would open each night with “Why Don’t You See Me?” which set the tone for the evening as I sought to bring the crowd to a level of awareness of their own place in the universe. Needless to say, I was not a very successful spinner of vinyl, but the song has remained a staple of my magical and artistic development and it puts me in a special place from which to write from, as the preternatural is unfurled behind the cascading rhythm and dark melody.

dioBut now it seems we’re getting to the meat of it, aren’t we? I write supernatural thrillers and a world populated by fantastical creatures and otherworldly sorceries controlled by forces both good and evil, light and dark. If ever there was a musician who exemplified this conflict, it was Ronnie James Dio. The diminutive vocalist’s work with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow exemplified this exploration of light and dark, particularly in the song “Self Portrait”. It is a depressing foray into the dark night of the soul and the track envelops you in its passionate outpouring.

iangillanIf we are to look at passion however, there is but one vocalist who can in turn slay me with every sublime note uttered from his throat. Ian Gillan is as a god who strides the earth, slaying all in his path with an awesome display of raw, fiery emotion. His work with Black Sabbath, especially on the title track to “Born Again”, is a virtuoso performance, with a lyrical content that crawls into your very soul and takes hold of that part of you that longs for something more. The band skillfully plods a course of slow, mind bending destruction as you float in an astral sea surrounded by Perdition’s flame, but it is that voice that spurs you on, uplifting you toward the promise of the ultimate release.

We have now come to the end of our journey. There is but one song left unsung… one tune that seeks to once more carry you off into creative serenity. For this, I’ve got but two words for you: Led Zeppelin.

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When I first began mulling over this article, it was to the Thunder Gods of Rock that I invariably looked. I am an unabashed disciple who bows before the altar of Jimmy Page. Hell, I considered comprising a list of my favorite Zeppelin tracks, or even an examination of each studio album for this little essay.

Such is the power of Zeppelin and their hold over me, but now I’m faced with a dilemma. What song do I turn to in their awesome catalogue? Is there one song that encompasses the power, mystery, and hammer of the gods, as Page so succinctly put it?

The answer is “No”.

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In the end, for my final song selection I say line then all up, each and every track that Led Zeppelin ever produced, and let them roll. From the bombastic metal onslaught of “The Immigrant Song” to the delicate and alternately tuned “Black Mountain Side”, from the sublimely layered majesty of “Kashmir” to the ballsy, bluesy, and poignant “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, from the epic splendour of “Houses of the Holy” to the haunting beauty of my favorite song of all time, “The Rain Song”.

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When I need to find inspiration… when all else fails me… Led Zeppelin is there, tight but loose, bringing the thunder and the lightning of what is and what should never be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to “In the Evening” then put on the Braveheart soundtrack and write about a growing darkness rising up out of the moors, hungry for the souls of men.

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