Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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, July 9, 2008

I Love Them Whores / They Never Judge You

The Grand Viz and KT McCaffrey have been rapping back and forth about songs as condensed crime fiction novels – stripped-back and pared-down narratives about losers, loners and the kind of suckers who never caught an even break. Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska could be considered a mini-library in that respect, although there’s a couple of Townes van Zandt (right, foreground) numbers – The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty, and Waiting ’Round to Die – the CAP Towers crew wouldn’t mind reading as fleshed-out tales. It’s been done before – nine years after Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe (1967) hit the top of the charts, Herman Raucher was commissioned to write a novel (Ode to Billy Joe) based on the lyrics, which then went on to become a best-seller.
  Meanwhile, the Grand Viz went stark raving crazy on his holidays and bought two – yes, two! – new CDs, one on the advice of John Connolly – the new Joan as Policewoman collection, on which the jury remains out – the other a best-of compilation from Jane’s Addiction, whom the Viz hadn’t really listened to since his college days but has been playing off the stereo for the last week. Jane’s Addiction, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular pop combo, were a scuzzy, gutter-friendly surfer band of reprobates and ne’er-do-wells who – much like The Pixies – did all the hard work breaking ground only to see some half-arsed wasters (take a bow, Nirvana) steal all the glory. Cheese-wire guitar licks, a seismic rhythm section, Perry Farrell’s plaintively whining vocals, and lyrics to die for (“I love them whores / They never judge you …”) all added up to a speed-fuelled, head-banging package that was just too hardcore for MTV – imagine Jean Genet writing the score to an unusually melodic earthquake and you’re halfway there. What Jane’s Addiction well might prove to be, however, is the perfect retro-soundtrack for a novel currently spinning its web around the darker caverns of the Grand Viz’s skull … we’ll keep you posted.
  Anyhoo, here’s KT expanding on his song-to-novel theory …

“I collect ‘story lyrics’ like others might collect first edition books. Because of my involvement in crime fiction writing, I have a particular interest in lyrics that contain a crime-related plot, tell a self-contained story and provides a dramatic twist or punchline. So, on this visit to my collection, I’d like to share with you some lyrics that supply all the above in spades.
  “The Road Goes On Forever, written and recorded by Robert Earl Keen, packs a punch worthy of a Martin Scorsese movie and has a killer punch-line that’s guaranteed to make all red-blooded males go - ‘Ouch!’”

Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town
She had a reputation as a girl who’d been around
Down Main Street after midnight with a brand new pack of cigs
A fresh one hangin’ from her lips and a beer between her legs
She’d ride down to the river and meet with all her friends
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny was a loner he was older than the rest
He was going into the Navy but he couldn’t pass the test
So he hung around town he sold a little pot
The law caught wind of Sonny and one day he got caught
But he was back in business when they set him free again
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny’s playin’ 8-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken outta towner put his hand up Sherry’s skirt
Sonny took his pool cue laid the drunk out on the floor
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar and walked on out the door
She’s runnin’ right behind him reachin’ for his hand
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They jumped into his pickup Sonny jammed her down in gear
Sonny looked at Sherry and said lets get on outta here
The stars were high above them and the moon was in the east
The sun was settin’ on them when they reached Miami Beach
They got a hotel by the water and a quart of Bombay gin
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They soon ran out of money but Sonny knew a man
Who knew some Cuban refugees that dealt in contraband
Sonny met the Cubans in a house just off the route
With a briefcase full of money and a pistol in his boot
The cards were on the table when the law came bustin’ in
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

The Cubans grabbed the goodies and Sonny grabbed the Jack
He broke a bathroom window and climbed on out the back
Sherry drove the pickup through the alley on the side
Where a lawman tackled Sonny and was reading him his rights
She stepped into the alley with a single shot .410
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They left the lawman lyin’ and they made their getaway
They got back to the motel just before the break of day
Sonny gave her all the money and he blew her a little kiss
If they ask you how this happened say I forced you into this
She watched him as his taillights disappeared around the bend
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Its Main Street after midnight just like it was before
21 months later at the local grocery store
Sherry buys a paper and a cold six-pack of beer
The headlines read that Sonny is goin’ to the chair
She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz
The road goes on forever and the party never ends
  “As one-time Taoiseach Albert Reynolds might say - ‘That’s wimmin for ya.’ If you haven’t heard the song, it's worth a spin. Some of you might be familiar with a version by the Highwaymen (Waylon, Willie, Johnny and Kris). Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of other lyrics that fall into this ball park so if I detect any interest out there, and if Declan’s in the mood, I’d love to share them with you.” – KT McCaffrey

KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP is published by Robert Hale


Conduit said...

