SFF Song of the Week: Dan Abnett

Today’s blogjay is by the very delightful Dan Abnett, who I met last Eastercon (we both have stories in Ian Whates’ Further Conflicts collection.  I’ve just read  Dan’s story, and it’s  a peach.)
Dan, lest you did not know,  is a novelist and award-winning comic book writer. He has written thirty-nine novels, including the acclaimed Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies. With Andy Lanning, as “DnA”, he is a fan-favorite comic book writer, with major current and forthcoming projects with Marvel and DC. His novels Horus Rising and Legion (both for the Black Library) and his Torchwood novel Border Princes (for the BBC) were all bestsellers. His latest Horus Heresy novel Prospero Burns was a New York Times bestseller, and topped the SF charts in the UK and the US. His novel Triumff, for Angry Robot, was published in 2009 and nominated for the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel, and his combat SF novel for the same publisher, Embedded, was published in spring 2011. He was educated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and lives and works in Maidstone, Kent. Dan’s blog and website can be found www.danabnett.com
Follow him on Twitter @VincentAbnett
Over to you Dan…
Dan Abnett writes:
First of all, the song I DIDN’T pick. When I think “SF song”, I think of The Body Electric by Rush, not (ironically) because it quotes Bradbury quoting Whitman, nor because it’s full of explicitly SF imagery, but because it’s my Proustian madeleine: just a few bars, and it’s 1984 again, and I’m a student playing Traveller. My years spend playing (usually refereeing) RPGs like Traveller, D&D, Runequest and Cthulhu are, I believe, directly to blame for my career as a writer. Who knew that if you practiced hard at Making Shit Up As You Go Along, you could eventually become proficient enough to monetize it?
But SF types do love us some Rush, don’t we, so I decided to sidestep the Canadian option. My song choice is Life During Wartime by Talking Heads, first recorded at the height of their Eno-produced powers in 1979.
It’s a great song. It’s very catchy, and it fairly romps along on a hectic, jumpy chassis of rhythm that matches the twitchy, paranoid mood of the narrative voice, and seems to get faster and twitchier and MORE paranoid as it progresses. It’s an edgy, sleep-deprived, caffeine-wired song that threatens to be building towards explosions of both the literal and metaphorical kinds. Stop Making Sense, the greatest live concert film of all time (not to be contentious at all), has a particularly rambunctious version.
It’s not actually my favorite Talking Heads tune. The contemporary I Zimbra and the later Naive Melody and Burning Down the House do it for me even more. But it’s the most SF.
Except that, of course, it isn’t. Not really. Yes, Lucius Shepherd named his novel after it (in an odd and coincidental reversal of my Rush choice). And, yes, the lyrics conjure a world of covert urban warfare, of domestic counter-culture rebellion, of direct action. Presciently, they portray the tone and feel of cyberpunk before we knew what that word was. At a stretch, you could say the song was SF because it was about the jittery anticipation of the imminent collapse of civilization. In the early eighties, it seemed to me to be a credible near future SF song. But there’s no actual content that is explicitly SF.
And thirty years later, it’s entirely real. Anyone hearing it for the first time today would think it was written about modern modes of warfare, about terrorism, about the headlines around us. Byrne’s anxious narrator, who seemed bewildered but sympathetic in 1979, now seems scary. We were on his side then and, not just because we’ve gotten older since then (and by ‘we’, I speak only for myself), we aren’t any more. Nowadays, the memorable lyrics “we dress like students, we dress like housewives, or in a suit and a tie; changed my hairstyle so many times now, I don’t know what I look like” are positively chilling where they were previously just emblematic of arty youth angst.
So I guess Life During Wartime was an extrapolation, a worryingly accurate speculation, and that mean that though it’s definitely not SF now, in 1979 it was, after all, SF of the best and purest kind.

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
packed up and ready to go
Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway,
a place where nobody knows
The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstore, lived in the ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
this ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
you don’t even know my real name
High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nightime,
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
this ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no mudd club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now
Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
somebody might see you up there
I got some groceries, some peant butter,
to last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no
headphones, ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard,
I can’t write nothing at all
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
this ain’t no fooling around
I’d like to kiss you, I’d love you hold you
I ain’t got no time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock,
we blended with the crowd
We got computer, we’re tapping pohne lines,
I know that ain’t allowed
We dress like students, we dress like housewives,
or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle, so many times now,
I don’t know what I look like!
You make me shiver, I feel so tender,
we make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving,
you ought to get some sleep
Get you instructions, follow directions,
then you should change your address
Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day,
whatever you think is best
Burned all my notebooks, what good are
notebooks? They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace,
the burning keeps me alive
Try to stay healthy, physical fitness,
don’t want to catch no disease
Try to be careful, don’t take no chances,
you better watch what you say

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