“I have always regarded music with lyrics as a species of fiction.” William Gibson
Dock Boggs. From Wikipedia.
When William Gibson released his first novel, Neuromancer, in 1984, he considered opening it with a line from a Velvet Underground song, “Watch out for worlds behind you,” from “Sunday Morning”. In an interview in 1986 he talked about how limiting he found the questions journalists were asking him. They asked only about books that had inspired him, and even more particularly, just science fiction books.
“The trouble with ‘influence’ questions is that they’re usually framed to encourage you to talk about your writing as if you grew up in a world circumscribed by books,” he told Larry McCaffrey. “I’ve been influenced by Lou Reed, for instance, as much as I’ve been by any ‘fiction’ writer.”
William Gibson and Nick Cave have been the two poles of my compass ever since I began reading and hearing their works, from Nick’s first record and Gibson’s first book. What they share is a vision with a level of detail that William Gibson described as ‘superspecificity’ and that he learned from Dashiell Hammett.
“I remember being very excited about how he had pushed all of this ordinary stuff until it was different,” he told Larry McCaffrey. “Like American naturalism but cranked up, very intense, almost surreal. You can see this at the beginning of The Maltese Falcon (1930) where he describes all the things in Spade’s office. Hammett may have been the guy who turned me on to the idea of superspecificity, which is largely lacking in most SF description, SF authors tend to use generics.”
Although Gibson is credited with the invention of what we now recognise as the computer era, because he described it so well, and Nick is generally assumed to be inventing scenarios around Old Testament parables, what draws me to their perspectives is how vividly they describe worlds that that are real, that they see because they’re paying attention. Their artistry comes from combining the observations they’ve made about in unusual ways. Their works resemble nothing we’ve ever seen before, in that way, so it’s assumed they must be inventing comic book futures or transcribing fever dreams.
“I suppose I strive for an argot that seems real, but I don’t invent most of what seems exotic or strange in the dialogue,” William Gibson told Larry McCaffrey, “that’s just more collage. There are so many cultures or subcultures today that if you’re willing to listen, you can pick up different phrases, inflections and metaphors everywhere. I use a lot of phrases that seem exotic to everyone but the people who use them.”
My own interests can be cross-faded with Nick’s and William Gibson’s. I’ve always comprehended that their works lay down on paper (or in music, alive in a stretch of time) the soul’s eternal struggle with itself. It’s the sadness at the heart of what they both create that I’m most drawn to: the sorrow that makes it possible to measure happiness. “We each have a need to create and sorrow is a creative act,” Nick said in a lecture about love songs. “The love song is a sad song, it is the sound of sorrow itself. We all experience within us what the Portugese call Suadade, which translates as an inexplicable sense of longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the Love song is the light of God, deep down, blasting through our wounds.”
Today a list of William Gibson’s ten favourite songs is published on the New York Times book blog. He mentions a song from The Boatman’s Call among his favourites. On his blog, at the time he published Pattern Recognition he expressed admiration for Nick, saying that he’d like to write a novel as good as The Boatman’s Call. Gibson’s description of a song by Dock Boggs, an early twentieth century Appalachian white bluesman, is exactly the feeling I gained from reading William Faulkner’s novels, after they’d been recommended to me by Nick.
“On finally learning to hear this music, you literally become some different, more primal manner of flesh,” writes Gibson. “There is simply nothing else like it. It is an Ur-thing, sere and terrible, yet capable of profound and paradoxical rescue in the very darkest hour. Dock Boggs lived in Wise County, Virginia, not far from where I grew up. I am haunted by the possibility that someone could have listened to this recording in Paris, in 1927, the year it was released.”