The little-known story of how Sydney spurned Lenny Bruce. Originally published on WordyMofo.com
A long interview with Joel McHale. Originally published on my now defunct web mag WordyMofo.
Another interview with a great American comedian. He’s so much more than the crazy mofo from the Police Academy movies. This piece was printed in Men’s Style.
Jesse Heiman did a lot better than me at the movie extra game. Another piece for Men’s Style.
Sure you like Gram Parsons but have you listened to George Jones, one of his major influences? This country bad-ass passed away not long after this article appeared in Men’s Style. Have a read and you’ll marvel that he lived to the ripe old age of 81.
This interview, conducted with Chris Murray for Showtime’s sadly defunct The Movie Club, is very close to my heart for obvious reasons.
Robin Williams was incredibly generous with his time and a genuinely lovely person to be around. After the interview, I told him I really wanted to interview Mort Sahl, one of his close mates and the pioneering force in modern American comedy.
Robin very kindly set it up and this profile resulted for the very excellent Men’s Style magazine.
Then there was this one time I got to be a zombie for George A. Romero. This piece was published in FHM.
The Last Place sees Danby switching to full auto. She’s been through hell and now she’s unleashing hellfire. I listened to a lot of dark and brooding sounds while writing the book, along with a few classics that lent their titles to the book’s three parts.
- Gotham’s Reckoning – Hans Zimmer
Okay, I admit there’s been an overload of Hans Zimmer’s brown-sound bombast in blockbuster cinema lately, but I’m still a total sucker for this suspenseful instrumental from The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack. It bristles with dark energy, just like Danby as she prepares to spring her trap.
- Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
The first part of The Last Place is named for my favourite Rolling Stones song because it’s brooding, epic and tortured and, like Danby, similarly aggressive and vulnerable. “Oh children, we’re just a shot away.” But from what? Bonus: brilliantly, this YouTube clip sets the song to scenes from Apocalypse Now. See the first post in this series for how that film influenced The Last Trilogy.
- My Way – Frank Sinatra
One of the most surreal interludes in The Last Place has Danby encountering other survivors who’re enjoying a bit of Frank by doing post-apocalyptic karaoke. Does it end well? No, it does not.
- President At The Train – John Carpenter
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, John Carpenter made some of the best sci-fi and horror flicks ever. His The Thing is a masterpiece and in my all-time top 10. But I love the soundtrack to his Escape From New York, in which anti-hero Snake Plissken has to choose whether or not to save the world from itself. This driving electro track was the perfect accompaniment to writing The Last Place scenes in which Danby infiltrates an abandoned city. Bonus: Earlier in the series Danby is told “I thought you were dead” as a homage to the similar line Snake hears all throughout Escape.
- (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
This awesome epic lends its title to part two of The Last Place. It’s the perfect track for Danby to play to her young friend as a distraction from violence because it’s not just loud but soothing (if sinister) in its embrace of death as the gateway to eternity. Bonus: Stephen King cited this song as an inspiration for The Stand, which is my favourite book and a major influence on The Last Trilogy. Bonus bonus: It was used to terrific effect in the opening of the TV adaptation of The Stand by director Mick Garris. One question: does it need more cowbell?
- Kick Out The Jams – MC-5
The title of part three of The Last Place. If you’re going to have a high-intensity urban conflict with automatic weapons, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better battle anthem than MC5’s proto-punk masterpiece of wild untamed energy… motherfuckers!
- Jesus Built My Hotrod – Ministry
Just about any song from Ministry’s Psalm 69 album would go well with The Last Place‘s full-tilt final showdown. But this one turns up the industrial energy to 11, with the sort of absurdist reversals that I loved peppering through the book. Dang-a-long-ling-long!
- This Ain’t No Picnic – The Minutemen
I discovered these big-hearted Californian punks during the writing of The Last Place—about thirty years after they disbanded in the wake of lead singer D. Boon’s tragic death. Double Nickels On The Dime is a truly great LP, showcasing a stunning vocal and musical range. It’s another ripping track that’d contribute its big sound to confusing an enemy.
