MUSIC AND WRITING
Nicholas Blincoe recently did a piece for The Telegraph about writing and music, in connection with an anthology of short stories based on the music of The Fall. He used just a little bit of what he asked me, so I'm reproducing the full interview below, with his permission.
Do you think that novels, fiction etc occupies the same kind of terrain as music, or are they very different worlds?
Music is more immediate. It can appeal to the intellect, but it is distinguished from other media by its emotional intensity. But I do think good fiction strives to achieve the same effect as good music--to be effortless in transporting the reader into some other place or emotional state.
For music to be of interest to a writer does it have to have some special attributes. For instance, authenticity? a distinctive voice?
I have to have lyrics. Doesn't matter if they even make sense, so long as they make sense in combination with the music they're attached to. And the music has to have changes in it, or it has to, as The Fall do, use repetition to create change. Authenticity exists within the confines of the song itself, not in the background of the musician. I think in music, the "voice" is actually the music itself. In writing, "voice" is the style of writing. So in a sense, style in fiction is the music, with the lyrics being the narrative.
Are some genres of more interest than others? For instance, is pop or hip hop too young or too ubiquitous or too consumerist? Is Folk or Country and Western (say) better because it's more rooted or deals with mature interests? Or the other way around (pop says more about our world, because it is part of our world, for instance).
We're living in a cross-genre world--everything's getting mixed together, sampled, re-cast in different contexts. Both in music and in literature. The reason for that is that the world we're living in is getting more and more absurd, superficially complex, and desperate. The only way to make sense of it, to try to get at something universal, is to blend styles of music, to blend styles of fiction.
Who is a literary rock star or musician? Does this make them better or just different to other musicians?
Literary rock stars and music rock stars are just trading off of their sex appeal, basically, their charm or swagger. This is completely unnecessary to most forms of fiction writing, and has nothing to do with that writing. In music, on the other hand, because of the nature of live performance, this kind of swagger or sex appeal is indispensible to certain kinds of music. I think this is one major difference between fiction and music. Also, I think writers tend to adopt or exploit wagger and sex appeal more cynically than musicians. The result is that, unfortunately, mediocre writers often through charm alone get better notices than the ugly or socially inept ones.
The sixties seemed to bring a convergence of music and poetry, art and literature - at least for a lot of writers. Was this an unusual/unique era? Or is it more unusual now, when they have drifted further apart?
I think, again, this is a cross-genre period. House of Leaves, Danielewski's great novel, has a soundtrack. McSweeney's magazine out of NYC has blended music and fiction. My last novel, City of Saints & Madmen, has a whole CD of experimental music devoted to it. And I'm working on a dramatization of part of my next novel that will be a short film with a soundtrack.
Do writers envy the rock and roll life style?
Any writer with a few books out can emulate the rock and roll life style if they choose to. But let's face it--while a band can lurch on with a couple of members out of their minds on coke and still make decent music, a writer is a band of one. If he or she is out all the time partying and doing drugs and having promiscuous sex, exactly who is doing the writing? I had a friend who used to write novellas. Then he started doing drugs. Slowly, his stories got shorter and shorter. Finally, he was doing one-paragraph-length stories and justifying it by saying he'd created a new art form. Bukowski and other hard-liver-drinkers-druggies are exceptions to the rule. And the rule is: to be wild and edgy in your writing, be prudent and conservative in your private life.