PLAYLIST FROM HELL: A guided tour through my imaginary soundtrack to Hell & Gone
Twenty years ago, when I picked up John Skipp and Craig Spector’s eco-horror novel The Bridge, I was thrilled to discover they included a playlist. “The following albums, by the following artists,” they wrote, “provided big chunks of sonic background during the writing of this mind-movie.” My 19-year-old self was thrilled that I was listening to a lot of the same bands—Nine Inch Nails, Public Image LTD., Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers—as my splatterpunk heroes. Of course, Skipp and Spector (going for brownie points, no doubt) also recorded an actual soundtrack for the novel, which you could mail-order for $14.95 (CD) or $9.95 (cassette). See, the Boys were also longtime rock musicians, and could do that sort of thing.
I’m a musician, too, having toiled in bar and wedding bands during my teenage years. And while music remains a huge part of my creative life, I’m not about to stop writing to go off and record an original soundtrack. Though if I did, I would totally make it available on CD and cassette.
Instead, here’s the next best (read: lazy) thing: a tour through the songs that were my “sonic background” while writing Hell & Gone—the second in the Charlie Hardie series, and my twisted version of a prison novel. Some of these songs put me in a certain mood; some others reminded me of particular characters. And I’ll admit it; some of these are included simply to amuse myself. It gets awful lonely in the basement office…
“Eternal Prison” (The Humane Society): Last winter I treated myself to Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets (1965-1968), a collection of gritty L.A.-centric rock. This obscure gem by the long-forgotten struck me as the best. Prison. Song. Ever. Menacing, moody, and yet oddly anthemic, it quickly became H&G’s theme song. If there’s ever a movie/TV version, I’m really going to have to insist on this song being included.
“Blow Up the Outside World” (Soundgarden): I did a lyric search for the phrase “hell and gone,” just to see what would pop up. Lo and behold, those words are featured in a great Soundgarden track that I’d totally forgotten about! Soon, this song became the alternate H&G theme song, and I’d blast it to get in the mood.
“Far From Over” (Frank Stallone): I like to open each Hardie book with a high-falutin’ Dante quote as well as pop culture-y quote. The lyrics from this Frank Stallone hit—“Save me darlin’, I am down but I am far from over”—were just dead perfect. Even better, Mr. Stallone himself gave me permission to use the lyrics in the novel, and I’ll always be grateful to him for it.
“Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (The Dickies): Early on I decided that every Charlie Hardie novel needed a Dickies song. This seemed the most appropriate.
“Jailbird” (Primal Scream): This Stones-eque tune is more about sex than the slammer, but if Hardie and his archnemesis “Mann” were to have a love song, this may be it. “I’m yours, you’re mine” indeed.
“He’s Not There Anymore” (The Chymes): Another lost gem from Where the Action Is! Was this song the answer to the the Zombie’s “She’s Not There?” No idea, but if you like haunted-sounding girl-group sagas, you’re going to love this one.
“Prison Girls” (Neko Case): I have a massive crush on Ms. Case’s voice, especially when she sings lines like, “Prison girls are not impressed/they’re the ones who have to clean this mess.”
“Low” (Cracker): This one has a nice mean swagger, and it’s pretty damn hard to swagger when you’re drunk, stoned and depressed… but somehow it all works. A guy Charlie Hardie’s age would no doubt think about this early 1990s alt-rock tune in his own low moments.
“You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy” (Jan & Dean): Quite possibly the most dickhurt song ever. The whole “sad mariachi” thing going on in the background just makes it all the more pathetic. You want to kick the singer’s ass for being such a mope. Predictably, I fucking love this song.
“Just Walking in the Rain” (The Prisonnaires): An early Sun Studios smash hit written and recorded by actual prisoners. The most noir doo-wop song in the history of recorded music.
“Revenge” (The Others): The third and final selection from Where the Action Is!, this nasty slice of garage rock features a fuzzed-out guitar dirge and angry screams… and yet, you can dance to it!
“Just a Job To Do” (Genesis): I can’t really explain why this is on the soundtrack without some pretty heavy spoilers. If you finish H&G, go back and play this… loud. It’ll all make sense.
“Break My Stride” (Matthew Wilder): I’m a big fan of ironic/inappropriate songs playing over the end credits of movies, and this blast of pure cheese straight out of the 80s strikes me as the perfect song to play off Mr. Hardie as he heads to next brutal adventure. I also dig the bizarre faux-Italian accent Wilder uses during some of the choruses—“Ain’t nothing gonna break-a my stride!”is delivered with the same feverish passion as Joe Dolce’s “Ah Shaddup a-You Face!” The 80s were a strange, strange time…