Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Pick-Up, a Cold One, and You

Note: TKZ is delighted today to welcome guest blogger Camille Minichino, author of The Periodic Table Mysteries.



I grew up on the East Coast, about as far from cowboys as you could get. In my neighborhood the Columbus Day parade band played the march from Aida or the drinking song from La Traviata. So what if many of them were goons—they were goons with classical taste.

So how come the satellite radio system in my car is set to Willie's Roadhouse, where Willie Nelson and his friends tell their sad, tragic stories with steel guitars and nasal tones?

I love country music.

How did that happen? I don't drink. I'm too lame to get into a pick-up. I hate the outdoors, with all that dirt and creepy bugs. I barely tolerate living in San Francisco, too far west of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My first rodeo was also my last.

But I sing passionately along with Wynn Stewart: I bought the shoes that just walked out on me.

I'm often asked to explain it. My brother-in-law, a real life dude rancher in his youth, asks me often, as if he considers me unworthy to blend my voice with Patsy Cline's.

I've got your picture; she's got you, I twang out.

There are limitless possibilities for backstory in that line, and in this early Willie hit: Hello, walls. How'd things go for you today?

It's like flash fiction. And that's it in a nutshell. Or cowboy hat. Country music lyrics have everything a writer could ask for. It's grand opera without the libretto.

You want PLOT? Country music gives you revenge, big time. What better inspiration for a crime fiction writer?

Take Waylon Jennings: Well, I hope that the train,
 From Caribou Maine, 
runs over your new love affair. And Miranda Lambert: His fist is big, but my gun's bigger; He'll find out when I pull the trigger.

You want CHARACTERS? Country music has the saddest of the sad, the meanest of the mean—ornery sheriffs, jailbirds, a busted-flat girl named Bobby McGee, and a boy named Sue. 

Country characters can be the cruel: How Can I Miss You if You Won't Go Away? Who doesn't need Travis Tritt at least once a day: Here's a quarter, call someone who cares.

The Oak Ridge Boys give us an expansive image: Gonna take the Mississippi, the Monongahela, and the Ohio; gonna take a lot of river to wash these blues away.

You want more METAPHORS? Here's a gosh durn winner, my favorite, from Johnny Cash's Flushed from the Bathroom of your Heart:

On the river of your plans I'm up the creek;
Up the elevator of your future I've been shafted;
On the calendar of your events I'm last week.


Ouch! My poor achey breaky heart!

Unlike the popular music when I was growing up, country music isn't slave to cliché rhymes, like moon-June-spoon, or true-blue-you.

Instead, country gives us Conway Twitty's tongue-twister, When we said I do, we really did, but now you don't.

Okay, it's not all lyrical.

Do you get inspired by music? Is your taste classier than mine?

Camille Minichino is a retired physicist turned writer, the author of The Periodic Table Mysteries. Her akas are Margaret Grace (The Miniature Mysteries) and Ada Madison (The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries). The first chapter of 'The Square Root of Murder," debuting July 2011 is on her website: http://www.minichino.com

21 comments:

  1. Camille, my favorite country music singer is Johnny Cash. My sisters and I used to belt out the punch line to "A Boy Named Sue." Loved that song!

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  2. The few years my husband spent in Texas (pre-me) turned him into a country music fan. I thought it was the heat. Apparently not. For me, it's hymns. But, since it's been made clear to me that I cannot sing, where's the fun?

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  3. Great to be here; thanks for posting Kathryn.

    I love Johnny Cash also; you can punch out just about any line of his!

    Lots of stories in hymns, too, Liz!

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  4. I grew up on country. I still often shake my dog's paw with the greeting "How do you do? My name is Sue!" Also love Johnny Cash's "One Piece At A Time" song too. Though I confess, I stick to the country music of the 1980's and prior. The more modern stuff doesn't grab me much.

    Hymns and contemporary Christian music are wonderful too. I find that in general, music moves me even more as I get older. Perhaps that's because living so long I've amassed a lot of lyrics in my head--and they pop up frequently.

    My favorite thing is to wake up singing hymns in my head. That is too cool.

    But you're right--lyrics are wonderful fodder for inspiring creativity. Lyrics are Twitter before Twitter was cool. 8-)

    BK Jackson

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  5. I love that -- lyrics are Twitter before Twitter was cool.

    I hope a very beautiful hymn wakes you tomorrow, BK.

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  6. You go, gal! I grew up singing along to Hank Sr. and Miss Kitty Wells. Knew June Carter before she was ever a solo act. Once country bites ya, it don't let go.

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  7. Welcome, Camille! I am told that my iPod looks as if it was programmed by twenty different people (it is, but that's another story) but a good deal of it is country music. I have several different versions of "Long Black Veil," which may be my favorite song of all time. I first heard it when I was fifteen and not listening to country at all; it chilled me then and does the same each time I've listened to it in the intervening forty-five years. And it is truly in the kill zone.

    Liz, God gave you only one voice. Sing out!

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  8. Welcome, Camille. Like you, I love country music. Having grown up in the South, it was a part of my life from early on. Unlike most contemporary tunes, country songs usually tell a story. Using an economy of words, they reveal a slice of life filled with strong emotions that go right to the heart. Most country songs have a solid beginning, middle and end, just like a well-crafted novel.

    My tastes lean towards the more traditional country artists, and I worship at the altar of George Jones, the greatest country artist of all time. His "He Stopped Loving Her Today" has yet to be topped in my view.

    Then there's my favorite lyric: "I can't get over you, so get up and answer the phone yourself."

    Good luck with your new book.

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  9. Hi Camille! I've never really been a fan of country music myself, but your post has changed my mind about it. I don't think I've ever thought about the songs and their dynamic characters that way. Not to mention the awesome metaphors and scenes, as you described. I'm actually willing to give country music another try, now. My friend who's a John-Denver-Fanatic often gives me links to his music and I usually end up liking them, so... I suppose it wouldn't kill me to listen to different country artists. Who knows? I might end up being obsessed with a whole different genre.

    I do agree with you that if you compared country music to the music today, it wouldn't even come close. Hiphop and Pop don't really have the characters and scenes you described, just an upbeat tone. Although I'm only fourteen, I don't really listen to that kind of music. Mostly movie battle soundtracks and other epic-style ones (as my guitar teacher put it) like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEOolYYe60k

    Thanks for the great post!

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  10. Joe—The Long Black Veil is a wonderful song. I know several artists have recorded it but John Anderson did the version I love best.

    BK Jackson

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  11. Great interview and musical references. I am incredibly influenced and inspired by music. I am a church musician and a piano teacher. Your story, physicist turned mystery writer, and your books, sound fascinating!

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  12. You reminded me of my favorite revenge song by Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats":

    And he don't know...

    That I dug my key into the side of his
    pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive,
    carved my name into his leather seats...
    I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
    slashed a hole in all 4 tires...

    Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.


    I think of that song every time I hear about an injured spouse getting even!

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  13. After all these comments, I see myself kicking back with a cold one (it would have to be iced tea) and listenin' to The Highway or Willie's Roadhouse all day!

    Thanks all for reminding me of songs I left out -- it was really hard to choose -- and introducing me to some new ones.

    Kathryn, now I have to hear that Carrie Underwood -- I don't pay enough attention to the newer artists. I'm stuck on Jones, Tubbs, Williams . . .

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  14. I came very close to leaving in: "I can't get over you, so get up and answer the phone yourself," Joe.

    And I must check out the John Anderson version of Long Black Veil, BK.

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  15. Though I live in the country, I don't really listen to it a lot. My mom doesn't like how twangy it is, which is sometimes the reason I like it when I do. But I do like how most country music is a story. I listen to a lot of Christian music. Sometimes wile listen to the radio, I'll find my character's song. :)

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  16. I LOVE country music lyrics. I find them so very clever, touching, poignant and many times, funny as heck!

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  17. Welcome Camille and howdy from down under! My Dad is a huge country music fan which meant I loathed it for many years, until we took pity on him and all went to see the Highwaymen when they played years ago. Since then I became convert - at least to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson:) My secret music vice is listening to 1980's alternative music - I frequently inflict New Order, Joy Division and the Smiths on my poor husband (less so now we have kids). He says I should have got rid of all that teenage angst by now...but I haven't!

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  18. What's the point of teenage angst if you can't cherish it later, Clare?

    I want to come back next year with a Part 2, and include all the favorites from this list of comments!

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  19. I am a no holds barred Pink Floyd fan. Good lyrics, but mainly the music. For myself I find inspiration in the musical notes as much as the words themselves.

    Being a percussionist in a Christian worship band I found a lot of various influences (country, Celtic, rock, Caribbean, African)creeping into my own music. That also underlies much of my writing as I feel certain rhythms and beats as I tell a story.

    Music is an awesome thing, beyond simple expression it is a source of energy and life itself.

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  20. I love the idea of rhythm and beats to writing, Basil. It makes so much sense, then, to read things out loud as part of editing a manuscript.

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  21. Camille - great post1

    I grew up with country music and lines like "I turned twenty-one in prison, doin' life without parole . . . " and "The beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad,
    So I had one more for dessert."

    I agree that every good country song is a story looking for a place to happen.

    My latest fav line comes from a song where he finds out she is shopping it all over town, the refrain starts with:

    "Tell your sister I'm single . . . "

    Awesome!

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