Kage Baker loved music. She never learned to play an instrument (though she always longed to learn the concertina) but she sang beautifully. And she liked to be surrounded by music as often as possible; records, tapes, CDs, 8-tracks – every innovation in recording music was readily embraced. We had copies of favourites in 3 or 4 formats.
She was the mistress of the record player when we were kids, working her way happily through the parental horde of records. She was the first of us to have a radio in her room, or a transistor radio about her person.She was the first of us to have her own record player, an ancient Grundig that she hauled up the stair to her tower redoubt in early adolescence.
The first records she loved were old shellac 78’s, which she handled with ferocious and possessive care from an early age. Most of those were operas – in fact, by adulthood, Kage could find her way through German, French and Spanish, simply from her self-hypnotic focus on operas. Libretti are very educational.
Classical, rock and roll, folk music, blues, jazz … her tastes were broad and sometimes eclectic: because what she wanted was to find the perfect soundtrack for life. No one style was appropriate for everything; no music was without beauty. She said it was due to being raised on television and movies, and that early immersion in opera – she said she had been conditioned to expect a soundtrack. As life in general rudely refused to supply one, she engineered her own surround-sound systems.
Our cars may have had bald tires from time to time, or a cotton sock in place of an air filter, or a hand-lettered registration sticker (Hey, I was young. And poor. And two of my sisters did calligraphy.) But they always had music systems, installed a’purpose if the original was inadequate for the 1812 Overture at 70 mph. Kage kept hold-out music in the car before music stores started selling cunning little cases for it, and she always selected special music for specific trips. She was likelier to forget her underwear than the car music.
Kage figured out how to download music long before I did – and paid for it, too, though I did have to teach her how to use a bank card for that. She was even the one of us who found out the cable TV had music channels. She mostly left them on for Harry when he was at home alone, because parrots like music, too – but she couldn’t select what played, so it wasn’t useful for her soundtrack experiments.
Every book was written to specific music. This necessitated putting the sacramental recording on repeat, of course, and playing it over and over – sometimes for 12 hours at a time. Kage had no trouble with that. It was genetic, I think – Mamma had once been evicted from a Hollywood apartment in her youth for doing precisely that with the 1812 … I had learned to like it long before. And what she chose for her writing soundtracks was always weird and interesting – not just the Renaissance or Classical music one might expect. Garden of Iden was written to three Police albums in strict rotation. Sons of Heaven was POTC soundtracks and Gilbert and Sullivan. And Nell Gwynne was written to English music hall and Scheherazade.
I listened to Scheherazade this afternoon, in my sleep. I was napping, but I could hear that exquisite music clearly and coherently. No surprise – Ive listened to it thousands of times in my life. I listened to it before my birth, even, when Mamma sat on the couch on the hot June evenings leading up to my July birth, waiting for Daddy, with the volume turned up high. It’s the voice of summer nights to me. One of the best memories of listening to it was on a sultry night in the Hollywood Bowl, with Kage and two lovely gentlemen and a picnic basket filled with peaches, cheap sweet wine, and homemade egg rolls.
Soundtracks. Kage was right; we’re programmed to have them. And when reality will not oblige, we have to make them for ourselves.
The cool weather is back tonight, and the sky is thinking of rain. I think I’ll go hunt of up some Donovan music …