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ASK MJ: THE SOUND OF SCARLETT

Margaret asks: you said the other night that you would show us the Scarlett playlist. Can you please do that?

So I was on Twitter the other night, and I mentioned that I was listening to Grace Kelly by Mika, and that it was one of the big songs off my Suite Scarlett playlist. I wasn’t entirely sure if anyone CARED what I was listening to when I wrote the book, but the responses I got back indicated that people cared VERY MUCH. Which surprised me.

I’m actually pretty persnickety about my music-listening-while-writing habits. I put together playlists of songs, and I will only play those songs while I’m working. I pay a lot of attention to music when it’s playing. So I need to listen to something about 50 times in a row so that it’s just THERE. It just becomes the background.

And I don’t really know why I pick the songs I do. Only a few follow the themes of the book. They just ARE the right songs. It’s not that these are my favorite songs of all time—I like them. Some of them I love. They’re just the songs that were right. For me, anyway. I’m not suggesting you should listen to them or even pay the slightest bit of attention to this list. I answer only because I was asked.

There are actually three different Scarlett playlists alone—one for each major draft (probably about 60 songs in all). I’ve taken just a few of them, the ones I really remember and associate with writing the book.

Something 4 the Weekend by Super Furry Animals

This is the biggest and most important song, as far as Scarlett is concerned, though I have no idea WHY. I can only tell you that I was sitting at my desk on a cold winter’s morning, trying to figure out what I was going to write my next book about.

Anyway, this song came cycling through on my iTunes—and it just happened that at that moment, I thought of Suite Scarlett. Pretty much the whole thing. And for some reason, this song helped me think of it. I kept it on for hours and hours as I wrote the sketch of the story, and whenever I’m stuck and want to get back to the basics, I play it. It takes me right back to that initial moment. According to the play count, though, this is the #1 most played song on my computer.

Grace Kelly by Mika

I saw Mika on Late Night with Jules Holland, a few weeks or months before his album came out. He played this song, and I went insane for it and started pointing wildly at the television. I needed this song at once.

People I love or hate Mika, which is fair. I love him. And this song, for me, embodies the spirit of the book. If you hate Mika, IGNORE THIS.

I don’t understand this video, but I still want to BE IN IT.

April Fools by Rufus Wainwright

I worship at the altar of Rufus Wainwright, and this song is one of my favorites of his. This is the song I would play whenever I thought about how the Martins all got along (this one, and one called “Little Sister”). But this one was really the big one for me. I will never, ever get bored of the way Rufus and Martha (Rufus’s sister, also a musician) sing together on this song. It reminds me of Scarlett and Spencer.

This video is awesome. In case you don’t quite know what he’s talking about . . . Rufus is a big opera fan, and many of the leading ladies of opera meet terrible, terrible ends. This is Rufus spending a day with some of these characters and basically trying to keep them from biting it. (Martha is the one in the kimono.)

Nobody Cares by The 88

At some point while I was writing, I got a copy of Over and Over by The 88 and I remember playing it over and over for days on end while I was writing. It felt exactly right. The lyric is fairly relevant to Scarlett, I think. It’s basically about how no one actually cares what your problems are.

This video is okay. I think the lead singer should shave off his beard.

Only a Show and As Long As There is You and Me, by I Monster

These were very important songs, but I have little to say about them except that I like them a lot. iTunes has taken them off the U.S. store so booooo.

Pretty much the entire album of “Mobilize” by Grant Lee Philips

Okay, before you even say it . . . no. I didn’t know that Grant Lee Philips was “the troubadour” on the Gilmore Girls. I never watched the show. I was actually just a Grant Lee Philips fan. I was telling someone of my love for his album “Mobilize,” and she said, “Oh, the guy from the Gilmore Girls?” And I said, “No, the musician.” And she said, “Oh, the guy from the Gilmore Girls?” And I said, “No . . .”

And this went on for about six hours (five minutes) until we realized that this was ONE IN THE SAME PERSON. I felt mildly betrayed by this. I’m not 100% sure why. Maybe I just felt like a musician I love shouldn’t be SNEAKING AROUND the background of a television show, LURKING under streetlights, playing SMALL SNIPPETS of songs I adore. You have to admit that is a little coy and messed up.

