So, I'm blogging on Powell's this week, ostensibly to publicise Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth
, which is published roundabout now by those lovely people over at Harper Perennial. You might ask, what the Billy-o is fiction inspired by Sonic Youth (or, indeed, fiction inspired by any band)? After all, words on a page and squawling feedback hewed from a vomit-spew of guitars, cables, amps, and electricity are unlikely bedfellows.
I'll tell you what I tell prospective contributors. For me, fiction can be inspired by music in a variety of ways: you can take the title of the song and run with it (the same way we did years ago in school when the teacher asked us to write "What I Did Over the Summer" at the head of the page — only, instead of "What I Did over the Summer," you're writing "Teen Age Riot" or "The Diamond Sea" or, as I did, "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style"); you can tweak some hidden meaning out of the lyrics; you can use the pictures stirred up in your head by the music; or you can play the song over and over and over and over again (and then over and over and over again) until the furious juxtaposition of lyrics and vocals and music sends you spinning off in some direction you want to pursue. Some contributors to the book wanted to try and react to the band themselves, wanted to try and sum up everything they felt about Sonic Youth, what Sonic Youth meant to them, all of that.
Catherine O'Flynn, for example (whose debut novel What Was Lost is really well worth checking out if you haven't already), wrote a story about a girl who finds herself trapped in the back of her teacher's car. The title — 'Snare, Girl' — is perfect. You'll understand why when you've read the story. (One clue, though — the comma could be a colon.) But it was just one title drawn from a list of six or seven other possible songs (each of which drew out a different element of what she was trying to accomplish with the story). For Catherine, it was Sonic Youth — the essence of Sonic Youth — she was trying to distill. Of course, Catherine O'Flynn's perspective on Sonic Youth is different from J. Robert Lennon's and Steve Sherrill's and Mary Gaitskill's and Kevin Sampsell's (who you'll be hearing from tomorrow) and all of the other contributors. Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth is, in a way, a bit like that story of the six men of Indostan and the elephant.
You've heard it, right? "It was six men of Indostan / To learning much inclined / Who went to see the Elephant / (Though all of them were blind)..." Each of the men grab a different part of the elephant and think they're holding a radically different thing (one confuses the elephant with a wall, another with a spear, a third with a snake, a fourth with a tree, a fifth with a rope, and the sixth with a fan, of all things). Taken together, though, the findings of the six blind men add up — via some deranged, otherworldly mathematical system — to one elephant. Now, I'm not saying that the contributors of Noise are in any way akin to the six blind men of Indostan (although I'm sure there are reviewers hastily drawing up scathing comments along those lines as I type this); but a whole host of different perspectives on one single thing can (IMHO) offer you a bird's eye view of what it might otherwise be impossible to try to understand. (Which, in this case, is the route chosen by 21 writers to fashion fiction inspired by that greatest of all rock'n'roll bands, Sonic Youth...)