from safety to where…?
When I was in high school I spent a lot of time driving around in the car between Virginia and North Carolina with my advisor, Alan Spearman. He would take me to get my hair cut in Chapel Hill and afterwards we would eat pizza in town and talk about being a small child in Georgia, Bela Lugosi, freeing Winona Ryder, and anything Southern Gothic. On our way back to Chatham we would often listen to these songs, among others:
Love – Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale
Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
The last was featured as having one of what Stylus Magazine considers to be the top 50 basslines of all (relevant) time. (NB: Sasha Frere-Jones pointed out that these two songs
Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
Grace Jones – Pull Up to the Bumper
and this one
were notably missing from the list. Odd. Also, in the spirit of basslines and the picture and Bela Lugosi, I’d like to nominate this one
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead)
Both good cars like Alan Spearman’s and good basslines move forward in a deliberate way we could describe as driving. The trajectory of a good bassline is often a combination of the groundingly simple and repetitive – almost sampling itself – and jarringly skewed rhythms and unexpected delays. This tenuous balance between the predictable and the unforeseen, between the secure and the unstable, is the same one that creates the rhythm of swing (or hip hop, for that matter): a constant teetering between the regulated and the chaotic. A good bassline is both serene and dangerous at the same time, like the creepiest of criminals.
This idea that the movement of a musical voice can run parallel to, or even act as the inspiration for, a character or plotline in a novel is a newish one to me and will probably provide the thesis for the next paper I’m going to write. The similarities between the creative processes of good composers and good authors suddenly seems striking: both create a a groundwork in the form of solid but evolving characters or basslines, a smooth story/melodic line, and an internal structure of plot twists and dissonances, suspensions of time and rhythm, delayed gratifications, and intralinked progression to finally reach some sort of resolution.
Ultimately though, I think that in addition to being able to pull off something with both strong structure and fluid and interesting movement, the most important quality a writer or composer can have is restraint. Restraint is what gives a book a quality anything like that of a well-smoothed stone, and what holds a bassline together is its polish and control. The reality of control is a force strikingly capable of making us feel the sensation of its loss.