This song and band are the perfect introduction to Murphy. There is something over-the-top and larger than life about ZZ Top. Like their beards, they don’t do anything halfway. Murphy is not a partial commitment sort of guy. When he finds his focus, it’s all or nothing. Strangely enough, the man in this video is probably the same age as Murphy now:

 

On a completely unrelated note, ZZ Top was my only near death experience going to a concert, and I was at a Black Sabbath with Ozzy reunion tour where you could hear the roar of a massive adrenaline soaked mob echoing through the city streets towards you after their New Years show. Despite having been to metal shows that were banned by Satan, ZZ Top was the one that almost did me in. I was near the front row, and two mosh pits a had broken out on either side of me. In the chaos, I was knocked off my feet and tumbled to ground. The audience began to trample me.

A hand of a very large Native American man picked me up by the scruff of my jacket. He lifted me off my feet and set me back down again. “You better be more careful,” he said as he charged through the mosh pit cheering and screaming. In a daze, I wandered towards the back of the show, and watched the rest the concert from a safe distance. In case you’re reading this, thanks random guy large enough to burrow through a crowd to save a near trample victim. You’re the sharp dressed man.

Kal's Truth

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Kal laid in a metal prison cell gasping for air, the sound of her people dying and the village burning still fresh in her mind. Her eyelids were heavy and her body felt like it was buried in sand. The first thing she could remember upon awakening was a human male with gold and silver teeth, and black rot infesting his mouth. He wore a white coat and had a bright instrument that blinded her. Unlike Sarge, his hair was grey and creased like the wrinkles that came with age. But unlike her people, this man had spots. Only later would she learn that humans developed a condition called “liver spots.”

The man in the coat turned and said something to a Teristaque waiting in the background. Her memory was incomplete, like the patchwork of one of her mother’s quilts. Every moment was a snapshot. She was being dragged through a hallway by two Teristaques. Her possessions were locked in a box. Her body was stripped. She was sprayed with a burning liquid. More dragging. Another exam from the human with the rotting gold and silver teeth. Finally, she woke up in a prison cell.

While Kal’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she heard a low grunt from the corner of the room. The grunt sounded like a krikshek beast back home. They were a fierce beast with a dire disposition and two large horns that could impale a villager. Kal attempted to scramble to her feet, but her muscles felt like she was trying to move through a thick goo, and she fell back down.

A creature slid from the shadows. It had a large bug-like body and three spiny appendages. It dragged the lower part of its body on the ground. There were stubs where other limbs should have been. The eyes were hideous, large, and clouded grey. The bug was a shade of brown. It sent shivers down Kal’s spine. She scrambled backward, but was unable to get very far and hit her head on a metal cot. The bang would have hurt if systems weren’t suppressed.

“Don’t be afraid,” the bug said in a deep voice. “You are recovering from sedation.”

“You speak Village Tongue!” Kal said looking for the “universal translator” on what she thought would be a wrist.

“There is a translation field covering the prison,” The bug said.

“What do you mean I was under sedation?” Kal said. She still wasn’t sure about this creature.

“They sedate all criminals during interstellar travel.”

“I am not a criminal!”

The bug laughed. Unlike Sarge, the bug had a slow wheezing laugh. Kal still didn’t quite know what to make of laughter. She had no room for it. The nightmares of her village were too fresh in her mind.

The bug must have sensed that its laughter made her uncomfortable, and stopped. It reached out an appendage to comfort her. “Do not fret my dear. Everyone here believes they are not criminals, and you’ll find that some do belong here even if you do not.”

Kal pushed the thing’s arm away, “I do not need your sympathy.”

She turned to inspect her cell, finding two metal cots. One small cot for her and a large one for her buggy cellmate. The walls were smooth and metal, with bars on the opening. There were two toilet facilities, one for a humanoid of her size and another for something larger. The toilets were located in two coves on the back of the cell for at least a little privacy from her cellmate, though a guard standing on the other side of the bars had a full view of either cove.

“I don’t offer you sympathy my dear, only advice. You will find friends hard to come by in this place.”

