Happy Birthday Raymond Chandler: Five Songs For the Master of Mystery
Raymond Chandler was responsible for some of the greatest detective stories ever penned by an American writer. That image you have of a hard-boiled, hard-drinking gum shoe in a fedora surrounded my crime, mystery, beautiful women, and danger? That is all Chandler and his most famous creation Philip Marlowe.
Chandler was damn near his own character sometimes. After failing as both journalist and poet, he eventually became a vice-president at Dabney Oil Syndicate. He was making lots of money, but the company only put up with his drinking, disappearances, habit of getting cozy with the female employees, and the occasional threat of suicide before they canned him after just one year in the position.
Unemployment drove Chandler into the arms of pulp-fiction writing, and he never looked back, leaving us with a host of novels that are some of the greatest reads you could ever hope for, full of larger-than-life stories and intrigue that you can't get anywhere else, and many of which went on to be adapted into equally beloved films.
Chandler's work has also influenced more than a few musicians, and today we celebrate them in thanks for all the wonderful tales like The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely that he left us.
Jim Carroll Band, "Three Sisters" Hey look, a Jim Carroll song that isn't "People Who Died," and it's pretty damned good as well. "Three Sisters" follows Carroll's usual post-punk, but still-punk throwback style, and is a great followup tune for people who only know him from his greatest hit. The song describes three girls, one of whom spends her days in bed reading Raymond Chandler while boys claw at her door. That sounds like my kind of girl.
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Burton Cummings, "Dream of a Child" It's weird to think of anyone from The Guess Who sounding how Burton Cummings does on his solo work. The title track from his triple-platinum 1978 album recalls Cummings' childhood fantasies when he would be picked to accompany Philip Marlowe on his adventures, complete with stylish fedora, among many other games of make-believe.
I just don't imagine that I'll be able to pull this sort of awesome tune off singing about how I used to pretend to be Donatello.
Dire Straits, "Private Investigations" You know when the Dire Straits are involved you're going to get an awesome music video, and "Private Investigations" is no exception; Mark Knopfler was inspired to write the song after reading Chandler's detective novels. The video looks like it walked right out of classic Hollywood (minus the garish '80s colors, of course), and perfectly captures the proper mood.
Robyn Hitchcock, "Raymond Chandler Evening" I first ran across this song while reading James O'Barr's The Crow, and used to recite the lyrics constantly like a mantra throughout my entire pathetically baby goth teenage years. It was years and years and years before I ever got the chance to actually hear it rather than read it, and Robyn Hitchcock just nails every single moment of the song. Now I hear it in my head whenever I revisit that book, and imagine the words and melody's as they follow Eric in his vengeance.
Jill Sobule, "Heroes" Jill Sobule really should have more of a career than an experimental bi-curious novelty song because she is the kind of person who can write lyrics that read like freakin' Kurt Vonnegut. This song is one of the best examples of that, as Sobule sings of the many people we put on a pedestal yet were all so imperfect in their own lives, like John Lennon and Chandler himself.
Chandler died in 1959 from complications from pneumonia after a falling back into alcoholism and depression after the death of his wife, Cissy. He was never the same man afterwards, but before tragedy struck him, man, didn't he do some wonderful work?
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