New Covers and pub date for Traveler 3!

Once upon a time, I wrote a thing. Not long after, I wrote another thing.

Then, for a very long time… I wrote no things.

But no longer, because I am pleased to announce that Traitor, the third and final volume in The Traveler Chronicles, will be released on February 29, 2020!

It took four years to write the book. It seems right to release it on a date that only comes once in the same span.

To celebrate, Traveler and Prisoner have gotten all-new covers, created by Drew Morton.

Watch this space for the cover reveal, previews, and all kinds of marketing nonsense as Leap Day (henceforth to be known as Traitor Day) gets closer.

My Most Memorable Concert Experience

My wife scored tickets to J-Lo at Summerfest this year. She’s excited about seeing a legendary singer and movie star, and it got me thinking about my favorite concert experience.

With four decades of broadcasting behind me, not to mention being an omnivorous music fan, I’ve seen hundreds of concerts. But the most memorable one was also one of my earliest.

The year was 1979, I was home from college, working a summer job in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the town where I grew up. I bought tickets to see America in Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, with a friend and co-worker, Steve Haberman.

I wasn’t a huge America fan. The reason I went was to see the opening act, a new group named McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, who had just released their debut album. I say new, but these guys had been around and had an exceptional pedigree. The astute music fan has already recognized Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman as founding members of the Byrds.

I liked the MCH album, and was also intrigued to see what Byrds chestnuts, or Chestnut Mares (See what I did there?) they might pull out during their set.

In retrospect, I must have been even more of a fanboy than I really remember, as I chose this concert over seeing Eric Clapton, who was playing a day or two later in the same venue.

So, the concert arrives, my friend Steve and I have seats in the first balcony with a good view of the stage. There’s a middle aged man with brown hair and a beard a couple of rows behind us, who we laughingly decide is an incognito Clapton.

 
(anyone besides me remember this tune?)

The MCH set is good, including their minor Top 40 hit, “Don’t You Write Her Off,” but it was the encore that made it memorable. My sharp-eyed friend picked up some commotion just offstage and said “let’s go to the main floor.”

So, we run downstairs, and arrive in front of the stage just in time to hear Roger McGuinn say, “Here’s a great old song, and a great friend to help us out… Eric Clapton!”

Clapton had, in fact, arrived a day early before his own concert. In retrospect, I don’t know why we would have thought the guitar god would have been sitting BEHIND US, IN THE BALCONY, but since Steve was also the person who introduced me to weed, it is possible my thought processes were somewhat cloudy.

Wearing a faded jean jacket, Clapton walked onstage. He was clean-shaven, so had it not been for McGuinn’s introduction, we might not have recognized him.

Until he started to play, of course.

Clapton buckled a Fender strat around his shoulders, and proceeded to rip through a torrid version of “Eight Miles High.”

We would have listened to that band jam all night, but unfortunately the headliners wanted to go on, so the ex-Byrds and EC left the stage. We went back to our seats and dozed through an unremarkable set from America.

Nearly forty years later, that 15 minutes still ranks as my most memorable concert experience. And I’m happy to say that Steve, Eric, and I are all still around to reminisce about it.

Okay, probably Steve and me more than Eric.

What’s your most memorable live music experience? Tell me in the comments!

Showing The Rifle

Like anyone who has spewed forth a book, I’m occasionally asked what the toughest thing is about writing. I’ll mumble something about the difficulty of making time to write when you have a full-time job and family, or trying to write when you’re not inspired, or something equally cliché.

But I’m lying. I don’t want to talk about it, but one thing that is BY FAR the hardest thing to do, even now that I’m closing in on the end of my third book.

Knowing how to show the rifle.

You probably recognize the phrase. Playwright Anton Chekhov famously wrote that if you show a rifle hanging over the mantle in Act I it had better go off in Act III or you shouldn’t mention it.

Chekhov was referring to the importance of keeping extraneous detail out of your writing. If something doesn’t serve a distinct purpose to plot or characterization, chop it out. Great advice.

But for me, “showing the rifle” is more about burying the clues that the protagonist uses to solve the mystery the book is about. Because what you want to do is show the rifle in Act I, sure, but do it in such a way that when the gun goes off in Act III, it’s a complete and utter surprise to the reader.

