Friday, January 11, 2013

The Old and the New

I recall several years ago my then editor admonished me about too many pop cultural references in my book for fear that would date the story.  At the time I pishawed such advice ‘cause hey, I was young (younger then anyway) and with it, baby.  Now though in the intervening years I have come to see the wisdom of those words.  This has been particularly driven home to me when something of mine gets reprinted and, as is the nature of pop culture, such references do stand out as dated.  Though I did get a chuckle replacing an aside a character makes about Madonna with Lady Gaga.

As I write this post, the melancholy song, “Where Are We Now?” from the new David Bowie album, The Next Day, plays on the radio, his first release in a decade.  The Thin White Duke’s new LP, I mean, CD, no, download it seems as it was delivered exclusively to iTunes, coincides with his 66th birthday.  So every once in awhile, the old is new again it seems.

But I am a connoisseur of and a purveyor of pop culture.  Though, oddly, I am loath to wear brand clothing like a swoosh on my tennis shoes or the polo rider on my…polo shirt.  Yet how can I write a short story about say people trapped in a bad situation and not have somebody nervously crack about “At least the zombies haven’t shown up.”  I can’t help myself.  I try to use these references judiciously, but I can’t escape the stuff that’s around us and not want to use some of that to give my story that sense of immediacy.

For instance suspense was built in those ‘40s noir flick the hero desperately searches for a phone booth or an open drug store, as they had public phones in them, along a rain soaked city street at night.  Nowadays, you have to explain why that character can’t get a signal on their smart phone or they forgot to charge it the other night and the battery’s going out. 

Still, that’s why the Good Lord in his or her infinite wisdom invented the classics.  Those items like ‘50s cars with fins of ‘60s-era muscle cars that have stood the test of time.  Certain songs be it Sprinsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” or “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” by the Delfonics, man those tunes have something to say to each generation as far as I’m concerned.  Same goes for Jameson Irish Whisky or the PI’s trusty .45 -- iconic imagery that evokes much but just having them around.

Must be why I usually give my protagonists an older car with maybe even a cassette deck in the dash of that bad boy.  Driving in from that darkness on the edge of town, the Delfonics playing on the deck, the .45 in the glove box – the latter term I note still being used in the manual for our fairly new Prius. 

But come on, what does it say if I have my mysterious stranger roll into town in a Prius versus a ’67 Pontiac GTO with Cragar rims, a dent in the rear quarter panel and four-on-the-floor.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.  And for more of that good car stuff, click here for video tour of GM’s Heritage Center, their Tunnel of Love of old and new cars.


Meredith Cole said...

Ahh... cassette decks. You're making me nostalgic!

Classic cars have so much more personality than new cars--and you're right, they say so much more about your characters, Gary.

Gary Phillips said...

Oh yes, Meredith. A cool old car in the driveway and a well-stocked that's heaven.