coffee

I torture you with rambling over morning coffee

This morning's pointless craft pondering is about production in Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'". Specifically the backing vocals. At one point, several voices join in to sing the words "Ventura Boulevard".

All the vampires, walkin' through the valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard.

This is the only place in the song where words are punched up like that. Jeff Lynne gets co-writing credit, so I'm gonna guess he produced it as well. We're all familiar with the general production technique of layering on the vocals to build energy or attract attention. For a canonical example of the former, think of "The ballad of John and Yoko" and how McCartney's backing vocal becomes more and more prominent as the song progresses. (The great Lewisohn book documenting the Beatles in Abbey Road describes how the two of them recorded that song. And it's just the two of them.)

Given that Lynne is about as shallow as producers come, probably the punch on "Ventura Boulevard" is an in-joke. Or just something he thought sounded cool. The harmonies do presage what you hear later when the backing vocals reappear to repeat the song title. Nice pop song, though, and slick production in general.

So that's cute. Is there an equivalent technique in writing? Music can coincide elements in time, which writing cannot do. The literal repetition is also something writing can't do. Well, prose fiction can't. Fiction has to get its punch-up effects by building over time, by repeating a single word or image here and there. Then the final repetition, maybe in conjunction with a reappearance of other repeated images, has more power.

image / reminder / reminder / WHOMP

I can't think of a better equivalent. Might need a second cup of coffee.

So then over that second cup of coffee I re-read Updike's "The music school", a story I recall admiring greatly as an undergraduate. I discovered that I have changed since I last read it.

My reaction was, "So fuckin' what? He forgot to make me care." Stunning opening sentence: "My name is Alfred Schweigen, and I exist in time." Lovely language. Religion and music and (to a lesser extent) geology recur. It passes the reading aloud test. The obsession with adultery makes it feel dated (but also very Updike). Nothing actually happens. Hopelessly clever. Terribly overwritten. Ending feels forced, not inevitable, though the recurrence of "pierced" and "dying at her feet" are satisfying.

Well huh, I said, I seem to have changed my mind or my taste or something in the last twenty years. Perhaps in the last eight, since I recall making my husband read that story.

So. What short stories do I admire right now? What stories do I wish I'd written? Off the top of my head:

"The moon moth" / Jack Vance
"The waveries" / Frederic Brown
The Midas plague" / Frederik Pohl
"Fondly Fahrenheit" / Alfred Bester
"Mimsy were the borogoves" / Lewis Padgett
"The fourth profession" / Larry Niven
"A rose for Ecclesiastes" / Roger Zelazny

Oops, a couple of novellas slipped in there. Let pass, let pass.

Most of those are older than "The music school", some by 20 years. None of them display the careful command of language Updike does, except maybe the Zelazny. Vance is all about the language, but in his own inventive whacky way. All are SF, though the Vance is fantasy in feel and a mystery in plot. "The Midas plague" is satire. "The waveries" is nostalgic. "Mimsy" is horror, and so is the Bester. The Niven is good ol' hard SF. The Zelazny is dangerously New Wave-y. They're all "plotty".

I conclude that I want to write SF. OMG, what a shock.

Plan for the day: laundry, draft of story outline. The recurring image of a lost sock will haunt you.
  • Current Music: Peter Gabriel : Bashi-Bazouk : Digging in the dirt
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