Tom Piccirilli is a great writer of gritty, character driven stories and novels that bleed from horror to thriller to western and back. He recently put up a lovely post about his interests, loves, desires and needs when so many things seem to be falling apart. It’s a heartfelt and moving piece, told with the poetry of Tom’s prose, called “All my Crushes Are Dead.”
There’s worlds of thought in the piece, and I’m still ruminating on all of them. But one things that grabbed me was his note on remembering and loving songs that no one else remembers. As a former musician, that (gasp) struck a chord.
When I was striving to become a singer and songwriter, I often spent a lot of time learning songs by bands that almost no one in my immediate surroundings knew about: The Replacements, Uncle Tupelo, Joe Ely, as well as one hit wonders from the lost era of country by guys like Mack Self (highly underrated). Sure, if there was a guitar at a party I could play “A Boy Named Sue”, but ask me to play the Beatles or the Stones or Pearl Jam or whatever and I’d hand off the six string to one of my more esteemed colleagues who could belt out “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or “Don’t Call me Daughter.”
A friend used to harass me about this point. “Why don’t you learn songs people want to listen to?” I never had a good answer. But one came to me after reading Tom’s post. The songs I loved were kind of intimate. They weren’t for a party crowd. They were for that single moment between listener and musician. And when I played them, I was cutting that distance between the two in half. I was really learning them, singing them and playing them for an audience of me. And perhaps that’s when I stopped caring about becoming a pro who toured, made albums, etc. Maybe not. But it’s something to think about.
As a writer, though, I want an audience for my words. Writers forever argue about who they are writing for: just for yourself? Do you consider an audience at all? It’s often phrased in terms of a binary argument: you either write for yourself or for the market. And that’s erroneous. More likely it’s a spectrum we all telegraph depending on taste, talent, and objectives.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either, so long as you’re happy with where you are on the spectrum. I love commercial fiction as much as I once loved obscure country punk bands (Like the perpetually sloshed Country Teasers, who did the greatest version of “Stand by Your Man” ever!). But of the commercial work, the best of the best remain those like Tom Piccirilli’s, which are driven by his dead crushes, stories that mean the world to him, and find a home in the minds of a growing audience. There’s still a healthy dollop of those obsessions that are your own, that help make the work unique, and those that do it with verve, vigor, and give a damn about words make works that are both engrossing as well as entertaining (like Tom’s The Dead Letters and Midnight Run, two great and modern pulp-noir thrillers that could not have been written by anyone else).
No hard conclusions on such things as of yet, if there ever can be. But much to think about in Tom’s post. I hope you read it.