- Somewhere Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland
Whenever I think of eternity, I think of this song. It’s simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting. Bonus: all three books of The Last Trilogy are studded with references to the 1939 movie version of the The Wizard Of Oz, from Danby donning red boots to her mum’s painting of a yellow brick road. Super-squirrel bonus: each book contains a hidden quote from the movie. What does it mean? Oz only knows.
The Last Shot amps up the The Last Girl‘s post-apocalyptic action.
Here’s how it sounded in my head as I wrote the book. (With bonus Repo Man clip)
- Ana Ng – They Might Be Giants
There’s so much mysterious cause and effect here: a bullet pierces a desktop globe to make an exit wound in a foreign nation; from there the world is turned upside down; graffiti spells out “I don’t want the world, I just to want your half.” What does it mean? I don’t know but it’s fascinated me for over 25 years.
- Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush
“It’s in the trees, it’s coming!” – one of my favourite-ever samples, taken from the freaky 1957 British horror movie Night Of The Demon. I’ve always loved this song and Kate Bush’s imagery suits Danby’s trip through the Blue Mountains, which is simultaneously about her being hunter and hunted, having feelings for Jack and wanting to blow him away.
- Miss World – Hole
Rock-dog Jack leaves Danby a bunch of T-shirts. She chooses Hole’s Live Through This because it’s what she hopes to do. But Miss World is where she’s really at: lonely, ready to lie, ready to die in the bed she’s made.
- Welcome To The Jungle – Guns + Roses
Jack is next seen in a T-shirt for Guns + Roses’ album Appetite For Destruction. She’s reminded that her mum told her Guns + Roses were named for the misogynist man who’ll woo a woman with roses but resort to guns if he’s rejected—Jack, in other words. She really hopes he has an appetite for destruction because she intends to feed it with his.
- Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
This one’s supposedly about living in New York during the late 1970s. But it’s always struck me as a vision of urban peeps suddenly plunged into guerrilla warfare: eating rations, burning notebooks, evading roadblocks and whispering about trucks loaded with weapons.
- Dad’s Gonna Kill Me – Richard Thompson
I came to this one via Sons Of Anarchy because they used it in a season finale. Man, what an evocation of the mindset of the modern soldier, with the Dad of the title being Baghdad in this searing portrait of bloody wars where death comes as quickly via the enemy’s improvised bombs as via self-incineration with white phosphorus. Above it all, it’s the landscape that stalks—“It must be old Death a-walking”. I explicitly homaged this song in Danby’s later description of minions as “muzzle monkeys”.
- Fujiyama Mama – Wanda Jackson
The pioneering rockabilly chick is one killer woman and Danby encounters her in poster form as she prepares for battle. “I’m a Fujiyama Mama and I’m just about to blow my top/when I start erupting ain’t nobody’s gonna make me stop” and “Well, you can talk about me, say that I’m mean/But I’ll blow your head off, baby, with nitroglycerine.” Hell, yes.
- Let’s Have A War – Fear
This one’s referenced right at the start of The Last Girl, but it’s at the end of The Last Shot that it really fits. This pioneering LA punk band’s paean to humanity’s extermination isn’t for the faint-hearted—and it’s definitely not politically correct—but it’s what the war of all against all might sound like.
Bonus: I first heard it on the Repo Man soundtrack, which is a favourite film containing a very funny sequence where a character named Miller muses on telepathy by using plate of shrimp as a reference. I homaged it in the book because it fit the “cosmic unconsciousness” idea and reflects the telepathic connection that’s about to happen with the waiter.
That night Dad, Evan and I went to Rubber Thaime, Beautopia’s slow-food–Asian-fusion experience. Stephanie didn’t join us because she was catching up with an old schoolfriend who’d arrived in the city unexpectedly.
‘What’s everyone eating?’ Dad asked, eyes on his phone as it whooshed like a missile. Either he’d just sent a message or he was piloting an American drone bombing Iran.
