The Shining springs grimly to mind like a loaded gun out of a holster. Whenever I mention Kubrick’s film (or the book by King that inspired it), the most common responses are either “Where’s Johnny?” or “Is that the one with the scary twins?” Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta Movement 3, Adagio by Béla Bartók makes for an unnerving soundtrack as, amongst other unhinged things, little Danny pumps the pedals of his plastic Big Wheel tricycle across that mesmerising red and orange hexagonal carpet.
Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is even more macabre and revolutionary, blending classical music with upbeat easy listening. As a work of fiction, Burgess’ novel had a substantial impact on me as a person and a writer (although impact doesn’t always mean influence; my work is nothing like his). It is the wit and playfulness on display in the choices for the soundtrack that appeals and disgusts me in, shall I say, perfect harmony. Bizarrely, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches, Rossini’s William Tell Overture and (can you believe it?) the jaunty Singin’ In The Rain (written by Arthur Freed and originally performed by Gene Kelly), all make it into the madness that is Clockwork’s ensemble….
Not forgetting Walter Carlos’ otherworldly Moog synth compositions. How could we? It isn’t really bizarre at all – it’s a work of genius. Find me a braver collaboration between image and sound and I’ll drink a hallway full of fake blood.
The fun doesn’t end there. My favourite book of all time, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, did more than just ‘get a soundtrack’. Cleverly, Ellis created his own within the text. And, just look what he chose. His detailed journey through the track-listings of various Genesis albums are one of the most crazy, brilliant additions to a fiction book I’ve read, forcing together a dangerously wild half of the book – Patrick Bateman’s psychological unravelling – with sharp musical observations about popular bands and slick 80’s culture. It’s tense, it’s weird, it’s bonkers – and I adore it. Try To Dismember (written by Mj Mynarski) is a good indicator of Ellis’ clash tactic. There’s also Simply Red’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now, the classic Lady In Red by Chris De Burgh and, perhaps the best of all and the most perfectly placed in the film, Huey Lewis and The News’ Hip To Be Square. Read, watch – and learn.
There’s no doubt in my mind, classical music definitely compliments dark fiction. When I wrote Slaughterhouse, I had little choice about the ‘soundtrack’ – my book isn’t a film (I wish!). But one melody kept drifting through my mind, with horribly muted confusion. It was The Beach Boy’s version of California Dreamin’ – and it figured. Both the band and their music have always given me a strange sensation of unease. It’s a lie of a song; a fake longing. Sunshine eclipsed by a drugs binge. Dawn, one of the four characters in the book, drops mention of it during the pleasant section, to bolster the suspicion something’s not quite right. I liked the idea that, as the reader follows Kris deeper into their world, California Dreamin’ will subtly follow them.