in my Pearl Jam universe
Thursday night, 70°F
Listening to The Rolling Stones, Let It Loose
On August 17, 2016, I made a post explaining why the words of Saint Wozniak’s tattoo were left out of my novel, State of Love & Trust. In short, his tattoo is the first stanza of the Pearl Jam song, Whipping, and therefore protected by copyright. At the time I wrote that post, I was well into the process of attempting to obtain permission from music publisher Hal Leonard. Based on everything I’d read while researching copyright issues, I fully expected it to be too expensive. But I had to at least ask. Those lyrics fit Saint’s reckless, hardheaded character too perfectly for me to not at least try to get them included.
Late this morning, Hal Leonard notified me that they’d grant me the rights for a very reasonable—in fact, surprisingly small—fee. I was tickled. Hours later I am still tickled. In a few days, all copies of State of Love & Trust going forward will include the first stanza of Whipping in the spot on page 4 where it was always meant to be.
I’ve been absolutely over the moon about this all day. I didn’t even get upset when I accidentally dumped garbage water all over my work clothes while hosing the wasps out of the trash can. (It’s a long story.) I just laughed at myself and changed my clothes.
The thing is, I’d read so many tales about how hard-to-impossible it is to include someone else’s lyrics in a novel. How it will run thousands of dollars and never be worth it. How it’s only an option if you’re a Stephen King or a Brett Easton Ellis. How new writers should not even bother. I now have this to say: it depends on which lyrics. It depends on the artist. It depends on the publisher. It depends on the context. If you’re a writer who really wants to include certain lyrics in a published work, at least ask the copyright holder. I’m glad I did. It wasn’t simple or particularly quick, there was some emailing back and forth with the publisher, and at one point I had to send them PDFs of every page that referenced Pearl Jam (now, there was a project). But it was entirely worth it. I couldn’t be happier with the end result.
In addition to Pearl Jam and the kindly Hal Leonard licensing administrator who saw this process through, I need to thank my writing friend Kevin Craig for giving me the courage to pursue this. He once shared that he’d obtained permission to use Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in his lovely work of YA fiction, Sebastian’s Poet, simply by asking. Kevin’s experience was the glimmer of hope that kept me going despite all of the naysaying about using lyrics in novels. I hope that by sharing my experience with this, I’ll pay it forward for another writer.
So, as if that wasn’t enough Pearl Jam joy for one day … When I arrived home for lunch, what was waiting for me on the front porch but the No Code and Yield albums I’d preordered through Ten Club. You better bet I unwrapped those rascals right away and put them on the turntable.
Cover image by author: No Code & Yield on my favorite couch.