While I wrote Sleeper Protocol, I listened to music. A lot of music. I learned how to read, write, study, and sleep to music while in college. As I wrote a particular scene, the score to that scene often came into mind. While I’d write the scene, I’d play a particular song or two on repeat until the scene was complete. Ambience and setting, to me, have to include music.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post the songs and a spoiler free synopsis of the scene as they appear in the novel. If Sleeper Protocol ever became a movie, I’d fight to have these songs included on the soundtrack. They are as valuable to the story as my words.
I am a huge fan of Moby’s, and have been since the late 80s. This song beat out several others (including “Great Lake”) for the opening. The gentle fade in of the song resonated with me as I tried to write the first scene. The music slowly unfolds as the song progresses. As our main character slowly gains consciousness and awareness of all around him, this song matched the tempo and experience I wanted him to feel as the darkness became light.
Manly Beach / Chapter 2. “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” by Jimmy Barnes
For a novel that begins and ends in Australia, this playlist would not be complete without a slant in that direction. Truth is, I’ve loved Australian music since before I went there in 1987 and especially thereafter. While our main character walks along The Corso in Manly Beach, he sees a scruffy, older man playing a familiar tune on a beat-up guitar. Jimmy Barnes is an Australian icon, and hearing his version of Otis Redding’s song for the first time struck a chord with me. The scratchy vocals and single guitar make this song a poignant part of this scene’s soul.
This scene was a late addition to the manuscript thanks to the advice of my friend Eytan Kollin. During the editing process, I created this scene with our main character being unaware that his new companion is trying to save his life. Believing he’s going to the hydrofoil station to embark on his journey, his new companion takes things into her own hands. When I listened to this song, I loved the hopeful declaration of being outside with the driving guitars and drums. To me, it was a dichotomy of sorts. Given what happens in this scene without our main character’s knowledge, this song really fit for me.
In the Acknowledgments section of the book, I explain why this song means so much to me, and I personally thank Ed for the song. I’ve been a fan of his since his former band Live broke through while I was in college. I have all their albums, and when I found out Ed had created a solo album I purchased it. It remains the most played song in my iTunes catalog. The moment of Kieran settling into the exospheric aircraft to start his trek to Perth and eventually Esperance mirrors this song. Simply put, I love this song and it resonates with me every time I listen to it.
The introduction of Gwendolyn “Berkeley” Bennett, PhD as a main character had to have a light touch, and between signing the contract and editing, I found this song by Jeremy Kay. Who is Jeremy Kay? One of the best artists you’ve probably heard but never knew who it was. His song “Have It All” appears on the Scrubs soundtrack and his music has appeared in other television shows. I love his style and voice. The light touch of this song was perfect to help me capture Berkeley’s personality in academia, just before her life gets turned upside down.
When this novel was a short story (and it was!), this scene was one of the very first I wrote, and our main character actually plays it on the future equivalent of a Wurlitzer jukebox. Midnight Oil is an Australian iconic band. Their progressive lyrics, demands for equal rights, and ecological consciousness was a staple of their popularity outside Australia in the eighties and nineties. This song is one of my favorites and given the storm lashing Esperance during this scene, it’s very appropriate.
Who doesn’t love Pat Benatar? Seriously? Out for a run on his first morning is Esperance, music becomes a teaching point as he tries to find his identity through experiences. This song plays as he runs and discovers his body is much more than it should be while being totally alien at the same time. The lyrics, though, point toward the overall theme of the story.
Our hero spends a lot of time thinking and trying to remember his past. After his run, he puts the first major piece of the puzzle together from whispers in his head. He knows he must go home, to Tennessee, even though it no longer exists. This song rises throughout, and for me it matched his realization, determination, and ultimately decision making process. It remains my favorite Mumford and Sons song, and like the previous song, the lyrics also point towards the theme of the story.
I found this song watching a surfing documentary one night during my recovery, and I immediately Googled it, found the band, learned that they were from Australia, and started devouring their music. This particular song played during a surfing montage of the documentary, and it captured the vibe of our main character learning to surf so well that I when I edited the surfing scenes that it meshed. Without his real name, the surfers nickname him “Sleepy,” and it’s a very good day.
Another song found in a surfing movie (this time the amazing Step Into Liquid), “Perfect Day” also rises from a quiet beginning to a driving testament to everything good. After a horrible accident, our main character and his friends pay tribute to a fallen comrade doing what they do best, surf. I can’t find the whole song on YouTube, but you can find it on the Step into Liquid soundtrack. I love this song.
