Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rankin, Rebus and music's muse

"I can imagine living without books, but I can't imagine living without music." An unlikely comment, perhaps, coming from a celebrated writer - but, as Ian Rankin recently confessed to Mary Anne Hobbs, he remains a "frustrated rock star" at heart.

An early love of music (especially Alice Cooper and Hawkwind) inspired his first creative endeavours, dreaming up an imaginary band called the Amoebas, and he even went so far as to front a couple of punk bands in his youth.

Then, when it came to creating Inspector Rebus, Rankin decided to make him a music fan, using his fictional detective's particular favourites - the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen - as a form of shorthand in subtly defining his character for the savvy reader.

Joy Division and The Cure - neither of whom would appeal to Rebus - have lent two of Rankin's novels their names (Dead Souls and The Hanging Garden respectively), while music seems equally important to the actual business of writing, with the likes of Brian Eno, Mogwai and Blanck Mass all providing a backdrop that is both unobtrusive (largely by virtue of being instrumental) and yet capable of hermetically sealing the author away from the outside world.

Rankin is a longstanding fan of Mogwai in particular - I recall him talking animatedly about them to my friend Olav when being interviewed for the university magazine back in 2001. I'm also reminded of the time I was in a pub in Edinburgh chatting about Rankin's love for the post-rock poster boys and his uncanny knack of capturing the darker side of the Scottish capital's past and present in his fiction when I realised that Stuart Braithwaite and company were actually sat at the next table. Just a shame it was in the World's End rather than the Oxford Bar, but then you can't have everything.

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