December 29, 2008

Graeme Thomson: I Shot a Man in Reno

There are thousands songs about the end of life and Graeme Thomson has written the definitive book about the subject. I Shot a Man in Reno, A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease and General Misadventure, as Related in Popular Song traces back the roots of perennial murder ballads like Stagger Lee, offers insight about the huge popularity of teenage death songs in the late fifties and early sixties -- the couples were not married and they might have indulged in hot prenuptial sex if that shark hadn't shown up just in time - car and motor incidents (Leader of The Pack comes to mind) were more common though. Today drive-by shootings rule supreme in rap.

Thompson digs deep but I Shot A Man In Reno is not a bleak book. People have made fun of the grim reaper, too, and it shows in dozens of songs. "Always Look At The Bright Side of Life, you silly bugger."

The brouhahah surrounding heavy metal being responsible for a few teenage suicides is just that: a typical posse reaction. A case against Judas Priest after two teenagers pulled the trigger was thrown out of court. The same goes for the Columbine High shooting where shock rocker Marilyn Manson was deemed as a threat. No, says Thompson, he would be in real trouble if people actually would pay attention to his music. Panicky parents are always looking for a scapegoat, but sad-eyed teenagers listing endlessly to goth and emo don't decide to cut their own wrists by default. A subgenre killing of its fans is just bad for business.

Thompson has interviewed musicians like Nick Cave, Mike Scott and Richard Thompson who have written about death in all its guises. They talk about the writing process, name their influences and explain the tradition of death songs.

Graeme Thomson: I Shot a Man in Reno

I Shot a Man in Reno will expand the reader's musical horizon. Graeme Thomson has drawn a big picture about all the genres that have sung about death. It's part of the musical nervous system.

Thompson continues to write about the subject on his blog:


MP3: Depeche Mode - Blasphemous Rumours
MP3: Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues

Video: Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues
Video: Nick Cave w/ Kylie Minogue - Where The Wild Roses Grow
Video: Elvis Presley - In The Ghetto

I Shot A Man In Reno is published by Continuum Books.

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