This blog by Travis Richardson
At the beginning of June, my wife and I visited Santa Barbara and in our hotel room we came across the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on HBO. Several artists had already been inducted, but Cat Stevens, the E Street Band, Hall and Oats, and Nirvana had not. I’ve sometimes thought of writing in terms of music (and rock n’ roll specifically) by comparing short fiction to songs. Flash fiction and some short stories are like rock songs in that they have intense, powerful emotions that hit in a few minutes and then end. A book can be compared to either a symphony or an entire album, varying in rhythm and tones creating a total experience. So looking at each of the inductees, I thought I might do a comparison of the recording artists to writers, because… why not. Artists in different fields share many similarities.
Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam – A gentle, sincere soul who searched for life’s meaning in a wild, wild world that eventually led the Welshman to quitting and, for a while, shunning the music business altogether as he embraced religion.
- Writers like Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, and JD Salinger have written a major literary works that connected with readers and then never wrote another major work after that. While they may not have had a spiritual conversion, they wrote a something that has stood the test of time and walked away.
Linda Ronstadt – A beloved singer-songwriter who has sold millions of records singing in folk, rock, country, Latin, and even musicals. She’s won Grammys and multiple other awards and has collaborated with numerous artists, helping to launch careers of others like The Eagles.
- Her bestselling status with a strong base, dabbling in new areas and being generous to other artists, makes me think of… (get ready for it): Stephen King. I know that seems like a night and day difference, especially if you put their pictures side-by-side, but looks and content aside, both have had popularity, diversity, and generosity over the course of their careers. If I were to compare the ‘70s Ronstadt to anybody, it would probably be Sue Grafton.
E Street Band – The supporting band of icon and legend Bruce Springsteen. These guys (and one gal) followed Bruce’s lead and enhanced his sound. Perhaps they didn’t write the Boss’s lyrics, but they definitely enhanced it both in the live shows and recording studio.
- This band could be looked at in two different ways. The first would be the co-writers of James Patterson’s or celebrity books. They do the heavy lifting in the background so the writer with the bigger name shines. Another angle would writers who follow in the footsteps of legends. This could include Ross MacDonald following Raymond Chandler in the PI genre or John Grisham following Scott Turow in the legal thriller category.
Hall and Oates – The radio friendly duo who wrote songs that were accessible to the masses and put people in a good mood.
- Best selling thriller, mystery, and romance writers who give the masses what they want. You can find their names on the bestseller sections of bookstores with plots that often include one or more of the following: the woman gets her man, the murderer gets caught, or an act of world destroying malfeasance is stopped. They produce fun, escapist reads fulfilling their audience desires.
Nirvana – Accidental rock stars who were true to their underground sound, rejecting popular music, and inadvertently changed the musical landscape of the 90s.
- These are the writers who wrote their own way not necessarily expecting success. There are several, but the one who stands out the most to me is Franz Kafka. He expressed themes of isolation and confinement/absurdity of a modern society. On his deathbed, he asked that all his work be destroyed. Fortunately his writings weren’t.
Kiss – Theatrical, over-the-top spectacle anthem rockers. Some cynics might call them clowns, but wash off their make-up, and they’re just four dudes playing songs about having fun.
- This is tricky as I’m not sure who would want to be associated with Kiss, but I think thriller writer Dan Brown and fantasy writers who have no boundaries, but push stories into wild and new territories giving their readers a fun, exciting read.
Peter Gabriel – A restless innovator who doesn’t settle down and is always looking to express himself in new and interesting ways.
- This is the section for the innovators literature. There are many to name including Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Albert Camus and Vladimir Nabokov to more recent writers Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace, and Don Winslow. Innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t alway work, but if you can do it and connect with readers… well then you are hall of fame material.
So there it is. Let me know what you think. Who would you have compared to this list? Or do you see music and writing, separate institutions, never to be mixed?
Travis Richardson is fortunate enough to be nominated for both Anthony and Macavity awards for his short story “Incident on the 405” in MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER AND FINANCIAL CRIMES and ALL DUE RESPECT ISSUE #1. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at www.chekhovshorts.com and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. Find out more at www.tsrichardson.com