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Listen to the Music

Listen to the Music

On average, I probably listen to a hundred songs a week.  My novel Believe in Me might exist without music, but it would be a completely different story. In fact, check that. It wouldn’t exist without music; it couldn’t.

The thing about popular music for me is that it serves so many different functions. Sometimes it tells a story, sometimes it “paints” impressionistic tableaus of emotions or ideas, and sometimes it simply zooms in and captures in detail a single, vital moment in time. It can be sad or celebratory, contemplative or urgent, elaborate and insightful or raw and simple.  It’s like matching wine with an entrée… your choice of music can either counteract or complement, reflect or amplify different states of mind.

Music plays a central role in two of the key relationships in the book—between former political operative Tim Green and politically-inclined rock star Jordan Lee, and between Tim and his recently deceased music-writer father.  One of the first scenes I wrote years ago is a long dialogue Tim and Jordan have in chapter two in which they’re playing verbal ping-pong with song titles and lyrics as they’re first getting to know each other.  Their ability to quote songs back and forth on the fly forms a kind of secret language that cements their rapport, even as it reminds Tim yet again of what he’s running away from: the death of his father, a musicologist of the first order and the only parent he’s ever known.

The title of the book itself is taken from the lyric quote that opens it, from Counting Crows’ iconic rumination on every young nightclub musician’s rock star dreams, “Mr. Jones.”  “Believe in me,” goes the quote, “Help me believe in anything / I want to be someone who believes.”  We all want something or someone to believe in. This is the journey that both Tim and Jordan are on.

Their path is littered with quotes from and references to songs by The Who, Switchfoot, Eagles, Steve Miller Band, Queen, Dave Matthews Band, Bob Seger, R.E.M., Paul McCartney, Gin Blossoms, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke, Fountains Of Wayne, Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin, not to mention Wampus’s very own Arms Of Kismet.  The songs form paths of connection that allow these characters to speak to one another in a unique dialect all their own, albeit one that most music fans will immediately understand.

So while it’s not necessarily a story about music—hell, I can’t play a note myself, and had to ask my son to chart the one song where I talk about the chord progression—Believe in Me is a story infused with it, a story in which music seems to seep from the very pores of the main characters and provide a sort of subtextual soundtrack to moment after moment along the way.

These are characters who don’t need anyone—not even the Doobie Brothers—to tell them to “Listen To The Music.” They already are.

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