Sunday, August 13, 2006


After seeing the picture of my office that I posted here, Fred Kiesche asked me about the CDs lined up above my computer - what are they, and do I listen to them while I work? Mostly, like the fat wedge of Steely Dan, they’re the overspill from the groaning shelves downstairs in the living room, leavened with a bunch of recent arrivals - stuff by The Handsome Family, Richmond Fontaine, Drive-By Truckers, Ali Farka Toure, Roy Harper, Lokua Kanza, reggae compilations... Pretty mainstream stuff, really (the racks of 1920s and 1930s American music are all downstairs).

I don’t listen to much music when I’m doing the first draft, but having familiar stuff on random play on the computer helps rhythm and flow of the endless redrafting (it has to be familiar stuff, so it works mostly on my back brain). The older I get, the less distraction I can tolerate.

Some of my novels have a soundtrack; some don’t. Players doesn’t, because I think that using musical preferences as a short-hand for characterization in thrillers is a bit of a tired cliche - and too often it’s a form of showing-off by the author too.* I suspect that if Summer Ziegler listens to anything, it would be jazz-lite solo singer stuff; she certainly doesn’t slump down in an easy chair at the end of the day and sip bonded bourbon while listening to Dock Boggs.

*I know, I know: I'm guilty of it in Whole Wide World, but the punk thing is supposed to be part of John's voice rather than a quirky character tic. Honest.

On the other hand, Cowboy Angels, which was partly inspired by the idea of the lost, weird America Greil Marcus wrote about in Lost Republic does have a soundtrack. Here it is (the songs on it are either name-checked or hinted at in the text, and appear in narrative order):

Man Gave Names To All The Animals - Bob Dylan
Hook And Line - Hatton Brothers
Acony Bell - Gillian Welch
Kentucky Avenue - Tom Waits
Who Knows Where the Time Goes - Fairport Convention
Wolf Among Wolves - Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
America - Simon & Garfunkel
Romance in Durango - Bob Dylan
Cold Cold Cold - The Handsome Family
Lost in the Flood - Bruce Springsteen
I See A Darkness - Johnny Cash
Slow Train Coming - Bob Dylan
I Dream A Highway - Gillian Welch
Train Song - Tom Waits


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't ever have too much Steely Dan.

August 14, 2006 10:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richmond Fontaine and the Drive By Truckers? Excellent stuff! Have you heard anything by Ray Lamontagne, or Willard Grant Conspiracy, or Songdog, or Slobberbone, or Grandadsdy, or...

Heck, any time you want to talk about Americana, drop me an email :)

And have you seen the DBTs in concert? Superb! :)

August 15, 2006 8:46 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Ray Lamontagne I know and like, Grandaddy, I dunno, I think I've heard one track somewhere, and Willard Group Conspiracy I've heard good things about, but haven't heard. As for Slobberbone ... tell me you're making that up, Ariel. I'm more a banjo and fiddle guy myself these days, but I do dip in and out of Americana. Jim White, now, there's a guy who knows his roots.

I'm not sure what's left of my upper register hearing would survive a DBT concert. Did you see them this year?

August 16, 2006 8:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Grandaddy a lot. I wrote this rave on them for my website:

They've split up now.

This morning I have been mostly listening to Mongolian throat singing, courtesy the soundtrack of Cave of the Yellow Dog.

August 17, 2006 1:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seen the DBTs twice. The first time was the hottest day of the year in 2005, and they played the (very small and poorly ventilated) Academy 3 in Manchester - for nearly three hours. We almost passed out, but it was a bloody good gig, only let down everso slightly by the fact that they didn't have any accoustic guitars with them and so didn't play Danko/Manuel.

Okay, Slobberbone might be a bit on the heavy side, but they have their moments. Grandaddy are much more mellow throughout, and yeah, it's a real shame they split up. Haven't actually heard their last album yet.

Currently chasing some Wilco albums on eBay after I re-listened to their Mermaid Avenue collaboration with Billy Bragg (a collection of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrice set to new music).

And Paul, if you like the old-timey fiddle and bluegrass music, check out The Old Crow Medicine Show. And Two Gallants are interesting, in a sort of mountain-music version of the White Stripes way...

August 17, 2006 5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Paul. Titles of your favourite CDs were very interesting for me.
And I also like album "Slow Train Coming" by Bob Dylan. By the way, he recorded it with British guitar player M. Knopfler from Dire Straits. So this music really could present alternative vision of America.

August 17, 2006 7:28 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Sergey: On another topic, carried over from the spam-plagued message board, do you want to email me? Address is on my web site under contact.

August 17, 2006 8:22 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

For real banjo and fiddle, try the Yazoo Alabama Mountain Music set - a bit pricey I admit, but there are also a couple of standalone CDs from the same label that are just as good (one with the best version of Pretty Polly I have heard). And for real haunted banjo, you absolutely need Dock Boggs (second-best version of Pretty Polly). Sounds like I should check out the defunct Granddaddy - are they are scary-dark as The Handsome Family?

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is mostly pretty good, imho.

Mongolian throat singing? Really? I'm *so* behind the curve... Currently listening to Southern Rock Opera myself.

August 17, 2006 8:27 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Oops, I meant *Kentucky* Mountain Music.

August 18, 2006 8:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grandaddy are pretty laid back and chilled out. The sort of stuff that grows and grows on you after the third or fourth listen. Just bought three Wilco CDs on eBay, so I'll be fixating on them for the rest of the week, all being well...

August 21, 2006 8:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, sorry for delay, I sent you e-mail.

August 22, 2006 8:11 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts