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Original Essays

Why Modern Fiction Is So Much More Punk Rock Than Music Ever Will Be Again

by Sarahbeth Purcell
  1. Love Is the Drug
    $16.95 New Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Love Is the Drug

    Sarahbeth Purcell
    "Readers, especially those who recognize the '80s and early '90s cultural references, will connect with Taylor's wicked humor and her yearning to move beyond the 'poison' of family burdens and her own shortcomings." Gillian Engberg, Booklist
  2. This Is Not a Love Song: A Novel
    $19.95 New Trade Paper add to wishlist

I am a music nerd. It shows in everything I do. It shows even in my name. I was named after Bob Dylan's ex-wife, Sarah. My dad was also obsessed with music. So much so that he followed every single path he came across and ended up making a name for himself in music. He made music sound better for a living. Very noble cause, no? He and I shared the passion for music in the dark, listening to LPs when everyone else in the house was sleeping. So I come by my passionate stereophile position quite naturally. It's in my blood. It's in my hometown of Nashville. It's in my personality. I was always the one kid in my family my dad could relate to on that level. It made me feel special, and it validated me in a way, from a very young age. Artistry was highly valued. So when I got my two-book deal from Simon and Schuster as an adult, my father was equally as proud as if I had gotten some huge record deal, if not more so. We both saw the similarities of the two forms of art.

Everyone these days talks about the state of music. The state of the music business. The state of pop culture in general. Very few people talk about books, unless it's a tell-all or it's based on a true story or it's made into a movie, or it sells a million zillion copies. You don't see a lot of book burnings these days. You hear a lot about how Eminem is either a genius or a homophobic jerk or a street-wise reincarnation of Vanilla Ice, and you see a lot of people protesting his music because of that. But authors, no matter how controversial, get ignored for the most part. And besides wishing everyone valued this art a bit more, I think it's fantastic.

I've been a huge music fan since I was very young. I spent a lot of money, and even more time, going to gigs and wishing I could be in the musician's place. Even though I saw the unromantic side of the music business firsthand, I thought rock stars had the coolest job ever, that they were the rebels of society, that they were the ones I wanted to be like. Until I read a novel by Bret Easton Ellis.

I was a voracious reader from an early age. I read everything. The backs of cereal boxes, lyrics, CD liner notes, and books by the thousands. I skipped school so I could go to the library and read. I read American Psycho when I was seventeen years old. There were portions of the book I had to take sips of water in between finishing. There were portions of the book that completely freaked me out. There were chapters I have memorized word for word. I absorbed this book, this creation that fifty years ago would have been burned and outlawed. It made me want to be a writer, this book. It made me realize how revolutionary fiction is, how much more vital and edgy it is than music has been for the last thirty years... How much cooler the process of creating a book is than recording some songs in a studio and going out and playing them on the road. Fiction, modern fiction, today, is punk rock. Maybe even cooler than punk rock ever was, because it's not about fashion. It's about expression. True expression. Without fear, without censorship.

A lot of contemporary novels, including my own, Love Is the Drug, describe things that would get an X rating, or a big old "18 and over" PMRC sticker put on them if they were an album. I honestly think the powers that be ignore books because it's assumed that kids don't read. And hell, the adults who decide these things don't seem to read, either. So certain sects of modern fiction and its process are underground. And in the underground, revolutions begin. The world begins to change when no one is paying attention to the ideas being generated under their noses. So we authors are free to express those ideas. And while we're being ignored, the art is improving and morphing. While the chick-lit crap is being bought up by the mainstream, the real art is either being sold under one of those categories it doesn't belong in, or it's sitting on the bookshelves being recommended in small numbers, slowly being picked up and passed on, and, hopefully, slowly changing the way people think and live.

So I'm not complaining at the potential of being ignored as an author. I feel like a rebel, actually. I feel like I'm making a dent in society in secret. I feel like finally, after chasing the idea of "cool" through music and the false glamour of the fairy tale of rock 'n' roll, I'm the one who has the potential to be a part of the real idea of what is rock 'n' roll. Without pomp and circumstance. Without the trappings of fame. Without the insincere titles and attentions. Authors are the new rock stars. Rock stars are the new Miss Americas.

This is not to pat myself on the back. We have a long way to go in fiction. I have a long way to go as an author. And although much of it is stale, formulaic, and contrived, there is still a treasure trove of good music, and true artistry in music. But I am shocked and encouraged by how many more new and beautiful ideas are created by written word, and even more excited that you can really get away with so much more, both content wise and also in creating a new format if you do it just right. You can change the rules. Write more, write less, say things no one is brave enough to say, and comment on life in a million and one different ways and still have your privacy and not be publicly condemned. I feel like I was steered into the world of fiction for this very reason. I feel like a rock star. Only cooler. spacer

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