“Literary Mixtape: Coming Through in Waves – Crime Fiction Inspired by Pink Floyd” by John Talbird

Pink Floyd were so cerebral. Dark, but in a post-apocalyptic-cum-dystopian sci-fi kind of way, not a crime story way. However, the anthology, edited by crime writer and memoirist T. Fox Dunham, makes a certain kind of twisted sense.

I was in middle school, just barely a teenager, when British band Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out. It was the time when I had first discovered pot and their album became a common soundtrack to experiences in various stoner kids’ bedrooms. Like everyone else, I was already familiar with their 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon. It contained their FM radio hit, “Money,” and famously sat on the Billboard top 200 charts for fifteen years. Throughout high school, I lost track of how many times I went to midnight movies to see Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd – The Wall starring Bob Geldof. At some point, I delved into earlier albums Ummagumma (1969), Obscured by Clouds, the soundtrack to the 1972 French film, La Vallee, and their first album, released when I was just a one-year-old, the only record that insane genius and acid-head Syd Barret played on, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Pink Floyd’s music is the inspiration for all of the stories in Gutter Books’ recent entry in their Rock Anthology series, Coming Through in Waves, which takes its name from the song “Comfortably Numb” from The Wall. The earlier anthologies were all inspired by American artists like Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and 80s garage band, The Replacements. Johnny Cash is a natural for a crime anthology the book even (mis)quotes “Folsom Prison Blues”: Just to Watch Them Die. So is Springsteen whose classic Nebraska is peopled with criminals including the title song from the point-of-view of America’s first famous spree killer, Charlie Starkweather whose story was also dramatized in Terrence Malick’s first film, Badlands. Even the post-punk Replacements with their songs of alcoholics, petty thieves and other lowlifes makes a certain kind of sense. But Pink Floyd? They were so cerebral. Dark, but in a post-apocalyptic-cum-dystopian sci-fi kind of way, not a crime story way. However, the anthology, edited by crime writer and memoirist T. Fox Dunham, makes a certain kind of twisted sense.

The anthology opens with the excellent Kafkaesque “Come in Number 51, Your Time Is Up” by the oddly named dbschlosser. The title comes from an alternate version of one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, “Careful with that Axe, Eugene.” (That entry in this anthology, unfortunately, is less strong, perhaps might even be called ridiculously bad.) The second story, “A Saucerful of Secrets,” named after the title song of Pink Floyd’s second album is a witty postmodern take on aimless dialogue between thieves as a kind of action a la Quentin Tarantino. (There is even a reference to Reservoir Dogs with Swedish subtitles.) Naturally, for this anthology, a big portion of these criminals’ conversation circles around tragically dead rock stars: Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, et al. One of the best stories is Andy Rausch’s take on “Wish You Were Here” as a neo-noir with a pair of killer lesbian femme fatales. This last is a welcome antidote to “Obscured by Clouds” which is a favorite Floyd instrumental of mine from the early seventies, but in story form here a nasty little number about two carnies covering up the murder of a dead girl. There’s a lot of violence against women in crime fiction there’s a lot of violence against women in the world. But it would have been nice to read a few more stories by women; more than three-fourths of the offerings here are by men.

It makes me wonder what an anthology centered around a female rocker like Patti Smith or PJ Harvey would be like. Or perhaps one with a queer sensibility like Lou Reed or the B-52’s. Of course, hip-hop artists might attract a more diverse group of writers. Cypress Hills’s “How I Could Just Kill a Man” practically writes itself. Or rather than the sci-fi paranoia of a British band like Pink Floyd, perhaps Radiohead would have been a better fit. Radiohead could write the scores for any number of yet-to-be-made noir sci-fi adaptations of William Gibson. Speaking of noir, Television, especially their first album, Marquee Moon, could be the soundtrack for a hipster noir. And I would love to read an anthology composed of all songs inspired by Camper Van Beethoven or the Fall, these last for no other reason than they’re two of my favorite bands, ever. And I suppose that’s the danger of a game of this sort; really, any band who has enough songs is suitable for an anthology like this. I would imagine the act of putting together an anthology of this sort might be similar to the mix tapes I used to make for friends back in my teens. Whether that act translates into a satisfying anthology of fiction or not is probably up to any individual reader to decide. But for this mixtape, I wish there were more killer tracks.

John Talbird is Associate Editor, Fiction, for Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon. He is the author of the novel The World Out There (Madville Publishing, 2020) and a chapbook, A Modicum of Mankind (Norte Maar, 2016). His fiction and essays have appeared in Ploughshares, Potomac Review, Ambit, Juked, The Literary Review, and Riddle Fence among many others. He is a frequent contributor to Film International and on the editorial board of Green Hills Literary Lantern. A professor at Queensborough Community College-CUNY, he lives with his wife and son in New York City.

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