The Music of Supernatural – Composer Jay Gruska on Scoring the Emotional Series Finale and More

I have long said that the music of Supernatural has had a significant impact on the show – making it memorable and especially giving it the emotional resonance that it had for all fifteen seasons. That’s not something that every genre “horror show” can say, and I’m not sure any can say it with as much pride as Supernatural. The music added so much to the emotional impact of the series finale, so I was excited to talk to composer Jay Gruska about scoring that episode and the emotional episode ‘Despair’, as well as his fifteen years working on my favorite show.

As with many of the  people working on SPN (and another thing that made it so unique and wonderful), the same two composers worked on the show for its entire run – Christopher Lennertz (now working with Eric Kripke on ‘The Boys’) and Jay Gruska. I’ve talked to Jay several times over the course of the show – he contributed to ‘Supernatural Psychology’ for the chapter on music in the show – so I know how insightful he is about how music is used on the show. Chris and Jay tend to alternate episodes, so Jay scored all the even numbered episodes of Season 15, including the final episode, ‘Carry On’, and episode 15.18, Castiel’s goodbye episode, ‘Despair’.

The week before we spoke, I had done a Supernatural music panel at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference with two friends and colleagues devoted to the most recognizable musical theme in the show, ‘Americana’, which Jay composed. We had invited him to do the panel with us, but he was unable to make it due to a family party. Luckily he and I were able to coordinate our schedules for a phone chat afterwards though.

Jay: That’s amazing about the panel, and kinda flattering and sweet. I’m so bummed that I missed it, I would have loved to share my experience from my end.

Lynn: I don’t think that many composers get an entire panel devoted to one single piece of music at an academic conference – but that’s how important ‘Americana’ is to Supernatural fans.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of ‘Carry On’

Lynn: I know you read my review of the series finale so you know that I loved the barn scene even though it was incredibly painful to watch, but it was such a masterful scene. I was talking to Jensen about it recently and said that he and Jared killed it, and also that the music makes it so much more emotional. That whole piece, the piano then the strings, and then the most familiar part of Americana in the middle…

Jay: Right. As you know more than anyone, I try my best to not use Americana just at the drop of a hat. I try to really respond to when a scene is asking for it. I’ve probably made a misstep or two along the way as far as some fans are concerned – I used it once with Jack, but boy, I heard from people right away like hey, he’s not family! And I was like well yes he is to me! But don’t mess with the Supernatural fandom.

Lynn:  So true. We’re passionate, that’s for sure. And some people would definitely agree with that and some wouldn’t.

Jay: But let’s start with those performances (Jensen and Jared). Because I’m gonna be crude right now and say that without performances like that, which don’t come along often, if there’s a scene where someone is not pulling it off? You’re basically polishing a turd with the music.

Lynn: lol

Jay: My job and particularly that scene, which I count as in the top two or three if not the most emotional, well acted, just hearts-on-their-sleeves as actors and as humans moments in the whole run of the show…

Lynn: I agree!

It’s okay, Dean, you can go now.

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Happy Birthday Sam Winchester – We Miss You!

I wasn’t sure I’d do a happy birthday post for my favorite characters this year. Supernatural ended nearly six months ago, and that means the Winchesters haven’t been on my TV screen. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been in my heart, where I’m fairly sure Sam and Dean will live forever. So even though I can’t watch new episodes, in my heart Sam Winchester is having a birthday, and I want to celebrate!

Over the course of fifteen years, Sam became a beloved character to so many of us, thanks to Eric Kripke who created him and Jared Padalecki, who brought him to life. I was fascinated by Sam and Dean from almost the beginning, and over time, through good times and bad times, that fascination only grew. So here’s a post full of reasons of what I love about Sam Winchester, from the start to the finish (at least temporarily, because I’ll hang onto the hope that we’ll see the Winchesters again in time…)  Instead of not doing a post at all, I got entirely carried away and took a trip down memory lane, reminding me of all the reasons Sam is special to me.

One of the reasons Sam Winchester is so inspiring as a character is because he’s been through the kind of trauma and loss that would have most of us flat on our backs and unable to put one foot in front of the other. The first losses come when he’s just a baby – his mother, his home, and his father too – still there but no longer the same man or the same father to his young sons.

Twenty years later, Sam’s at school, with goals and aspirations, kicking ass on the LSATs and planning his future with Jessica. And disaster finds him again, Jessica burning on the ceiling just like his mother did.

The boys hit the road. So young and pretty, so many challenges yet to come.

We experience Sam’s empathy and his strength early on. We’ve followed him on quite a journey in just one year, from the boy who struck out on his own to the boy almost as bent on revenge as his father, and finally to this – the young man who understands that there are things more important than revenge, including his love for his family. Sam goes against his father in a completely different way here, with Sam and Dean on the same page about family and reconnected with each other.