For my money, the hardest trick in literature.

I’m a pretty easy audience. I’ll put up with wooden characters, familiar scenes, trite dialogue. As long as the story is moving at a good clip, I’m happy. But the second the detective suddenly produces a clue that was conveniently not mentioned when she first “noticed” it, or pulls some piece of arcane knowledge out of thin air, I’m out.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. There are few things more irritating than reading a setup that is so obvious it might as well be highlighted, then spending the rest of the book waiting for the “big reveal” on page 277 that you saw in Chapter 3.

So I obsess over the rifle.

It’s nerve-wracking. You painstakingly plant clue after clue, then scuff just enough metaphorical dirt over each one, hoping they go unnoticed. Because to you there’s a big, red arrow pointing at each one that screams “LOOK, LOOK! SETUP FOR THE END OF THE BOOK HERE! RIGHT HERE! HE’S GOING TO REFER TO THIS LATER DURING HIS *SHOCKING* PLOT TWIST! BE WARNED!”

Move along, nothing to see here. Not an important plot point, I promise.

Fortunately, to this point, no reader of mine has ever said anything about the big red arrow. In fact, I have even occasionally received what I consider the absolute highest praise a plot-driven author can receive:

“I totally did not suspect the twist at the end!” 

There is no rifle in the Traveler books. At least, not yet. But if I put one in, it will definitely go off. And if it’s still a surprise after I telegraphed it for you just now, I’ll take that as a compliment.

Parts of the preceding originally appeared on the blog of one my literary heroes, Ed Gorman. Ed passed away in October 2016. But you can still read some of his final musings, as well as those of guests and friends at newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com.

I keep ’em a long time

randonbookshelf
Lennox Randon

I said goodbye to my friend and writing partner Lennox Randon recently. He lost his battle with cancer in November 2018.

Few people have taught me more about writing and no one more about life than my friend Randon.

Folks who have attended my book readings or visited my web site may be familiar with the story of how I came to write my first book. In short, a friend of mine named Rob Cline, who also had a book project languishing on the shelf, began meeting with his friend Randon (he went by his last name) for the purpose of mutual support in finishing their books. Rob invited me to meet Randon and join them.

What’s missing in my part of this story is how Randon got Rob, a dad with a demanding job and three young kids, to set part of his precious free time aside for this effort. At the end of his pitch, Randon smiled slyly and said:

“You know… I have cancer.”

I wasn’t present for this conversation, but I can imagine the exact expression on Randon’s face as he played what he called “the cancer card.” I would see this devastating phrase delivered with a half-smile and ever-so-slight eye twinkle again and again over the nearly eight years of our friendship.

At the time, Randon was in remission, and able to joke about his illness. But later, when the cancer came back, he still kept the same light, almost bemused tone.

So Rob started hanging out with Randon, and they each brought a few new pages to a weekly meeting. I joined up a few months later. Like Rob, I demurred at first, complaining I was too busy. But when a guy who pretty much knows his expiration date is willing to spend some of those numbered days helping you complete something off your bucket list, the daily pressures of job and family start to look pretty mundane. I was in.

Before heading to our weekly Sunday sessions in Randon’s basement, I would tell my wife I was off to see The Lads. The name stuck, becoming The Writing Lads when we went public.

ladsRotary
The Writing Lads at a Cedar Rapids Rotary Club

Rob and I are accomplished public speakers, doing probably 50 gigs a year between us. Randon always insisted he wasn’t much of a public speaker, let alone an entertainer. But make no mistake, when the Writing Lads gave a reading, Randon was the star.

People may have come to see us because they knew Rob or me, but it was Randon they remembered. He held the audience spellbound as he talked about how his real experiences as a cop informed the events of his books. But then he would pull the Robert Stack double sunglasses stunt from “Airplane!” or fire a Nerf gun into the audience to illustrate a gun battle.

Randon and I interviewed each other on his website in 2015.  He also was a guest on “Getting Creative,” a YouTube show I hosted.

