Stars and Bars

June 27th, 2012



Okay, I know I’ve let this blog go dark, with the exception of Everett’s marvelous piece, but I’m going to try to breathe a little life into it.  

The first thing I want to tell you is that THE FEAR ARTIST, the fifth Poke Rafferty thriller, has received starred reviews (the highest rating) from three of the four publishing trades, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.  This is especially rewarding to me because this book was a full-out five-dimensional bitch to write, and it’s great to know that the first reviewers to get their hands on it like it so much.

The fourth trade, Kirkus Reviews, gave the book a very positive review but sat on their star, which I hope had a great many very sharp points.  Anyway, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, three out of four ain’t bad.

So those are the “stars” in the overly whimsical title of this piece.   The “bars” are music.

I thought some of you, perhaps temporarily locked in a small room with no windows and with absolutely nothing to occupy your mind, might want to know something about this writing-to-music thing.

Those of you who have hung around for a while know that I usually write to music.  The primary enabler of that habit is a 60-gig iPod that’s currently got a little more than 9,000 tracks on it.  There are also about 20 playlists.

Lately, for Poke #6, I’ve been writing a lot of dreams.  (It’s not as dire as it seems, I hope) and I’ve been writing them mostly to Beethoven’s piano sonatas, played by Walter Gieseking, courtesy of those astonishing Amazon music deals where you can get ALL of the sonatas, played by a towering giant (and who cares if the sound was originally analogue?) in two $1.99 downloads.  This is a bargain that borders on theft, but I grabbed it, and they’re wonderful dream music.

I choose different playlists and different artists for different characters and types of scenes.  When I sit down just to move the story from Point A to Point B and a half, I usually use my Writing playlist, made up of about 650 songs I like, arranged alphabetically.  This list will change tonight when I add 200 new songs to it, so this is the last time the songs below will be in this order.

The criteria for these songs are: I have to like them a lot; I have to know them well enough that they won’t pull my attention from the story; they have to generate a kind of energy I find useful.  Other that those characteristics, they don’t have much in common.  Here’s the beginning of the current Writing playlist:

A Few Words In Defense of Our Country, Randy Newman: this was at the top of the list when I was writing The Fear Artist, too, but it wasn’t until the fiftieth time I heard it that I realized it was speaking directly to the point of the book, and I grabbed that verse and made it the book’s epigraph.

A president once said,
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Now it seems we’re supposed to be afraid
It’s patriotic in fact and color-coded.
And what are we supposed to be afraid of?
Why of being afraid.
That’s what terror means, doesn’t it?
That’s what it used to mean.

Accidents Will Happen— Elvis Costello from the bilious and brilliant days, as solid a cut as I know.

Ace Up Your Pretty Sleeve, Vince Gill — one of the most beautiful songs of the past few years, sung by the most beautiful male voice in country music.

Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis — Funny and sharp-edged and really original.

Across the Universe, Rufus Wainwright — Wainwright recorded my favorite version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and he repeats the trick with this Beatles song.

Africa, Toto — I know, we’re all supposed to hate Toto.  So sue me.  I love this cut, I love the riff and the drum part. When it comes up when I’m running, I sing to it.  Hate me, I can take it.

After the Gold Rush, Neil Young — There.  Does that make me cool again.  Anyway, how good is this?

There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

The Afterlife, Paul Simon —  “After I died and my makeup had dried . . .”   How many people have stayed this good this long?  Great song off a great album.

Alabama Pines, Jason Isbell and the 400 — I listen to Jason Isbell (former Drive By Truckers) a whole lot these days, along with Jon Fratelli (former Fratellis) and the Arctic Monkeys.  Just guy rock, and completely satisfying.

Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar), The Doors — Brecht and Weill via Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, and just about the only Doors song that didn’t pall on me 20 years ago.

 Alamuhan, Twelve Girls Band — Classical Chinese instruments with a beat and a terrific melody.  Really propulsive.

