Friday, 6 February 2015

Books and Music

I'm not the only one who loves both fiction and music, obviously. But, in the course of contemplating my choices for a list of great modern erotica being compiled for World Book Day I drifted into thinking about my other favourite obsession: novels about musicians and the music business. In my teens and early 20s, any mention that the book was about rock or pop starts pretty much guaranteed I would buy it, only further down the line did I start realising that a lot of these books were written by people who either didn't understand or actively disliked 'modern' music, and were presumably only choosing to use the pop/rock/punk metal universe as wallpaper in order to bump up sales.

Mind you, some of the novels written by people with actual involvement in the music industry were even worse - is there many novel as mean-minded, snarky, misogynistic and depressing as Tony Parsons' Platinum Logic? Even tedious Brit-pop tome Powder by Kevin Sampson isn't quite as annoying.
I have read quite a few music-themed stories that have been simply enjoyable genre hackwork, whether romance, horror or crime, and I have certainly featured bands and musicians in stories of my own - Cathouse and the Castle was about rock bands and two of the main characters in Black Heart are musicians. But I thought I would share a list of my own favourites in the category.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Paul Breeze.
I was utterly fixated on this in my teens and still like to re-read it every couple of years. It's about a guitarist who is crippled in a pointless street attack and then hunts down the people who did it, told in chapters which alternate between the present as he recovers from the attack and plots his revenge and the past, which relates how he grew up and formed a band and almost made it. It's raw and messy in places, and it does seem a bit dated now (unsurprising, it came out in about 1979) though that also means it comes across as a bit of a time capsule. There was a sequel, Back Street Runner, which isn't as good, but the author seems to have vanished entirely since then.

Little Heroes by Norman Spinrad
I rediscovered this one last year, and was quite startled by how prescient it seems: a crippled economy, music in the hands of soulless corporations and used to keep the masses quiet and passive... Spinrad's been criticized for overdoing manly manliness to the point of sexism in some quarters, but Glorianna, the heroine of this book, is an excellent female lead. Anti-heroine Sally is an interesting character, as well: the hell of being a talented woman who is unattractive and the rage it engenders is nicely handled.

Bold As Love (series) by Gwyneth Jones
I did refer to both these and Little Heroes in a previous post because they are long-standing favourites. The Jones books are sci-fi/speculative fiction, as is Spinrad's, and both have had a bit of a critical bashing for getting the music 'wrong' in terms of chronological relevance, which I don't entirely agree with. BaL is a stunning, highly complex quintet of books about a dystopian future, the outer limits of technology, what makes for a 'good society', human fallibility, human potential. I remain amazed how few people have actually read them.

To Major Tom: The Bowie Letters by Dave Thompson
An utterly lovely book (and not just saying that because the author's someone I used to know). I would call this pretty much essential reading for anyone who grew up in the 1970s and loved music. It's a series of letters written by the protagonist to his idol, Bowie (who never writes back and the two never meet, though there are a couple of amusing near-misses). The immense attention to detail mixed with the general trivia of everyday life, growing up, working out who you are and what you want, makes it utterly absorbing even though I would like to slap the printers for putting the footnotes in such a tiny little font that I have to keep charging round the house looking for my reading glasses.

A more comprehensive list can be found here but if you have any suggestions of your own, chuck them over.


  1. Brilliant to find such a recent reference to my dad's novel (While My Guitar Gently Weeps) appearing online. Very sadly, my dad died extremely suddenly 4 weeks ago and it's a great source of pride for my brothers and me to read appreciation of his work. Here is an article covering a tribute video we produced in his memory.

    The same YouTube account also has an interview with him on Russell Harty on BBC2 filmed in 1981, if you're interested.

    Mark Breeze.

  2. Hi thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear about your dad - I really did love that book and often wondered what became of him. Best wishes ZJK

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