The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days
Many–probably most–writers listen to music as they work, but for me, it’s more than background noise. Some musicians, some songs inspire me when I’m writing, and that’s especially true for my latest project, This Wasted Land, a young adult dark fantasy novel that will be published in early 2018.
My favorite band is Led Zeppelin, the premier group of the 1970’s. With guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin was a perfect example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, so much so that when Bonham died in 1980, the group disbanded rather than attempt to replace him.
Even if you’re not a fan of classic hard rock, you have surely heard–perhaps more times than you’ve cared to–their magnum opus “Stairway to Heaven,” which Rolling Stone magazine listed as #31 on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (not bad for a band that RS hated during Zep’s heyday).
But while people may automatically think of the over-played “Stairway” when they hear the name of the band, it doesn’t epitomize what Zeppelin was. Led Zep’s music evolved from their early years of blues-rock (the albums LZ I and II), to quasi-folk music (LZ III and the untitled fourth album); to what I call their “epic” sound of the albums Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, the challenging but underappreciated Presence, and In Through The Out Door.
It’s those “epic” albums that I most favor. To be sure, not every song has inspired me–“The Crunge” and “Hot Dog” are just goofy fun–but many of the others have. There’s a grandeur to them, a vastness of scale, a dizzying intricacy, and a permeating “light and shade,” as Jimmy Page referred to it.
There’s also a tremendous intensity of emotions–love, joy, hope, pain, anger, remorse–that the music and vocals convey and evoke, that reach deeply into me even as I listen to these songs for what seems to be the thousandth time. I flip past “Whole Lotta Love” when its comes on my car radio; I am riveted by “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
I hope to harness and bring that emotional firepower to This Wasted Land. Almost 30 years ago, when I first conceived of the story, Zeppelin’s music was the soundtrack in my head:
- The passion of “The Wanton Song”
- The loneliness of “Tea for One“
- The despair of “I’m Gonna Crawl“
- The steadfastness of “The Rain Song“
- The yearning of “The Rover“
- The reconciliation of “Ten Years Gone“
- The joy of “Dancing Days“
- The connection with the cosmic in “Kashmir”
All I see turns to brown
As the sun burns the ground
And my eyes fill with sand
As I scan this wasted land
“Kashmir” provides the title for my next novel, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone to that well. “Traveller of both time and space” is part of another line from the song, and it’s the title of a piece of fan fiction I wrote for my Warhammer 40K gaming website, the Jungle.
Listening to “Kashmir,” I imagine Alyx, my feisty teenage heroine of TWL, crossing endless gray wastes, evading or battling monsters, as she pursues the shapeshifting witch Freydis, who has abducted her boyfriend, Sam, and brought him to the nightmare realm of Lonelylands, ruled by Oth, Freydis’ merciless master.
And it’s another Zeppelin song that makes me think of Freydis in all her cruelty, and pain, and want:
In the evening
When the day is done
I’m looking for my woman
Oh, but the girl won’t come
So don’t let her
Play you for no fool
She don’t show no pity, baby
She don’t make no rules
“In the Evening,” with its unearthly intro, phantasmal guitar solo, and Plant’s wrenching wails, is my favorite Zeppelin song. It’s especially relevant to This Wasted Land (I can say no more lest I give too much away), but I like it so much that a chapter in each of my other novels–Dragontamer’s Daughters, and Lost Dogs,–is named after it.
Oh, I need your love
Oh, I need your love
Ooh, yeah, I need your love
I’ve got to have
I’ve got to have
After the band broke up, Robert Plant embarked on a distinguished solo career that continues to this day (his latest album, Carry Fire, will debut on October 13, 2017). I became a huge fan, and like with Zeppelin, his solo work inspired me as well. More on that–and on TWL–some other time.
Lest I am misconstrued, I do think highly of Zep’s earlier work, particularly:
- “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You“
- “Bring It On Home“
- “Out On The Tiles“
- “When The Levee Breaks“
…and, of course, “Immigrant Song,” most recently–and appropriately–used for the teaser trailer to the upcoming film Thor: Ragnarok. As a huge fan of Zep and Thor, you can bet your last dollar that I’ll be there on opening night.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.
Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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