‘Music dark and soulful. Rural and tough’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is poet-turned novelist Dave Malone @dzmalone
Soundtrack by The Hank Dogs, Hound Dog Taylor and the Rockers, Cowboy Junkies, Billie Holiday
As a boy, I stayed up late without my parents’ knowledge, my ear chaffing against stainless steel of transistor radio. Huddled in my bed, I kept my 10-year-old attention alert for the opening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, hosted by EG Marshall.
In the country dark of the Midwest, my radio crackled until the bliss of hearing that creaking, almost screeching, door open the show. Then, ominous string and percussion, followed by EG Marshall’s distinct, authoritative voice. And lastly, words coming to life and bringing mystery stories into my bedroom. My imagination soared with dirty dealings, the macabre, and shadow.
While I’ve spent most of my writing life as a poet, I have never lost my love for mystery and detective stories. Living in the Ozarks provides quick and easy access to inspirational characters. Most Ozarkers are no-nonsense and a welcoming bunch — to a point. It was this kind of straightforward man I wanted in my private detective, Walt Records. In my novelet, Not Forgiven, Not Forgotten, I wanted him educated at college for a couple of years, before he considered it useless. And I wanted him a smart-ass, but wise. Tough, but tender.
Music is almost always essential for me to getting started, to diving down into the moment. Whiskey has a similar effect, of course. I like to write in the early afternoons. With a bourbon. Everything else fades away, except the characters, the moments.
My private detective keeps shop on the downtown square of a small Ozark town. About the only other private dick in the county, Records comments:
Jones ain’t as good as me. He’ll charge you double, and he’ll find the same shit I did.
For Records, I needed music dark and soulful. Something rural and tough. Something lean. And I found it, in The Hank Dogs. The British band’s eponymous album played throughout not only just the composition but the revision as well.
Mostly, I’m interested in the sounds of The Hank Dogs. The female vocals, the harmonies, the trailing guitar. However, I’m an Angel could well have been written by Walt Records himself who narrates the stories. The song’s sentiment is that we are being judged — not necessarily by Records — but actions have consequences on a person, and this is very much this private detective’s belief. Records is a dark, sarcastic anti-hero, yet he acts with integrity. Despite his fuck-ups and misgivings, he knows he’s ‘an angel by comparison’ to others, including a town preacher and the community’s leading philanthropist — who both are leaders in the town’s dark underbelly of drugs and scams.
There wasn’t anything better to get me started with the action of Not Forgiven than a pleasant three fingers of Wild Turkey and some Hound Dog Taylor and the Rockers. Upbeat, tough, mean, spirited, tender, poetic describes this powerhouse of an album. She’s Gone, Walking the Ceiling and Give Me Back My Wig are three winners. I played this CD while Records chased down leads: crashing Adam’s Rib bar, getting pistol-whipped by the corrupt preacher man, and flying through the night in his old Chevy Cav for the next clue.
The love interest, Madeline (Mads), is a lanky, tough, strawberry blonde, and according to Records
That girl is all fire and no rain.
Mads is strong and independent, and the Cowboy Junkies’s Witches set the mood I needed for Records’s arrival at her place when he wasn’t sure she’d be interested:
I wouldn’t say it. Cuz a man only says certain things to a woman. Madeline might have known I’d been clobbered in the face by the butt of a .357, but she didn’t say nothing about it when she answered her door at 10:14 that night. She hadn’t gotten a text from me, and she was a free woman, but I played the odds that on a weeknight, another rooster weren’t in the chicken house.
The simple quiet, plucky acoustic guitar and Margo Timmins’s ethereal invoice inspired.
To keep me from getting too romantic, I drafted their love scenes by also listening to Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child. It has such greats as I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You, I Cover the Waterfront, Don’t Explain, and He’s Funny That Way. He’s Funny (lyrics here) plays into the spirit of both Records and Mads — tough Ozarkers, they ain’t beauty queens. But they’re real solid inside. And maybe despite town corruption and any personal insecurity, these two strong characters might find love in Not Forgiven, perhaps like a boy who found love so many years ago in an unexpected place — a storied voice on a transistor radio.