Even then, Randon was defying the odds. His doctors didn’t think he would see 2014, let alone almost make until the end of the decade. In the intervening years, it was easy to forget how sick he was, even though he was open about the chemo and radiation he was undergoing.

But you don’t have to be an author to write the ending of his story.

Randon’s social circle, never really large, had ceased to grow when he got sick. So I was pretty much the last new friend he made. But Randon mated for life. Once you were in, you were in for good. The fact that I got there late didn’t make any difference. In fact, he put his attitude toward friends into words in his first book, “Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers”:

I tend to keep things for a long time.
For example, in 1968 I purchased a Swingline Tot stapler for elementary school. 
Still have it. Still use it. 
Only stapler I’ve every owned.
 
I’m the same way with friends.
I keep ’em a long time.

To say that I am honored to be in that group is a vast understatement.

Randon taught me a lot. He showed me how to live with physical and emotional pain. He showed me how to face death with grace and strength. But mainly, he reminds me and all of us that it doesn’t matter at what time in your life someone shows up. Sometimes the new friends are the most meaningful ones of all.

If learning about Lennox Randon the man has made you at all curious about Lennox Randon the writer, I hope you will check out some of his work. If a few people read him based on this post, it will be at least a meager payback for everything he brought to me.

Lennox Randon’s books include:

“Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers,” a fast-paced, action-adventure story about two friends who start an off-the-books detective agency after being put into the Witness Protection Program.


“Memoirs of Dead White Chick,” a time-travel history novel about a 20th-Century woman who wakes up in the body of a black teenager in pre-Civil War Philadelphia, whose contacts with Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass change history.

“Christiana.” Randon completed this book that was begun by his late daughter, Alou (Lark) Randon. It follows a group of addicts on a paranoia-fueled trip through Danish ghost towns, in the tradition of “Trainspotting” and “The Naked Lunch.”

Randon also wrote eloquently and honestly about the ups and downs of his life at www.lennoxrandon.com.

SF & Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll Is All My Brain & Body Need

What rock & roll tune tells its story against the background of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity? And which sci fi-themed funk masterpiece was honored by the Library of Congress? Read on for the answers to these and other questions about the connections between science fiction/fantasy and rock and roll music.

In a previous post, I discussed music as it relates to Science Fiction in the movies and TV. In general, a songwriter can reference a literary character in any way he or she likes. But the reverse isn’t true. A writer must pay for rights to quote song lyrics in a book or story, so it’s not always easy to discern what music may have influenced a writer.

But since Bill Haley and the Comets ushered in the Rock ’n Roll era, we can be sure that hundreds of writers have written to the beat of Rock tunes. Urban Fantasy writers in particular like to draw connections to Rock in their writing. An informal survey (Okay… me looking at my own bookshelves), reveals many Urban Fantasy books and stories with titles that directly or indirectly reference Rock ’n Roll.

But the connections are there for straight-ahead Science Fiction as well. In fact, IO9.com found 100 Sci-Fi songs inspired by Rock ’n Roll. You can visit that site to see the entire list, but here are a few, plus some they missed, that I think represent the best of the lot.

The Brains of Rock ’n Roll

“39” – Queen

The original members of Queen are the most highly-degreed in all of pop music. Guitarist Brian May must be the only rock and roll star with a PhD in Astrophysics. Freddie Mercury had a Masters in Art. You have seen his work on the group’s logo, the Queen Crest. Bassist John Deacon possesses a Masters in Electronic Engineering.

Drummer Roger Taylor is the slacker of the group. He “merely” has a BS in Biology. If you’ve seen the recent movie “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you may remember a scene where Freddie claims to have saved Roger from a career as a dentist.

In 2015, Brian May was invited to NASA, where he joined the New Horizons team in examining the first photos of the Pluto flyby. So, it might not come as a surprise that one of May’s songs deals with a love story disrupted by the physics of relativity.

“39,” from the group’s breakout album “A Night at the Opera,” tells the story of a group of space explorers dispatched to find a replacement for a dying earth. They return to discover a hundred years have passed, and everyone they know and love has died. Hidden in what at first listen appears to be a cheerful folk tune with a skiffle beat are some of the most plaintive and haunting closing lyrics I’ve ever heard:

For my life,

Still ahead,

Pity me.

