Monday, December 16, 2013

But the Melody Lingers On...

Sacchi Green

I don’t play music as a background while I’m writing. Once in a while, though, in certain stories, music takes over and plays inside my head. There are times when the music my characters hear is essential to their story, but if the reader isn’t familiar with the tunes, there’s no way to make them feel the emotional impact I wish I could get across. I can’t use lyrics, either, unless the music is so old that it’s no longer under copyright. “Fair use” of copyrighted material is a very shady area, and in the case of song lyrics and poetry in general even one line can constitute too high a percentage of a work to be permissible. The only safe practice would be to find out who owns the rights and get permission, which in the closely guarded music industry would cost more than a short story writer could possibly afford. Titles, however, can’t be copyrighted, so I do what I can with those, and hope that someone, somewhere, will know the songs I mean, and hear the music in their heads with all the lyrics I can’t include. I’m not objecting to poets and songwriters copyrighting their work; using their words in my own writing would indeed be plagiarism, even with attribution. But it’s still so frustrating!

The first time I realized how frustrating it could be was when I was writing a story set in London during WWII. My characters were an American WAC nurse and an American woman pilot ferrying warplanes for the RAF, both staying at a Red Cross club set up for servicewomen. The deeply emotional songs of that period were as intense a part of that setting as the pervasive aura of wartime. “What’ll I Do, When You, Are Far Away” (I’m stretching a point with titles here in the context of the blog, but I kept them short in the story;) “Please Give Me Something to Remember You By”; “I’ll Be Seeing You, In All the Old Familiar Places”; well, I don’t know how many people still remember these, but they evoke that time as nothing else could. Here’s an excerpt from that story, titled “To Remember You By.”

Dinner was being served at the Red Cross club, probably the best meal for the price in England. Cleo muttered that she wasn't hungry, not for dinner, anyway, but I had my own motive for insisting. The band would be setting up in half an hour or so, and with the window open you could hear the music from my room. Well enough for dancing.
     So we ate, although I couldn't say what, and Cleo teased me by running her tongue sensuously around the lip of a coke bottle and into its narrow throat. Her mercurial shifts from intensity to playfulness fascinated me, but the time came when intensity was all I craved.
     "I don't suppose you'd like to dance, would you?" I repeated last night's invitation with a barely steady voice. "If I tried my best to do it right?" I stood abruptly and started for the stairs. Behind me Cleo's chair fell over with a clatter as she jumped up to follow me.
     I reached my tiny room ahead of her--nursing builds strong legs. I crossed to the window to heave it open, and then the door slammed shut and she was behind me, pressing her crotch against my ass, wrapping her arms around me to undo my buttons and cradle my breasts through my sensible cotton slip. I longed to be wearing sheer silk for her.
     When she slid her hands under the fabric and over my skin, though, I found I didn't want to be wearing anything at all. "So soft," she whispered, "so tender..." and then, as my nipples jerked taut under her strokes, "and getting so hard...."
     A melody drifted from below; "Something To Remember You By." I turned in her arms. "Teach me to dance," I whispered. 
     We swayed gently together, feet scarcely moving in the cramped space, thighs pressing into each other's heat. Cleo kneaded my ass, while I held her so tightly against my breast that her silver wings dented my flesh.
     "Please," I murmured against her cheek, "closer...." I fumbled at the buttons of her tunic. When she tensed, I drew back. "I'm sorry...I don't know the rules...."
     "The only rule," Cleo said, after a long pause, "is that you get what you need." 
     "I need to feel you," I said.
     She drew her hands over my hips and up my sides until she held my breasts again; then she stepped back and began to shed her clothes. Mine, with a head start, came off even faster.
      The heady musk of arousal rose around us. A clarinet crooned, "I'll Be Seeing You." I cupped my full breasts and raised them so that my nipples could flick against Cleo's high, tightening peaks, over and over. The sensation was exquisite, tantalizing--I gave a little whimper, needing more, and she bent to take me into her mouth.

In  “The Outside Edge,” a more contemporary story about a figure skater coming out as a butch lesbian on the Olympic ice on world-wide TV (hmm, I think I’ve used excerpts from this one here before,) I had a better chance of readers knowing the songs I mentioned, but I still wish I could have provided a real “sound track.” Here’s a bit from that one, near the end, when Jude, who won the bronze medal, goes all out in the exhibition skate afterward with newly cropped hair, a bound chest, blue jeans and a white T-shirt.

