Tag Archives: music

Straight into Darkness

Yesterday, Tom Petty died. The frantic media rushed out with the news, then walked it back, and now finally confirmed it. I am tremendously sad at the loss of this artist whose work I have loved.

I’m not the right person to speak to his place in musical history, but in my own story his part looms large. With The Tragically Hip, his tunes were the ones I played most often all through university and have continued to listen to right up to the present day. I think I like him for many of the same reasons I like the blues – most of his songs are about things we all have experience with. Feeling like an outsider. Being let down by people you care about. The world being a place that keeps pushing you around. Petty’s lyrics are clever and fun to listen to, his music strikes me as more down to earth than anything else, and he has been among my musical companions through a lot of good and bad times.

Music has, at times, a special ability to make good times feel better and bad times not feel so bad, and Tom Petty has done that for me time and time again. Thanks for the tunes, Mr. Petty.

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Even as the artists we love sometimes leave us, there are always new ones out there to discover. I have recently started reading The Bone Mother by David Demchuk, and although I’ve hardly cracked the thing I’m already very impressed by the quality of the writing, his skill with creating mood and conveying a sense of a time and place. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this book and need to stop myself sitting up stupidly late reading it.

Demchuk’s writing is also, undeniably, horror. From time to time I stray into thinking that what I write could be considered horror, too. Then, I will read the work of a real artist of the genre (among which I feel perfectly safe including Demchuk, already) and be reminded, that no, it really isn’t. ‘Supernatural thriller’ is a pretty fair label for my books, perhaps even ‘urban fantasy’, but they’re not horror. I hope they’re entertaining, and I hope perhaps there are some scares in there, but the stories are not horror stories.

What do you need for a horror story? It’s hard for me to really put my finger on it. In some ways, it is one of those ‘you know it when you see it’, or read it, moments. You will never have any doubt when you are reading a horror story, or watching one, or in one. It goes beyond just being frightening (because fantasy and SF can both cause fear, without being horrifying), and it doesn’t necessarily involve gore or violence. (Some good horror does, lots of stories splash blood everywhere without being the least bit horrifying.)

It’s very hard (for me, anyway), to define usefully. One thing that I think good horror has is a disturbing quality. There’s something about the characters, the situation, the resolution in a horror story that is pervasively unsettling. It challenges your comfortable assumptions about people and the world. It makes you question things that you wouldn’t ordinarily question. There are, of course, almost inevitably monsters, but the monsters may not be the real problem; it’s what the monsters reveal about ourselves and the worlds that we have built.

I think good horror makes us look at places that we’d prefer not to. That’s why it’s unsettling so much of the time; a good part of your being is telling you to look away, and you’re resisting that. Horror fiction makes you think about things you ordinarily wouldn’t.

Now, the scares are there, too. Part of the joy of horror stories is the joy of the roller coaster: the feeling of danger while knowing, ultimately, that you’re safe. The ride will end. You can close the book.

Where I think really good horror hits hard, though, is that it takes you to places, and makes you think about things, that don’t entirely go away when the book is closed. It’s made you at least reconsider some things that you would have preferred to consider immutable. It’s made your mind wander down a couple of dark and twisty paths that you would have preferred not to tread.

I’m not sure that I’ll never write a horror story, but reading The Bone Mother reminds me that no, I haven’t done it yet. I do love reading them, though.

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Of course, the real horror story is what happened in Las Vegas on October 1st. I have, I think, nothing at all to say except that the violence is awful and the loss of life overwhelmingly sad. I don’t think I will ever understand the ‘thing’ America has with guns, and as an outsider it’s not a debate I can usefully be part of. There are lots of points of view that I disagree with, but I can at still understand where they’re coming from, and thus have some idea how to start to engage with them. In this case, though, I see people posting on friends’ social media that ‘you’ll never take our guns, and God help you if you try’ and I just don’t understand it at all. I think gun violence in the United States can never really be solved as long as that mode of thinking stays so vital to so many people, but I also just feel, as I always do, that we have to stop killing each other.

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S.M. Carriere wrote a lovely review of The King in Darkness. You can read it here.