“I don’t want your advice either,” Kal snapped.

“As you wish. You could have had worse roommates, you know. Grannork’s cell also had room for one more.”

“Oh yeah? At least Grannork doesn’t talk as much as you.”

“Grannork is Orcandu from the Tristar cluster.”

Sarge had told Kal about the Orcandus. They were brutes, and one of the few species that the Teristaques feared. They were massive creatures of pure muscle with a jagged horn on the center of their forehead and fierce, razor sharp teeth. Rumors spread that Orcandus had mis-wired brains and experienced pain as if it were pleasure. Almost every ritual in their culture was meant to induce pain. Kal shuddered to think about what it might be like to share a cell with one. At least an old-disabled bug could be managed.

The bug finally gave up and dragged itself back to its side of the room. Kal traced the cold metal wall with her fingers. She thought about the village that she practically rejected, even though it had embraced her, despite her differences. Now, she wanted nothing more than to be a part of it again. She thought about the warmth of her bed and the wood grain of the ceiling. She used to see faces in the wood grain and would make up stories about them. Now the ceiling was a smooth metal surface with no defining features. She could almost hear the humming of her mother from the kitchen as she drifted into sleep.

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Chapter 2 of Playlist of the Ancient Dead reveals my and Rashid’s disconnect from the rest of the world. Rashid is so hyper focused on the world of physics; pop culture has passed him by. Pop culture also passed me by. When Weird Al’s Mandatory Fun was released, I had not heard any of the original songs lampooned on the album. My wife created a playlist of all the original videos on YouTube, so I would know what Weird Al was parodying before we watched the comedic versions. I realized the original songs had a couple billion views. Somehow, most of the planet Earth had heard these songs that I was about to hear for the first time.

Why not turn that disconnect from the world of pop culture with an out of place opening credit song? Back in the eighties and nineties, I remember almost every movie having a pointless aerial camera view of urban landscape to a song that didn’t fit the movie. Even Groundhog’s Day, one of my favorite movies ever made had the cityscape credit sequence. I decided to choose a song from the last time I knew anything about popular music (the nineties) to not only have a disconnect with popular music, but also because in the back of my brain I’m hearing Santa Monica to pointless aerial footage of Albuquerque. That is why Rashid is from Santa Monica and not Brooklyn like I had originally wrote. But I think California makes sense. With overbearing parents, of course he’d go across the country for college.

In case pop culture has passed you by here is the song:

Did they break up with each other because they were so nineties?

I needed to pick the perfect song. If I was going to write a novel where music was the actual plot device, then I had no choice but to embed a playlist into Playlist of the Ancient Dead. The music had to represent parts of my life and fit into the novel. So each chapter heading became a song title. Each song fit it in its own peculiar way, and one song changed the name of the main character. That song was Caroline by the Espers:

 

It wasn’t easy picking Caroline. My main character was named Marissa in the early drafts, and I didn’t want to change it. I was going to change Murphy’s name before I changed Marissa’s. But like all prolific writers, I decided to deal with the problem by ignoring it. The first song in the playlist within the Playlist needed to set the tone of the book, and introduce the main character. But there wasn’t a song about a Marissa that fit the description, so I turned to music to mull the problem over. Often when I felt particularly introspective, I’d listen to Caroline and other songs like it on repeat. One such evening, I noticed a comment on youtube about the Espers:

There is something ominous hiding in plain sight.

And that’s when it hit me, I had to name my main character Caroline, and no other song could fit better than Caroline as the first song in the playlist within the Playlist. There was something truly ominous hiding within plain sight of Caroline. It was a building she walked by every day, yet failed to understand the significance. Not only did I find the song that fits the tone of the story, but I also found a song that would annoy Caroline’s parents. It also gave me a nice character moment. I could hear her parents now, “why’s it got to sound so depressing!”

Caroline only rebelled against the song of her namesake because of all the embarrassment she suffered at baseball games:

 

If you are curious to find out the artists of the rest of the playlist within the Playlist, please follow this blog or one of my social media outlets. You may be surprised by some of the artists on the list.

Playlist of the Ancient Dead

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