Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on music

Sandra Ruttan posts a detailed, thought-provoking reply to yesterday's post about Ian Rankin, rock and roll and crime fiction. She jumps all over the Telegraph article that criticized Rankin's radio show about music and crime fiction, and she makes a persuasive case that the article's author did not do his or her homework.

Sandra is a bigger Rankin fan than I am. She also uses music in her own fiction, so her words carry extra weight. "To me, anyway," she writes, "music is natural atmosphere." She's right, of course. The question is whether fiction — an artificial creation, after all — has a natural atmosphere.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I typed up a lengthy comment and lost it... Isn't that always the way? I'll see if I can recapture it when I get home.

But one thing I should explain is that I'm a stickler when it comes to ethics and journalism. Having been in that world, and having sat in classes where I was taught to write scandal pieces, I have a strong knee-jerk reaction to some "reporting". I hadn't noticed the trend you mentioned on my blog re: UK newspapers, as when I have read reviews they usually identify the author/book and the reviewer. Then again, how often do I read an assessment of a radio program? Not often. Here we have a trend to sensationalize every news story and try to spin the human interest out of hard news, and it bothers me. I see evidence on a routine basis that there are a lot of people who don't make the distinctions you and I did about the article being an opinion piece... And I've pounced on reporters before for inserting opinion in hard news.

Now we add blogs to the mix, with so-called industry blogs being branded with some level of respectability and yet inserting opinion all over the place, selectively reporting based on personal preferences... I mean, I find reading Gawker to be a riot most days, but don't take it that seriously.

As to your very interesting question, I'm already forming a response that could end up on my blog... But I'm going to the Calgary Stampede tomorrow (where I expect to hear a lot of music!)so it may have to keep until Friday.

Sandra

July 11, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS I don't use music in my writing as much as you might think. In 400 pages I'd be surprised if there were even half a dozen musical references in SC, but I could be forgetting some. For all the time spend at Lara's house I don't think there's a single occasion where someone turns on the radio or a CD there. And she doesn't have a TV.

I can see why some might find the music a bit much in the Rebus books - after all, there's an entire website devoted to listing the musical references in the books. It just never got to me.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I've lost comments, too. It's no fun.

I suppose the discussion of Music to Die For should have included the reviewer's name, if only for the sake of openness and transparency. There is probably a greater need for those qualities in these days of industry blogs and sponsored news coverage. I was only saying that it did not bother me that the piece expressed an opinion. (This is quite apart from any factual errors, such as the one you cited. That sort of thing is inexcusable in any kind of writing.)

As to your response to my interesting question, I've been formulating some thoughts of my own — or should I save them for our great debate?

With respect to music in your own writing, your thoughtful comments make me want to read your fiction. That makes your blog an ethically impeccable, mutually beneficial and highly satisfying mode of self-promotion, I suppose! And that Web site about musical references in Rankin's books is one of the curses of his insane popularity. I hope I don't hold that against him.

Enjoy the chuck-wagon races.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah, maybe we should save it for our great debate!

And I'm tempted to say 'wait for the Canadian novels' when it comes to reading my stuff. The musical selections are actually very carefully considered in those manuscript. And they're also largely Canadian, something I couldn't get away with and be realistic with SC because of the US setting.

The selection of music I have permission to quote in one work is from Corb Lund's Five Dollar Bill. It is my most obvious musical pull, and the only time I've sought permission to use lyrics. In order to make it believable I put the person in a bar, listening to the band perform. Corb was very cool about it and only asked for a few copies of the book.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Ye gods, you could help keep me in touch with my Canadian roots. After many years in the U.S., I find myself saying "zee" instead of "zed."

Spreaking of music and Canada, some years ago, on a visit to either Toronto or Montreal, I heard a band called, I think, "49 Acres" perform on TV. I liked their music. Do you know anything about them?

July 12, 2007  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

Don't know whether you'd picked up on the interesting interview Rankin did for Observer Music Magazine a while back (which is available on line via The Observer newspaper website, I think). He was fairly unashamed about using his books to promote his own musical enthusiasms. And why not, I suppose. As the possessor of an unfeasibly large CD collection and a well-stuffed iPod, I'm sceptical about the value of musical references in fiction. I'm not clear how it adds to the atmosphere, unless the reader happens already to be familiar with the music in question. Perhaps John Connolly has the solution - give away a free soundtrack CD with the book. But it might just be that I'm bitter...the scope for me to include (non traditional) music references in my Mongolian series is limited, since one of the biggest Western musical acts in Mongolia is supposedly 1970s UK popsters, Smokie - and referencing them never did anything for your rock credibility...

July 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Michael, I just found what might be the interview you mean; thanks for calling it to my attention. It was published in 2004, and it begins with the writer opening Rankin's CD cupboard, so I'd say you're right about Rankin's being unafraid to promote his own musical enthusiasms. As you say, why not? The question is whether it works, and I'm not sure it does in Rankin. Of course, I'm not the world's biggest Rankin fan, so maybe I'm prejudiced.

I'd say musical references can work both if the reader is familiar with the music, or if the opposite is the case. Some of Jean-Claude Izzo's work for me precisely because I'm unfamiliar with them; they add to a sense that Marseilles is a new, unfamiliar and exciting. Of course, his references are more than just references. He makes music a part of the setting more than most writers do.

Ah, cripes. Why don't I come right out and admit that I like Izzo's musical references better simply because I think the music he mentions in his books is better and more interesting?

And something weird like a 1970s pop act could be just unexpected enough to add an unusual touch.

July 12, 2007  

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