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

From: Grimes (
Date: 30 Mar 2003

Thanks for the reminder of that sad scene from King Suckerman.

Not hardboiled, but for my $$$ the best writing which uses characters' passion for music as a way to reveal character is Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. There, the characters' obsessings and arguments about music
(including in which section/bin to put the music) illuminates character, as it motivates action (even if a lot of the action is talky, these guys lead talky lives. In fact, the book is about how they talk too much . . . .and use their music fanaticism and hair-splitting to avoid real emotion and to avoid living their lives. Their aestheticism and snobbery is an escape, but also deeply revealing of character. In High Fidelity the lead character is constantly making lists - his Top 10 Desert Island albums, his Top 10 make-out albums, Top 10 Breakup Songs, etc. Sure, these lists tell us much about the kind of music the guy likes, and that he has great taste and deep knowledge of pop music. But ultimately (and this is Hornby's point) it tells us that this is a guy who makes lists. Who makes lists as a way to avoid feeling the pain of his life.

That's why the King Suckerman/Hendrix scene is so powerful. Musical passion motivates action which reveals character. But what's revealed about Marcus Clay isn't the music he listens to and cares about - instead, the music he listens to and cares about leads him to an act which reveals his sadness, compassion, respect for the dead, friendship - in other words, his character. Which doesn't really have anything to do with music.

Sure, listing a character's musical likes and dislikes does tell us something about a character, as does the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the books they read, the beer they drink. "He liked Heineken" or
"He listened to Marvin Gaye" may help us locate a character in time, and socio-economically. (As opposed to "He liked grog" or "He liked John Phillip Sousa.")

But many individuals who are very different from each other, and who behave differently (or would behave differently) from each other in similar circumstances are united in their preference for Michelob or fondness for Marvin Gaye. In other words, their beer or music tastes doesn't really tell us much about their character in a deep sense. Though that's what the marketers and Madison Avenue salesmen want us to believe - that if we drink Heineken or drive a Saab, we must be a certain kind of person.

----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Robison" <> To: <> Sent: Friday, March 28, 2003 6:04 PM Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: The House of Hard-boiled

> Mark Sullivan
> > 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.
> ****************
> I need to read some of those earlier ones. I've only read THE SWEET
> FOREVER and SHAME THE DEVIL. I liked them both, the first a little
> better than the second. I've got RIGHT AS RAIN sitting on the shelf
> waiting on me to drag my butt out of the past.
> miker

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