Dark Music

In my collection of short stories titled Dark Music, I explore some of the darker corners of music making. Like a lot of writers, I love talking about the stories I write, and since I just completed this book, the characters are still alive in my mind, so I can’t resist talking about them and mentioning some of the sources from which they sprang.

My favorite story in the book is titled “String of Pearls” after the Glenn Miller tune of the WWII era. That tune and others like it lifted the spirits of many who were far away from home. It was especially favored by the WASPs, the Women’s Airforce Service pilots, who were young women assigned to ferry fighter planes from manufacturing facilities to staging bases where they were given to combat units.

These women also learned to love another kind of music – the music made by the high performance engines of the aircraft they flew. It’s an addictive sound – the sound of power, tinctured with fear.

Being a light plane pilot myself, I was fascinated to read about the WASPs. These women were usually quite young, most of them still in their twenties, and they were flying some of the most powerful, highest performing aircraft in the world. Not an easy task.

In my story, it is December 1944 and Ann Baker and two other women pilots are assigned to fly over the Canadian Rockies to Juneau, Alaska, in Republic P-47 fighter planes. The ‘Thunder Bolt’ was a 2600 horsepower, 400 MPH, monster of a fighter plane. Not easy to fly. And flying over mountains with few navigation aids in winter weather will make the trip even more harrowing.

There is a really great novel by Ivan Doig called The Eleventh Man, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2008. In this book he created a truly memorable WASP pilot. A good non-fiction overview of American women pilots in WWII, including the WASPs, is in a book titled American Women and Flight Since 1940 by Deborah C. Douglas, University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Another story in my book called “Reaper” concerns four young men from the slums of London who are making a name for themselves in the music scene in 1970s Britain. Music offered a way out of the slums for many young English men and women of their generation. But even as their popularity grew, they could not eliminate the scars of growing up in 1950s Britain—a time of hardship, rationing, and unemployment. Their accents would forever label them as kids of the slums.

The music industry change quickly and by the early 1970s the novelty of being British, or having a garage-band hit, was past. Bands became investment properties, pressured to produce million-selling albums and fill arenas with thousands of paying customers.

The band Reaper is on the verge of success, but they badly need a best-selling album, and try as they might, they cannot seem to write good music. To gain inspiration they arrange to spend a week at Farley Manse, a crumbling mansion hidden away deep in the English countryside. Other bands had done so and produced truly magical music.

At Farley Manse, Dave and Colin find the silence they need to make great music, but they also find the unexpected in the gloomy halls and haunted cellars.

The book, Electric Eden, by Rob Young, Faber & Faber, 2010, is an excellent and thorough exploration of British electric folk music of the late 1960s, its sources, and its effects on rock groups of the time. Another book called Fleetwood, by Mick Fleetwood with Stephen Davis, touches on Fleetwood Mac’s six months in the country that produced the album Kiln House in 1970.

Virtually any Led Zeppelin chronology will mention their sojourn at Headley Grange in 1971 that resulted in the ‘Four Symbols’ album.

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