I'm currently in a fascinating discussion with Sean Chercover over e-mail about what's wrong with the P.I. genre and why people obsess over the tropes when they're not really used as tropes. Chercover is a hell of a nice guy, down to earth and very serious about what he writes. Plus, the dude sent me a great Christmas card. Thought you'd all enjoy our thoughts, more as the conversation progresses.
I was talking to David Montgomery yesterday and we were talking about things we see too much in detective fiction, one thing we agreed on was Jazz. Now, I like Jazz, Its lovely and often great atmosphere music, and Miles Davis's Doo Wop is one of my favorite CDs ever, but where are the 30-40ish aged detectives that listen to funk, rock and soul?
So my question is, will your own musical taste bleed into Dudgeon's world besides jazz?
Great topic, and one which people (including me) feel very strongly about. Please feel free to share my response with David, if you think he'd be interested.
First, let me talk about Ray's tastes, then I'll address the Jazz issue.
In BC,BB Ray quotes two lines from Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, and makes another reference to Keith Richards. He assaults Booker Washington to the song World Is A Ghetto by WAR, and says he knows the song well (in fact, I used the lyrics in the manuscript but the band would not grant me rights because they read the scene and didn't want to be "promoting violence"). In the parking garage waiting for Frank DiMarco, Ray tests himself to see if he can remember the complete lyrics to some of his favorite songs - Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan, Stepping Razor by Peter Tosh, and Home of The Brave by Lou Reed. At Gravedigger's place, he listens to Running Away by Bob Marley & The Wailers. Driving to DC, he buys some CDs and listens to them in the car - Al Green, Jimmy Buffett, Moondance by Van Morrison (which reminds him of a previous girlfriend), and Little Richard (he even sings along to Keep A Knockin'). In a restaurant in Washington, he listens to Chopin. On the way down to Georgia at the end of the book, he puts Bob Marley's Uprising into the CD player.
Those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head, without consulting the book. Oh, and I also mention The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band.
And the title of the book is made up of two blues songs - Big City by Luther Allison, and Bad Blood by Son Seals.
That's a pretty wide range, including Rock, Funk/R&B, Soul, Reggae, Folk-Rock, 50s Rock & Roll, Blues, and Jimmy Buffett (who is his own category). And during an early scene in his apartment, he talks about being an obsessive music fan. Says he's got over 1,000 CDs, and mentions that he has a bunch of Cajun music as well, and a little classical.
But do I ever hear anything about Ray's wide-range of music? Hell, no. All I get is the accusation that I tried to cop some cheap cool for Ray by making him a Jazz fan.
Yes, in addition to all the types of music mentioned above, Ray is also a big Jazz fan (as am I, obviously). If Ray ONLY listened to Jazz, I could understand the accusation. But the jazz references in the book are far outnumbered by non-jazz references.
I do not get why people only remember the jazz references (including a couple of reviewers who took me to task for the jazz). And I do not get why people seem to have declared, "There shall be no more jazz in PI fiction." I see no reason why a man in his 30s-40s can't be a jazz freak. I am, as are many of my peeps.
Yes, previous fictional PIs have been jazz fans. But I don't think most of the authors were trying to make their PI 'cool'. Some, yes, but not most. I just think the music spoke to them and they thought it would also speak to their PI. Previous fictional PIs were also drinkers (as are most of the real-life PIs I've known). Does that mean that all future PIs should be non-drinkers? Previous fictional PIs had relationship problems . . . should all future PIs be as happy as Spenser and Susan? Truth is, it's a shitty job and it tends to lead to drinking a lot and troublesome relationships. Maybe the authors are just trying to be true to that.
But I've been stung by the jazz criticism (as you can tell). In TRIGGER CITY, I actually went so far as to have Ray talk about how he can't listen to jazz much, these days. And the music references in the new book include Dylan (again) and Marley (again) and The Cure and XTC and Hound Dog Taylor and Son Seals and Stiff Little Fingers and Iggy Pop and David Bowie and The Cars and Sly & The Family Stone and Saul Williams and a whole bunch more...
But I bet I'll hear about the jazz again, even though there's very little of it in the book.
Long email. I hope I didn't bore you, and I'm glad you brought it up. If you have any insight into why readers only remember the jazz references when they're outnumbered 4-1 by non-jazz references, please share.
Why do you think people are sick of jazz, when they're not (apparently) sick of PIs who drink? I mean, I totally understand when the ONLY music mentioned is jazz, or when it feels like the author isn't really into jazz but is forcing it into the story for "coolness". Believe me, I hate that too (just as I hate it when the PI is a drinker but I get the sense that the author has never been a drinker and is putting on a pose because he thinks he has to conform to some 'hard-drinking PI' cliche). But I mean, when it is one of many types of music referenced?
What other things do you guys feel are overused in PI fiction?
And yeah, Doo-Bop is a great album. I love it, but Ray doesn't care for it. Ray's taste in music is wide, but not as wide as mine. And Ray doesn't listen to any Miles after Decoy. Which is too bad, because he's missing out on Tutu and Doo-Bop - both great albums, and a bunch of lesser stuff that is still worth a listen.
Jazz is remembered mostly from detective books because its such a trope. We, especially the guys that have to write about the books, expect to see the tropes and when we do, we tend to recall what we're expecting more than what's actually there(And I did catch a lot of the music references, but the jazz, because I expected it, stuck out, sorry about that and I hope my e-mail didn't have an accusatory negative tone). Music is often done badly though, like the writer just inserts it to add character to their protagonist. I don't believe for a second that Billingham likes country(though he says he does, it doesn't feel like it), and just had his protagonist Thorne like country for the weirdness factor of an Englishman loving such an American music. Drinking is more accepted, I think, because tons of people in high stress situations do it. Few have done it well. Ken Bruen and Block are the best, and Bruen took a LOT from Block's Scudder for Jack Taylor, one reason I can't wholly love those books, good as they are.
I hate the fancy car. Good God. Especially when used regularly when working on a case. I grin and bear it when Mark Coggins has August Riordan tool around in a Galaxie 500(And I love Coggins). I like the psycho sidekick-when it makes sense-but in worlds like Ray's, Scudder's, or Jack Taylor's, they don't make sense, so I was happy one didn't show up in yours. All Gravedigger was to me was a very sad and disturbed individual. I think New York is owned by Block, and is pretty much done to death, so I'm happy you use Chicago.
I'll die a happy man if real estate scams are put away for awhile. Same with ex-cops turned private investigators(Bonus hate if they left the force disgraced). Don't much care for detectives that don't like modern technology, as a former reporter, I'm glad Ray isn't part of that club and recognizes the importance of computers and cell phones.
I like that Ray is a struggling to quit smoker rather than drinker. That's a nice and different detail.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, and I'm a little ashamed that I elevated Ray listening to jazz to a level where I was thinking that's what he mostly listened to.