As I write my novels, I tend to make a playlist that helps me get in the mood, set the scene, and channel my characters. This playlist is inspired by the flow and scenes of my first novel, Lazarus.
“Revolution,” Arrested Development. It was important for me to establish young Adrian Collins as a an aspiring revolutionary, someone who bucks trends and upsets the status quo. Lazarus, although initially meant to be timeless, takes place from the Fall of 1998 through the Spring of 1999. “Revolution” came out six years prior in 1992, on the Malcolm X soundtrack–certainly another cultural moment that challenged Adrian as a young black man coming into his identity.
“Whistle,” YBI; and “My Humps,” (covers), TCB. Aside from being a revolutionary in training, Adrian Collins is unapologetically from the DC area. Raised in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, Adrian experiences cultural kinship and support when surrounded by fellow DC students. And when go-go music plays, the percussion-heavy songs of the region transport him to a primordial, trance-like state of comfort.
“Poetry Man,” Phoebe Snow. Although the song may have the “other woman” twist at the end, it is still powerfully emblematic of Adrian’s relationship with Savion Cortez, his first great love. Readers of a certain age might remember The Wonder Years. The instrumental music that played in Kevin’s head whenever he saw Winnie Cooper stuck with me forever, and I wanted a song that would be Adrian and Savion’s in my head, too.
And even though this song is about adultery, it can be argued that there were three entities in this relationship: Savion, Adrian, and Beta Chi Phi itself. Readers will have to determine who the “other woman” is in that triangle.
“Slow Love,” Prince. Adrian and Savion quickly become lovers. I wanted them to have the sexiest, most triumphant slow jam of all time. It’s tender, loving, and still salacious–especially the live version. When this song plays, Savion is certain he has found ‘the one.’ Whether that is ultimately the case is shown in the novels, but if this song was in your head when you were with your lover, you’d probably be convinced, too.
“Don’t Let Me Down,” Randy Crawford. Imagine your boyfriend–your new, recent boyfriend, told you that he was about to pledge a fraternity and essentially be absent for an undetermined number of months. You want him to be happy, but you want your happy, too! That was Savion Cortez, begrudgingly accepting Adrian’s choices while pleading with him not to disappoint him.
Fun facts: At one time, I had the original Beatles version of this song on this playlist alongside the Phoebe Snow version. The Randy Crawford version won out because of its more tropical beat, aligning with Savion’s Caribbean ethnicity and his soulful vibe.
“Wholy Holy,” Marvin Gaye. How does one accurately reflect what it feels like when you’re about to begin pledging? Those anguished moments after the application is in, but before you know that you’ve officially made it? I wanted to capture this picture of men who felt, almost literally, that they were about to die. Wholy Holy has a sadness and stillness to it that is also hopeful, once you listen to the words. Yet, the men still feel like they are in an ethereal waiting room until they get the phone call that they’ve made it.
“You Better Run,” Dorothy Love Coates. Imagine Adrian and his soon-to-be line brother Calen running across campus in order to get their money orders to a member of the chapter in time. Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” would have been a more obvious choice, but I wanted something even more old-timey than that. I always wanted Lazarus to feel older than the time period it represented, and hopefully listening to these songs as I wrote it allowed that oldness to become timelessness.
“Mary Don’t You Weep,” Aretha Franklin. It’s been over a decade since the publication of Lazarus, so if you don’t know this spoiler,shame on you, please skip this paragraph. When Adrian drops line after a homophobic assault on him by a chapter member, his Dean of Pledges shows up to his house to convince him to reconsider. He brings with him an Aretha Franklin CS, which includes the full version of this song, and they listen to it. Halfway through the night, the DP calls Adrian’s name three times. He wakes up and consents to continuing the pledge process. His Dean later names him Lazarus, since he figuratively came back from the dead.
“Eyes on the Prize,” The Sojourners. The gentlemen in the pledge process as so close, so close! This is a song I listened to in order to help visualize the alternating hope of the message, yet the desperation in the chords.
“Lily in the Valley,” John P. Kee. They crossed. It’s over. Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus. This is the moment the pledges have been waiting for. Victory, joy, calm–all of those emotions wrapped around a thankfulness that it’s all over.
“I Wish U Heaven” (cover), Darren Hayes. Adrian is now a Beta, but at what cost? His relationship is over, but he’s grateful that it happened. Savion, on the other hand, may never be the same.
“Lazarus,” Porcupine Tree. This one is easy. Not directly related to the story, but a nice “closing credits” sort of song that uses the title of the book.
Those are the primary tracks. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that reminds me of Lazarus and then add it to the end, but basically these are the songs that I play when I want to be transported back to these characters. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do.
Note: The playlist below doesn’t reflect every song in my playlist, but gives you about half.