NOTWThe time dilation effects of Einstein’s special theory of relativity are familiar to those of us who read the literature, but it’s unusual territory for pop music. On an album best known for the bombastic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “39” is just a musical footnote. But with its emotional punch and empirical accuracy, it may be Rock’s only true science fiction story.

Queen would also mine Science Fiction art, choosing a well-known Astounding cover by Frank Kelly Freas as the cover of News of the World.

Heroes and Villains

“Iron Man” – Black Sabbath

“Magneto and Titanium Man” – Wings

The ultimate meta-moment of Marvel’s Iron Man is when Tony Stark wages battle to the soundtrack of Black Sabbath’s song of the same name. Taken by itself, the tune is the kind of turgid, guitar heavy arena rock tune best listened to under the influence of the chemical of your choice. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the Marvel Comics character.

But that scene was awfully cool.

Paul McCartney went Ozzy and his crew one better, invoking not one but three Marvel characters in his “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Featuring not only Iron Man’s Soviet antagonists Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo, but also the mutant master of metal, the song appeared on the B side of “Venus & Mars Rock Show,” and was a Wings concert staple, accompanied by original Marvel art.

An avowed comics fan, Paul McCartney gave Jack Kirkby and his daughter front-row seats during the “Venus & Mars” tour. Kirby returned the favor with a hand-drawn comic.

The Ones On Every List

“Space Oddity” – David Bowie

“Rocket Man” – Elton John

 You can’t do a list of Sci Fi songs without including these two. 

Even though Mark Watley must engineer his own survival to a disco beat in Andy Weir’s The Martian, what the movie is actually about is proving the 1972 John-Taupin Theorem of Mars climate:

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,

In fact, it’s cold as hell. 

“Space Oddity” is another tune which makes just about every “Sci-Fi rock tunes” list. Bowie would come back to the Science Fiction theme again, as bisexual alien rock star Ziggy Stardust, and even play an alien in his movie debut, “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” He would also eventually tell us the fate of Major Tom, labeling him a “junkie” in the 1980 tune “Ashes to Ashes.”

Bowie also wins the award for providing titles to genre TV shows. “Ashes to Ashes” and “Life on Mars” (both the excellent BBC original and the not-quite-so-good American remake) would have been poorer without their titles. And thankfully, fully licensed to use Bowies’ music within the shows.

Speaking of licensing, in a triumph of common sense, Bowie’s music publisher agreed to extend astronaut Chris Hadfield’s license to “Space Oddity,” so the first music video ever produced in space could continue to be seen.

Included here, because that means I can.

Paul is Dead. Or Maybe Just On Another Planet

“Calling Occupants of Interstellar Craft” – Klaatu

This is probably the most obscure tune on my list. Its only chart presence was for a few weeks in 1977, when the Carpenters released a cover version. But the original comes with an interesting story.

The song was written and recorded by the Canadian band Klaatu. So right off the top we have a cool The Day The Earth Stood Still reference. But when the album was first released in 1976, it was without pictures of the band or even their names anywhere on it. Everything was “Written by Klaatu,” “Produced by Klaatu,” etc.

Somehow, a rumor got started that Klaatu was actually a reunited Beatles, recording anonymously. The band’s record company denied it from the get-go, as did the founders, John Woloschuk and Dee Long, when they finally revealed themselves. But it took quite a while for the rumors to die down.

News Flash: Sixties music was kind of trippy.

“In The Year 2525” – Zager & Evans

Zager and Evans have the dubious distinction of being the only act to top both the U.S. and U.K. charts and then never have another hit.  

The 1969 song stops at 1,010-year intervals, making disturbing predictions about human society at each. Writer Rick Evans is the anti-Roddenberry, predicting that we will never learn from our mistakes.

Life is Cheap and Death is Free

“Transverse City” – Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon is one of music’s most iconoclastic personalities. He began his career penning hits for artists like Linda Ronstadt. In his final years, he was David Letterman’s favorite guest, performing and talking candidly about his terminal lung cancer. His “Keep Me In Your Heart” is one of the most poignant songs ever written, but he’ll always be best known for the catchy “Werewolves of London.” He was well-read, despite dropping out of high school. “Transverse City” was directly influenced by William Gibson.

