Posts Tagged Dan Holloway

The Undercover Soundtrack – Dan Holloway

for logo‘Neon, nostalgia, regret and joy’

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, spoken-word poet and novelist Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes returns with the soundtrack to his latest collection

Soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, Mamas and Papas, Pink Floyd, Garbage, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Kills, Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, Tracy Chapman, Eagle Eye Cherry, Melanie Pain, Emily Barker

i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you graffiti them with love poetry is, according to the blurb I put together for it, ‘a lyrical, heartbreaking, but ultimately joyous picaresque across the neon-soaked night cities of the world in search and celebration of lost friends’. It is about a feeling – one that blends joy and nostalgia and sorrow and celebration and neon piercing the night sky and damp bridges and lives that spring fully and tragically formed from the concrete. The times I’ve seen that done best have both been through powerful connections between image and soundtrack – in the 70s, Bernard Herrmann’s oppressive industrial backdrop to Taxi Driver, and from the 90s the marrying of the dazzling colour of East Asian cities and the Mamas and Papas classic piece of nostalgia California Dreaming.

Dan and DiSo music was right at the front of my mind from the start as I was putting it together. It’s also an accompaniment to my first solo spoken word show, which will premier at Cheltenham Poetry Festival on 24 April. So rhythm, cadence, pulling the audience through sound through a rollercoaster ride of the emotions were all right there at the fore. And with the multimedia background to the book, that initial draw towards the neon, nostalgia and grime of the cinematic city soundtrack was the perfect place to begin getting myself into the right place to construct and compile the book.

Rhythm is all

The thing about a collection – and a show for that matter – is that at every level rhythm is everything. Not just within the pieces but within the whole. Every dazzling, intense, searing effect you create is diminished by the wrong amount of repetition, enhanced by the right number of carefully placed repetitions, burnished or dulled by what comes before, after, a similar distance from the beginning, from the end. Every piece must hang together and flow effortlessly just like a perfectly-constructed album. This sense of flow, rhythm, shape is essential to all forms of the written as well as the spoken word, but it amazes me how little I see writers refer to beautifully-crafted albums as their exemplars.

Prog rock and poetry

Being the age I am, married to whom I am, of the musical persuasion I am, and someone who calls himself a prog rocker of the poetry world, there really is only one album to turn to for the perfectly constructed emotional and sensual journey. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is perfect in just about every way, and makes as great a live show as it does an album. From helicopters to gloriously crashing waves of sound via alarm clocks and lunatics on the grass, every step is in just the right position in relation to every other to make the journey an almost mystical path to enlightenment.

And yet, steeped in Bernard Herrman and Pink Floyd, I have the path mapped out before me but it’s still not enough. Still not the mix of anger, desolation, joy and nostalgia and, well, neon-soakedness all in one that I’m looking for. Which is why playlists are so fabulous.

I’ve always loved playlists, ever since as a seven-year-old I’d endlessly sort through my dad’s 45s making little stacks to play in order. And there is nothing better for keying you into the rhythms of whatever you are writing than a playlist the follows your work’s rhythms. So, get your headphones and have a listen to what is, in essence, my latest book.

limited ed cover frontEach track manages to blend the urban and the nostalgic, painting a constant backdrop as it were whilst the foreground moves with the rhythm of the collection’s picaresque.

We begin with the wistful recollective regret of Garbage’s You Look So Fine and the haunting Red Hot Chilli Peppers classic Scar Tissue we find the brutal, angry, relentless drumbeat of The Kills’s No Wow as the reality of loss loses its romanticised edge and gives way to a despair that becomes exhaustion at the nadir of Nine Inch Nails’s stunningly dissonant Hurt and Portishead’s Roads with its pitch perfect association with the film Requiem for a Dream. From that low point we emerge to appreciate the preciousness of the memories with Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Eagle Eye Cherry’s celebration of the intense, fleeting joyfulness of life, Save Tonight. But the celebration is only temporary and gives way to the bitterness and desperation of the pounding beat in Portishead’s Machine Gun before, exhausted and scarred but unbowed we emerge with Melanie Pain’s Bruises and finally lay down our heads, our lives and lost friendships streaming ever slower before our eyes as we fade into the night with Emily Barker’s Pause.

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and cultural commentator. He runs 79 rat press through which he publishes his own conceptual books and will, in June 2013, be publishing debut collections from five of the most groundbreaking new voices in poetry and prose. In the picture he appears with Diophantus, one of the 79 rats. He blogs at Authors Electric and is a member of the League of Extraordinary Authors. Find him on Twitter @agnieszkasshoes

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‘Every piece must hang together and flow like a well-constructed album’ – Dan Holloway

for logoAnother familiar face this week – one of the first Soundtrack contributors returns with a new poetry collection. i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you graffiti them with love poetry, which you’ll notice is be-eecummingly lower case. It’s a lyrical, heartbreaking, but ultimately joyous celebration of lost friends – with prog-rock tendencies. In a subversive nod to pink-hearts week, Dan Holloway will be here on Wednesday with his latest Undercover Soundtrack.

