Monday, May 22, 2006
Rock 'n' Roll Novels
No-one has yet wrote the great rock and roll novel, says Sean O'Hagan in this week's Observer Music Monthly. I don't think one can argue with that; but it does make me wonder how rarely authors admit to the existence of rock and roll. I've commented before that the musical soundtrack to Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty" seems phoned in by researchers rather than written from memory, which has allowed the TV guys to soundtrack it how it wants - I heard the Passions' "In Love with a German Film Star" anachronistically in the opening scenes, from 1983. If writers can't be bothered to get the soundtrack write, I'm not sure we should trust them on all the other ersatz detail; after all, a song can evoke an era. I look forward to reading David Mitchell's new novel, despite Lee Rourke's misgivings, at least to see whether 1983, a year written strongly in my memory, (favourite single: Trees and Flowers by Strawberry Switchblade, favourite album: Torment and Toreros by Marc and the Mambas) comes alive. Radiohead's "Ok Computer" was a dark, dismal presence in my MA novel "High Wire" (I never liked that album, and yet it dominated 1997, in cruel opposition to the euphoria of New Labour, and almost foretelling Princess Diana's death). For what it's worth, there's been a few decent rock and roll novels that O'Hagan doesn't mention. "Espedair Street" by Iain Banks and "Namedropper" by Emma Forrest come to mind. I'm glad he mentions Tony Parsons' "Platinum Logic" a rewriting of the Phil Spector story, that has mysteriously disappeared from his CV. Also, the best music novel I've ever read is the jazz and heroin drama of Evan Hunter's "Second Ending" (he also wrote "Blackboard Jungle" which became the film "Rock Around the Clock.") After returning to Manchester in 1997, I decided to set my follow up to "High Wire" here, and whereas that had centred around the night that Tony Blair got elected, "All This Scenery"(do you like the Joy Division-ish title?) was entirely set on the night that a feted Manchester band gets back together for a one-off gig, only the off-stage presence of their dead drummer (hey, its fiction remember?), overshadowing the triumphant evening. I never quite finished it - the first, completed half, drawing more than lukewarm responses from agents - mostly: its hard to get publishers interested in novels about music. The novel, of course, was about so much more. But maybe that's why there haven't been many published; and why writers prefer to use rock music as scene dressing or for their titles ("Girlfriend in a Coma"); or why it is more likely to work the other way round: Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship's Heinlein apeing "Blows Against the Empire" (a remarkable piece of space age scifi folk), being given a sci-fi writing award. If I get a bit worked up about the music/lit crossover its probably after having such a dismal experience as last night's Top of the Pops. I rarely catch this; but the shower of 3rd rate no-hope major label shysters was unstoppable: Orson, the Feeling, the Beautiful South (er...it rains in Manchester apparently), a Gnarls Barkley album track about a monster (yes, "Crazy" is great, but that's not a carte blanche for crap), the very Ordinary Boys, and possibly indescribably worst of all, the Breaks Co-op. I don't think 30 minutes of music has ever made me feel so despairing - and I've got records by SPK, Scott Walker, the Cure and Swans in my collection.
Posted by Adrian Slatcher at 11:18 AM