Thorne had put on a CD by Iris DeMent, a singer/songwriter from Arkansas he’d first heard on Radio 2’s Bob Harris Country. These were mountain songs, about blessings and blood; simple and honest and suited to the hour. Thorne waited for the first few notes picked out on acoustic guitar, adjusted the volume and went back to get his tea.
“I didn’t argue with Brendan about ‘nothing’,” Hendricks said. The springs of the sofa-bed creaked beneath him as he shifted position. The guitar had been joined by piano, and the voice, a rich Ozark twang, snaked between the two of them.
Hendricks sniffed and cursed under his breath, and from low in his armchair, there was no way for Thorne to see if it meant that there were tears. He would have needed to stand up, and truthfully, he had no idea what he would have been supposed to do then. With Hendricks lying down in bed, it was hard. It was awkward. So he stayed where he was, and felt bad, because he didn’t know how to make his friend feel better.
And they both listened to Iris DeMent singing about God walking in dark hills, and Jesus reaching, reaching, reaching down to touch her pain.
It Don’t Mean A Thang If It Ain’t Got That Twang
Annoyingly, country music has got rather trendy over the last few years, certainly more so than when I began writing the books. Back then Thorne (as I did) would get strange reactions when he told people the sort of music he listened to, would try patiently to explain that real country wasn’t about cowboy music and drinking…well not all of it anyway. Now, in addition to all the golden oldies, there is ‘new’ country, alt.country, Americana, whatever you want to call it; a musical movement taking in artists as diverse as Giant Sand, Calexico, Son Volt, Lucinda Williams, Lambchop, Steve Earle, Jim White, Neko Case and many more. Though Thorne prefers Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, his tastes have broadened a little down the years and he is listening to newer stuff too.
Nothing with a drum machine though…
At its best, country music seems to me to do what the very best crime fiction can do. It can tell dark, dark stories, and wrap them up in an entertaining package. It can tell unpleasant truths while it keeps your foot tapping. It can shine a light into the blackest parts of our lives and it can make you care, and those that tell the best stories, those with special voices, sound as though they’ve lived through the blackness themselves.