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The undercover soundtrack – Songs from the Other Side of the Wall by Dan Holloway

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by writer, publisher and literary performer Dan Holloway

Soundtrack by Nouvelle Vague  

Non-Musical Express So, Dan, you’re not one of those people who writes because they’re a failed musician?

Dan Holloway I am one of those people who writes because they’re a failed musician.


DH Wait, failed isn’t right. That would imply I tried, which I didn’t. For the good of humanity.

NME So tell me about you and music in a paragraph that doesn’t contain a single chip-bearing shoulder.

Pic by Wayland Thor Badger

DH I’m drawn to the spoken word more than the written, and I write my novels with at least one ear to how they’ll sound at readings. I run a lot of literary shows, and there’s always music. My collective even held its first show at Rough Trade. My role-models are musicians. Jack White with his stripped-down aesthetic, for example, and if I could be anyone I’d like to be Patti Smith. Even my writer role-models are only vaguely writery, like Ginsberg because he sounds so good when he reads.

NME There are lots of bands in your books.

DH I love making up names. Book titles, band names. It’s the most fun form of showing not telling. I like to know what band a character would be in, and if I can’t think of one I’m probably not interested enough in the character for them to be central.

There are two in What There Is Instead of Rainbows, which I’m writing at the moment. There’s The Alice Band, an urban post-punk reggae outfit modelled on The Slits, and The Gashes, a hardcore all-girl punk feminist twosome rather like L7. I’m happy with the names. I think they say in a couple of words what would otherwise take pages.

In Songs From The Other Side of the Wall there’s The Point of the Bomb and Sandrine Chanteuse. The Sandrine Chanteuse persona, which we only see in three scenes, was what nailed her voice.

NME Explain?

DH When I was writing Songs I was obsessed with Haruki Murakami and Norwegian Wood in particular. I wanted exactly that sense of nostalgia and directionlessness, and I wanted Sandrine to have Toru’s disaffection. But the music was wrong, or both right and wrong at the same time. Murakami’s music is the music of her world, a world she loves. I hope I conveyed that in one of the key sentences of the book that describes a bar where she and Point of the Bomb are gigging:

Behind the bar a CD player broke the quiet – just – with acoustic jazz covers of Kraftwerk so cool my breath formed little clouds that danced over my beer.

But at the same time she is not at home there. It’s not her music. Sandrine is a gay teenage girl but there’s no sexual politics, not even any questions about gender or sexuality. She was who she was and it wasn’t up for grabs. Writing first person it’s hard to convey that. You can’t say it because that suggests it’s still an issue. So you have to do it through voice. Which is where Murakami let me down, because his women lack something.

I found the answer in the band Nouvelle Vague, who do wonderful bossa nova covers of punk/new wave classics, and also have a slight tinge of torch song. I have no idea about their sexuality, no desire to know, but their mix of confidence and fragility, sadness, darkness and joy, froth and hiddenness, said everything I needed for Sandrine. So I wrote the book as though it were a Murakami narrated by Nouvelle Vague.

Dan Holloway writes novels, short stories and poems but is happiest behind a microphone. He was the founder member of the literary fiction collective Year Zero Writers and runs the literary project eight cuts gallery which promotes and publishes work which crosses disciplinary boundaries as well as staging live shows. His novel The Company of Fellows was voted favourite Oxford novel by Blackwell’s readers. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th anniversary episode of the international spoken word event Literary Death Match, and his next show, Lyrical Badlads, at Modern Art Oxford on November 12th explores the boundaries between music and poetry and features everything from traditional tabla to electronica.

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Imagine Desert Island Discs for novels – welcome to The Undercover Soundtrack…

Imagine a novel could guest on Desert Island Discs. For those of you receiving outside the UK, Desert Island Discs is an immensely popular and long-running show on BBC Radio 4, where guests are asked to choose pieces of music that form a soundtrack to their lives.

After my recent co-post with Porter Anderson here about undercover soundtracks to our novels, I am excited to announce a series… hosting writers who use music in the creation of their work. They’ll be talking about special pieces that have guided them to a deeper understanding of a character, or have helped to populate a mysterious place, or clarified a particular, pivotal moment. Or anything else music has given their writing – I’m all ears.

And in case you’re curious, here are the Undercover Soundtracks for my own oeuvre. Find Lifeform Three here. And My Memories of a Future Life here.

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