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Referencing Music in a Scene (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
"There was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming. Over on a dark peninsula a piano was playing the songs of last summer and of summers before that-- songs from "Chin-Chin" and "The Count of Luxemburg" and "The Chocolate Soldier"--and because the sound of a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful to Dexter he lay perfectly quiet and listened." ("Winter Dreams" by Fitzgerald)

What effect is this supposed to produce? I have never figured out this kind of thing.


 

Tiamat

Patron
I feel like the following is the answer to just about every thread ever created in this section of the forum, but it depends really.

Referencing music can just be a way of creating a mood. Listening to music can be relaxing for instance, so referencing some easy listening or soft rock or classical music can further paint the scene. Often times, referencing specific songs can act as a compliment to the story or the scene in which it's referenced or the character doing the referencing. It's kind of a double-edged sword though, because everyone reacts to music differently. Maybe I love me some Pink Floyd, so I might think having my character get lost in "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" would evoke feelings of nostalgia, but plenty of people just don't dig their style, so for those people, the reference would fall flat. I think a lot of the execution falls to the set up and how it's presented.

I just made a reference to Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" in a story I'm working on, and I did so with the intent of using it to highlight the problems in my MC's relationship with her guy. If the reader doesn't know the song, they won't get the depth of the reference, but I do specifically have my MC think with derision about the fact that it's often considered a love song when in fact, it's actually a break up song. But again, double-edged sword because there are enough pop culture references to that song in the context of romantic encounters that maybe I'm just shooting myself in the foot.

Because it depends.
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
"There was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming. Over on a dark peninsula a piano was playing the songs of last summer and of summers before that-- songs from "Chin-Chin" and "The Count of Luxemburg" and "The Chocolate Soldier"--and because the sound of a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful to Dexter he lay perfectly quiet and listened." ("Winter Dreams" by Fitzgerald)

What effect is this supposed to produce? I have never figured out this kind of thing.



What effect do you perceive when you read it?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
"There was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming. Over on a dark peninsula a piano was playing the songs of last summer and of summers before that-- songs from "Chin-Chin" and "The Count of Luxemburg" and "The Chocolate Soldier"--and because the sound of a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful to Dexter he lay perfectly quiet and listened." ("Winter Dreams" by Fitzgerald)

What effect is this supposed to produce? I have never figured out this kind of thing.


Referencing music is only part of it. Read the text; it has rhythm and flow to it. It's cool and snappy. The music's only a bonus. If you know the music, so much the better, but I would hardly say it's essential. There's nothing to figure out. It's something to feel.
 
Referencing specific other media (movies, books, music) or brands gives a sense of 'photorealism' (can't think of a better term). Even if the reader doesn't know the specific media, the naming gives a sense of realistic detail. Kind of like mentioning a character uses Colgate instead of just toothpaste. The reader brain goes, "Oh, I know that," and links it to reality.

Referencing music can also be an "easter egg" for fans--I don't think that's the goal in this case, but in, for example, a movie like Deathgasm, which is kind of made for metalheads, the references are part of the enjoyment ("I LIkE PaINKiLLer ToO!!") - but that can get silly if overdone.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Specific songs is certainly risky, in the Fitzgerald quote in the OP I had never heard of any of the three named. 'Songs of last year and the year before' played on a piano across water, yeah, great image; but the unknown specifics had me thinking "Blimey, which two years were they then?", a complete distraction from the author's intention. (I presume :) ).

The specific will rapidly date a piece of work, that may not matter, I remember reading a Jane Austen where she said what was plaved on the piano and there was a quite long and interesting footnote. Don't suppose that is what most of us have coming up. A lot of fiction is a bit like popular music itself, of course, intended to be this year's thing, or this month's or this week's; this day's even if you write for newspapers. On the other hand Dickens and his mate Collins wrote Old Curiosity Shop and Woman in White for a monthly magazine they ran, you never know what might happen with it if you make it as good as you can. I would be careful of the specific, one could like popular fiction and hate popular music.
 

Greyson

Senior Member
I think mentioning a specific piece, while it can date your work quite easily, is also perhaps a quick way to empower the prose. A reader may go and search out that song, or three, and give it a listen. Or your description, such as Fitzgerald's here, can act as the go-between to inform you of the feeling it evokes, making the names only there as a way to ground the sound in a concrete example, a thing you could know, perhaps. Whether you know the songs or not, I don't think the name dropping detracts too greatly.

Some of the best examples I've seen are in Haruki Murakami's works (he uses a lot of specific song names and even composers throughout all of his works). In all my experiences with these mentions, I've known perhaps two of the songs and only the most famous of the composers, but he uses them in ways that ground the story. For instance: "When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta." The effect here is something similar to Fitzgerald's reference in that it sets a tone without description. If you know the song, you know it's upbeat and fast. If you don't but know what an overture is, you can glean the same information. At the very least, you get the sense from the whistling the character is doing and his tone that he's in a pretty good mood.

