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Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth (2008) April 29, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Just finished reading Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth, a short story anthology edited by Peter Wild (and released as Empty Pages in the UK). The stories take their titles and inspiration from various Sonic Youth songs, some apparently trying to reflect something of what the song’s about, others taking the title as a starting point and going in their own direction. Mary Gaitskill’s the only writer here I’ve read before.

Interestingly enough, there’s elements of genre fiction here, including a ghost story and a story with a hint of Ramsey Campbell horror. Another is on the border between fantasy and surrealism. The book is not, for the most part, fiction about music. It’s not like Pagan Kennedy’s The Exes or Joe Pernice’s Meat is Murder or other fiction about indie rock. The one story that focuses most on music, the editor’s own contribution, is partly set at an MC5 concert and is about the turbulence of the 1960s, rather than about Sonic Youth.

For the most part, it’s a solid and generally well-written collection of modern literary/mainstream fiction. At times the SY influence is overt; other times, it’s barely discernible. But each story has a brief intro by the author to provide a little context. Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t any stories noticeably influenced by SY’s own literary touchstones (the Beats, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, etc).

I’ve dug out all my SY albums to make a playlist of the songs included, because some of them are from albums I haven’t listened to in a while. Not that it makes all that much of a difference. The stories generally draw on something evoked by song titles rather than building in any way on any narratives in the lyrics — not that Sonic Youth’s songs necessarily lend themselves to that.

Wild has also edited Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall (I like them but I’m a lot less familiar with them, but on the other hand it has stories by Steve Aylett and Jeff VanderMeer and I may get it after all). The next book, Paint a Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired by the Smiths sounds like a must-have, though I’m not sure I’ve read anything by any of its contributors. But given the more storytelling-oriented approach of Morrissey’s lyrics, it’ll be interesting to see how the writers work with those songs as inspiration. Wild is also planning similar books inspired by some other bands I love (Joy Division, the Ramones, the Velvet Underground), so I expect to be reading more of this kind of thing.

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