Thursday, November 01, 2012

What, besides the words, makes a noir song a noir song?

Previous posts about noir and crime songs (click the link, then scroll down) elicited suggestions based mostly on what a song says — its lyrics.

But what about how it says what it says — its vocal inflections, its instrumental breaks, its production, its orchestration if you've chosen a piece of classical music? (Yes, classical, perhaps opera especially, can be noir. Think of Carmen.)

What does Shane MacGowan add when he drops his voice on the line "There ain't much else for kids to do" on "Rain Street"? What about the ghostly refrain of "Maria Lando," at first a chorus, separate from Susana Baca's lead voice, joining with her on the words solo trabaja ... Maria only works and never has time to raise her eyes toward the sky?

Think of those noir and crime songs that make you shiver, and tell me what, besides the words, makes you feel the way you do: the arrangement? A chilling flatness or an emotional catch in the singer's voice? Just to make things difficult, what are the literary equivalents of those tools? How does an author produce the effect in a reader that Billie Holiday's voice does in a listener?
I'll be talking about crime and noir songs next week at NoirCon 2012 in Philadelphia. If you don't come to hear my Project Noir Songs, come and meet Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates, Megan Abbott, Duane Swierczynski, Otto Penzler, Vicki Hendricks, and many more. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Film Noir Love" by Jukebox Zeros. It's on their "Four on the Floor" CD (which has a great noir cover).

November 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'll look for a clip or a sample right away.

November 02, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

The double entendres possible in Randy Travis's DIGGING UP BONES make it a candidate. I believe that I've seen a television movie/mystery that opened with the song, but I can't place it, so I may be mistaken.

"Last night I dug you picture out
of our old dresser drawer.
Set it on the table, and I talked to it til four."

This guy can't be too sane. Then he goes to the closet and finds some things, including her negligee. It makes you wonder why, if she simply left him, she would not take her clothes.

And the tone is creepy. "Exhuming things that's better left alone."

November 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sounds like a candidate, and I'll look for a clip of it today. Thanks.

November 04, 2012  

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