Zevon was a fan of writers. He dedicated an album to detective novelist Ross MacDonald, and served as musical director and occasional guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, the famous “garage band” made up of Stephen King, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, and Amy Tan.

At Least There Were No Anal Probes

“Spaceman” – The Killers

Lest you think science fiction and music quit cross-pollinating in 1980 (or that the writer is an old fart, although that is probably true), let’s fast forward to 2009 for “Spaceman” by The Killers.

The narrator is kidnapped by aliens, but returned none the worse for the experience, except for one lingering effect.

I hear these voices at night sometimes.

The song may be 21st Century, but the video, while entertaining, is strictly Eighties MTV cheese.

It’s Just Too Peculiar Here

“Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer” – Ella Fitzgerald

I work at a jazz radio station, so I am hardly going to leave off the UFO tune by none other than the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald. “Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer” exhibit their discriminating taste by fleeing the earth after getting a taste of our culture, notably our television shows. And this was in 1951, decades before TV political ads.

View It, Code It.

“Technologic” – Daft Punk 

Daft Punk is a “must have” on the list, since they’re robots from the future and all. Plus, their guest shot was the best thing about Tron: Legacy.

“Technologic” is textbook for the helmeted French duo, mixing up funk, techno, rock, and synth pop, with vocals that might actually be what my computer is thinking at any given moment.

I Hear The Weather in Transexual Transylvania is Great This Time of Year.

“Science Fiction Double Feature” – Rocky Horror Picture Show

Referencing classic sci fi cinema from Triffids to George Pal, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Science Fiction Double Feature” is a smooth ballad whose pop veneer lulls us into complacency before we are thrust into the gender-bending, rock ’n roll fever dream that Brad and Janet experience.

Citizens of the Universe

“Mothership Connection” – Parliament

“We have returned to claim the pyramids,” proclaims George Clinton as “Mothership Connection” opens. Clinton, a fan of Star Trek, put together the 1975 concept album to “put black people in space.” Generally regarded as one of Parliment’s best albums, Mothership Connection was the first to feature Maceo Parker and Fred Weasley, two veterans of James Brown’s horn section, who would go on to be important jazz and funk musicians in their own right.

The Library of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry in 2011, noting it’s influence on the jazz, rock, and dance music that followed. So in a way, it predicted the future of music just like Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein predicted the future of science.

And maybe gave Roland Emmerich the idea for Stargate, who knows?

Just a Ramblin’ Hobbit

“Ramble On” – Led Zeppelin

“Ramble On is one of three Led Zeppelin tunes that reference characters and scenes from Lord of the Rings, along with “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore.” Although if your girl left you to be with Gollum, it’s possible you’re better off without her.

Bonus points to Jimmy Page, who designed the mysterious “Four Symbols” logo, which looks to me like Elvish.

 And the Beat goes on…

 

“Traveler,” Dennis W. Green’s first novel, is a sci-fi thriller in the tradition of Daniel Suarez and Dean Koontz. It has dozens of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, and scored in the Top Ten in the Ben Franklin Independent Publishing awards.

The adventures of parallel universe-jumping cop Trav Becker continue in “Prisoner.” The final volume of the trilogy, Hunter, is due in 2019.

A popular radio personality in his native Iowa, Dennis’s adventures as a DJ have been covered by newspapers from Anchorage to Los Angeles. He has also worked on the stage, TV, and independent film.

By day, he is the general manager of Iowa’s only jazz radio station, KCCK-FM. And if it’s 5:30 am, you can probably find him in the pool, working out with the Milky Way Masters swim club.

Follow Dennis online at http://www.denniswgreen.com, facebook.com/TravelerTrilogy, or @dgreencr on Twitter.

(This is an expanded version of an article that was originally published in PerihelionSF under the title “More Than Zarathustra.)

The Jazz of Star Trek

Music in Science Fiction & Fantasy

By Dennis W. Green

 What jazz standard shares a melody with the Star Trek theme? And what rock & roll tune tells its story against the background of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity?

