Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last Night Everything Broke

It hits you late at night. You're finishing up the dishes, listening to a BBC4 series on European detective fiction or some old Merle Haggard or Wilf Carter you got hanging around. So you throw it up on Twitter.
Sounds good, right? Then Edmonton's great crime novelist Wayne Arthurson (he writes the Leo Desroches books) checks in with
and next thing you know, you feel like maybe you're on to something.

I've been reading a lot of Crumley lately, so, you know, I'm not surprised that I'm wrapping the genres around one another like two ends of a reef knot. This is rattling around in my head a few days later when I pick up The Muddy Forks & Other Things, a small press collection of Crumley's short fiction and non-fiction that I've been picking at like it was someone else's Halloween candy for the last few months, and read his 1990 profile on Clint Black, "Anybody Can Write a Sad Song".

"I can finally admit," Crumley writes, "that for reasons I don't understand, exactly, I have always believed that country music belonged to me and mine.
"Me and mine, of course, referring to those unruly and always tiresome clans of Celtic hill people, people who pretty much refuse to believe in civilization, people who have been making trouble for the civilized world ever since they first painted their butts blue and rolled downhill with the velocity, arrogance, and ignorance of stones, breaking the civilized heart of Pax Romana, firm in their belief in the clan, the blood feud, and their odd, wailing music, pipes and bad, bad drums, wild music designed for love and war, cursed to confuse the two, losing all their wars, eventually, and most of their love, the keening cry of the permanently dispossessed, outsiders proudly bemoaning their fates..."
Obviously, those are my people too. The triple Celtic knot of my first, middle (none of your business) and last names has doomed me to one of three possible career paths: writer, country singer or shamus. Some combination of all three would be lovely, really, but I'm not holding my breath--despite requests from those who've heard me sing.
In the space of a paragraph, Crumley admits to liking both X and Reba. Reba McEntire, huh, I may have to reconsider in this light. Gotta admit I really only know of her as the star of Reba. But, y'know, she was good in Tremors--good as anyone else. And X, well, X is maybe the most Country Music Punk Band in Country Music Punk Band history.

But, uh, Detective Fiction and Country Music. You know, it's not an exact parallel. Oh, it's fun to play at like, James Ellroy:Merle Haggard, Patricia Highsmith:Patsy Cline or, uh, Lee Child:Blake Shelton, but that's where I want to take this. I mean as a whole, not as any individual moving parts. But, Emmet, you don't get to have the whole without all the individual parts, you ninny.
Okay, right, this is about Genre or maybe more precisely Genres I Happen to Like, so obviously they're the same thing, because my aesthetic values are inflexible.
Country Music and Detective Fiction--first of all, I guess I must love them both as genres, and as such am curious about everything that goes on within them. The excellent writer David Cantwell once said something like “Country music was never as much a chronicle of rural life as an ongoing, post-migrant eulogy to that life.” That always sounded awfully Noirish to me. And I think, in a way, that Detective Fiction is a eulogy to a life as well, a lament for the post-industrial fuck-up in which we live, a metaphoric record of how gutless and greedy we could be.
But as much as I love both genres, what I love the most, I think, is watching/hearing them get snapped over someone's knee. Or twisted around a tree like a cartoon bodybuilder might do to a No Parking sign. On a record or on the page, I love the sound of breaking glass. I love the sound of expectations thwarted. As the California Writer Antoine Wilson said:
I like it when masterplans go wrong—when humanity in all its forms asserts itself against rigidity and misguided ideals.

BUT, y'know, I love those misguided ideals too. You have to love and understand them intimately if you're gong to thwart them with any power. I love Maigret and I love George Jones as much as I love Nathan Larson and Danny Barnes.
 I can't find it anymore, but I read something Jerome Charyn wrote, writing advice, about how the thing to do is do build your own canon, your own pantheon, study those masters who appeal to you, and that's how you figure out what it is that you've got to do. I don't know, I think I remember it wrong or I'm misapplying it--two things I'm good at.

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