07 September 2013
SleuthSingers? Who Knew?
by Elizabeth Zelvin
Four of the regular bloggers on SleuthSayers are songwriters: Rob Lopresti, Fran Rizer, Jan Grape, and me. (Am I missing anyone?) What are the odds? SleuthSayers was created a couple of years ago as the successor to the highly successful mystery short story blog Criminal Brief. Most of us write mystery short stories, though some of us, including me, also write novels. Our tag line is “Crime writers and crime fighters.” Some of us (not me) share law enforcement and military professional interests and have been known to blog about weapons, explosives, and spycraft. Not surprising. But what about all those songwriters? Is it a coincidence? Or does it make perfect sense?
Fran lives in Nashville and has sold songs to the commercial country market, if I’m not mistaken. Rob has published a mystery about the folk music scene in Greenwich Village in 1963 that took me on a delightful stroll down Memory Lane. Jan has set a series in Austin, TX, another country music town. And I have an album out, Outrageous Older Woman, in a category best described as urban folk; it’s the best of fifty years of singing and writing songs.
I can’t speak for my blog brothers and sisters (though I hope they’ll comment), but when I write a song, I’m telling a story. It horrifies me when someone says, “Oh, I never listen to the lyrics.” To me, much as I love music, the lyrics are the point—one reason I’m so fond of country music, even the New Country, often disparaged by purists. Although I’m a child of the Fifties and Sixties, most rock, with its repetitious or worse, unintelligible lyrics, leaves me cold. I want to engage with a song in the same way I engage with a work of fiction: to delight in the language, fall in love with the characters, and experience a burning desire to know what happens next.
We mystery writers pride ourselves on the fact that in our stories, something happens: crime, investigation, solution in the traditional mystery; unexpected encounter or stumble into danger, impending catastrophe, ticking clock in the classic thriller. While many commercial songs have no more theme than what I’ve heard the great Jimmie Dale Gilmore call “boy girl boy girl,” plenty of them have a narrative structure that resembles that of a short story. They can deal with serious themes, such as ambition, loss, and alcoholism. And there are plenty of songs about murder. My favorite is still “Long Black Veil” (written in the 1950s and covered many times), but I’ve been singing the traditional Appalachian ballads, “Pretty Polly, “Banks of the Ohio,” et al. my whole life. Rob made me chuckle when one of his characters referred to the folk-revival crossover hit “Tom Dooley” (in which the eponymous protagonist is hanged for murder) as “more cheerful” than some of the other high lonesome tunes.
You can listen to several of my songs below. Each one tells a story.
"Outrageous Older Woman" - A woman reflects on a lifetime rich in experience.
"Online Loving" - A woman gets impatient with virtual romance.
"All She Ever Wanted" - A young woman pursues her creative dream.
"The Rain Came Down" - A man and a woman reach a turning point in their separate lives.
"The Mayor of Central Park" - The true life story of a legendary New York character.
"Prayer (Next Year in Jerusalem" - A vision of a better world.
Posted by Elizabeth Zelvin at 00:01