There's a plethora of other examples in his works that tend to act as a method of setting the mood. So in conclusion, I would suspect that's always the aim. The names aren't necessary, but as we are always told in our writing, it pays to be specific...
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Only three posts when I started composing my last one, I kept getting interrupted.

bd in post five is right, there is a lot going on there. The three simple images of the first sentence, it is not the 'splash' of the fish, only 'a' star, not 'street' lights, it's really minimal. Then second sentence there is brief alliteration of 'O', then the P's and the S's.
"a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful", how often does that happen? But 'had always' makes it commonplace, accessible, a beauty the reader can share in. Read without the 'had always' and it is as though it is a revelation to him, that alters the reader's perception completely; couple of words one might easily edit out in many cases.
And look what happens when you take out the bit between hyphens,
"There was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming. Over on a dark peninsula a piano was playing the songs of last summer and of summers before that, and because the sound of a piano over a stretch of water had always seemed beautiful to Dexter he lay perfectly quiet and listened."
The way he breaks the 'rule' about not using 'and' right through the list, it all adds something to the surreal feel of the time and place. I could go on, check out the nouns, the adjectives ...
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I guess it makes me feel...cultured? It's relaxing somewhat (even though I've never heard that music). It kind of hits hard with the amount of content delivered in a short time.

I guess a smart alec might say you answered your own question but I know you're not looking for a personal answer. The thing is, though, it is personal and most references are. The reason the movie is called 'Gran Torino' not 'A Car' is because Clint Eastwood or whoever wrote it (think it was him) wanted to narrow the lens down to specificity. Presumably he did not think it would mean the same thing to everybody but the writer is taking a gamble that the audience will understand a reference, that they will resonate with it, even if the actual effects will be subtly different.

There's a line in the movie American Beauty near the end when the main character, in the throes of a midlife crisis, references a 'red firebird' (type of car). That line brought my father to tears because he was going through a midlife crisis himself at the time and -- yup -- owned a red firebird, his pride and joy. I did not share that same emotion, obviously, but I recognize it in him and people like him and that's sufficient.

Music is the same. We may not all feel the same way about a song but we can generally see its placement in our culture, if nothing else, and derive an effect through that. Want to make something 'feel fifties'? Reference the characters listening to the Monster Mash or whatever the hell it is. That sets the time period, and the type of song sets the mood. You can take it as far as it will go. Maybe it's a story set in the fifties and one of the characters 'becomes monstrous'? In that case, the song can be a kind of foreshadowing. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't, but at the very least we are being specific and writing is usually better that way.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I guess a smart alec might say you answered your own question but I know you're not looking for a personal answer. The thing is, though, it is personal and most references are. The reason the movie is called 'Gran Torino' not 'A Car' is because Clint Eastwood or whoever wrote it (think it was him) wanted to narrow the lens down to specificity. Presumably he did not think it would mean the same thing to everybody but the writer is taking a gamble that the audience will understand a reference, that they will resonate with it, even if the actual effects will be subtly different.

There's a line in the movie American Beauty near the end when the main character, in the throes of a midlife crisis, references a 'red firebird' (type of car). That line brought my father to tears because he was going through a midlife crisis himself at the time and -- yup -- owned a red firebird, his pride and joy. I did not share that same emotion, obviously, but I recognize it in him and people like him and that's sufficient.

Music is the same. We may not all feel the same way about a song but we can generally see its placement in our culture, if nothing else, and derive an effect through that. Want to make something 'feel fifties'? Reference the characters listening to the Monster Mash or whatever the hell it is. That sets the time period, and the type of song sets the mood. You can take it as far as it will go. Maybe it's a story set in the fifties and one of the characters 'becomes monstrous'? In that case, the song can be a kind of foreshadowing. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't, but at the very least we are being specific and writing is usually better that way.

I guess it just feels derivative to me. "Remember how someone else's art makes you feel?" doesn't cut it for me. I want to be the artist.
 

Terra

Senior Member
I'm the type of reader who will sometimes search a specific if I don't know what it is, in this case, the song titles. I appreciate specifics because they add depth to the story, and as Arrow mentioned, provide realistic details. My imagination picks up on those details regardless of searching out the songs, or plants (The Signature of All Things), or whatever, and the story comes alive to the point that I'm not just a reader anymore ... I'm a participant in the story, like a fly on the wall.
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
I guess it just feels derivative to me. "Remember how someone else's art makes you feel?" doesn't cut it for me. I want to be the artist
Something about this post really scares me. An artist must always see before they can create. You can't conjure meaning from pure nothingness. If you are an artist, you are conduit. A live-wire, a brain splattered by lightning, etc. If you try to be the Artist, I suspect all you'll come up with is noise.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
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