‘Fririce!’ Evan squealed, chewing on his napkin.
Dad disappeared behind his menu. ‘Plate o’ shrimp and a Miller for me. Danby?’
- Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Fits the ending of The Last Shot perfectly. *emits unearthly howl*
Just as some writers call themselves pantsers (the make-it-up-as-you-go mavericks) and others identify as plotters (the outline-before-you-put-pen-to-paper crowd), so some scribblers swear by working in rarefied silence while others blast music to help the creative process.
I’m firmly in… both camps on both subjects.
Before I write, I usually come up with a detailed synopsis that serves as a series of road signs. Once I’m into the story and the characters, I then feel free to go on detours, take the long way around or even change destinations entirely. But having that initial map helps me to get going.
What helps me to keep going is music and I usually choose albums or playlists that reflect the action I’m writing and that enhance the mood I’m trying to create. To prevent the music becoming intrusive, I end up listening to the same songs a lot so that they become like the soundtrack to a movie. (Only later, when I’m revising closely, which involves intense reading and re-reading, do I ease the volume down until eventually I’m working in silence.)
Over the past three years, the music that accompanied the writing of The Last Trilogy formed deep grooves in my brain and often found its way onto the printed page. I thought it’d be fun to share the most played songs in roughly the chronological order they served as inspirations.
Beware of minor spoilers.
The Last Girl
1. Eye In The Sky – The Alan Parsons Project
Danby hears a cover of this song, whose refrain is “I can read your mind”, by fictional band Distant Affliction, who’re named for the roots of the word “telepathy”. See what I gone-done-did there? The trilogy’s filled with this sorta stuff, partly to keep me entertained, partly to create the sense there’s a subconsciously networked world about to intrude on the characters.
2. America Is Waiting – Brian Eno and David Byrne
The first track from the boss 1981 album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which pioneered the use of sampling. This sonic blast replicates the modern mediascape’s cascade of messages, which I envisaged might be how the inside of Danby’s head sounds as The Snap takes hold.
3. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – REM
Once The Snap gets going, could there be a better apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness accompaniment? Well, the “And I Feel Fine” bit doesn’t really suit, but you can’t have everything (because where would you put it?)
4. Derezzed – Daft Punk
Tron Legacy wasn’t much of a movie but what a great soundtrack. To my partner’s dismay, I listened to it day-in, day-out for the weeks it took to write the Beautopia Point escape sequence. I still love the brooding desperate energy of Derezzed that seems to dead-end on itself over and over even as it keeps going.
5. Help, I’m Alive – Metric
Another exciting track with a edge of horror, thanks to lyrics like “If I stumble, they’re going to eat me alive.” And the title sums up Danby’s predicament.
6. The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
Jack’s singing this when we first hear him. For those who know the lyrics, it’s a bit of foreboding, with its explicit references to a character heralding the end times and all that good stuff. I also love how it was used in the opening of the excellent Dawn Of The Dead remake (as in this clip).
7. The End – The Doors
This is the song Jack tells Danby he was singing as a busker when The Snap took place. The lyrics reflect his hidden self: a killer rising before dawn, heading west on the highway and having no love whatsoever for his dad. Bonus: “The End” plays over the opening of Apocalypse Now, whose surrealistic tone and sudden violence was a big inspiration for the whole series. Bonus bonus: the books are peppered with refs to Apocalypse’s source novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. “Brooding gloom” — such a grand phrase.
8. Return Of The Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
Jack wears this T-shirt because, well, he would as a bit of a self-styled maverick . The phrase describes his real character, rather inferring resemblance to the beautiful cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons. That said, I listened to a lot of Parsons’ music, particularly in the book’s melancholy moments when Danby considers her pantheon of dead heroes.
9. Rolling In The Deep – Adele
I needed a song that Danby could consider an “oldie” in the near future and I thought I chose this at random. But on closer listen I realised it was perfect, thanks to the lyric “You’re gonna wish you never had met me”. Must’ve been the subconsciousness whispering in my ear…