30 Sep 2020

"Writing about music...

...is like dancing about architecture." 

Utopia Avenue

This phrase has entered our common vernacular because it rings so true - just how do you write about a creative art form that is exclusively designed to be heard?? A problem for deeper thought and greater minds perhaps than my own...

The quote is really about the seemingly impossible task of music criticism through print media, but who said it originally?? Frank Zappa? David Byrne? Thelonius Monk? It has been attributed to all of them (and more!), and they probably all did say it at some point, but no-one can be certain about the origins of this brilliant aside. And what about music in literature or genre fiction??

Utopia AveneueThis quandary certainly doesn't stop authors from stepping up to the challenge and trying their hand at describing the musical life of musicians, their creative outputs, and the impact music has upon our everyday lives. The latest of these authors is the eponymous David Mitchell with his new novel Utopia Avenue. This one is all centred around the shooting star-dom of a 6o's psychedelic rock band from England as they emerge from the pubs and clubs of London to take on the grand stages and huge audiences of America. It's a turbulent and effervescent story and is littered with all kinds of cameos from famous dead musicians and references to the "Mitchell-verse" - the bands guitarist is a descendant of Jacob de Zoet! It's a tale of youthful idealism and the hard lessons of reality, it celebrates a time in music history when seemingly anything was possible, and the impact of music on an audience and the individual.

Mitchell is most famous for his mind bending narrative in Cloud Atlas, his historical adventure tale The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and the genre-defying future classics The Bone Clocks and Slade House - if anyone can write about the auditory arts then surely this man must be the one...

I for one am eagerly awaiting Utopia Avenue's rise through my to-be-read pile, and it got me thinking about other novels that offer insight into the world of music and musicians...?

Here we have four more great titles set in around music...

Forensic Records Society The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills

Smart, irreverent, and humorous, this is the story of a group of men who create a society for the forensic appreciation of 7" vinyl records in the back room of their local pub. They each take turns to share their chosen song in silence out of respect and appreciation, that is, until a newcomer has different ideas as to how the society should work. 


High Fidelity High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Jam packed full of 90's music culture and pop references, this story centres around a record store owner who is a compulsive list maker when it comes to the best of things. He's in-expertly navigating single life in London and strives to find a love that can stack up against his love of music. A classic story of the man who refuses to grow up and "act like a man!" that was made famously into a cult classic film in 2000, and has more recently been adapted into TV show now showing on Neon TV.


The Ensemble The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

The lives and life-struggles of four friends with vastly differing personalities and life perspectives. They negotiate the perilous world of classical music and this is all about human relationships and the bonds that form from group performance, often where success means becoming more than you bargained for. It's sweeping, poignant, and equally heart-warming and heart-breaking. 


The Chimes The Chimes by Anna Smaill

A lost boy in a dystopian world with no memory but for a fleeting melody stuck in his head, drawing him to the city. This is the centre of Anna Smaill's amazingly inventive and insightful literary take on the music and life. Within this world life is controlled by a vast musical instrument and memory is subdued across the population. As our young man travels to the city we are drawn into the dreamlike pulse and rhythm of this stunning. book. A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthrall and inspire you.

That's it for now, for more great reads head to our World of Fiction page of nelsonpubliclibraries.co.nz