Things in Esperance have turned sour, merely from our main characters presence in the seaside city. The time has come to move on, and Sleepy realizes its time to go home. So many of the lyrics in this song fit his emotional state and the decision he has to make. The brooding tone also fit very well.
I’ve always loved string music, especially with a beat. That is Lindsey Stirling’s bread and butter and I am a huge fan. Getting into a writing mood is easy when listening to her music. When I downloaded this album and played it through the first time, this is the song that I kept repeating. Editing this scene with this song in the background helped to capture the sense of wonder, excitement, and danger the main character faces.
One of the very early scenes I wrote involved Berkeley and “Sleepy” leaving a future Flagstaff, Arizona to the northeast. The hordes of people camped at the walls begging for entry into the Republic of California bother him as if the fault of their plight is his. This is one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, again because of the way it starts soft and rises throughout like an approaching storm, which is exactly what Sleepy and Berkeley face.
I think this is the only instrumental song that Big Country ever released. Yes, Americans, they released more than “In A Big Country” from 1983 on. Big Country is my favorite band of all time (with Rush a very close second). As such, they appear on this playlist twice. Seeing Sleepy and Berkeley hiking the wilderness towards the Continental Divide was easy as this song played. Light, airy, and fun wind the song up along the way, which is exactly the feel I wanted during the scenes.
This group of Russian country musicians put out two albums about a decade ago. I have both, and they are awesome. This traditional Russian song has a haunting feel to it that really captures the danger of an approaching storm and the need to find shelter. That urgency fuels Sleepy’s need to keep moving but do so in a smart manner. Nature does not care if you live or die, and he understands that.
I listen to the SiriusXM radio everyday while I drive to work, often on the Chill station. The morning I heard this for the first time, I nearly wrecked. This was the music for the love scene I had in mind. Almost an homage to “Love on a Real Train” by Tangering Dream (another awesome love scene song), I loved the atmosphere of this one and had to make sure it made the list.
They had to be on the soundtrack, right? This is one of those songs that no matter how many times I listen to it, I find new layers. When this album (Power Windows) came out, many of my high school classmates panned it, and several of them made comments about this particular song. The message is that the world is much bigger than us, and we should observe and enjoy them. Every step east brings resolution to Sleepy’s quest, and he’s keenly aware of things.
Another Jeremy Kay song, and it’s the quintessential break-up song. There is sorrow and hope. Berkeley and Sleepy have grown farther and farther apart. When she leaves, he decides to keep going despite the danger. His resolve to find the truth about himself takes over and gets him up out of the fetal position and moving east.
From the last of their studio albums before Stuart Adamson’s untimely death, this song hit me in the feels the very first time I listened to it. A solitary traveler winding his way across the country with only thoughts and conscience to keep him company is the definition of Sleepy’s plight. Answers are coming, and while he knows that he cannot put down his feelings for Berkeley.
I guarantee you that you’ve never heard this one, unless you either attended the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles or had the soundtrack vinyl/cassette. I did both. This song was the theme for the marathon, and 1984 was the first year for the women’s marathon. Eventual winner Joan Benoit ran right past me on the route at about mile fifteen. The idea of our hero running out of Memphis towards the Appalachian mountains to the east had to have a perfect couple of songs. This is the first of the two.
Also released in 1984, with a very Olympic focused video and lyrics, this is another song that I knew would be here simply because I cannot picture a long run without it. As the journey nears its end point, our hero is running night and day towards his home and not wanting to stop until he gets there. Pushing his body to the brink, he presses on.
I’ll give credit to No Doubt for doing a good version of this song, but the original has to be the one here. Mally’s begins making decisions in her own best interest instead of those benefiting our hero. With dire consequences.
Having long figured out he’s a soldier and nearing his ancestral home with every step, this song is Sleepy’s pure joy. He believes that everything is fine and he’s going to find what he wants to find and put his life together once and for all. Hope is just over the next hill, or the next ridge, or down the far draw. All is right with the world.
This is a stunning masterpiece of a song, and it brought me to tears the first time I ever heard it (you’ve been warned). Obviously written after a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, it’s a note of gratitude that every single American should hear and remember those that served and gave their lives for our freedoms. Many of them are “known but to God” from wounds that obscured their identity for all time. Walking into the cemetery at Mountain Home, that awesome gratitude and a sense of homecoming are what I wanted to convey as the curtain is set to fall.
Most everyone from the 80s knows this band for their other chart topper “Don’t You Forget About Me.” I’ve always liked this song better. While I wrote out the ending, I struggled to find the vibe I wanted. Then, I played this song and everything fell together. Probably my favorite song of the 80s, it’s a perfect place to end.