Friday, August 10, 2007

More musical notes

Second page, first chapter of Jean-Claude Izzo's Solea, and the protagonist is already listening to music:

"When I came in, Léo Ferré was singing:

"`I sense the arrival
of trains full of Brownings,
Berettas and black flowers
And florists preparing bloodbaths
For the news on color TV ... '"

That's a stunning passage for the starkness of its content, to be sure, but also because of the slight awkwardness presumably introduced by the translation and because of the song's unfamiliarity, at least to me. The last two reasons may be more essential than the first to the passage's success.

Too often, popular music fails as an indicator of character in crime fiction precisely because it's so popular. If it's part of everyone's mental landscape, how can it signify a character's uniqueness? For me, a song can work better in fiction if I don't know it. When that happens, the author and I have to do the work. My experience is not filtered through countless listenings, half-heard snatches, radio, records, background music, television, commercials, ring tones and media hype.

Jim Fusilli has an interesting, ambivalent take on music in his story "The Ghost of Rory Gallagher," from the Dublin Noir collection. The central character is obsessed with the Gallagher of the title, a fiery Irish rock guitarist who died in 1995. That character listens to Gallagher with a passion that I'm guessing Fusilli shares.

On the other hand, the character's grasping, overweening love for the musician is a lampoon of the hysterical worship of rock and roll guitarists that has been around at least since a graffito proclaimed that "Clapton is God." The character is a villain, an unscrupulous trader whose depradations bring ruin to scores of people and who is willing to pay vast sums of money for rare Gallagher recordings. It's easy to read this as a criticism of rock and roll's failed promises of escape, equality, love and justice.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

The mention of any piece of music in a work always sends me immediately to the Internet. It's almost distracting. Yet I have found some of my favorite pieces of music from fiction and blogs.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your thirst for knowledge interferes with your reading.

What I like about Izzo's use of music, in addition to his good musical taste, is that the context almost always makes it clear why he chose that particular piece of music. (I'll try to include some examples when I post a full comment about Solea.) That makes it unnecessary to turn to the Internet or any other reference even when I am intrigued by the music, as with the Léo Ferré selection I cited here. I now want to explore this man's music, but it did not distract me from the novel.

August 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

American Psycho also uses the device of the protagonists love for shallow music as an indication of moral bankruptcy. Now just racking my brain for the particular piece of music involved !

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Please check back in when you do remember the piece of music involved. I'd be curious to see which symbol Ellis chose for the vacuousness of the times. Perhaps your failure to remember proves that he chose well.

I think he used brand names as device to indicate shallowness. Music in this case would be just one more brand name.

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Juri said...

Patrick Bateman listens to Genesis and Huey Lewis and the News. No wonder he kills people. I would, too.

August 13, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There's our American Psycho answer. Thanks.

Those sound like canny choices on Ellis' part. Trashy pop would have been too easy a target, too easy for a reader to feel superior to. But well-crafted, bouncy pop and lush progressive rock -- something a reader might listen to himself without feeling guilty about it -- might make that reader just a bit uncomfortable.

Yeah. I can picture a gruesome murder being committed to "Heart of Rock and Roll."

August 13, 2007  

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