A Secret Chord

by Cherie Priest

At almost any given author Q&A, somebody will raise a hand to ask if I work in the silence of a hermetically sealed office, or if I have a preferred Spotify channel to manage my tunes. The true and boring answer is that I mostly work in the living room with the TV set to something vaguely interesting … but not so interesting that it distracts me from the task at hand. (Home improvement shows, ghost hunting shows, cooking shows. That kind of thing.) 

But I do use music when I work, especially when I’m creating new characters — or using characters that belong to someone else. This comes up in Wild Cards with a fair degree of frequency, as you might expect. 

I used to tell people that when it comes to drafting a well-rounded protagonist, start with an astrological sign or a tarot card; and that works, but not everyone knows their sign like the back of their hand, and not everyone knows anything at all about tarot cards. But everybody has a favorite song, and in a pinch, I can ask another Wild Cards writer, “Hey, if this guy you wrote had a personal playlist, what would it be?” Or heck, in lieu of a playlist, even a single theme song will help me set the tone of that character’s behavior. 

For that matter, when I was working on Fort Freak a few years ago, I had a “cop playlist” to help set the mood for the entire precinct setting. It was as diverse as the figures who worked the Fifth: competent and corrupt, straight-laced and detail-oriented, crooked and kind… all in turn. It looked a little something like this, though I’m sure I’m forgetting something:

Cherie’s Big Bad Fifth Precinct Playlist

“You Know that I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse

“Sabotage,” The Beastie Boys

“Don’t Turn Your Back,” Blue Oyster Cult

“Trip the Darkness,” Lacuna Coil

“Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked,” Cage the Elephant

“Probably Will,” Concrete Blonde

“I Wish I Had an Angel,” Nightwish 

“Wild Boys,” Duran Duran

“Beast,” Nico Vega

“Electric Chair,” Prince

“Local God,” Everclear

“Rock and a Hard Place,” Sisters of Mercy

“First We Take Manhattan,” Leonard Cohen

Some characters, I can pin down pretty easily with a single song. For example, retired cop Leo Storgman is Madonna singing, “He’s a Man” on the Dick Tracy soundtrack, and I’ll hear no argument to the contrary. His wife, Wanda Storgman, is 100% “Female of the Species,” by Space. Raul Esposito, my quasi-retired joker gangster, is a combination of several songs, I think; I’d label him with “The Man Next Door” by Massive Attack, “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers, and on a good day when he’s feeling optimistic? “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by the Pet Shop Boys. 

He’s A Man

When it comes to other people’s characters, I’ve always associated Mark Meadows/Captain Trips (from the dearly departed Vic Milan) to be in essence “Just Dropped In (to see what condition my condition was in)” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. And for some reason, Father Squid always makes me think of REM’s “Let Me In.” I’m not entirely sure why, but there it is. 

At any rate, there’s probably another blog post to be written—by someone more knowledgeable on the subject than me—about how the pop music scene might have evolved differently in a Wild Cards world. For that matter, what about punk, hip-hop, country music, and every other genre? Like everything else in the wake of the Wild Cards virus, the sky’s the limit (I mean, until it’s not anymore).

So what about you, readers? What songs do you tie to your favorite aces and jokers? I don’t see any good reason to stick to strictly period-correct songs, myself, but that might be an interesting challenge for the older books—and the early history of this marvelous world. Take a swing at it, and share your results!