Albums That Change Your Life

A few days ago there was a trending hashtag on Twitter for #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife. When I saw it pop up, I had to play along:

I like this framing better than the typical list of “favorites” or desert island discs (do they even do that anymore in the iTunes and playlist age?) since it leans right in to the subjectivity of musical experience. There are no wrong answers to this question. Or so I hope . . .

Selling England By the Pound

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To my mind, Selling England By the Pound isn’t just peak Genesis, it’s the template for much of what we call symphonic prog these days. The only thing it lacks is the truly oversized epic, but everything else is there – lush symphonic arrangements, lengthy instrumental passages, contrasting pastoral and bombastic passages. Throw in a set of very English lyrics and it’s hard to argue it gets any better than this.

But that’s not what makes it a life changer for me. I can’t see SEBtB was the first old school Genesis album I heard – my brother had everything from Nursery Cryme through Duke – but it was the first one I connected with. I’m not quite sure why. The macabre sensibility of Nursery Cryme or the sci-fi aspects of Foxtrot would seem to have been more obvious choices. But for some reason the album with the sleeping lawn mower on the cover and references to British politics and gang wars is what sucked me in. It wasn’t the only album that made me a prog fan, but it’s probably the one most responsible.

Special mention, probably, for starting my lifelong love affair with the Mellotron. The world’s first sampling keyboard, it was supposed to put classical musicians out of business, but it never really created lifelike sounds in the end – which is what makes it so cool! The intro to “Watcher of the Skies” from Foxtrot is probably the definitive Genesis Tron moment, but for me the part of “Dancing Out With the Moonlit Knight” where the choral tapes kick in gives me goose bumps every time.

Brave

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When I got into Marillion in college, the fan base was split in the kind of way that happens when long-lived bands have major lineup changes. In this case, the fissure was between the early Fish-fronted version of the band and the then (and still) current version fronted by Steve Hogarth (aka “H”). The battle lines, as I understood it at the time, were that that Fish years hewed more truly to the band’s progressive rock roots, while the H years were all about mediocre attempts at mainstream success. As a result, after my gateway dose of Marillion (Misplaced Childhood) I focused on absorbing the Fish-era stuff.

Then I heard about Brave – a concept album, one with some long multi-part songs and a dark exploration of a potential suicide. This didn’t sound like the stuff of a low-rent Phil Collins desperate for pop glory. I decided it was worth checking out, even as part of me figured it would be a flop and send me back into the loving arms of the earlier material.

Holy hell, did I have that wrong! Brave wasn’t just a great, deep, layered progressive rock record, it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. Yeah, it was different from the early days, more ambient and less overtly “prog,” but damn, it’s good. And that H guy’s no slouch! Hell, Brave even made its way into one of my books.

This was important not only because I discovered a great album, but because I learned that Marillion wasn’t a thing of the past. As a band they had a lot of life left in them (still do – seeing them again at the end of October!) and became one of my absolute favorites.

What makes it all the more impressive – Brave isn’t even my favorite H-era Marillion album.

Kid A

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Kid A didn’t work the sea change in my musical world that the others did. Instead, it set something going in my brain that slow burned its way into an appreciation of an entirely different kind of music.

I was late to OK Computer and wasn’t completely on board the Radiohead train when Kid A came out. What I read about it – electronic, experimental – didn’t really intrigue me. Then I saw this:

The song itself didn’t grab me so much as Johnny Greenwood (?) sitting at the front of the stage, swapping patch cords and twiddling knobs on a modular synthesizer. Not a keyboard in sight (RIP, Don Buchla, by the way). I went out and got the album and, it turned out, I really dug it. I’ve been on the train ever since.

The funny this is, at the time, I didn’t think to myself, “self, you’re listening to electronic music now.” Radiohead’s been drafted in by the prog crowd and Kid A (and just about everything else) is certainly adventurous and genre diverse to fit the bill. Nonetheless, it was definitely the gateway drug. It was a while before I consciously decided to check out Kraftwerk and Jarre (I think Richard Barbieri’s first solo album was a way station), but I got there and fell hard (much to my wife’s dismay). It was only a matter of time once I’d heard Kid A and let it seep into my brain.

So those are my three. What are yours?

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Come See Me!

Hey, look, kids, is a new box full o’ books:

box-o-books

That can only mean one thing – I’m getting ready for the Ohio River Festival of Books! It takes place this Friday and Saturday at the Pullman Plaza hotel in Huntington, West Virginia. There’s also some programs taking place at other locales around Huntington in the days leading up to that.

