Kryptonite and Magic

November 21, 2008

Years ago I read a book called Chartbreaker, about a girl who joins a band because she needs something to do.  After a few months, they have a hit song and go on tour.  One night they decide to play a different kind of set.  The band reasons that there are two kinds of songs; those that rile people up and those that calm them down.  Normally they would alternate between the two.  That way the crowd will enjoy themselves without starting a riot or falling asleep.  This night is different.  This night the band wants to create tension.  Song after song builds the whole club into a barely contained frenzy.  At first it’s exhilarating for the band members to see the kind of control they have over the audience, but then they get swept up in it.   Finally they decide they have gone too far, and start playing peaceful ballads.  To their relief it works.  The crowd relaxes.  They vow never to flirt with disaster again.

I thought of this book after listening to “Infinite Dreams” by Iron Maiden yesterday.  My favorite part is the bridge, especially the part that goes,

“Even though it’s reached new heights

I rather like the restless nights

It makes me wonder, it makes me think

There’s more to this, I’m on the brink

It’s not the fear of what’s beyond

It’s just that I might not respond

I have an interest, almost craving

But would I like to get too far in?”

It’s a perfect example of what I’m getting at.  It describes the strange, compulsive tension created by a certain kind of song, and at the same time it is that kind of song.  There are certain melodies and chord progressions that make you feel like they have to keep going, they need to.  As soon as one note is played you can’t wait for the next.  On and on until it finally reaches a conclusion.  If you pause too long or deviate from the pattern, it’s annoying.  It almost makes you angry.

The end of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” works the same way.  The chord progression is fascinating, but at the same time it puts you on edge.  Without that last resounding chord to complete it, the song would feel wrong.  Unsettled.  The chord itself is a kind of relief.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time listening to music.  Maybe I’ve finally popped the lid off the can of crazy.  Still I really believe there’s something innately satisfying about some pieces of music.  It’s easy to arrange a bunch of notes into a pleasing sound, but every once in a while it goes beyond that.  Something happens that makes the music resonate deep in your mind.  Used properly, it can create amazing songs.  Used wrongly, it can cause trouble.  Like a combination of kryptonite and magic.  Wild, isn’t it?



  1. Holy hell, GnR, Queen, and now Maiden too?

    I looove Infinite Dreams. In fact, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is one of my top Maiden albums.

    I think we need to alternate that way in our lives too. That’s what they say, isn’t it, it’s a series of ups and downs? The world is divided between alternate realities.

    I have to get that book! It sounds amazing! 🙂

  2. Yeah, I’ve been on a classic rock/metal binge lately. I’m a pretty new Maiden fan, but so far it’s awesome.

    You’re right, we do have to alternate, or else we’d go crazy.

    The book is by Gillian Cross…apparently it was published as “Chartbreak” in the UK. Happy reading! 🙂

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