Richard Thompson is always good for a crime-based ditty. Two that immediately spring to mind are I Feel So Good (video) about a young man just out of prison ("Now I've got a suitcase full of fifty pound notes/And a half-naked woman with her tongue down my throat"), and another is 1952 Vincent Black Lighting (video) which has too many great lines to quote.

Brian McGilloway said...

Good post, Grand Viz

Like you, I took JC's advice on Joan as Policewoman - my response is fairly much like yours too! Tom Waits is great for narrative songs - crime featuring highly in quite a number - Small Change and ( focusing on the victim) Georgia Lee for starters. In fact, any number of Waits' numbers fit the bill. Christmas Card from a Hooker is a killer too.
How was L Cohen, by the way?

Declan Burke said...

Stuart - Richard Thompson is one of my blind spots, I'm afraid ... maybe this is the perfect excuse to dig him out. Where's best to start? Brian - the credit's KT's, I'm glad to say ... and Waits' Christmas Card is a beautiful example of what I'm talking about. "I wish I had all that money / We used to spend on dope / I'd buy a used car lot / And wouldn't sell any of 'em / Just drive a different car every day / Dependin' on how I feel ..." Genius. Oh, and Lenny Cohen was terrific. Sublime. I never thought I'd be involved in a singalong to a Len Cohen number, and from the look on his face, neither did he. Brilliant stuff. Cheers, Dec

Peter Rozovsky said...

The research staff at Crime Always Pays Towers has apparently been reading the minds of fellow bloggers. Just this week I have been thinking once again about a song I've always thought contained the seed of a great crime story. It's "Ocultei," composed in 1954 by Ary Barroso and recorded by the great Brazilian singer Elizeth Cardoso.

You really need to hear the news from this superb pop/torch chanteuse herself, but suffice it to say that after singing happily amid tinkling piano and sighing accordion-like accompaniment of a lost love and of blocking out a feeling of death, she moves on to declare herself an mere illicit passenger of love. And then, in a great, trembling climax that sounds even better in Portuguese than it does in this humble translation, everything she has blocked out surges forth:

"And my most ardent desire
-- May God pardon me the sin! --
Is that another woman by your side
Kills you
In the hour of a kiss."

Re Richard Thompson, start with "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

John McFetridge said...

Back in my failed filmmaker days I tried to get people interested in a movie version of the Tragically Hips, "38 Years Old."

John McFetridge said...

Also, a Quebecois band called The Box had a kind of noir song called L'Affaire Dumoutier (Say to Me) in the mid-80's that I don't think got much play outside of Quebec - though the song is (mostly) in english:

(this one may be mostly for Peter)

Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, John. I'll take a look, though I was living in the U.S. by the mid-1980s, and I've never heard of The Box. In some ways, I'm as Canadian as apple pie.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Conduit said...

Declan - The two tracks I posted were from Rumour and Sigh. It's my favourite Richard Thompson album, though I think more ardent fans have others.

Peter Rozovsky said...

In re Nebraska, I don't remember if I've mentioned this, but they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly late last night not that far from where I live now.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Donna said...

Bit late here but Country Death Song by The Violent Femmes is a great crime song, and a lot of songs by The Flaming Stars (whose lead singer Max Decharne is a big noir fan). Such songs as New Hope For The Dead, and You Don't Always Want What You Get - songs from the bottom of a beer glass.

Declan Burke said...

Crikey, Donna - The Violent Femmes fairly take me back (great noir band name, too ...). And you've put me in mind, for some reason, of Nick Cave's Murder Ballads ... and The Mercy Seat. That'd make a cracking novel ... Cheers, Dec