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Two Years Ago – Remembering the Day We Found Out Supernatural Was Ending

This is an odd anniversary to commemorate, but it’s an important one. It sounds melodramatic, but two years ago today my life changed significantly when I got the news that Supernatural was ending. If you haven’t ever been a passionate fan of a show or a film or a book series or a band, you may not understand. If you have, you probably do.

Two years ago today, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins told the SPN Family that Supernatural was coming to an end after fifteen seasons, with tears in their eyes and real emotion in their voices. I still have trouble watching that little video message, but I’m forever grateful that they cared enough to tell us themselves.

So on this March 22, two years later, I thought I’d share what I wrote in the Introduction to the book we put together to remember how special Supernatural will always be, with chapters from the actors and the fans about what Supernatural has meant to them, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done.

I’m just as emotional looking back on that day now as I was when I wrote this…

There are certain experiences that happen in our lives that we will never forget. Psychology even has a term for the memory created by this kind of experience: a flashbulb memory. When something happens that shakes our world especially profoundly, the brain encodes that moment differently, and more vividly, than it does our everyday memories.

Back in the day, a flashbulb was a cube that sat on top of your camera and went off to illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever (it’s now just a light on your smartphone). Our brain, when it records a flashbulb memory, does something similar: it freezes the important, sometimes upsetting moment in time forever. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the emotions of that moment are all preserved deeply. The memory doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose its emotional intensity. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday. We remember the clothes we were wearing, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.

Most often, flashbulb memories are about world-changing events like September 11 or shocking personal news. But they can also be things you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes, something is so important to you that the news of its impending loss hits hard enough to freeze the moment in time. I think that’s what happened to me on Friday afternoon, March 22, 2019, the moment I found out that Supernatural would end after its fifteenth season. That might seem like an odd thing to be preserved forever as a flashbulb memory, and it’s certainly not equivalent to world-changing events, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. And for many people, myself included, this little television show that lasted for fifteen seasons is personally and emotionally important.

When I first heard the show was ending, I was volunteering at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic-Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End with Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit that gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing. I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped by to tell me what Family Don’t End with Blood and Supernatural have meant to her.

As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.”

That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that had been waiting for that news and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. My stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent “Always Keep Fighting” T-shirts and she had bright red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time—as brightly as if lit by a flashbulb—and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s now many months later.

I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video—and as soon as I saw their faces, before they even started speaking, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen, and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, and I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain before I ever hit play to listen to the message. I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.

The video that still makes me tear up:

Jared, Jensen and Misha Announce The Series Ending

Things are different in the Supernatural fandom than they were two years ago. I’ve been dismayed at the animosity and bullying toward other fans that sometimes seem worse now than when the show was actually airing, something I have to admit I didn’t expect. But I’ve also been encouraged by the kindness and support that most fans continue to show for each other. And I love that the Supernatural cast have made it clear that their love for the show and for their characters and for the fandom is not going anywhere.

While a global pandemic has made it impossible for most of us to see our fellow fans or the actors, with conventions and concerts all on hold, I’m grateful for all the zoom panels and Instagram lives and interviews and every other piece of content we’ve gotten from the cast that I miss so much. It eases the loss and makes me feel like we’re all in this together. I’m grateful for all the myriad fanworks that this incredibly creative fandom puts out there to share, from the prettiest gifs to the most heartbreaking youtube videos to fanart and fanfic that can make me cry or smile all day. I’m grateful for every playful bit of fun I run across and every supportive bit of conversation. It reminds me what fandom – especially this fandom – is all about.

I’m grateful for everything and everyone that keeps the SPNFamily alive. And I’m still hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Supernatural.

Fingers crossed.

#SPNFamilyForever

— Lynn

You can remember Supernatural forever with

There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and

Family Don’t End With Blood. Info and links

on the home page or at peacewhenyouaredone.com

 

A Chat with Supernatural’s ‘Dracula’ – Todd Stashwick!

Next up in our Supernatural Spring Break celebration week, another chat with one of the Supernatural actors who made their way into our hearts – this time while dressed as Dracula. Todd Stashwick is a genre favorite actor from so many of my favorite shows, as well as a bona fide fan himself. We met over a decade ago at an early Supernatural convention, and I was so taken by his understanding of fandom and passion for all things geeky that we included that chat in our first two books. When I put together a book to celebrate the legacy of Supernatural as it was ending, I knew I wanted to ask Todd to write a chapter – and I’m glad he did!

At the end of last year, the online There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done book club for that book invited him to drop in and answer some questions about his chapter and the show, and I’m glad he did that too. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, that I was happy to join in on also.

BC: So glad you could join us. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided on what would be in your chapter?