Artists have always been inspired by the art of others. Musicians and writers have traded inspiration for centuries. Science Fiction and Fantasy are no different. But these genres are unique in how fans are touched by the music.

In this post, we’ll explore the unique connections your favorite movies and TV shows have with classical and jazz music. In Part II, we’ll move on to Rock and Pop.

 Sci-Fi At The Movies – A Classical Gas

When I started researching for this article, I thought I would spend most of my time discussing the various classical pieces that have found their way into science fiction and fantasy movies, beginning with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Turns out, it’s pretty much Zarathustra and… well, not a lot else. Most of the music we know and love from our favorite movies are original compositions, which we’ll cover in the next section.

Now, cartoons are another matter. If not for Bugs Bunny, I would know nothing about classical music. I can’t ever hear “The Barber of Seville” without seeing that wascally wabbit wielding a shaving brush and razor. But that’s another article.

If there is another classical piece that has been so totally intertwined with any movie, let alone a sci-Fi movie, as much as Strauss’s meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche, I don’t know what it would be. No other “pre-composed” movie theme even comes close.

But Stanley Kubrick is not the only director to mine the archives of classical music for inspiration.

A good example is Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 13, used to excellent effect in The Avengers. Other fairly recent examples include Prometheus (Chopin), and Elysium (Bach).

Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” has been called “the most overused piece of music in film history,” and shows up in dozens of movies, movie trailers, commercials, and TV.

For me, its most memorable usage is when King Arthur and his knights charge into battle with the choral epic in the background in Excalibur. It also pops up in 2007’s Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, not to mention The Doors, Speed, Last of the Mohicans and even Jackass.

 Putting The Original into Original Soundtrack

Where original movies scores are concerned, let’s start at the top of the mountain, John Williams and Star Wars.

The Star Wars Soundtrack was the first non-rock and roll record I ever bought, and I listened to it over and over again after seeing the movie. Remember, this was in the days when if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a theater. So in between viewings, listening to the soundtrack was a great way to re-live the movie. If you’ve never sat down and listened to the full 5:51 of the Main Title, do it now.

Leitmotif is a musical term that means a phrase or melody that is associated with a particular character, place, or emotion. Common in symphonic music and opera, It was not used much in film until Williams revived it for Star Wars.

It’s really a very simple device, but it is now impossible to imagine the Star Wars movies without the unique musical signatures associated with particular characters and scenes.

The re-stated melody of the Main Title which plays under Luke’s first appearance, answering Uncle Owen’s bellow, will come to represent him throughout the films. The same for Princess Leia, the Jawas, even The Force, whose theme first appears in the Binary Sunset scene, and returns in each of the films.

The Star Wars soundtrack remains the highest grossing non-pop recording of all time. But it was just the beginning for John Williams. He would go on to compose the five-note figure the aliens implant in Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not to mention the music to Superman, the Indiana Jones films, and the entire Star Wars saga.

As far as other original music composed for sci-fi movies goes, the music from Lord of the Rings comes very close to achieving Williams-esque status. Howard Shore used over ninety leitmotifs, the most identifiable of which would probably be “History of The Ring,” which plays during the title sequence of all three films, and “Pippin’s Song,” with the hobbit sings to Denethor at the same time the Steward’s son Faramir makes his suicidal charge into battle in “Return of the King.”

The lyrics to “Pippin’s Song” are not from Tolkien at all, but were composed by Billy Boyd, who played the character. He wrote the song on just twenty-four hours notice, the day before the scene was filmed.

Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme introduced us to the “new” Star Trek theme. A decade of Star Trek: The Next Generation on TV would burn it into our minds.

Honorable mention to Queen, because there are very few themes that captured the essence of their films (that is to say, ridiculous camp) better than Flash.

( More about Queen later)

 The Jazz of Star Trek

At first listen, the original Star Trek Theme seems to be a pretty conventional orchestral piece. But Alexander Courage’s composition has its roots in jazz.

In a 2000 interview, Courage explained that his inspiration for the main part of the theme is from “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” a pop tune from the 1930s. Courage said it gave him the idea for a song which was a “long thing that…keeps going out into space…over a fast moving accompaniment.”

