Monday, November 08, 2010

"Those romantic young boys/All they ever want to do is fight."

The Song: "Incident on 57th Street," Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Words & music by Bruce Springsteen. Track 5 (Track 1, Side 2) of The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle, 1973.
How/when acquired: Gift LP, c. 1981.
Listen to a clip here.

This album is too often overlooked in discussions of Bruce Springsteen's music, even though it includes the essential "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and the classic "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." It's one of my favorites, an album that's like a collection of short stories. The band played the whole thing in concert in New York last year, and I wish I'd seen it.

A topic left undiscussed at last week's NoirCon was noir in popular music. This song certainly pays homage to classics of the genre, books and films like The Friends of Eddie Coyle — which, coincidentally or not, came out as a movie in 1973.

The question "What is noir?" has been so rehashed that by the second day of the conference, author/editor Anthony Neil Smith had a two-word answer that was not "Happy Birthday." But for people who don't spend their lives talking about it, I'll say that noir is romantic outsider fiction taken to its violent extreme. A lone individual, outside the mainstream, embarks on a course of action fueled by nothing but desire, although the nature of that desire may be obscure to the protagonist. Things don't end well. Noir requires that outsider protagonist, that overpowering desire, and that inexorable doom. At least, that's what I say.

But it is, for obvious reasons, a genre that appeals to young men. It might be an unforgivable generalization, but I'll say it anyway: for the most part, young women want to believe in romantic compulsions that end happily ever after. A certain breed of young man prefers romantic compulsions that end in flames. (Calling to mind another excellent example of modern noir, the David Cronenberg movie Crash.)

It was a good conference and a great chance to spend quality time with some people I hadn't seen much of at Bouchercon. It is dangerous to drop names, because I'll leave someone out — but highlights included Laura Lippman's interview of George Pelecanos, a discussion of Patricia Highsmith in film by Rich Edwards and Thomas Kaufman, a conversation between Megan Abbott and the aforementioned Anthony Neil Smith about the relationship of history and noir, and a tribute to the late David Thompson from Patti Abbott, Scott Cupp, Christa Faust, Scott Phillips, S.J. Rozan and Reed Farrel Coleman. Wallace Stroby and David Corbett told great stories about their personal encounters with the dark side, and I spent quality bar time with Judy Bobalik, Sarah Weinman, Rosanne Coleman, Kieran Shea, Sarah Cortez, Larry Light and Meredith Anthony. I even got to meet the legendary (and lovely) Bride of Swierczynski, also named Meredith, although I feel as if I barely talked to Duane.

As usual, I came away with lists of books I need to read and movies I need to watch. I shouldn't admit this, but I've never actually read The Friends of Eddie Coyle.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Actually, I prefer Rat on Fire by Higgins. Love Friends of Eddie Coyle, but Rat on Fire has even more velocity to it.

AnswerGirl said...

One more to add to the list . . . thanks!

Claire said...

If I may quote Fitzgerald and recontextualize your observation in a non-gendered way...

"I'm a romantic—-a sentimental person thinks things will last-—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't."