TS:  Kind of you to say (smile).  Thinking about the long road you all traveled down, and looking back at the fact that you all found commonality of experience through the show got me thinking about fandom as a whole and what that means to me.  So I reflected back to what I believe lit the fuse of being “fan” in myself.  How we don’t “become” fans, we notice that we are, we find ourselves innately drawn to certain stories, characters, and franchises because it answers some need inside of us.  It connects us to other people.  It gives us a tribe.

BC: I adore that you have a long history of being a fan of so many things!  My husband is a huge Star Wars fan, but I never experienced that kind of community until SPN.

TS: It’s also not restricted to sci-fi/horror/fantasy.  My mother in her 70’s attended Downton Abbey parties.  We seek like-minded souls.

BC:  When you wrote in your chapter that “We are tribal creatures who use mythology to come together and understand ourselves” – that really resonated.  So true!

Lynn: Yes, that is so much what fandom – ANY fandom – is about.  We seek like-minded souls, and finding them validates us and feels incredibly satisfying.  It’s like a primal need, for belongingness.

TS: Mythology is a way to analyze ourselves, our culture, explain the unexplained, wrestle with death.  It gives us a metaphor to understand ourselves.  Mythology gives us an escape.  It’s really fun.  And horror allows us to field-test fear without consequences.  Like a roller coaster, we tempt fate, death, and come out okay.

Photo: troubledgirl, from There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done

Lynn: Yes – and Supernatural has both mythology and horror.  No wonder it’s so compelling. People always ask me, how did you choose who would write chapters in the book?  A decade ago, I sat down with Todd in the green room at a convention, and was so taken with how deeply he understood fandom that I never forgot it – something he said, “television is our campfire” resonated with me so much I couldn’t get it out of my head.  So I knew I was going to ask him to write a chapter in the last book about Supernatural and its legacy.

TS: It’s (TV is) just an extenuation of our oral traditions.

BC:  I also think it’s so wonderful that someone who is such a fan themselves, and who has such an appreciation for fandom itself, played the shapeshifter enamored of classic monster movies, and with such pathos.  We very rarely see a villain on SPN, especially those with a humorous bent, evoke such a sympathetic response.  I think that moment is one of the reasons it has endured as a fan favorite (for me at least).

TS: It’s what drew me to the role, the high melodrama and the quiet fragility.

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Supernatural Spring Break – Photo Post No. 3 of Kim’s Favorites!

For our final photo retrospective for Supernatural Spring Break week, Kim has put together her thirty favorite photos from Supernatural cons over the years. I have no idea how she was able to do this, because narrowing it down to 30 from so much incredible beauty? I would give up. If you’ve ever stood behind her and looked over her shoulder in a convention hotel room at 2 am and watched while Kim edits her shots and tries to decide which of the hundreds (from one con) to post, then you get what I mean.

Most of the time, my contribution on those late night editing sessions is to periodically distract her by exclaiming OMG GUH!!! when she gets to a particularly gorgeous one. Kim, for some reason, does not appreciate this.

So I’m paying her back by NOT rearranging these photos before this posts. You’re the photographer, Kim, so you get the final say on which of your photos bring you the most joy. I’m just grateful for every single photo you’ve taken, and that you put together the color photo spreads for both Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. The books would not be nearly as pretty if it wasn’t for your contributions, and the photo and art contributions of other talented fans you coordinated too. (Also you wrote a powerful chapter!)

So here, in order of ability to spark joy, are Kim’s Supernatural cast faves – along with her commentary below and some of mine I couldn’t resist adding. Enjoy!

#30 – Misha at the convention in Jacksonville 2016.

Lynn: And Misha Collin’s blue blue blue eyes too!

#29 – Nashville 2019. I love their riffs.

Lynn: Me too. And their smiles. Jensen Ackles and Rob Benedict aka Robsen definitely sparks joy.

#28 – Louden Swain concert in Austin, Texas, 2020. I’m pretty sure this is “Rock Song.”

Lynn: The Swain show in Austin as 2020 began was one of the last times we got to see them play and be with our fellow SPNFamily. It was a charmed trip in so many ways, and the Swain show on my birthday was the perfect way to celebrate. And, I’m in my feelings already…

 

#27 – Saturday Night Special, Nashville 2019. She just has so much fun at these concerts, and it shows.

Lynn: Kim Rhodes putting her inner rock star out there at the Saturday Night Specials is one of the best things to come from Supernatural conventions.

#26 – Literally the best emcee Ever. Dallas, 2019.

Lynn: Hands down. I remember Richard Speight, Jr.’s very first con and how his personality came through loud and clear. When Creation had an actor cancel for their next con and were wondering who could replace him, I said they should call that Richard Speight guy (who we’d interviewed for our first book) because he was a natural for the convention stage. They did, and the rest is history. And the conventions became something they might not have without Richard’s guidance and incredible ability to improvise onstage at the drop of a hat.

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