Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not-so-Sweet Jane

I've posted about mystery and music several times, occasionally chiding Ian Rankin for unimaginative use of the Rolling Stones as a character marker for John Rebus. But Rankin offered some amusing comments on rock music and crime fiction in the Guardian last month.

The article, Sgt Pepper must die!, asked musicians, producers and others to name "the supposedly great records they'd gladly never hear again." It says much about Rankin's popularity that he was the only non-music figure in the article. Here's part of what he had to say about The Velvet Underground and Nico:
"The back of the album says it was produced by Andy Warhol alongside the Velvets, so straight away I'm annoyed. ... And Nico's voice is flat throughout - she sings English the way I sing German. Talk about looks being everything: she was a supermodel trying to sing in a rock band, but she couldn't sing ... "

I also found a critical article in the Telegraph from 2006 about Rankin's radio series Music to Die For. In the series' three programs, Rankin talked about the role of music in his own writing and interviewed other crime writers who make music a part of their work. Here are some selections from the Telegraph piece:

'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.' Sadly, this was not how Ian Rankin opened Music to Die For (Radio 4, yesterday), his series about the way crime writers are using music in their novels these days. He was rather more vainglorious.
and

... the harder questions, such as whether the use of music is not sometimes just lazy piggybacking, if not product placement, and whether or not resorting to it so readily further suggests that crime fiction as a genre is condemned never to be much more than mood music itself, were not raised.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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10 Comments:

Blogger Dave Knadler said...

I've always thought Rankin employed the music thing a bit too often. I've found it distracting, and Rebus' favorite titles frequently at odds with the character I envision.

Good link. I'm using a couple of music tags in my current project, and it makes me reconsider what I'm trying to accomplish.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm not a big fan of how Rankin invokes the Rolling Stones, and I'm skeptical of easy references to rock and pop, as you'll gather if you read my posts on the subject. But Jean-Claude Izzo's use of music is evocative, to pick one example, and Jo Nesbø has lots of fun with his own invocation of the Stones.

I'd say that any author who considers using music as an index of emotion ought to ask him or herself if that is really the best way of getting the job done. It can work, but it can also be easy, lazy and cheap.

And I will try to see if the Rankin radio shows are available through the BBC. I'd love to hear them.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

I'm more practical. I quit using music "tags" because chasing down the permissions had gotten too nerve-wracking.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

How hard is it to get such permissions? An Ian Rankin, say, presumably needs permission from no one to call his books Let It Bleed or Beggar's Banquet; it's my understanding that titles cannot be copyrighted. As far as quotations and citations, I'd assumed, without ever asking, that acknowledging the author and copyright holder was sufficient. Apparently I was wrong. Does a copyright holder have sole and final say over uses and citations of his or her work?

July 10, 2007  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

The copyright holder can also demand money. I've been lucky. Steve Earle's publisher demanded a very reasonable fee for the use of lyrics from The Devil's Right Hand and Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles (after scaring me to death when their assistant said "you know we almost never let anyone do this"-after the book was typeset) finally only asked for a nominal donation to each of their favorite charities for the use of lines from Good Day in Hell. Nice fellows, despite being richer than God.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I seem to recall Don Henley's having lent his name and signed copies of something or other to an effort to restore and preserve Walden Pond. So, yes, maybe he is a nice guy despite the arrogance that occasionally creeps into his solo material.

Is there a standard, informal or otherwise, for compensation in cases of authors seeking permission to quote copyrighted works? Ken Bruen, for one, fills his work with chapter headings from songs and novels. If nothing else, he or his publishers must spend a fair amount of effort seeking permissions.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

I don't care what they say: I like The Velvet Underground and Nico.

Once when I did a pen-name novel and wanted to use some lines from songs, the publishers balked at the expense. So I just used the titles. That's free.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I was given permission to use a section of a song for free. It isn't in the context of emotion, it's a scene where some people are at the bar and a band is playing and she's listening to part of the lyrics. The lyrics do tie to the case in a loose sense - they were part of the influence for the story when I started it. However, the song is about bootleggers back in the prohibition era. The story is (partly) about tracking drug supply.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Bill, I kind of like the Velvets, too, but Nico really was not a good singer. Rather, her flat non-singing was an unfortunately influential example, I think, as interesting and unusual as it may have sounded at the time.

Using the titles is one solution to the question I posed to Sandra: What do you do if you can't get permission to use the words? The question then becomes whether the titles alone are sufficient to do what you want them to do. Did you just use the titles, or did you embellish them with description, e.g., "'Dead Flowers,' with its twangy evocation of self-pity."?

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Sandra: I like the idea of using a song about bootleggers, on whom time has bestowed an aura of nostalgia and fun (yesterday's bootleggers are today's NASCAR drivers), in a story about drugs. It sounds like a subtle, even funny, way of making a point more concisely than a straightforward narrative explantion would.

Now for the fun part of my question: What would you have done had you not been given permission to use the song but still wanted to write the scene the same way in every other respect?

July 11, 2007  

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