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Extended Play: The Elastic Book Of Music
editor: Gary Couzens
Elastic paperback £6.99
review by David Hebblethwaite
A song for Extended Play:
Oh, there was a lad named Gary C,
Bethought him to collect stor-ies
All sharing a theme of music,
And publish them thro' Press E-las-tic.
Ahem. Yes. Moving swiftly on...
Gary Couzens takes to the decks for the third Elastic Press anthology, a set of nine tales at the longer end of the short story bracket, linked by the presence of music. For example, The Barrowlands' Last Night by Philip Raines and Harvey Welles is set at a gig at that Glasgow venue, where young Cam is searching for a man known as the 'Mosh Demon'. I loved the authors' description of the different sections of a mosh; but they also draw effective parallels between the tension of the crowd and that in Glasgow itself, torn between its past and the shiny new world of urban regeneration.
Nels Stanley's Some Obscure Lesion of the Heart takes its title from Lovecraft and, whilst (I think) there's nothing overtly eldritch in the tale (though the Great Old Ones might enjoy a boogie to some of the music described), it's appropriate enough for the soul-destroying industry Stanley depicts through the eyes of a rock critic. It is perhaps a shame that Stanley's most interesting points (such as that even though the music industry chews up and screws up some people, we keep on listening to their records regardless) are related through 'factual' passages rather than being reflected in the events - but then again, maybe the protagonist has a rough enough time as it is. I suspect this is not a story to be 'liked' as such, but it's good all the same.
Becky Done contributes Tremolando, which chronicles the relations and tensions between the members of a classical quartet. It's the characters that really count in a story like this, and Done does a good job; I particularly liked the idea of characters becoming so steeped in classical music that it colours how they see the world. I'm not sure that heading each section of the piece with a musical term really adds much, but that's by the by. Tremolando is Done's first published story, and she has acquitted herself well.
Tony Richards' A Night in Tunisia is the semi-autobiographical tale of a writer's friendship with a jazzman named Robert Biko. Its structure flits about as much as the musician (and, appropriately, rather like jazz itself), but Richards holds it together with fine writing (the music comes particularly to life) and emotional honesty; more than once, the author/ narrator comments on the sheer unfairness of death, and it is no less poignant here for being such a familiar notion.
In The Pines is the title of both Roseanne Rabinowitz's story and the folk song that provides the backbone of the tale's three parts. In 19th century Georgia, a woman loses her husband in a railroad accident. In 1970s' New Jersey, teenage Linda enters the heady world of festivals - and hears tales of the Jersey Devil. And, in near-future Cornwall, Linda returns as a journalist interviewing a group of maverick scientists who aim to access parallel universes by playing the right music. Rabinowitz maintains a strong sense of place throughout these very different sections; and moves from cold, hard reality to some pretty far-out physics without putting a foot wrong.
Marion Arnott's The Little Drummer Boy might be less obviously steeped in music than some of the other stories, but the tattoo of drumming beats throughout its pages - and not just of drums, but also of hearts and fists. A young boy with an abusive father discovers the ability to leave his body and enter others, with the consequence that... but I should go no further. Suffice it to say that this is powerful stuff, and one of the anthology's highlights.
In between the stories of Extended Play are short contributions from musicians about the influence of literature on their work. Each is eloquent but I find them quite hard to judge because, in all honesty, I'm not sure what to judge them against. When I felt dissatisfied with one, I asked myself what I would be satisfied with - but I couldn't find a decent answer. Chris T-T's discussion of time is interesting, and I enjoyed the piece by Susan and Catherine Hay of Tall Poppies, with its image of the influence of books creeping surreptitiously into their music. I'll let you discover the rest for yourself; but it's good to have these contributions in the volume, whatever one thinks of them, as they help it live up its subtitle - The Elastic Book Of Music, rather than a book of music stories.
I nearly said 'just a book of music stories' then, but that wouldn't be right as there are some really good tales in Extended Play. And, as always with these broad-brush anthologies, it's up to each reader to decide which are the best bits. In these circumstances, a review can (one may say 'should') only be a guide. You've read what I think; now it's over to you...
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