Surrounded by the Sound
is an ongoing project that I edit and produce. It's a series of essays about the music that changed someone’s life in their own words.
The project goes out weekly as an email via tinyletter, and there's an archive of all the past stories on tumblr.
You can read my preface to the project (an homage to the iconic early-2000s prog-rock band, Coheed and Cambria) below, and feel free to click through to read more of the stories from the most talented writers I know.
GOOD APOLLO I’M BURNING STAR IV: A PREFACE
Coheed and Cambria isn’t a band that makes concept albums. They’re a concept band, working across more than seven albums to tell one cohesive sci-fi saga. The one unifying force of the group is their dedication to that saga.
The only problem is, the storyline is completely batshit.
From what I understand, there’s definitely a king and a queen who reign from a futuristic city. They have children fleeing from an assassin named Al the Killer towards a stronghold called House Atlantic, but these children have already been infected some kind of artificial genetic disease that will — if I’m remembering this right — slowly destroy the solar system surrounding Star IV. All of this is happening in the mind and at the desk of a writer with a dark imagination as he writes the story with the help of a talking bicycle named Ten Speed. I’m pretty sure it’s later revealed that Ten Speed is working on the side of the evil characters in the story — since he’s encouraging the writer to kill off the good guys — but I never listened that far. These interweaving stories are told through 5+ minute prog-rock songs with titles like “The Willing Well III: Apollo II: The Telling Truth” and “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.”
The mythology is filled with made-up terms, half-explained storylines, and one-off characters with unclear motivations.
When I discovered it in high school, I was in love.
The first Coheed and Cambria song I heard hooked me because it sounded like the rest of the pop punk I listened to at the time, complete with palm-muted guitar riffs, hand claps, and layered “woah-oh-a-oh” vocal lines. “Blood Red Summer” subtly gets you bobbing your head without revealing its real lyrical content: a tiny fraction of the Coheed saga.
Consuming something as enormous and willfully esoteric as Coheed and Cambria’s lyrics is something that I could have only accomplished as a teenager. That was the point in my life when the hours between soccer practice and bed were spent at my parent’s desktop computer, reading Wikipedia pages and pre-Reddit forums because our rural internet connection wasn’t reliable enough for early YouTube videos. I knew what I liked — doorstopper science fiction like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series or T.A. Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin — but I was too embarrassed to know how to explore those passions as part of my external persona.
Obsessing over Coheed was the first time I found myself poring over hundreds of little articles, interviews, posts, rumors, and photos — getting to know the details that make up a dense, monolithic piece of fiction.
One of the best things about growing up, I think, is finding out that it’s deeply satisfying to like things this way. It’s meaningful to have spent so much time with something you love that your face lights up when you talk about it. Finding my passion for Coheed was the first time I’d discovered that knowing a lot about something inherently uncool actually makes you feel… cool.
From then on, I began to be more comfortable letting myself fully dive into the weird and dense things I loved. Without that first step, I might never have found other worlds that have meant so much to me, like Philip K. Dick, Final Fantasy games, or David Lynch. Things that reveal themselves to you the more time you spend with them, things that continue to gratify the more layers you peel back.
What’s more, it taught me that it’s so enjoyable to talk to someone else about the thing that lights up their eyes — even if it’s just a long fantasia on intergalactic themes, featuring a hell-bent bicycle.
My eyes are shining right now.
Now tell me about your thing.