“I’ve tended to incorporate music and song in all of my books to date. I love the idea of having a soundtrack in the background to add that extra degree of atmosphere and encapsulate a special moment in time. I do believe my crime fiction writing has been influenced by certain tunes, lyrics that I’d been exposed to before reaching my teens. I’ve had this almost irrational fascination with song lyrics for as long as I can remember. Back when I attended national school in Clara, Co. Offaly, there was a great colourful Wurlitzer jute box in town that stocked many American Imports and had that great booming bass sound you only get with jute boxes. This was at a time just before the Beatles came along, a time when pop music was in the doldrums.
“Each day during lunch break I’d sneak into the Bon Bon shop and drop my coins into the slot, press the required numbers and watch the discs being picked up from a rack and flipped on to the turntable. One of the song from that period to take hold of my senses, and create film-like imagery in my head, was ‘El Paso’, by Marty Robbins. What I found so extraordinary about it was its ability to portray such vivid pictures in so few words.
“These first few verses illustrate what I mean:
Out in the West Texas town of El Paso“See what I mean? For me, as a ten-year old, the imagery in the lyrics had the kind of impact a Coen Brothers movie might have on me today. Another song that I played to death on that old Wurlitzer, and that made a similar impression on me, was Lefty Frizzell’s ‘Long Black Veil’. Here again, in just a few lines, and in less than three minutes, the whole gamut of love, the eternal triangle, and murder, is delivered in spades:
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Night-time would find me in Rosa’s cantina;
Music would play and Felina would whirl.
Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina
Wicked and evil while casting a spell
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden;
I was in love but in vain, I could tell
One night a wild young cowboy came in
Wild as the west Texas wind
Dashing and daring,
A drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina,
The girl that I loved.
So in anger I
Challenged the right for the love of this maiden
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore
My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor ...
Ten years ago on a cold dark night“Artists like Johnny Cash and Mick Jagger have since recorded versions of Long Black Veil, so obviously I’m not alone in being moved by this simple but evocative song. And talking of Johnny Cash, he, more than most, had the ability to cut a story down to a mere handful of words, while still creating a powerful impact, eg: Folsom Prison Blues:
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were a few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.
The judge said son what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else then you wont have to die
I spoke not a word though it meant my life
For I had been in the arms of my best friends wife.
The scaffold is high and eternity near
She stands in the crowd and sheds not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold wind blows
In a long black veil she cries o’er my bones.
She walks these hills
In a long black veil
She visits my grave
When the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me.
When I was just a baby“Yes folks, these are but a few of the songs that set my toes tapping and the cine-camera inside my head whirring. My taste in music has moved along and I love some of today’s output, but my heart remains captivated by those early memories from the late ’50s and early ’60s. There’s a whole bunch of similar story songs of crime and passion that would take up too much space to reproduce on CAP blog but if any of you are interested, you could do a lot worse than google songs like Open Pit Mine by George Jones, Saginaw Michigan by Lefty Frizzell, or Dolly Parton’s The Carroll County Accident.
My Mama told me “Son,
Always be a good boy,
Don’t ever play with guns,”
But I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him die,
When I hear that whistle blowin’
I hang my head and cry.
“There might even be an idea there for a good crime fiction novel there …” - KT McCaffrey
KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP is published by Robert Hale