I’ll be there Friday evening and all day Saturday, so stop by, say hi, and grab a book. I’ll have paperback copies of all my books, including (as you can see), The Endless Hills. While you’re there, you can check out the other signing authors as well as take in presentations and workshops from the likes of Rajia Hassib, Sam Quinones, and Michael Knost.Plus there’s stuff for the kiddies.

So come on by this weekend!

Water Road Wednesday: Faerl Vasil

I think it’s quite natural for a book series or trilogy to add characters as it goes along. Not only does it allow for the replacement of characters who either meet an early demise or simply aren’t involved anymore, it gives the writer a chance to shake things up. I’m not sure how often one of those characters who makes a late appearance was supposed to show up from the very beginning.

When I originally concieved of The Water Road it was as a book that old the stories of four characters. Two, of course, were Antrey and Strefer. The third was Renzi, who appears in The Endless Hills. The fourth was a Sentinel who, at the time, was named Faaip (after the odd track at the end of Tool’s Lateralus album).

Faaip was going to futilely chase Antrey through the Neldathi mountains and provide a separate point of view for what she did with the Neldathi. But it became clear the further I got into The Water Road that it was really the story of two women on parallel paths after each discovered a terrible secret. Renzi and Faaip just didn’t fit into that, so their stories got cut. Renzi’s became The Badlands War, a novella that should be out next year in some fashion.

Faaip was just forgotten until I started working on The Bay of Sins. I wanted a point of view character who was leading the search for Antrey once she leaves her exile. What better person to do it than the one who failed so miserably before? I changed the name to Faerl, surrounded him with a mind walker second in command and a few refugees from Renzi’s Rangers and turned him loose.

It makes it more interesting (I hope) to have someone with a past specifically related to Antrey chasing her rather than just some goon with orders to follow. It drives Faerl to do some hard things and, in the end, seals his fate before he even gets going. But saying more would ruin the story.


This is the final Water Road Wednesday post that deals with a person or place in the world of The Water Road trilogy. Now that the first two books are out (with the third on the way!) it’s gotten progressively harder to talk about such things without running into spoilers.

From here on out it’s all excerpts from The Bay of Sins, a cover reveal, and the release of the final book in the trilogy!

For more information on The Water Road and The Endless Hills check out the trilogy page here, which includes links to all my Water Road Wednesday posts this year.

Water Road Wednesday: Forlahn and Malin

Bounty hunters can be kind of messy in the real world, but they’re great characters for fiction. People who engage in the most dangerous game for a living and all that.

It makes sense that there would be bounty hunters in the world of The Water Road. Keep in mind that for all the appearance of cooperation inherent in the title Confederated States of the Arbor, the fact is that that the city states in the Arbor are happy to fend for themselves and mind their own business. Banditry would run rampant in a land without any real governing force.

Bounty hunters also tend to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Forlahn certainly did, much to Rurek and Strefer’s delight. Although, I suppose, he might have intervened a little bit earlier.

Once I decided to have a bounty hunter in The Water Road I decided I didn’t want him to be the typical snarky ass kicker. He had to be good at his job – very good – but I didn’t want him to be too enamored of the violence it allowed him to do.

That’s part of why I wanted him to be familiar with Oberton. The city in the trees had little need for bounty hunters per se – they don’t pay traditional bounties for killing/apprehending bandits. But they do pay for information, something that Forlahn was equally adept at getting.

That’s also where Malin comes along. A bounty hunter with a family is one thing, but a bounty hunter with a son in tow? It changes the way you look at things. It also changes the way you grow up. When we meet him in The Water Road, Malin is at once wise beyond his years when it comes to surviving in the wilderness, but it still a child.

That was the final thing I wanted to build into Forlahn – a desire to get out of his bounty hunting life. After all, you never know when the end is coming:

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When the opportunity to do that presents itself, he grabs it without hesitation. It doesn’t matter the risk. It doesn’t matter how it will upend relationships with those close to him. He’s given a chance at a way out that he’s not about to pass up.

For more information on The Water Road and The Endless Hills check out the trilogy page here, which includes links to all my Water Road Wednesday posts this year.

A Programming Note

Aside from Water Road Wednesday posts, I haven’t exactly been tearing it up on the blogging front. That’s what focusing on getting books finished will do for you. That said, things are about to get even more sparse while I finish up The Bay of Sins (and while the real world presses in for a couple of weeks). Water Road Wednesday posts are going to back off to every other week and there likely won’t be anything else while I’m working hard on finishing the trilogy.
I can breathe when I’m done, right?