Friday, June 14, 2013

Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Crime Novel After You

There's been a lot of talk lately, both here on my blog and out in the world, about the intersection of crime fiction and music.
For the most part, I vehemently disagree with Adrian McKinty's argument that Crime Fiction is "the new punk". McKinty is a hell of a writer, though, so I'm willing to listen to whatever he has to say. No kidding, he really is one of the best young* crime fiction writers going right now, and his latest book, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, has a great title, so I think we really oughta hear him out, at least, before we dismiss the idea.
Because he's wrong, of course. We've already established that Crime Fiction is the Country Music of literature. Or possibly the Jazz of Literature. Today I'm leaning more toward Country. And, y'know, in his defence, McKinty's Irish, and I think that, especially for people of his generation, Punk Rock** might be the Irish version of Country Music.
But let me prove my point unequivocally. Take this John Prine song, "Lake Marie", originally released on his 1995 album Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings, but really, really, you gotta hear it live (or hear a live recording as below) to get it. I first heard it when I saw him in Regina in, um, 2001, I think it was--no, September 6, 2002. I might have heard it before, it sounded kind of familiar, but I'm almost certain I'd never listened to Lost Dogs at that point, having been fairly content to sequester my Prine listening to his first three records. I remember hearing it in 2002, thinking that it didn't really sound like a John Prine Song as I had come to understand John Prine Songs. It had very little of the playfulness I loved about "Dear Abby" or "Spanish Pipedream" or the in-your-face sadness of "Hello In There" or "Souvenirs". It was too subtle for me, then 25, I didn't get it, and wasn't sure if I liked it.

Nearly a decade later, May 5, 2012, I saw John Prine in Vancouver, in a concert hall that may be about to become a megachurch. I went with my dad, who was in town, who had also been to that Regina concert. I had since become a father myself, three times over. The twins had been born the previous fall and I had worked a 12-hour shift the day of the concert, so I was, I don't know, uniquely receptive to what was going on onstage. I fought to stay awake, didn't always keep my eyes open, but even if I slipped into unconsciousness momentarily, I was with the music. Everything is metaphysical when you've got twin infants. At least it feels that way through the fog of fatigue.

I'm not going to pick the song apart for you here, or even get into what, exactly it means to me, but I do want to comment on the Crumley-esque narrative. Particularly the line:

You know what blood looks like in a black and white video? Shadows. 

I love this evocation, this intimation, that shadows are more terrifying, more gruesome than blood. Blood is knowable, blood is definite and often final. Shadows. Country music, at its best, is all shadow. Same for detective fiction.

*He's about ten years older than me, so when I call him a "young writer", I'm trying to say that I'm a really young writer whose best is yet to come.
**I'll give him this, though, Derek Raymond's Factory novels are Punk Rock. Just ask Joyce Carol Oates

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