Ask the gangsta rap devotee. Ask the grizzled blues fanatic and the bearded folk fan. Ask the goth and the indie kid. Ask and they will all tell you the same thing: death and popular music have forever danced hand-in-hand in funereal waltz time. The pop charts and the majority of radio stations' playlists may conspire to convince anyone listening that the world spins on its axis to the tune of "I love you, you love me" and traditional matters of the heart. The rest of us know that we live in a world where red roses will one day become lilies and that death is the motor that drives the greatest and most exhilarating music of all.
"Death music" is not merely a byword for bookish solemnity, or the glorification of murder, drugs and guns. Over the course of the last hundred years it has also been about teenage girls weeping over their high school boyfriend's fatal car wreck; natural disasters sweeping whole communities away; the ever-evolving threat of disease; changing attitudes to old age; exhortations to suicide; the perfect playlist for a funeral; and the thorny question of what happens after the fat lady ceases to sing. Which means that for every "Black Angel's Death Song" there is a "Candle in the Wind," and for every "Cop Killer" there is "The Living Years." Death, like music, is a unifying force. There is something for every taste and inclination, from murderous vengeance to camp sentimentality and everything in between.
Drawing upon original and unique interviews with artists such as Mick Jagger, Richard Thompson, Ice-T, Will Oldham and Neil Finn among many others, I Shot a Man In Reno explores how popular music deals with death, and how it documents the changing reality of what death means as one grows older. It's as transfixing as a train wreck, and you won't be able to put it down. as an epilogue, I Shot A Man In Reno presents the reader with the 40 greatest death songs of all time, complete with a brief rationale for each, acting as a primer for the morbidly curious listener.
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About the Author
Graeme Thomson is a regular contributor to The Word, the Observer, Time Out, the Herald and the Sunday Herald. He is the author of Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello (Canongate, 2004) and Willie Nelson: The Outlaw (Virgin Books, 2006). He lives in Edinburgh.
Table of Contents
1. Death Ain't Nothin' New: From 'John Barleycorn' to 'John Walker's Blues'
2. Teenage Wildlife: From Sob to Suicide
3. Blood on the Floor: Music, Murder and Morality
4. How Does It Feel?: Death in the Sixties
5. Appetite for Self-Destruction: Oblivion Songs
6. Sweetness Follows?: Into the Great Beyond
7. Gangsta Gangsta: Rap Reclaims the Murder Song
8. Sometimes It Snows in April: The Music of Loss
9. Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Fat Lady's Songbook
10. The Art of Dying (Slight Return) Epilogue: To Die For
The 40 Greatest Death Records
Notes on Sources