“The River”

Have you ever heard a song that seems to speak directly to you; that tells you everything about yourself you’ve never been able to verbalize? If you’re a writer, has a song like this ever done that for your writing: capture the essence of everything you were trying to express and say it almost better than you can?

These songs exist, and every once in a while, we’re lucky enough to stumble upon them. For me, the song was “The River”, by Good Charlotte. Good Charlotte was moderately popular in the early 2000’s, some of their bigger hits being “Girls and Boys” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They were a static fixture on American Pie soundtracks–too mainstream for any self-respecting punk rocker to admit liking. I liked them though, which proves how random and eclectic my music tastes are. I often fall into that bland no man’s land between obscurity and popularity–somewhere between a hipster and a Top 40’s Teeny Bopper.

Good Charlotte is still making music, though they’re even less relevant than they were ten years ago. “The River”, off their fourth album Good Morning Revival, wasn’t even a popular single, which basically proves everything I said above. It may have crawled onto a few charts, but it never sparked a revolution. Except for the one in me. The song was released in early 2007, and the day I first heard it is the day I began writing my novel.

“The River” is a song about redemption. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful, tragic and inspiring, as anything about redemption tends to be. The song’s narrator is lost: he has lost something, perhaps himself, and he wanders aimlessly through a world he now finds ugly, trying to find it. Finding it will save him, and he begs to be saved.

My protagonist’s story is one of redemption; it is also my story. What I lost, and what my character loses, is a hero, my uncle David. The year after he died was one of my most difficult. I was incredibly depressed, and found myself in a spiral of self-destructive behavior that seemed to have spun beyond my control. People tell me that with age and experience come perspective, and that as you get older the things that came before seem trivial, less important. It’s true that I’ve had bad periods since then, and I know that my bouts of depression are not the be all and end all, but I still consider 2006 into 2007 to be one of the most trying years of my life. I rose above it though, and I am who I am today because of it.

“The River” isn’t the inspiration for my novel, but I can say that it was the catalyst. I’d written a lot before that point, but I had never finished anything. I had no less than half a dozen novels, started and abandoned. The first complete thing I wrote was a screenplay called Bloodstained, which was shockingly similar to Twilight (I swear I wrote it first!), minus the sparkles and with much better writing. But nothing held my interest. Nothing was true to me, true to my story, and each cluster of half-hearted chapters quickly became like my neglected children. I felt like I was on the verge of something, like there was something just beneath the surface that I wasn’t quite able to express. But then I heard “The River”, and it was love at first listen. It told me everything about what I was going through, and showed me what was missing from my writing. I don’t know how God, the Devil, and the apocalypse worked their way into my novel, but as soon as I began writing about myself, everything fell into place. I loved the song so much that I named my protagonist after it (Rivera), and to this day I still listen to the song every time before I start writing.

“The River” captures the theme, tone, and heart of my novel, and if I’ve done my job right, by the time you finally read it, you’ll feel the song in my own words. So, if you want to know what my novel feels like, check out the song below. Or if punk rock isn’t your style, I posted the lyrics so you can at least know what I’ve been rambling on about for the last 800 words. I hope you’ll listen though, and I hope you’ll fall in love the way I did–just not enough to write a book.

The River by Good Charlotte

As I walk through the valley
Of the shadow of L.A.
The footsteps that were next to me
Have gone their separate ways

I’ve seen enough now to know that beautiful things
Don’t always stay that way
I’ve done enough now to know this beautiful place
Isn’t everything they say

I heard that evil comes disguised
Like the city of angels
I’m walking towards the light

Baptized in the river
I’ve seen a vision of my life and I wanna be delivered
In the city was a sinner
I’ve done a lot of things wrong but I swear I’m a believer

Like the prodigal son, I was out on my own
Now I’m trying to find my way back home
Baptized in the river
I’m delivered, I’m delivered

You’re from a small town
You’re gonna grow up fast underneath these lights
Down in Hollywood on the boulevard
The dead come back to life

To the praying Mother and the worried Father
Let your children go
If they come back they’ll come home stronger
And if they don’t you’ll know

They say that evil comes disguised
Like the city of angels
I’m walking towards the light

Baptized in the river
I’ve seen a vision of my life and I wanna be delivered
In the city was a sinner
I’ve done a lot of things wrong but I swear I’m a believer

Like the prodigal son, I was out on my own
Now I’m trying to find my way back home
Baptized in the river
I’m delivered, I’m delivered

Baptized in the river
(On my own!)
Baptized in the river
(On my own!)
I wanna be delivered

(On my own!)
(On my own!)

Baptized in the river
(On my own!)
I wanna be delivered
Baptized in the river
(On my own!)
I wanna be delivered

Baptized in the river
(On my own!)
I wanna be delivered
I confess I’m a sinner
I’ve seen a vision of my life
And I wanna be delivered!

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