I’m reading a novel by a big-name author in which a character at the late end of his 20s fires himself up by blasting the Rolling Stones on his mp3 player. And it kind of knocked me out of the book.

I know there are people in their 20s and younger who are into the Stones. But it seems like a choice more suited to the author’s age than the character’s. I felt that way when the Stones were fired up in THE DEPARTED, too. Sure, the songs belong in a Scorsese film, but they didn’t feel quite right for a movie set now with Damon and DiCaprio as the leads.

As authors, how do you handle music in your books? Do you try to keep with current trends, say by having your twentysomethings listen to Linkin Park, knowing that in ten years that reference may date the book? Or do you stick with perennials like Mick and the boys? As readers, how do you respond to specific songs in the context of a book?

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I love it when I read a book and the character is listening to The Ramones, or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - it makes me feel a connection to that character because they have such good taste. In Ken Bruen's AMERICAN SKIN one of the nastiest, most evil, scaries characters in crime fiction, who sends a shiver down your spine whenever he appears on the page, is driving along listening to The Clash. Immediately, I thought "Aw, bless. He's not all bad then" :o)

And I was inspired to go and hunt down some old blues musicians after reading Bill Fitzhugh's RADIO ACTIVITY.

So yes, I love music references in books
LOL! My son is 18, and he's been raiding his father's music collection for the past three or four years, INCLUDING the Stones, the Who, you name it, if my husband has it, it's probably been in my son's CD player or on his mp3. And I know a lot of other kids who prefer the more 'classic' rock to the newer rock. Don't let it knock you out of the story. It's really not all that unusual.
I think they're a lot of twentiy and thirty somethings who have pretty eclectic tastes. Both of my kids listen to jazz, blues, classic rock, indie rock, alternative & classical music too. But I know what you mean. It's probably better in a book to choose age-appropriate music
People tend to listen backward but not forward too. You'll never catch my parents listening to current music unless its covered by someone like Harry Connick or Norah Jones but my kids will listen to Sinatra or Clooney.
Actually, that's not entirely true. My dad is amazingly eclectic when it comes to music, and we are often introduced to the music of newer bands through him.
My mum likes The Cramps and AC DC. Of course, she also likes Status Quo but I forgive her that since she's 76 and can't get it right ALL the time.
i have no problem with music in books unless it's a case of a character who is supposed to be really cool, and the music he's listening to is just bad, generic crap. that pulls me out of a book. good music crosses generations. if a main character puts in a phil collins CD, and if that character isn't simply trying to torture himself, i might have to stop reading.

i used a lot of music and band references in one of my books and ended up getting quite a bit of fan mail because of the music, and most of the fan mail was from teenagers. the groups were older groups like my bloody valentine, cocteau twins, joy division, echo and the bunnymen, velvet underground, etc.

now if i mention a band i try to use somebody i know.
My alter ego, Haley Walsh, writes a contemporary gay amateur sleuth. He's a twenty-five year old English teacher, very hip and with it, but this white boy happens to really love Motown. So the music never goes out of style! I also avoid any copyright issue by never writing any of the lyrics, just the titles and artist. I just describe the tone and rhythm of the music and how it sets the mood. I also talk about club music in the same way, and mention some of the music the other characters listen to. It's just one more thing that helps define them. Some of that music is more contemporary, but there is also mention of technology--Blackberries and video games--that will surely date it. But what can you do?
In my writing, I tend to mention real bands and real songs. I also like it when I read such things.

To me it just adds an air of realism..plus I like being specific.

A recurring character in my stories isn't a blues fan, or even a contemporary blues fan. He's a Deborah Coleman fan.

Of course, there are plenty of bands, like the Stones, who are over-used, but overall, I like the real deal.
Good points, all. Music seems like a trickier-than-you’d-think proposition in fiction. You want to avoid the generics, while not relying too much on bands that have become overt signifiers like the Stones. At the same time, you don’t want to go too obscure. I’m a George Pelecanos fan, but after reading some of his books I feel like digging out back issues of Creem on microfiche.

That’s what was so great about the use of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the final episode of THE SOPRANOS. Of course a guy Tony’s age would cue up the Rodney Dangerfield of power ballads. (I will state here and now that I love that song unironically and unreservedly. Snicker if you must.)

In terms of musical taste informing a character, you can’t top Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s AMERICAN PSYCHO. He argues that Huey Lewis is superior to Elvis Costello. Clearly the man is a danger to himself and others. And I say that as someone who will also admit to liking Huey Lewis.
"Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s AMERICAN PSYCHO. He argues that Huey Lewis is superior to Elvis Costello."

I love that - it tells you everything you need to know about him :o)
I love musical references in books. They give a sense of time and place, and an insight into the character. I remember in one of Christopher Brookmyre's tales, the baddy liked Phil Collins - I laughed my arse off! I've also picked up on bands I might otherwise not have come across, having listened to them after they were name checked in a book. And yup, I do it myself.
I agree with Led Zeppelin and would add Pink Floyd and Queen. I don't know anyone around my age (23) who likes Kiss, and very few who are into Guns N Roses. Of course Hendrix is popular with everyone.


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