Dead Man Starting
178 days ago
When I’ve told people about Dead Man Singing, one of the most frequent questions has been ‘What gave you the idea?’ The short answer is Richard Thompson. Here’s the longer version:
I’ve been a fan of Richard Thompson, singer-songwriter-guitarist extraordinaire, since discovering him as a teenager (me, not him) in the mid ’80s. At a gig a few years later I saw him play a song, Now That I Am Dead, which I hadn’t heard before. It’s from the perspective of a rock musician frustrated that his career has finally taken off, but only as a result of his death. You can listen to it yourself on Youtube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekbusjN8WNY
Now That I Am Dead wasn’t on any of Thompson’s own albums, and it took me a few years to discover that the recorded version was on an album called Invisible Means that he made as part of experimental rock supergroup French Frith Kaiser Thompson. Years later, remembering the song, the idea of someone faking their death to boost sales got hold of me, and soon the rest of Dave’s narrative began to fall into place.
I quickly realised that the story couldn’t be set in the present day – when rock stars die now, everyone turns to streaming services rather than actually buying records – which gave me the excuse to revisit the musical landscape of my youth.
The music is an integral part of the storytelling. Each song mentioned in the book is carefully chosen. In a former life I used to write think-piece articles about films, including the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. In that film, the songs do a lot of the heavy lifting of telling the story, and I’ve tried to do something similar with Dead Man Singing. You don’t have to know the songs to enjoy the book, but if you do know them there’s a whole extra layer to dig into and enjoy.
As a concept – has-been rock star fakes his death then goes out on the road as his own tribute act – it proved highly successful in connecting with people. I grew to recognise the look on their faces as they took it in and liked it. That’s all well and good, but I knew that while people would come for the concept (or, in some cases, the music), they would only stay if they invested in the characters and their journey. Dave and the people he meets along the way had to get under the skin for the book to work. Feedback from early readers is that they do. If you read the book (please do!), I hope you agree with them.
What are the best books you have read set in the world of the music industry?
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