Shakespeare was quite possibly not the first to admit that there is "nothing new under the sun." It's one of those particular nuggets of wisdom it does us good to be reminded of from time to time. (In fact, it wouldn't hurt if we occasionally dispensed with our more familiar greetings — "Hey, how are you doing?"; "Great, thanks for asking, how's you?" — in favour of, "Hey buddy, there's nothing new under the sun!"; "You sure got that right!") Certainly, four or five years ago, when I was first struck with the idea of a series of fiction anthologies inspired by the songs of particular bands, congratulating myself on what I thought was a shiny bright new thing right there, it wouldn't have hurt me too much to have a restraining hand placed upon my shoulder and a gentle "nothing new under the sun" whispered in my shell-like ears.
Fiction! Inspired by a band! Well, that's just genius in a can, right? How could the world have turned so many times without somebody making the connection previously?! Just to cement what a blinkered cloth-head I really am, it wasn't until Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by the Fall (The Fall in question being a perverse group of musical types led by one Mark E. Smith hailing from Manchester, England, and not the egregious booting of one Adam and Eve from Eden) was published that someone brought to my attention an earlier anthology called Lit Riffs, in which a motley assemblage of the great and the good took songs by all manner of people and... you know... "riffed" on them in short story form. Matthew Miele, the editor of the anthology, even went so far as to talk of the authors "covering" the songs in short story form (yet one more bright and shiny new thing I'd been congratulating myself about, fool that I am). Lit Riffs put short shrift to any vainglorious ideas of my own brilliance, including as it did a short story by Lester Bangs inspired by Maggie May. Not only had I not come up with the idea first — Lester beat me to it way back in 1981.
It got worse before it got better. Lit Riffs wasn't alone, you see? Just as various graphic novel types have put their heads together to flesh out the mythos of Heroes and The Matrix and all manner of other pop-phenomena, so various graphic novel types also beat me to the punch on the whole "fiction inspired by bands" thing. Put the Book Back on the Shelf is a sort of portmanteau graphic anthology in which a whole host of the aforementioned graphic novel types take songs by Scottish indie pop legends Belle & Sebastian in order to fashion lovely pictorial short stories that riff on titles and lyrics and various bits of wonderment conjured up by the songs of Stuart Murdoch and his buddies. And, of course, there is the legendary 33 1/3 series kickstarted by David Barker over at Continuum Books. Yes, yes, yes, I know — a great many books in the 33 1/3 series (in which various bright sparks engage with a particular album by a particular band) are, in fact, rock journalism of one stripe or another. But within that hardy canon of tomes there exists a growing vein of fiction inspired by music. Joe Pernice (himself no slouch in the great album stakes) started the ball rolling with his Meat Is Murder novella. Since then, there have been a half a dozen others, ranging from Kate Schatz's lesbicious take on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me to Mountain Goat John Darnielle's labour of love inspired by Black Sabbath. And did I mention that The Fall — the English noise-niks who inaugurated this series of mine — had previously inspired a novel? Pan, by the wonderfully named Camden Joy and her sidekick Colin B. Morton (a title that brings to mind Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen being a writer whose influence The Fall's frontman Mark E. Smith has long celebrated).
Nothing new under the sun? You got that right, Shakes. (And, incidentally, if there are any novels, anthologies, graphic novels or what-have-you inspired by musicians I've not mentioned, let me know...) But I did say it got better, didn't I? I'll tell you why. Soon as I heard about all these other books, I wanted to read all these other books. Soon as I got over the fact that I wasn't the big brain on bran I thought I was, I started to get a bit of a kick out of being part of such great company. If Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall and Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth are ever talked of in the same breath as these other books, then that's all right with me (and I say this in full appreciation of the irony/fact that I have just mentioned all of these books in the same breath... Ahem...)