As I said on Monday, I’m writing a book called EXTREME MAKEOVER: APOCALYPSE EDITION. It’s about a health and beauty company that accidentally develops a cloning technology, and it’s equal parts awesome and bizarre; a very big departure, stylistically, from anything I’ve ever written before. I create a playlist for every book I write, and this time around we ended up with a lot more metal than you would expect a book about cosmetics and cloning to produce, but there you go. In case you want to listen along, here’s what I’m listening to while I write my new book:
1. Pepper, by the Butthole Surfers
This is the core song that helped define the sound of the entire list. I turned to this song first because of the lyric “You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes,” which takes on a pretty cool new dimension in a book about cloning, but as I listened to it again I really fell in love with the distorted guitar part, which has a strange, almost alien sound to it. It gave me the feeling of walking through a bazaar and seeing unfamiliar, unexplainable crap all over the place, and that kind of cultural discomfort is a big part of what I wanted the book to capture.
2. Sabotage, by The Beastie Boys
Yep, I had this on my last playlist as well. What can I say? It’s an awesome song. There’s a particular action scene in the book that I always imagine with this song in the background; I’ll tell you which one some other time.
3. Sweet Emotion, by Aerosmith
One of the central sequences of the book, kind of a massive tentpole that holds up an entire section, is a cosmetics product launch. This scene was incredibly fun to write because I worked for many years at a variety of health and beauty companies, as well as some other non-cosmetics companies, and I helped plan and carry out some product launches. It was a cool balancing act to dust off those marketing skills and write something that was not only a good story, but was also a good corporate event–the speeches, the look and feel, everything. This song gets mentioned as part of that product launch, though this may or may not survive to the published version, depending on copyright issues. I especially love the layers of irony from lyrics like “Talk about things and nobody cares/wearing out things that nobody wears” in context of a corporate beauty event.
4. Gorgeous, by theSTART
theSTART is not a famous band, but if you like awesome music you absolutely need to look them up. I originally had two of their songs on this list, “Gorgeous” and “Death via Satellite,” but when I winnowed the list down to just one song per artist I kept “Gorgeous” for the obvious connection to beauty. It’s a fast-paced–almost recklessly-paced–song about someone being so good looking you can’t help but go nuts over them, and that was a perfect fit for some of the earlier parts of the book.
5. King Nothing, by Metallica
I felt very strongly that I needed some Metallica on here, and for a long time I had “I Disappear” from the Mission Impossible soundtrack. Once I took the time to really look at the other options, though, “King Nothing” was the perfect song for the book because it’s about a man who thinks he has everything, but it all falls apart and he has no one to blame but himself. What better sentiment for a book about destroying the world?
6. Sell Out, by Halfcocked
Halfcocked is another lesser-known band, which is an absolute crime, and now they’ve broken up, which is worse. They wrote the kind of rock songs you didn’t think people wrote anymore, and just like with theSTART I had several of their songs on this list before finally forcing myself to streamline it to one. “Sell Out” is a slower song than the others on the list, which was important for a change of pace, and tells the story of a girl getting ready for a prom; it’s all about beauty, popularity, and self consciousness, which makes it a great fit for the book.
7. Growing Old is Getting Old, by the Silversun Pickups
Obviously my favorite band has to make the list somewhere, and this is my new favorite song of theirs. It starts off slow and gets guitar-warpingly weird by the end, which is a nice mirror of the book’s overall structure. Plus the title is fantastic, tying directly to one of the central questions of cloning: if we can just rebuild ourselves constantly, will we ever die? What does the world do when nobody ever gets old?
8. Busted, by Matchbox 20
Yes, I realize the incongruity of putting Matchbox 20 on a playlist full of hard rock and heavy metal, but it gets worse: I originally had three Matchbox 20 songs on here, and only cut one of them. It’s the only band for which I kept two songs, but they’re both too perfect to miss. “Busted,” for starters, is their heaviest rock song musically, and includes lyrics that speak so perfectly to the book. The chorus repeats the line “The people we become will never be the people who we are,” and then the final verse is about the literal end of the world–not just the end of the world, but the degradation of reality and sanity. And the singer just “sat on my back porch and watched it.” I love it. Fun trivia fact: A portion of this song was, in a very early draft, the epigram for I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU: “Oh how I want you to know me/Oh how I want you to know me/Oh how I wish I was somebody else.”
9. You And I And I, by Matchbox 20
This is one of their live-only songs, which I got off of Napster way back in the day and have looked for an official version of it ever since. iTunes doesn’t have one, or I’d buy it immediately. First of all, it has that great title, and then thematically it’s a break-up song: it’s about the things that separate us, and the non-physical distances between people who are physically right next to each other.
10. The Sharpest Lives, by My Chemical Romance
Ha, another goth song. I don’t care what you think of me. I love MCR, and I love this song, and on the list it goes.
11. The Man Who Sold The World, the Nirvana Version
This song hits the same theme as “King Nothing,” but in a soft, almost dreamlike way, plus it has some of that “alien bazaar” feel that “Pepper” has. I especially like the idea that the world is already sold, but life goes on, either because nobody knows or because the full implications haven’t come to light yet. And yes, as much as I love David Bowie, the Nirvana version blows me away.
12. Fake Plastic Trees, by Radiohead
Another duplicate from my last playlist, but an absolutely perfect inclusion on this one. The idea of being artificial, of living a fake plastic life, is a huge part of what drew me to tell a story about the beauty industry in the first place.
13. Hey, by the Pixies
I don’t know what to tell you about this one, except that you need to listen to the Pixies. They were a proto-grunge band, the group that inspired Nirvana (and countless others), and “Hey” is my favorite of their songs. The sound of it, and the feel of it, are impossible to duplicate in any other song. If I were to organize this playlist into an actual album, to be listened to in a specific order, this would be the first.
14. Death Day, by Alien Ant Farm
I keep asking why this one’s on here–not because I don’t like it, but because it doesn’t fit the book as closely as the others–and yet I find myself completely unable to remove it from the list. It’s sad, which I love, and slow, which the list needs, and looking back on disaster, which…just seems to fit. There’s a lot that vibe on the playlist, really.
15. The World You Love, by Jimmy Eat World
“Don’t it feel like sunshine after all?/The world we love forever gone./We’re only just as happy as everyone else seems to think we are.” This is the song you listen to when the sun is shining, and maybe the top is down, and you’re just driving away after the end of the world. Or sailing, as the case may be.