See if you make the connection when you listen to this swing version of the song, by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra.

But the most interesting musical parallel is coincidental. The Star Trek theme shares a harmonic progression with the jazz standard, “Out of Nowhere.” That is to say, the two songs share the same several notes, played in the same order, to form each tune’s main melody (“The Hook” in music parlance).

“Out of Nowhere” was Bing Crosby’s first Number One hit. You can definitely hear the melodic similarity in Bing’s original version, but when Charlie Parker and Miles Davis slowed it down and made a ballad out of the tune in 1947, the resemblance is downright eerie:

It’s difficult to believe that Courage wasn’t familiar with “Out of Nowhere,” but he never mentioned it as an influence. Absent an “unconscious plagiarism” ruling of the sort that led George Harrison to pay a bunch of money to the composer of “He’s So Fine,” we are left with the resemblance as a coincidence.

But a coincidence that the show has had some fun with.

In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry suggested doing a detective story based on the holodeck, and writer Tracy Tormé got the job of writing “The Big Goodbye.” In the process, Tormé created the character of 1940s literary detective Dixon Hill, one of the most memorable additions to the Star Trek canon.

As Captain Picard enters Dixon Hill’s office for the first time near the beginning of the episode, a radio is playing “Out of Nowhere.” It was producer Robert Justman who suggested the Easter Egg. A jazzer would say he was “hip” to the connection.

(It’s interesting to note that Tracy Tormé is the son of legendary jazz singer Mel Tormé. The younger Tormé would go on to co-create “Sliders,” and cast his famous father in the show.)

Jazz plays a small but significant role in almost every Star Trek series:

  • Jonathon Frakes happened to play the trombone, which led the Next Generation writers to send Commander Ryker to a holodeck jazz club to unwind. Ryker complained he could never master a fictional standard called “Nightbird.”
  • The Deep Space Nine crew also liked to hang out in holodeck bars. Their favorite hologram was lounge singer Vic Fontaine, played by former teen heartthrob James Darren. Eventually, Fontaine would come to serve as a father confessor of sorts to various members of the crew.
  • Lieutenant Harry Kim led a jazz quartet on Voyager called the Kimtones, with Kim on clarinet. Unlike Frakes, Garrett Wang did not play the instrument, but memorized the correct fingerings, no small task.
  • And on Star Trek: Enterprise, we learn that free jazz has an interesting effect on the Vulcan psyche. When T’Pol hits a San Francisco club in the episode “Fusion,” she describes what she hears as “…unusual, chaotic, but I was drawn to it. I felt… invigorated.”
  • This idea popped up in Voyager as well. In “Riddles,” Tuvok loses his intellect and quits repressing his emotions. During this time, he develops a fondness for jazz.

A word of advice: Don’t tell a jazz musician you have to be illogical to enjoy the form.

NEXT TIME: SF & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Are All My Brain and Body Need!

(This is an expanded version of an article that was originally published in PerihelionSF under the title “More Than Zarathustra.)

“Traveler,” Dennis W. Green’s first novel, is a sci-fi thriller in the tradition of Daniel Suarez and Dean Koontz. It has dozens of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, and scored in the Top Ten in the Ben Franklin Independent Publishing awards.

The adventures of parallel universe-jumping cop Trav Becker continue in “Prisoner.” The final volume of the trilogy, Hunter, is due in 2019.

A popular radio personality in his native Iowa, Dennis’s adventures as a DJ have been covered by newspapers from Anchorage to Los Angeles. He has also worked on the

stage, TV, and independent film.

By day, he is the general manager of Iowa’s only jazz radio station, KCCK-FM. And if It’s 5:30 am, you can probably find him in the pool, working out with the Milky Way Masters swim club.

Follow Dennis online at http://www.denniswgreen.com, facebook.com/TravelerTrilogy, or @dgreencr on Twitter.

Hometown Boy

I’ll be doing an author event in my hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa for the very first time on November 18.

I’m excited to be an invited author to the Council Bluffs Public Library’s annual Local Author Fair. The library is no longer in the Carnegie building, where I made my weekly visits there as a kid, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still the place where I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and so many more.

I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like without the Library.

I’m looking forward to being home.