Undertow Mix Tape

Music sometimes informs what I’m writing and never as much as it did for Undertow. To get into the mind of Lyric Walker and her friend Bex I found that some old school post-punk and current bands helped me find their voices. Lyric and Bex are very unique protagonists – not the introverted, bookish types you find in a lot of YA, not ciphers, not girls needy for a boy’s attention, but fifty-foot tall forces of nature who know they’re hot and enjoy the attention. Lyric, knows she has an impact on boys and she enjoys the fun she can conjure with it, but at the same time there’s nothing arrogant about her. She’s not cruel or unkind – she’s just bad ass and wild – she’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Shirley Manson and a whole bunch of other awesome, larger than life women mixed with a few kick ass guys. These are some of the songs and bands I listened to that helped me find her, at least for the first part of the trilogy. They’re not all songs she would listen to – some of these are planted firmly in the 90’s – but they are songs that embody them.

First up is Elastica. Some of you may not remember them but they had a couple albums, and the first was a big hit and featured Stutter – one of the sexiest songs I’ve ever heard. In my head, Lyric resembles the lead singer, Justine Frischmann, and this video has a playful self-awareness to it. If you don’t know this band, their self-titled first record is one of the best of the nineties. Every song is solid, fun, poppy, and guitar heavy. The second record didn’t have the same impact which is a shame because when I bought this back in ’95 it was almost always in my cd player.

Garbage’s huge hit “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” was everywhere in ’96 and introduced us to Shirley Manson who sings “I’m only happy when it’s complicated.” Garbage has plenty of great songs but this one felt the most like Lyric to me – she is who she is and if she’s too big of a challenge for you then tough. The story of how this band got together is fascinating and you should look it up but Shirley was a breath of fresh air when grunge imploded and the radio was just a wasteland of Pearl Jam rip-off bands. Garbage is still together and continues to make some pretty great records and Shirley is still crazy hot and scary and everything awesome. This one is off their debut “Queer.”

I could probably post every video The Donnas ever made because if Lyric and Bex were real they would be in this band. The Donnas are fun, kick ass, funny, hot, and loud – I mean, I listen to these albums and wonder if they’re not the daughters of AC/DC. “Who Invited You” is the quintessential Lyric theme song – “We don’t care if you think our party’s cool, cause we do. And we don’t care if you’ve had more fun in Sunday school, cause who invited you?” The video even ends with lead singer, Brett Anderson, starting a fist fight. This is the band that wrote songs like “Take It Off” and “40 Boys in 40 Nights” where they declare there are no cute boys in Decatur. Listen to The Donnas Turn 21 and Spend the Night then read Undertow.

I recently bought Dreamboat Annie on vinyl and well – my head exploded. Watch this video from Heart’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but make sure you’re sitting down at the :52 mark when Nancy Wilson starts tearing into her guitar. Now, stop the video. That woman is 60 years old people! That’s about as bad ass as it can get. Her sister has one of the best singing voices on the planet and together they are a volcano of awesome. Lyric and Bex are like sisters, too, and though the book has a lot of monsters and mayhem, at it’s core it’s the story of two girls who have chosen each other as family. Lyric and Bex don’t need boys – they need each other. Plus, I know Lyric would love Ann’s outfits.

It doesn’t get much cooler than Kim Gordon in this Sonic Youth video from their first major label record Goo. Kool Thing has one of those bass lines you feel in your bones and Kim is both style and substance. It doesn’t hurt that Chuck D shows up to help out. I often listened to this when writing Bex’s scenes – she’s noise and in your face at times, a little angry, but wearing sparkly pantd. Sonic Youth defied a lot of the scene back then, choosing to do their own thing, and Bex is the same.

Tegan and Sara have gone pop as of late – something I totally support. Closer is a song I still can’t get out of my head, but Northshore is the song that always makes me want to get back into a mosh pit. I think of Bex and Lyric – in the back seat of someone’s car signing this word for word at the top of their lungs.

Joseph Arnold gets a shout out in Undertow. I love this video for a number of reasons – one, it was shot in my apartment building, and two – I know those kids! Joseph is a great guy from my home town and my friends back home would know him from the band Frankie Star. We even got a tattoo together one day. When I wrote the scenes between Lyric and Fathom this was often in the background, or his brutally honest Gypsy Faded.  Arnold is one of those artists that make you a little angry at the person who broke your heart – he’s about to break big and I just love the lullaby quality in Love Never Asks You To Lie. Watch this and try not to tear up.

It’s not cool to say you love Oasis anymore. I suppose it’s how arrogant they were or how their drama got in the way of the music, but I think they’re insanely talented and a great example of what rock and roll used to be before everyone got nice and worried about whether they were good role models. Wonderful played in my head a lot, especially when I was writing quiet scenes between Lyric and Fathom.

Bruce Springsteen gets a mention in the book, too. I’m on Fire is a song you need to listen to in the dark. It’s about longing. Lyric could sing this. Fathom could sing it. The freight train drum behind it all, and the haunting keyboards make this slow and sexy and painful all at the same time.

There’s other songs. I’ll post more later but this is a good insight into Undertow and Lyric.