From the Missouri Ozarks, Dave Malone writes crime fiction and is also the author of five poetry collections, including Seasons in Love. His latest volume, View from the North Ten: Poems after Mark Rothko’s No. 15, is forthcoming from Mongrel Empire Press. His interests, bordering on obsessions, include Alan Watts, Ozark culture, crime fiction, gardening, and minor league baseball. He publishes a monthly e-newsletter, If I Had a Nickel, whose title derives from the sentiment of his rascally Ozark grandfather. For more, visit davemalone.net or find him on Twitter @dzMalone.
GIVEAWAY: 5 Kindle copies of Not Forgiven, Not Forgotten to be won! Dave is excited to give away a generous 5 copies of his novelet to commenters here – and as usual, extra entries if you report in your comment that you’ve spread the word on other media.
18 thoughts on “The Undercover Soundtrack – Dave Malone”
Hi Dave, I really like your piece that you wrote for Roz and her Undercover Soundtrack. I’m drawn in to your description of being moved by dark and soulful music and how that evokes emotions and a vision for you of your character Walt Records. I’m a singer-songwriter and compose and sing original songs for crime fiction novels and book-trailers. I am also drawn to writing music that brings out the feelings that you depict for your character and feel that a song should reflect the mood and story in a novel along with the emotions and inner-turmoils of the characters. I loved your choice of “I’m An Angel.” I got lost in the songs’ melody and sense of time and place.
Beth, I thought Dave’s post would be your cup of tea. They would be a really meaty set of characters to sing about.
Thank you, Beth. I’m so glad you liked “I’m No Angel.” And I agree that it’s a good song to get lost in. I appreciate your thoughts. Just send me a quick email at email@example.com and I’ll send you a comp copy of the ebook. 🙂
Hi Dave, Roz. I got your mystery immediately after discovering you wrote one. Very impressive, and now extra fun knowing the whiskey and music behind it. I don’t know how anyone can live in a place like this (I’m on the Arkansas side of the Ozarks) and not wonder what those dogs and coyotes are howling about in the crazy deep black of these mountain nights, or if that preacher is looking at you with carnal lust or the lust of conversion. Good solid people, as you say, but some are solid bikers on the lamb from their clubs and flower children from the 60s with potato crisps where their brains used to be. You certainly bring the mystery of this very unique place to life. Off to listen to more of that music.
Cyd, you were the other person I knew would be scrambling to comment. I can only imagine what it must be like to hear such wild animals at night. In England we have owls.
Aww, thanks, Cyd. Indeed. One of my buddies lives in the forest off of a gravel road, and the night life–the sights, the sounds–rich, deep, mournful, soulful. 🙂 And even a few owls, Roz. And I want to steal that potato crisp line, Cyd. : P
Dave, we also have creaky old houses, which settle at night. In the small hours you’ll be woken by a crack or a groan, like the house letting out its stays. So we don’t always sleep peacefully.
I am quite fond of Walt Records but didn’t know the music that inspired you, Dave. This is such a great piece. And a brilliant idea for your blog, Roz.
Thanks, Darrelyn! I love the way writers unpeel here. In Dave’s piece I particularly like the remark about Billie Holiday making sure he didn’t get carried away with the romance. It’s the kind of tight control that stories like this need.
Dave said on Twitter that he didn’t guest very often. I’m so pleased he was coaxed to leave his mark here.
Appreciate it, Darrelyn. Records wouldn’t be Records without my first reader and dear friend. : )
And thank you, Roz, for that generous comment. And it was an absolute pleasure to write. And fun to remember those youthful days with my transistor radio. Oh my…
This sounds brilliant. Would LOVE to win a copy!
It’s yours, Jessica. 🙂 Thank you. I’ll make sure you get one later today. And how fun to discover Vine Leaves Literary Journal this morning.
Oh gosh, thank you SO much! I’m really looking forward to reading it. 🙂
You are most welcome. Very cool. I hope you will enjoy some Ozark noir. 🙂
I suspected you two would get along…