Life has a soundtrack. I grew up listening to my parents’ favorite classical music, and so it wasn’t until I started to exercise my independence that I discovered popular music. I have a vivid memory of tuning in to a rock station on a cheap radio when I was in grade school and hearing the Rolling Stones for the first time. I remember my first albums, the bands that shaped my teens (my “formidable” years), and the music that resonated with me during every pivotal time in my adult life. Music is a powerful force that evokes emotion, sets tone and inspires. I can’t imagine life without it.
Music played a significant role in my writing of Lifeline to Marionette. The character of Alaina Michelle Sekovich (Michelle Seko) was originally inspired by a song, and her inner struggle, emotions and actions were driven by the music I listened to while thinking about and writing her story. By the time the book was finished, she had her own soundtrack.
The song that inspired her character was “Avalon,” written by Brian Ferry (Roxy Music). It remains one of the most evocative songs I have ever heard. I could fully engage in the emotion it evoked, which I would then translate into the written word. As such, Michelle is absolutely an interpretation of this song.

Now the party’s over
I’m so tired
Then I see you coming
Out of nowhere
Much communication in a motion
Without conversation or a notion
Avalon
When the samba takes you
Out of nowhere
And the background’s fading
Out of focus
Yes the picture’s changing
Every moment
And your destination
You don’t know it
Avalon

There are two quotes at the beginning of the book. The first is by Lady Gaga: “You can take your past with you but you can’t go back.” The second is by Ravi Zacharias: “What happens when life breaks down, when there is systemic contradiction?” This is from a sermon by Zacharias that is in Harold Van Lennep’s song “Liberation.” Both serve to set the stage for the central conflict of the story.
In the opening chapters, an exhausted and strung-out Michelle Seko arrives in New York, makes it to her apartment and then is later found unresponsive in the dingy bathroom of an underground nightclub. These scenes were set to The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” This is a crushing, powerful song with dire lyrics set to music that evokes dark desire:

Ooh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Ooh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

Michelle’s sense of loneliness and isolation is conveyed in “Holding on for Life” by the Broken Bells. Again, lyrics that convey despair set to evocative music. It is this song that also introduces the character of Jason Henrey to her. My interpretation of the song is that it’s about a man who encounters a lonely girl, a prostitute, and just wants to understand her and help her, if only she will open up to him.

Girl take a seat, rest your weary bones
Your secrets safe in my hands
Tell me about the years and
Let me buy an hour
Maybe help me to understand
Ooh ain’t nobody callin’
Ain’t nobody home
What a lovely day to be lonely

You’re holding on for life
Holding on for life oh
Holding on for love.
You’re holding on for life
Holding on for life oh
Holding on for love.

Light another cigarette
Burning in the cold
Waiting on the street for your man
You’re trying not to look so
Young and miserable
You gotta get your kicks while you can
In the lighted corner, sitting on your own
What a lovely day to be lonely

[Chorus]

Well you might belong to another time
Still you have to carry on here
Nowhere else to go and you never know
What to hide and what to show, no

[Chorus]

Another song that defines Michelle’s persona is Mansionair’s “Violet City,” also a beautiful composition about loneliness and isolation, letting go and being in control. I listened to Mansionair lot last year while I was finishing this book. I also listened to Bob Moses and Parra for Cuva constantly. Parra for Cuva has become my music to write by.
There is a chapter in the book in which Michelle plays a ballad that had been written by her father as a birthday present to her when she turned 2. The song that inspired this ballad was Helen Jane Long’s “The Aviators.”
I cannot share the music that shaped this story without including the intense and complex symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Rachmaninoff, plus Handel’s “Messiah.” If you want to delve into the states of mind of Alexander Sekovich and his daughter, listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony Pathétique (Mov. 4).” Florian Carubi’s transcription is daunting. Émile Naoumoff’s Adagio Lementoso is so wretched that it’s difficult to watch. I’ve included a link below to his performance on YouTube.
In Lifeline to Marionette, Michelle explains: “There are two intentions written into music. How it should sound and how it should feel. The written score explains how it should sound. This is its correctness. But in the knowledge of the music is the meaning of its feeling.”
Violinist Christopher Zens once wrote: “Tchaikovsky’s 6th is long and intensive pain. All the misery and sadness Tchaikovsky had during his life manifested in this last symphony. I played it in an orchestra and it was really hard not to cry, especially in the last part of the 4th movement. The pianist played the movement so amazingly beautiful and pathetic; it really took my breath away.”
In strong contrast to this is the music that defines the character of Jason Henrey. He grew up on a ranch in Montana, once casually refers to himself as a cowboy and dances to country music at the Woody Creek Tavern, but he is by no means portrayed as a cowboy. The music that defines him doesn’t begin until well into the story. His effort to understand and help Michelle is best conveyed by Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” and “Sirens,” and Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” and “Love and Hate.” He walks the halls of the hospital in a state of despair to this music and then feels hopeful to the music of David Gray, in particular, “This Year’s Love.”
Without giving away the ending, I will tell you that the last chapter of the story was inspired by the song “joy.” by for KING & COUNTRY. It is as much the power of the choir as it is the strong lyrics that move the book’s conclusion. Leading up to it, the character of Jason Henrey says to Michelle: “Choose joy, even if you don’t know what that means yet,” which is a direct reflection of that song.
I’ve created a Lifeline to Marionette playlist on Spotify. It includes most of the music I’ve mentioned here, plus additional tracks relevant to the story. I did not include the symphonies, due to their length, however I did include Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op.44,” performed by the Marinsky Orchestra, with Denis Matsuev on piano. If you aren’t familiar with the music of Tchaikovsky, Spotify has a great playlist called “This is Tchaikovsky.” Warning though, you will get hooked.

Playlist for Lifeline to Marionette

Émile Naoumoff Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Pathétique Adagio Lamentoso