Musicians should not be permitted to hide in plain sight in this fashion. This is not the witness protection program.* What’s next? Is David Bowie concealing himself on the set of Lost? Is Ben Folds cleverly camouflaging himself as a doorman on Gossip Girl?

Louis Quatorze by Bow Wow Wow

This song is hilariously filthy. It’s about a 14 year old girl who is clearly “dating” a boy who is older. (How much older is unclear, but it seems like he is A LOT older, and he calls himself Louis Quatorze, which is also really weird and fabulous, because who sneaks around dating 14 year-olds while pretending to be a long dead French king? It is simply PERVERSE.) And believe it or not, between this and an exhibition of Velazquez paintings in London, I came up with the basics of Scarlett and Eric’s relationship.

Thanks to the movie Marie Antoinette, the awesomeness of Bow Wow Wow (and Annabella Lwin in particular) has been introduced to a new audience. The band was basically a big setup by Malcolm McLaren (who ran the Sex Pistols) to promote Vivienne Westwood’s fashions. Which is a weird way for a band to start, and by rights they shouldn’t be as good as they are, but Vivienne and Malcom had a way with these kinds of things.

And Velazquez? See, Velazquez was the painter of the Spanish court, and one of his jobs was to paint the princess Margaret Theresa, who was betrothed when she was very small to her uncle, Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor. He had to paint the princess every year or so to show her uncle/future husband how his wife was turning out.** The resulting series of paintings are remarkable both for their execution and their historical relevance. What’s truly amazing is that this incredibly creepy-sounding couple turned out to be very happy together—had a long and happy marriage.

So what do these two things have to do with the story? Well, I knew that Scarlett’s relationship with Eric was always going to be awkward, that people would have issues with it. And I wanted part of the difficultly to be related to an age difference, enough that Scarlett could always feel that Eric was able to do things that she couldn’t, that there was always a little tension because of it.

I didn’t want it to go from being awkward to being ILLEGAL, though, because that’s a different book. So when the book started, he was 20. Then I knocked him down to 19, then to 18. In the end, I figured that it was sort of enough that he was going off to acting school while Scarlett was still at home, still in high school. That is truly hard enough to deal with.

Nothing, Chorus Line, Original Broadway Cast Album

I reference A Chorus Line in the book. A Chorus Line is a musical written in 1975, though “written” in this case is a slightly loose term. The musical came out of a series of taped conversations with a group of dancers in 1974.*** Their stories were taken fairly directly and molded into the story, which revolves around an audition for a chorus line. So all the characters are based on real performers and the things they have gone through.

This song was always one of my favorites. Moralis tells the story of failing her acting class at the High School for Performing Arts (in the book, Spencer is a graduate of this school). She can’t embrace what she feels are “bullshit” exercises in which she has to feel like a table and an ice cream cone. The teacher allows her to be mocked and tells her that perhaps she isn’t fit to be an actress. I met only one or two teachers in theater school who were like this, but I remember that this song meant a lot to be during a particularly rough period.

Tiger and Dancing Queen by Abba

You knew Abba would be on there. You know you did.

And because I was also asked to publish them as an iMix, I will do so LATER THIS EVENING or EARLY TOMORROW. It will be LONGER than this list.

And, of course, I have two books to give out to RANDOM COMMENTERS! They are:

From Blogspot: Lindsay (aka Daisy Buzzblebee)
From the Ning: Kendyl

E-mail me your addresses and SIGNED COPIES are on their way!

I’ll be giving out some more copies LATER IN THE WEEK! See you tomorrow with MANY MORE ANSWERS TO THINGS!

* Or, if it is, then the witness protection is not very good.
** Things were complicated before the internet was around.
*** Mrs. Amberson claims to have been one of them, and that her contribution was cut out of the story in one of the last versions of the script.

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Posted: Sunday, April 26th, 2009 @ 12:23 am
Categories: BEDA, Suite Scarlett, ask mj, high school musical.
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