We’re under two weeks away from Can*Con! I’m so excited about this and looking forward to what I think will be a fantastic weekend for readers and writers of SFF. Details and registration here.

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Leonard Cohen

Tonight, at the end of a week that has already been a pretty rough ride, we got the news that Leonard Cohen has died.  For a lot of us this is another blow, although I’m trying not to be too sad as I write this tonight.

Cohen lived, I think by any standard, an incredible life and from an interview he gave not long ago it sounded like he was at peace with nearing the end of it. He sounded to me like a person looking back at work well done, and I hope that’s true. I also like, and admire, that he kept producing his art right up until the end. Although a lot of his work was melancholy in tone (to say the least), my impression (not having met him, of course) is that the art was essential to him and a joy to him and I’m glad he never stopped doing it.

I’m not in any way qualified to comment on Cohen as a musician, but the man had a gift with words. He wrote lyrics, or poetry, or both, that stick with you and appealed to such a wide range of people. Other artists love them and want to make them their own. His audience has been massive, and it’s bigger than is frequently recognized. It’s kind of similar to Shakespeare – even if they don’t necessarily realize it, just about everyone knows a Leonard Cohen song, or part of one.  It’s hard to do much better than that.

As a writer, I am deeply awed by his skill with words and his ability to reach into you with language and yank a reaction out of your heart and soul. If I ever write something that is one tenth as good as a Leonard Cohen lyric, I will have done about as well as I could ever hope to do.

As a fan, I’m glad we had him with us as long as we did and that his art will live on.

It’s a great loss that there won’t be any more of it, but he leaves us a great treasure of words.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen.

Rest well.

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B. B. King

Today I woke up to the sad news that B.B. King has died.

I should say, before I write anything else, that I am far from an expert on music and not a music historian. But I do really dig the blues, and so this kind of hit hard.

I didn’t get into the blues until pretty late in life. I had a sort of vague idea that I might like them from a few individual songs I had heard here and there and pieces of movie soundtracks I had thought were cool. Finally one afternoon, and I don’t remember why, I decided to find out. I went to the library and checked out a CD (I suppose I could make myself sound even older by claiming it was a recording on a wax cylinder, but a compact disc it was) of blues classics, took it home and saw how it went.

I really, really liked it.

There were three artists in particular that grabbed me. One was Muddy Waters. One was Taj Mahal. And the other, of course, was B.B. King.

I don’t know enough about music to really talk about his technique on the guitar, although I know he did it very well. There’s emotion in his playing that you don’t have to be very well musically-educated to hear. His voice, though – sometimes it sounds achingly tired and world-weary, sometimes it kicks tremendous ass, and sometimes it will make you smile even if you didn’t think you would. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have an instrument like that, but it’s an amazing thing.

When I was a kid I didn’t understand why people would like the blues. I basically understood (or thought I did) that they were songs about sad things and I couldn’t get why you would want to listen to music that made you feel sad.

The thing is that they don’t, for some reason that I don’t completely understand. There is a lot of heartache in the blues, very ordinary kinds that are easy to identify with because we’ve experienced most of them. When there isn’t enough money. When your landlord is a jerk. When the person you love doesn’t love you. B. B. King said the blues were about people bleeding the same way he did, and I sure can’t improve on that.

Somehow listening to music about pain you can understand magically makes whatever troubles you’ve got in your life that little bit easier. Maybe it’s because it tells you you’re not alone. When the road gets hard, there are at least other people on it with you. And that helps.

There are, of course, songs that fall into the ‘blues’ category that are full of joy and happiness, ones that are more about anger than pain, and ones that are just fun. Somehow, and again you need a better educated guide than me to explain why, it all comes back to the core of tough times and surviving them in the end, though.

So I really do love the blues, listen to the music just about every day, and one of the first artists who I learned to love in the field was B.B. King. That he was, by all accounts, a wonderfully nice man, and a man who fought up from poverty and past narrow-minded bigots to become the King of Blues, only gives me more reasons to admire him. Heck of a dude. Heck of an artist.

Anyway, those are my thoughts today as a great blues man has left the stage for the last time. Thanks for sharing your talents with the world, Mr. King. It was something to behold.

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