Storm Coming: Writing Music for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

Who likes Neil Gaiman and who counts American Gods as one of their all-time-top-five fave books evah? …Yea, that’s why I thought this incredible project from singer/songwriter/comedian Mikey Mason might be of interest to all y’all. Mikey bills himself as the Comedy Rock Star, and some of his geekery funnies that I enjoy include Best Game Ever and She Don’t Like Firely (my fave is Too Fat To Troop). Mikey’s music is not just snort-politely-into-your-tea funny but is endanger-myself-and-others-by-careening-off-the-road funny. So, he has stepped pretty far from his comfort zone here to do a serious piece on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Fan-fiction, tribute, Lit-Rock, whatever you call it, I call it something to be excited about. If anyone has the cojones and street-cred to take on a Gaiman-sized Fan Project like this, it’s definitely Mikey, which will become apparent when you listen to his albums Barbarian Jetpack or Impotent Nerd Rage. Finding someone who loves what they read enough to create Art about it is truly special, and to have it created by someone with the skill set that Mikey has is a rare and precious thing. I see it as a way of sharing a mutual book-obsessed passion. Here, he directly addresses you, Darkcargoites, about the writing and composing of this unique EP* In trying to convince him that writing the article for us was worth his time, I billed y’all as HardCore Book Nerdz. Take a listen and see if he’s done Gaiman’s work justice. Me? I’ll be upstairs crankin’ it and continuing with my Storm Coming-inspired re-read of American Gods.

-editor

*an EP is longer than a three-track “single” and shorter than a 9+ track album. I didn’t know that until I asked.

Storm Coming: Writing Music for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

copyright 2013 Mikey Mason

American Gods has long been one of my favorite books, with its sprawling travelogue structure and ability to shift focus from the mundane to the bizarre, from one story to another, all while carrying a strong thematic throughout. I read it at least once a year. It inspires me. It is one of the bars by which I judge works of long fiction. So, on a sort of whim, I recorded this EP Storm Coming, which is essentially the musical equivalent of fan-fiction.

I’ve felt myself growing rusty at writing songs that weren’t intended to make someone laugh and wanted to work out the creative and intellectual muscles in control of that skill set. [Full disclosure: I am a comedian by trade. I make my living by writing and performing funny songs and standup comedy, which is why I’ve focused primarily on comedic songs in this last decade or so.] When considering what subject matter to write about, I flashed back to a bit of advice that was given to me when participating in one of many NaNoWriMo events: write fan-fiction. Sure, I thought. Why Not? Nobody’s going to hear it anyway. Then I thought about what intellectual property on which to bring my fan-fic beast to bear. I’m a fan of many things, but when I stumbled onto this quote while researching fan-fiction (yeah, that’s the way my mind works…) I latched on to American Gods immediately.

“I’m not sure where the line gets drawn – you could say that any Batman fan writing a Batman comic is writing fan fiction. As long as nobody’s making money from it that should be an author or a creator’s, I don’t mind it. And I think it does a lot of good.” – Neil Gaiman

Arguably, having published stories about Sherlock Holmes, Cthulhu, and even Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, Mr. Gaiman himself has written fan-fiction. So I set about my task. I found that having the book as a touchstone, a starting and ending point, a reference for character and theme, opened more creative floodgates than I’d anticipated.

The opening track “Storm Coming” has hints of Pink Floyd shining through, combined with intense American blues rock, which I thought a fitting nod to a British author writing about America. It foreshadows the conflict of the novel, in the same way Gaiman’s opening pages do. Lyrically, however, it could either be from Shadow’s point of view or Wednesday’s, depending on how you look at it.

“Think Snow” is basically an instrumental, a mood piece. I incorporated lots of textural elements, atmosphere, and environmental sounds, which is something I carried throughout most of this EP. In the same way an author sets the tone and voice of a piece of fiction, a musical producer uses tools and effects to keep the sound of a record–its tone and voice–consistent.

“Carousel” is about the metaphor of the world’s largest carousel in the House on the Rock, and the cyclical nature of gods in Gaiman’s work, as well as the relationship between Shadow and his former (and possible future) incarnations.

