I’ve written before about the role that music plays in my creative process, and specifically the hand it had in writing the first Vanguard Prime book. Now that the second book in the series, Wild Card, has been on the shelves for a few months, I thought it’d be safe to write about the music that inspired certain scenes.
But for those who are still yet to read it, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible.
So let’s kick things off the best way you can – with a bit of David Bowie!
‘China Girl’ by David Bowie
‘China Girl’ would have to be one of my favourite Bowie songs…or at least, it’s one of my favourite Bowie songs to sing along to (I may or may not have performed a karaoke rendition at our huck’s party). That said, it’s a bit of an odd addition here as it didn’t directly influence the writing of Wild Card; I didn’t craft any scenes in my imagination while listening to it, it didn’t conjure up any particular imagery in my head.
What it did do was inspire not only how the Knight of Wands dresses when he’s out of uniform, but his appearance in general as well. The suit/trench coat combo Bowie wears midway through this video is the point-of-reference I used when describing the Knight’s attire as he and Sam jet off to the lecture they attend.
More than that, I remember thinking how unique Bowie’s eyes are, and how I’d like to incorporate the one brown eye/one blue eye look into a character one day. And then I figured, why wait?
So that’s how the Knight came to have one blue eye – it was only later that I realised that his mismatching eyes and the backstory for how he got them also resembled that of Spike from Cowboy Bebop. But you can’t always take everything into account, and being a Bebop fan I thought it was appropriate.
Note: If/when you watch this video, I would like to point that yes, it is a little racist and no, I have no idea if it’s self-aware about that or not. I’m leaning toward that being the case, given that Bowie’s talked about how the lyrics are an anti-racism message.
‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ by David Bowie
Continuing the Bowie train, we have this song. Originally used in the film Cat People, it would rocket back to fame when used in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. I remember thinking how powerful and evocative it was. And though it sounded a little dated, it sounded dated in the best of ways. Tarantino used it as his story was leading into the final act, with one of his characters preparing themselves to do battle (essentially). I would play it as I imagined the flight that the Knight of Wands, Goldrush and Solitaire take to the World, readying themselves for the fight to come.
And though I thought the lyrics worked wonderfully for that (especially as the Knight of Wands is associated with fire in tarot, and I wanted to harken back to that motif in the songs I used), the lack of originality bugged me. Which is why it was fortunate that I soon ran across the next song…
‘Cities Burning Down’ by Howling Bells
If you haven’t heard of them before, Howling Bells are a fantastic Australian band fronted by the brother/sister duo Juanita and Joel Stein. I saw them play over ten years when they were known as Waikiki, and I’ve been a fan ever since. When I heard this song, I knew it fit even more perfectly for the scene I had in my head than the Bowie song did. I can’t listen to it now without thinking of the Chariot flying over the Hong Kong cityscape, its passengers preparing themselves for the darkness that lays before them.
‘Me and the Devil Blues’ by Robert Johnson
There’s a conversation that happens in the book regarding the music of Robert Johnson. My publisher was uncertain about keeping it in, given that it’s a bit of a dated reference that’s not exactly “down with the kids” (not that she put it like that…not that anyone would put it like that). But it was important to me that we maintain it, as I felt very strongly that it reflected on the character who was depicted listening to it.
If you’ve not heard about him before, the mythology that revolves around the blues musician Robert Johnson was that he sold his soul to the devil to attain his musical ability. Johnson wrote more than a few songs that referenced this oft-repeated urban legend, with Hellhound on my Trail probably being the most famous of them. I picked Me and the Devil Blues, however, as I felt the lyrics were even more indicative of the character listening to the song.
‘It’s a Fire’ by Portishead
Following the conversation about Robert Johnson, an altercation breaks out that leads to a pivotal moment in the book. Without wanting to be too spoiler-y about it, a button is pushed and things get very…uh…explode-y?
I imagined this sequence slowed down and with all the ambient noise stripped out, leaving only the imagery…and this song, which continues the fire motif surrounding the Knight of Wands. It’s not a big, rousing number to finish on, but it’s certainly a beautiful one.
And that would be it. While there are still plenty of other songs I could write about, I wanted to pick just a handful that I felt had the strongest link to the text. If you’ve already read the book, I hope this gives you a chance to revisit it, or at least that it’s provided some extra insight.
But if you’re yet to read the book, well…I hope I haven’t ruined anything for you.
‘Til next time!