Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Music Business

This week, we put to bed the CD that will go into Hodder & Stoughton's edition of The Unquiet. The master arrived this morning, and the artwork will go to the printer this evening, all things going well. It was a long haul: the process of clearing tracks began last August, and we've ended up with 15 pieces of music that I think complement the books and, equally importantly, hang together as a coherent compilation.

Music plays a significant part in The Unquiet, so much so that five of the tracks on the CD (entitled Into The Dark) are related in some way to that novel. In fact, the first words in the book come from a song, "When In Rome" by Nickel Creek. They are:

Where can a dead man go?/ A question with an answer only dead men know. . .

and they're acutely relevant to the plot of the book. The other songs come from The National, Sufjan Stevens, The Czars, and The Delgados. Of those, one is quoted from directly, two indirectly, and the final one plays in the background in one scene. I like the idea that readers will have easy access to those songs, and that they might add an extra dimension to the experience of the book.

There is also undeniably a fan boy element to the creation of such a CD, the equivalent of making a mix tape or playlist for a friend, although in this case it's a playlist for 80,000 people, most of whom I've never met. Yet in every case a certain amount of agonizing went into the selection of the songs. It wasn't enough that I liked a song or an artist: the tracks in question had to reflect something about my books, either lyrically or in terms of mood. I also wanted it to be a little more eclectic than the first compilation, Voices In The Dark, which was bound into the US edition of The Black Angel. For that CD, I very much wanted to create a specific mood, one that was slightly melancholic and suggestive of one crucial element of both Parker's make up and the make up of the novels themselves.

Into The Dark, by contrast, has more specific links to the books in many cases, and the tone is more varied. It was - and continues to be - an expensive exercise, but one that strikes me as worth doing. I hope, at the very least, that those who hear the CD will discover some new music, and may then go on to explore the work of the artists in question in greater detail, while at the same time gaining a slightly different perspective on my own work.

I suppose, by this point, I'm always open to lyrics that might work with the books, just as I keep an eye out for snippets of poetry and prose that I can use. There is a kind of resonance achieved, I think, when one form of creative endeavor is successfully linked to another, the two constituent elements forming something that is greater than the sum of their individual parts. Sometimes, a lyric or a line of poetry will spark a train of thought, becoming a catalyst for a development in the plot that previously might not have been considered. For example, the hooded woman in The White Road might not have made her way into the book had I not read T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and recalled a figure "Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded", and it then seemed important to quote the relevant section of the poem at the start of the book.

At other times, an image from a song or poem will so perfectly complement something that already exists in the plot that it would be foolish to ignore it. Eliot is quoted again in The Unquiet, this time in the form of lines from "The Hollow Men":

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men . . .

In this case, the concept of the "Hollow Men" already existed in my mind, but it was Eliot's poem that gave them their name, and a little of their nature.

Something similar happens with songs. It seemed appropriate that, at a crucial moment in The Killing Kind, Parker should have Jim White's eerie "Still Waters" (also included on the new CD) playing in the background, and he notes in passing White's wonderful lyric: "Well, don't you know there's projects for the dead and there are projects for the living/ But sometimes I must confess I get confused by that distinction . . ." That lyric seemed to sum up Parker's dilemna in a nutshell, and so it made it into the novel.

Anyway, the time is fast approaching when both The Unquiet and Into The Dark will see the light of day, but in the meantime a full track listing should appear on my website in April. While it would have been wonderful to include the compilation with every copy of the book in every territory, it would have bankrupted me. Still, 80,000 isn't bad to be getting along with . . .

This week John read

River God by Wilbur Smith

and listened to

Calenture (reissue) by The Triffids
Regard The End by Willard Grant Conspiracy
Into The Dark (master) by Various


Josh said...

Do you have a specific list of music or a selection of artists that put you in a writing mood? Or perhaps you prefer to work in silence, and music is too distracting? I just figured you must have some favorites since this shows up so prominently.

C. said...

'Voices From The Dark' was a great CD. I still listen to it a lot, in these times of not listening anything for long enough.

Tom Hyland said...

I believe that some people experience images and scenes in their imagination and it is more that the ‘imagining’ is a remembering. Music (when appropriate to the scene) seems to kick start some of these memories and images and sharpen them to the point where you are experiencing along with the character. At least that’s how it seems to me.

John said...

I don't listen to music when I write. In fact, I find any noise kind of distracting, which makes me sound so precious I should be hallmarked. It's often things that are not at all associated with the books or writing that set me off. I was out walking in the Wicklow mountains today, and the woods were still covered in snow. That was useful . . .

Karalita said...

Your novels suggest to me that you might enjoy Richard Buckner's 'The Hill', which is based on Edgar Lee Masters' 'Spoon River Anthology'. I felt this especially as I was reading "Dark Hollow". How about some Calexico? Thank you for the new worlds in your writing.

Karalita said...

(Sorry, couldn't resist commenting again.) John, I really appreciate that you used 'Outlaw Song' as a centerpiece for 'Bad Men'. When I first encountered that song, the story/visions of Crazy Horse seemed to run parallel with the lyrics. I know it's kind of an oblique angle, but if you read 'Black Elk Speaks', I think you'll know what I mean. I envision the outlaw of the title to be a righteous criminal or perhaps a Roma (in the song's original Eastern European context), rather than an evil man. I assume you're referencing 16 Horsepower's version of 'Outlaw Song'? 'Folklore' is such a luxuriant dark sea of an album--really spectacular. I'd love to hear a traditional Hungarian version of the song. Have you? Thanks again.