RE: RARA-AVIS: The House of Hard-boiled

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 28 Mar 2003

"I have to wonder, though, if any generation that has come afterwards, and a few that came before, have not had music that was important to them. What I am saying is that music being important to a generation is not very defining of that generation. It is the type of music that does the defining."

You make a good point, miker. While there are statistics to bear out that music was/is disproportinately important to the boomer generation and that they continue their stranglehold on what music is released, that does not downplay the importance of music to other generations. Still, I would say that boomers and after have managed to be especially anal in their splintering of music into sub-genres and seeing musical allegiances as personally defining characteristics.

Sure, there have been splits before. Gangsta rappers were not the first to have an East Coast vs. West Coast feud; the same went for jazz in the
'40s and '50s. Early rock fans could be divided between those who listened to white covers or the black originals, etc. However, popular music is now defined by increasingly narrow niche marketing -- rock vs. alternative rock vs. punk rock, etc, with similar microsplits in every other large genre -- rap/hip hop, soul, techno, etc. In addition, music fandom became more widepread with the boomers, and they carried it with them longer. So whereas an occasional hardboiled hero of an older generation would make a peripheral mention of music, it is necessary to define the younger, but no longer so young, generations.

Pelecanos has said that he started the music lists as a purposeful attempt to highlight a generational shift in his books, as a counter to the "kids these days" attitude he saw in writers like John D and John Ross. So those lists of names do show subtle differences in the characters who listen to them. Michael Cormany even used a cop's mispronuncation of Husker Du to indicate the standard coolness/age split between the PI and the cop.

That said, I do believe you're right that Pelecanos could cut the lists a bit shorter and add more description of what they sound like. The fans would like it because fans like to talk about the sounds, anyway, and non-fans would have a better idea of what was being talked about.

At his best, he already does this. There was a running bit in King Suckerman where Marcus Clay and one of his clerks argued about where Jimi Hendrix's albums should be filed in the record store. I found it incredibly moving when Marcus moved Hendrix from the rock to soul after the clerk, his friend, was killed.


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