Six bars of introduction, a sequence of strides and glides--and then I was Elvis, lookin' for "Trouble", leaping high in a spread eagle, landing, then twisting into a triple-flip, double-toe-loop. My body felt strong. And free. And true. 
Then I was "All Shook Up", laying a trail of intricate footwork the whole length of the rink, tossing in enough bodywork to raise an uproar. Elvis Stoijko or Philippe Candeloro couldn't have projected more studly appeal. When my hips swiveled--with no trace of a feminine sway!--my fans went wild.
They quieted as the  music slowed to a different beat, slower, menacing. "Mack the Knife" was back in town. Challenge, swagger, jumps that ate up altitude, skate blades slicing the ice in sure, rock-steady landings. Then came a final change of mood, to the aching, soaring passion of "Unchained Melody". I let heartbreak show through, loneliness, sorrow, desperate longing.
 In my mind a slender, long-haired figure skated in the shadows just beyond my vision, mirroring my moves with equal passion and unsurpassable grace. Through the haunting strains of music I heard the indrawn breaths of a thousand spectators, and then a vast communal sigh; I was drawing them into my world, making them see what I imagined... I jumped, pushing off with all my new strength, spun a triple out into an almost effortless quad, landed--and saw what they had really seen. 
Suli glided toward me, arms outstretched, eyes wide and bright and filled with challenge. I came to a stop so sudden I might have fallen if my hands hadn't reached reflexively to grasp hers. She moved backward, pulling me toward her, and then we were skating together as we had so often before in our private pre-dawn practice sessions. The music caught us up, melded us into a pair. Suli moved away, rotated into an exquisite layback spin, slowed, stretched out her hand, and my hand was there to grasp hers and pull her into a close embrace. Her raised knee pressed up between my legs with a force she would never have exerted on Tim. I wasn't packing, but my clit seemed to lurch with such intensity that it should have burst through my jeans.    
Then apart again, aching for the warmth of her body...circling, now closer, now farther...the music would end so soon... Suddenly Suli flashed a look of warning, mouthed silently, "Get ready!", and launched herself toward me. 
Hands on my shoulders, she leapt upward, hung there for a moment while my fingers gripped her hips and my mouth pressed into her belly, then wrapped her legs around my waist and leaned back. We spun slowly, bed, this time, to take the weight of our hunger...and then, as the last few bars of music swelled around us, Suli slid sensuously down my body until she knelt in a pool of scarlet silk at my feet. She looked up into my eyes, and then, gracefully and deliberately, bowed her head and rested it firmly against my crotch as the last notes faded away.

This has been altogether too long, and I apologize for any repetition from previous blogs. I won’t go on to the story of a honeymoon in Paris (complete with gargoyles) where “Singing in the Rain” plays a small part, or…well, nevermind. I think I’ll go reread the two stories I excerpted here. If anybody needs me, I’ll be in my bunk. Humming a song or two.


  1. Not too long at all, Sacchi! And I'm pretty sure you've never shared the skater story before - fabulous.

    You do manage to pull in the musical mood, at least for me (all the songs you mention in the second excerpt are familiar, as well as a few in the first). Is it really verboten to quote a few lines of lyrics, though. I've done so a number of times in my work and my publishers have never objected. (They did, however, raise a red flag when I wanted to quote lines from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

    You're right about music and emotion - if someone else doesn't hear a song the same way you do, the whole effort is hopeless.

  2. We can probably get away with quoting a few lines because, let's face it, our genres are on the obscure side. The publisher of the WWII story was a real stickler, though, and besides only using titles, I had to provide documentation about the Red Cross club for servicewomen in London in the 1940s. I see a lot of discussion about "fair use" in the science fiction/fantasy community, and lawyers among them have come down hard on the song lyric question. The music industry has very big lawyers, and they're not afraid to use 'em.

  3. Hot stuff like that is never too long, Sacchi. Thanks for sharing.

    But I hope we are obscure enough to get away with playing with lyrics. Seems funny, considering you can call up lyrics to any song on-line. Guess the difference is if you try and make hay of it. I once did a story using words I made up to fit with the tune "Willow, Weep for Me". Seeing it never got pubbed, it was never an issue. :>)

  4. Sacchi, the novel I'm writing at the mo is titled after a Neil Young song. I somehow managed to write a scene where the characters listen to and discuss the entire song without quoting a single lyric (aside from the title itself). Felt like a bit of an exercise, but it flexed my writing muscles nicely--forced me to describe the feel and story and connotations of the song without citing lyrics.


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