“The Ballad of Essie Tregowan” is intentionally an anomaly in the group of songs as it is a lighter, upbeat tune, framed as a Gaelic drinking song and written from the fair folks’ point of view. There are moments in American Gods where Gaiman gives the reader a glimpse of a different time, not necessarily integral to the plot. In these vignettes the feel of the narrative shifts a little, which was what I was aiming for here. I did a bit of research into Cornish dialect for the lyrics (and likely butchered it during the appropriation, which is in itself what makes this song quintessentially American in nature.)

“Keeper of the Peace” is a musical theatre/rock opera styled piece centered around the mostly unspoken (and mostly unrealized—by Chad) conflict between Chad Mulligan and Hinzelmann, and focusing heavily on character and point of view. It culminates in a musical scene that is parallel to the Lakeside climax in the novel.

Finally, “Believe” focuses on one underlying theme through the book, framed mostly though the scenes with the buffalo man. I had considered using this song as the opening track–or chapter, if you will–of the EP, but felt it worked better as an endpiece. It is a closing argument, a resolution in contrast to the dark and energetic foreshadowing of the opening track, a song of symmetry and equilibrium both in structure and in tone.

This was a fun and rewarding exercise, and I feel on more solid footing with non-comedic songs once more. Maybe it’s all about confidence and practice, and we all know how important those are as an artist. When I turn my attentions back to writing fiction, I can almost guarantee I’ll dip my toes in the water with some fan-fiction, not only to get the gears turning and operable for more original works, but because it can be fun.

As a final note, I felt the material was good enough to release, so I did, though I’m not charging for the EP. It’s fan-fiction. If you like the songs and want more like them, or simply want to support an artist following his muse through the darker corners of her fancy, then you can set your own price and call it a donation or a patronage.

http://www.mikeymason.com/2013/04/but-seriously-folks.html?m=1

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8 thoughts on “Storm Coming: Writing Music for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

  1. I love the different qualities of music, here. Qualities is not the right word. Each piece has its own characterization and brings about a different aspect of this huge novel. What other pieces were you considering to develop or include here, if this had gone on to be a 2-album set?

    I was going to pick a fave, but that doesn’t make any sense here. Each piece, individually, is beautiful, but it’s the way they all work together, synergistically, to evoke the whole.

    • That’s a big question… Other pieces/songs that have been at least partially written (or at least ruminated upon) include but aren’t limited to:

      Mad Sweeney’s wake, The 18 charms Odin knows, Coin tricks, Wednesday’s vigil, the Fiddle Game (con), the Spook Show, the new Gods, “F*** you,” said the raven, the skraeling, Cairo, child in the dark (the making of a Kobold), holy places, eagle stones and thunderbirds, going “backstage”, the dead walk at night, winter runaway, hotel in the middle of the US (the most unholy place), Ash Tree Farm, the Zoryas, See Rock City, Mike Ainsel, and more… And that’s just where I got tired of typing from the idea list I have and the document titles from partially finished songs.

      Turns out, I first brainstormed about this project on Jan 23, 2012 (the creation date of the list.)

  2. American Gods is a phenomenal book. This made me want to find my copy and read. Also, as I sit here listening, scenes from the book keep popping in my head. I’d say, job accomplished.

    Thanks for sharing these songs.

    • Hi Amy! Thanks for checking it out. I thought it was a neat thing to share. It boggles me that people read a book and then go “hey! Imma write some music or brew a beer…” You know?

  3. Wow, what an ambitious project. I really love American Gods. Really. It sits in the back of my mind and pops up at the strangest times. Just the other day I was thinking about the scene where Shadow tells the raven, “Say nevermore!” and the raven says, “F*ck you!” Ha! I love that scene.

    • I hadn’t thought of it in that way before, but you’re right, I love it when books do that, sit in my head forever and pop up in odd places.

      *every time* my husband and I cook a meal together, I think of Shadow’s love for his wife’s chili.

      • Admittedly, I stole it from images on the internet. I have a fetish for steampunk, so I googled “steampunk girl” and found this one and another one I use on Facebook. I like to think she looks like me…on a really good hair and skin day. Ha ha.

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