Friday, September 30, 2016

Playlist: Crime Fiction Through Music

Let's talk crime music.

We're all familiar with crime fiction, but we don't talk about the artists making crime music enough.

Johnny Cash and some of the most famous rappers made names for themselves doing "crime music" but it's never really talked about that way. I talked before about Gin Wigmore's "Devil In Me" and how it helped inspire a story I wrote, but I've been having a great time scoping out music that works as crime fiction set to music.

First, one of my favorites, M.I.A. I know we're all familiar with "Bad Girls" and "Paper Planes" but I don't know if a lot of people who "don't like rap" have paid attention to the way she weaves actual stories into the songs. "Paper Planes" is great because it's not just about her "hustle", but the small details that make crime fiction fun - the border crossings, fake Visas, and of course, the infamous "All I wanna do is *fun crime sounds* and take your money."

I've already mentioned Gin Wigmore, but I'm going to mention her again for this great song about a crime couple gone wrong, "Dirty Love." This song is on the same album as "Devil In Me" and a great, creepy song where it's pretty clear Gin is inhabiting the role of a bloodthirsty serial killer. Her more criminal songs have been on heavy rotation while I write recently, a nice mix of sultry and straight up murdering people.

I've mentioned that my current WIP is a Bonnie & Clyde inspired criminal romance, so tripping over Bitter:Sweet's "Dirty Laundry" on YouTube was a fantastic accident. This song is every crime romance ever - a bad boy with bad intentions, and the woman who's just as bad. It's slick and sexy, and even includes a verse about that old running away to Mexico trope.

It's not all sexy, of course. One of my favorite songs by The Reverend Horton Heat is "Bales of Cocaine" a sort of crime fiction Beverly Hillbillies based around Horton getting a literal windfall of cocaine from a low-flying plane. He tells the story of how he sells the bales and becomes a coke kingpin. It's a little silly, but I've always wanted to write a novel based on this outline - some Texan farmer heading to Peru to start up a cocaine operation after getting coke dropped on his carrot farm.

Whether you think 3Oh!3 is a ridiculous band (they are) or not, this song is actually a pretty cool western crime story. It popped up on the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and now lives on YouTube where it is used for every TV villain fan-video ever made. But there's a cool story in it, and if you separate it from Iron Man or any of the fan videos, it's about some hardcore Wild West organized crime.

I like digging for this stuff and enjoying the genre in a different format, especially because saying a story is "inspired by a song" sounds a lot better than "I ripped this premise off from someone else." I'll probably revisit this topic again, because five songs is a pretty measly playlist.


John McFetridge said...

Oh yeah, so many good crime story songs. It's been all Tragically Hip all the time here in Canada this summer but I'm still not tired of their song, "38 Years Old."

In fact, I've been offering to write a screenplay based on it for a while but no takers. Yet. ;)

Unknown said...

"Little Houdini" by Sage Francis is a fun one. The whole Vigilante Genesis album by Blueprint & Aesop Rock is also a really good listen.

Renee Asher Pickup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee Asher Pickup said...

John - is that the same song we talked about in the interview here?

John McFetridge said...

Yes, that's the one.

Joe Clifford said...

John, I can't stop listening to "38 Years" and "Nautical Disaster." So fucking good.