Albion, Pete Doherty — A poisonous pastorale of present-day England, sung to an acoustic guitar by a singer who sounds like he’s nodding and probably was.  Pray for Pete. He’s way too good to join the 27 club, even at the age of 32.

All Along the Watchtower, Eddie Vedder and The Million Dollar Bashers — Eddie shreds Dylan.  One of my favorite cuts.

All for Swinging You Around, The New Pornographers — Great girl-band harmonies, great drums, good song.  This has stayed fresh for about four years now.

All I Need Is Everything, Over the Rhine — Karen Berquist of OTR has one of my favorite voices on earth, pure-toned, impassioned, always slightly understated.  She’s got the great actor’s trick of letting you know she’s only using about 40% of what’s available to her.   Wonderful song, too.

So that’s it for now, the first fourteen songs.  If you want to audition any of them, you can listen to 30 seconds or so on Amazon.

Thanks for continuing to come by.


8 Responses to “Stars and Bars”

  1. EverettK Says:

    I just about died of a heart attack when I brought up the Blog Cabin and there actually a new post!!! 🙂

    I’ve done my part for The Fear Artist: both hardcover and e-book are on pre-order at Amazon. You’re one of the handful of authors that I still want hardcover ‘real’ copies of their books, and am willing to pay twice to have them AND the convenience of the e-book. (Even thought I’ve already read the ARC and LOVE the book. I’ll give it 5-stars as soon as it’s published, so Kirkus can borrow one from me…)

    So, let’s see… soon to be 750 songs on the list, at 15 per day, you can keep this blog going for …(mmmm… mumble, mumble, tick a few fingers…) almost TWO MONTHS! Wow, man, you’ve got the summer covered!

  2. Mike Schimmer Says:

    Darn it, Tim. Now I don’t know which I want more–the coming book releases or the rest of your playlist. Arrggghhh.

  3. Usman Says:

    Music distracts my writing. OK, i’m not much of a writer anyway. That explains things.

  4. Robert DeVere Says:

    Interesting list. Not that it would or should replace anything on your list, I’ll bet you might like the accapella version of Toto’s Rain out of Africa. I found it on youtube by a South African choir, I think, and they do a great job, both on the music and the sound effects of rain and thunder. Pretty amazing. Here’s a link:

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, all —

    Everett, thanks again for bringing Junior back to life and also for buying all those books. Don’t you know a couple of hundred people who’d like to get TFE as a gift? And I AM glad you like the book. I guess I’m coming to like it myself. That may sound stupid, but it took me longer than this to like QUEEN.

    I may do another section of the playlist sometime in the future.

    Mike — make a deal. You get the book and I’ll put up more of the playlist. I wish I had a media player on this thing so I could put the songs right into the list. Also, when I’m not writing, the percentage of new music I listen to is much higher than it is on this list–these songs are familiar enough not to pull me out of writing.

    Usman, you’re a fine writer. what distracts me is everything else. If I’m writing in a public place, it’s the music and noise there. If I’m writing at home, it’s all the things that need to be done. When I’m tuned into the page and I have the right music, I’m in a sort of shell that most distractions don’t penetrate.

    Bob, that’s phenomenal. Have you seen the documentary on the making of “Graceland”? Killer. I’m going to find a way to download this and put it onto the iPod.

  6. EverettK Says:

    Tim said I wish I had a media player on this thing so I could put the songs right into the list.

    Then you’d get into trouble with the RIAA.

  7. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Late to this, but went to iTunes to play a little. It was fun, and I can never hold back when I listen to Africa either even though I’m dreadfully off key on that one.

  8. Sharai Smith Says:

    Any chance you’ll return to Fort Bragg so I can get THE FEAR ARTIST signed? If you stay on 101 to Willets and take 20 into FB it’s easier on the stomach.

    I hope the Kirkus star is Ninja style!

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