Blackbirds – Song bio

Once again, I have written a songthing for Spintunes and you get to listen to me unwisely explain my art.

First you should probably hear the song and you should definitely take a listen to the other competitors of Spintunes 9 Round 3.

Good?  Thanks for sticking around.  I know that took like 40 minutes.  Worth it, though, right?

Anyway.

The challenge was:

SCORE! – Finally! Your favorite book is being made into a decent movie! The producers need a title song to promote the film and hopefully win an Academy Award. You’re hired. The song must have the same title as the book. (2 minute minimum length)

Okay, so there were a few things about the challenge that caused some forest-for-the-trees type discussion among the competitors.  I came up with a few clarifications. Except they didn’t come from the judges, really.  I just decided these things from context.

1. Nobody is going to fact check “favorite”.  (This is good because I rarely have actually “Favorite” media.  I once unwisely chose my favorite movie as a security question and ended up calling customer support because I could guess it in five tries, three months later. I have more like “what am I in to right now?”.)

2.  “Winning an Academy Award” is just shorthand for “it should be a good song people will like”.  They easily could have said “shift a lot of OST units” or “hit the top of the charts!! or some reasonably impressive level.”  In other words it wasn’t necessary to worry that the book we picked would never in a million years actually win an Academy Award.

3. I think that bit about the title needing to be the same as the book is pretty open to interpretation, don’t you? Okay, just kidding.

So the book I chose is Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.

The main protagonist of Blackbirds is a woman in her early 20s by the name of Miriam Black, and she has a curious power: if she touches her skin against another person’s, she receives a vision of exactly when and exactly how that person will die.

For pretty understandable reasons, she doesn’t stay in one place for long or make close bonds with people.  As this doesn’t lend itself well to employment and she isn’t independently wealthy, she survives by touching people and finding a target who will die soon and leave behind cash/credit cards/other assets she can use.

That sounds pretty dark, and Miriam is a smart ass, foul mouthed misanthrope (with some pretty good reasons to be so), but she’s also instantly likeable (or was to me, anyway).   In the book, you gradually learn that she originally tried to save people from their fates, but any preventative measure she takes only ensures the exact vision she saw will come to pass.

Then she meet a kind-hearted trucker named Louis, and things get complicated fast.

I’ll avoid typing out a summary of the whole book.. and it turns out the book doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or a full synopsis anywhere I can find so I can’t do that either.

random aside note I can’t find a better place for:

I didn’t know it when I chose the book but it looks like Blackbirds is getting a TV adaptation.  Nice.

All right, let us dive into the lyrics, shall we?

Like a lot of my songs the perspective jumps around a little. The narrator of the song isn’t consistent because (again, like a lot of my songs) this one is all about mood and atmosphere rather than focusing on a character or linear plot.

One touch
You want to rush away
Eyes open, nothing left
To erase the written fate

So, as established, after “One touch” Miriam knows how you die.  Unsurprisingly this is often a depressing, violent, shocking, or otherwise upsetting thing for her.  Often, she has an immediate instinctual need to try to prevent the touched person’s fate (to “rush away” from the vision).  But soon enough (in most cases anyway) she remembers and accepts that her visions are immutable.

Tell me
Why you stay in my wake
Why do I feel you’ll stay until
There’s nothing left to take

 

Miriam does, for all intents and purposes, stalk people once she knows that they’ll die and will leave behind things she can use to survive.  Some of them sense that something is very off about Miriam — and towards the end of their time together, particularly if the touched is a person of less than upstanding moral character, she’ll stop concealing why she’s been hanging around.

Searchlights in the distance
But they never pierce the gray
Would we stay lost all night
If you could have your way

For all that, Miriam would (and did) try to save people if it were possible, but time and time again it’s been proven to her that she can’t.  Getting “lost in gray” is an idea I’ve used to indicate death before (maybe not shockingly original, but what can ya do).  The searchlight here is Miriam’s futile desire to change the futures she sees.  The answer to the question posed in the last two lines is actually “No”, though the person speaking might think otherwise.

Whispers that wind around your ear
Rhythms that only you can hear
You earned all their songs, a how but not a why
Laughter seconds before screams
Prophets strangling our dreams
Blackbirds blotting out the sky

 

The whole chorus refers to the death visions – whispers of the future that are for Miriam’s ears only.  The line “You earned all their songs – a how, but now a why” refers to a section of the book where Miriam references “earning this gift” and having worked out how it works but not why it was given to her.  (Spoiler alert: the way she earned the gift was awful and traumatic.)

“Blackbirds blotting out the sky” – as you might have guessed from the title, there is bird imagery involved in the book, that only increases through the second and ESPECIALLY the third books in the series.  On top of that, the generally atmosphere is that of a crapsack world where destiny is a fickle and unchangable–and yet, for Miriam, knowable–thing.  I liked the slowly-and-terribly-approaching-doom of the image of blackbirds blocking out all the light.  Plus, you know.  Title drop.

One touch
It echoes back your name
Too much to think about
Who’s waiting out of frame

As mentioned, the real action of the book kicks off after Miriam meets a trucker named Louis and touches him.  (spoilerish alert) She sees that he will be brutally murdered in a fairly short time, and just before he does he will look ‘off camera’ and say “Miriam?”

You arrive on darkest wings
You can say what the night will bring
Carrion, poisonous things
You arrive on darkest wings

More than a few people realize (some too late for it to do them any good) that death seems to follow Miriam around more often than coincidence would account for.  She struggles with the overall meaning of her “gift” as well.

Car crash in the pouring rain
Engines out on a falling plane
You’re the chooser of the slain
But who will choose for you?

This is again more reference to the death visions.  I also really wanted to work “chooser of the slain” into the song because it’s implied that in the Blackbirds universe, the myth of valkyries is probably related to or directly based on other women with gifts similar to Miriam’s.

Whispers that wind around your ear
Rhythms that only you can hear
You earned all their songs, a how but not a why
Laughter seconds before screams
Prophets strangling our dreams
Blackbirds blotting out the sky
Echoes pounding through your head
Futures hide beneath your bed
Make them believe, you said no one else will die
Highways until your work is done
Burdens weighing like a ton
Blackbirds blotting out the sky

And a chorus to wrap it up.

Honestly I could say quite a bit more about this song, but it’s already dangerously close to the judges’ due dates and I want to make sure SOMETHING is posted prior to that, so I’ll just mention in terms of of musical style that Chuck Wendig posted a playlist of sorts of music that inspired Miriam’s character, the plot, would be good to listen to while reading, etc.

Originally I was going to try for something in the same vein but one commonality you’ll note between most of those tracks is a female vocalist.  I did have one friend who was going to give it a shot, but then I didn’t have tracks ready until Friday evening and it was too late to get things together (and probably would have been in a bad key for her anyway), so I proceeded.

I really wanted to go for an ’80s darkwave kind of thing, with moody synths and other production elements, but I don’t have a midi controller right now and I’m not skilled (or patient) enough to do the piano roll thing, so I used the good ol’ EBow and an “ambient” sound patch as a synth stand in.

Overall, I feel like it does sound like “soundtrack” music, and it fits the tone and themes of the story well.

On a final note, I did send the song to Mr. Wendig on Twitter.  You can see his reaction here and here.

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