“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Horses And Hounds

The fine detail has yet to be finessed, but it appears that I will be appearing at the Electric Picnic music festival on Saturday week with one Ken Griffin.
  Said Ken Griffin, as all Three Regular Readers will be aware, was kind enough to allow me to use some lyrics from Rollerskate Skinny ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ album. It’s an album I’ve loved ever since I first heard it way back in the mid-1990s, a ground-breaking and earth-shattering piece of work from four Dublin lads that is my perennial contender for Best Irish Album of All Time - and yes, I’m very fond of ‘Astral Weeks’, too.
  ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ was hugely influential for me, and was as important an experience in my becoming a writer as any book or author. At the time I was harbouring ambitions of being a writer, or of writing a novel, at least, but the books I most loved reading were the hardboiled American crime novels.
  And then along came ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’. It was a revelation. The fact that you were born Irish didn’t necessarily mean you had to sound Irish; in fact, you could, if you so wished, sound like nothing that had gone before.
  In retrospect, ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ was perhaps not as unique as it sounded at the time. It stands up, though, and sounds as fresh today as it did fifteen years or so ago.
  Fast-forward to when I was writing SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, and getting badly stuck. By accident, with no preconceived plan, I slipped ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ into the CD player one day. It was a cathartic experience, as if a crack had been hammered in the dam. So much so that ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ became integral to the plot, and the characterisation. If the book ends up with a tenth of that album’s energy, attitude and originality, I’ll be very happy indeed.
  Having quoted some of the lyrics, however, I now needed to get in touch with Ken Griffin and see if he’d allow me to use them, and how much he might charge if he did. When I tracked him down, the answer came back immediately: Yes, and no charge.
  I was incredibly pleased. Not just that I was allowed use the lyrics, but that Ken Griffin, who now lives in New York and fronts the band Favourite Sons, was a very rare kind of humble genius.
  And then, this morning, when I set out to write this piece, the whole deal became just a little bit more complex. Using the search function to track down a quote or two I’d used in SLAUGHTER’S HOUND, I discovered that I gave a talk about my debut novel, EIGHT BALL BOOGIE, way back in 2003, during the course of which I credited Rollerskate Skinny’s ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ with being a major influence on my becoming a writer.
  Further, I discovered an outtake from ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which suggests that I’d been playing ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’ quite a lot during the writing of that book too. For those familiar with the story, Karlsson takes his long-suffering girlfriend Cassie for a midnight drive out to the back of Benbulben, where they climb up to a cave at the top of a valley reputed to be one of the places used by the star-crossed lovers Diarmuid and Grainne. Karlsson carries with him a portable stereo. Now read on:
  I suggest that the valley opens out as if its steep walls were curtains parted by the invisible hands of a damsel distressed in her tower. Cassie is unimpressed. She studies her broken nail. ‘Whatever, K. Let’s just get this over with. And it better be fucking worth it.’
  I shrug, roll a joint. We smoke it. I roll another, then move further back into the cave and set up the stereo on a flat rock. Rollerskate Skinny’s Horsedrawn Wishes is ready to go. I engage the superbass, jack the volume up to 11 and press play.
  The acoustics provided by a cave forty feet high by thirty feet across really have to be heard to be believed. Hermits didn’t live in caves for the central heating. The music booms out past Cassie into the long narrow valley and she jerks, her shoulders stiffening. The valley walls bounce the sounds back into the middle, and there they clash like invisible mediaeval armies. The clanking crash of amour crushed, the whinnies of terrified steeds, the grinding of axe on shield. Bellows, oaths, yodelled screams. This is only the opening track, Swingboat Yawning.
  I sit on the flat boulder beside Cassie. Her eyes are closed. A tear hangs poised at the corner of each. This may or may not be joy made manifest. This may or may not be despair unrestrained. I spark the second jay as Cradle Burns kicks in. It gallops away down the valley like the Four Horsemen startled. Already, far out to sea, the horizon lightens. Somewhere down there in the hazy grey porridge of dawn farmers are waking to discover their nightmares are real.
  One Thousand Couples ignites behind us. It hesitates, gathering momentum like a rocket boosting its afterburners. It explodes. The entire valley rumbles. Cassie shouts something in my ear. I cannot hear her, but she seems happy and so I nod. Speed to my Side begins with a primitive arregligious chanting. My circuits spark, spit and fritz. I trip out. I am gone, streaming past the fading stars, moving at a tangent to time.
  When Bell Jars Away fades into silence, Cassie leans in and engages me in a long, luscious kiss. She opens her eyes, then draws back in mock protest. ‘Hey, you kept your eyes open.’
  I nod. ‘I will never again sacrifice even one opportunity to look upon your face.’
  Her eyes widen. She smiles, lazy and slow. Her eyebrows flicker. More than anything else, my words appear to have aroused her curiosity. I feel a pang in my chest, but this only reminds me of how much I have already purged.
  So there you have it. If you’re around at Electric Picnic on Saturday, September 1st, be sure to drop by the Literary Tent, where I’ll be pretty much stalking the great Ken Griffin, and Ken will be playing some acoustic numbers from ‘Horsedrawn Wishes’, and whatever else takes his fancy. In the meantime, here’s the very fine ‘Speed to my Side’ to give you an idea of what Rollerskate Skinny were all about. Roll it there, Collette …

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