The music that runs through Trading Futures

Sitting at a computer, writing a novel, is quite a monotonous activity. It needs livening up. It would be better if I could listen to music while I wrote. But I don’t like music; I like songs. I like music with words (unless it’s opera). But then I start paying attention to the lyrics, rather than to the words I’m trying to write myself.  

So I write in silence. As compensation, I find myself inserting sly references to songs into my writing. I don’t deliberately seek them out, but if a phrase from a song occurs to me, I will use it, if it seems to make sense. You would need the same eccentric attachment to a group of obscure singer-songwriters to realise that I am doing it.

I’m not sure I should be admitting this. For one thing, the law on copyright seems unclear, and I have now removed the defence of ignorance in the event of legal action. For another, it may diminish the status of a serious novel. You might think less of Tolstoy had he referenced a chunk of Da Doo Ron Ron in War and Peace. Not that he could have done, obviously.

Anyway, I’ve admitted it now. So here is a list of the musical allusions in Trading Futures. Think of it as a reader’s companion to the novel, unlocking its hidden symbolism. Except that, far from unlocking anything, it will probably leave you thinking that the author is pretty sad.

pp 7, 17 and 27 – Angela Jones
Angela Jones was the title of an instantly forgettable pop hit of 1960 for Michael Cox. What? You thought authors spent hours agonising over the names of their characters? Well, for Matthew Oxenhay and Anna Purdue, perhaps. But not for an extra. Especially when hours of deliberation could not have produced a more perfect name.

p 12 – The long and grinding toad called Rupert Loxley.
The Long and Winding Road is one of my least favourite Beatle songs. I have called it this to myself for decades. Nice to be able to find a use for it at last.

p 14 – ‘I’ve had a few,’ I said. ‘But, then again, too few to mention.’
This doesn’t really count. It’s deliberate, and most people will get the reference. For those that don’t, it’s from My Way.

p 61 – ‘Freedom isn’t a word I use much these days,’ said Anna. ‘The only times in my life I’ve felt free are when I’ve been in love.’
From Colours by Donovan: ‘Freedom is a word I rarely use / Without thinking, mhmm / Without thinking, mhmm / Of the time, of the time / When I’ve been loved.’

p 87 – ‘Still, on we go. Just like old rivers and slow-moving trains.’
John Stewart is my favourite singer-songwriter, and Old Rivers and Slow-moving Trains one of my favourite tracks of his. John never recorded the song. The version I have of it, the only one that exists of him singing it, was recorded on a bad tape recorder in a noisy cellar. However, there is a version on YouTube, sung to John by his old friend Tom DeLisle.

p 90 – I drank three pints of bitter, slowly, making them last an hour each, and I wandered home alone.
This echoes a line from Ralph McTell’s Streets of London: ‘Each tea lasts an hour, and he wanders home alone.’

p 93 – I started trading futures for a bet, for a laugh, for ha-ha-ha.
From Where Do You Go To, My Lovely? by Peter Sarstedt: ‘Your name is heard in high places / You know the Aga Khan / He sent you a racehorse for Christmas / And you keep it just for fun, for a laugh, for ha-ha-ha.’

p 143 ‘How does it feel to be in the boondocks?’
Not so much a song reference as a word borrowed from a song – Down in the Boondocks by Billie Joe Royal. It means rough or isolated country. I’ve never heard the word used in Britain, and have no idea if anyone knows what it means.

p 154 – I was slowly starting to fill in the missing colours of Anna’s life.
From The Pretender by Jackson Browne: ‘We’ll fill in the missing colors / In each other’s paint-by-number dreams.’

p 158 – We never knew the trains were bound for Auschwitz. We never knew black people got treated that way in Mississippi.
Deliberate echoes of We Didn’t Know by Tom Paxton: ‘We didn’t know said the Burgomeister / About the camps on the edge of town / … We didn’t know said the congregation / Singing a hymn in a church of white.’

p 195 – The words of a Phil Ochs song float towards me from the house. Some long forgotten song of yesterday. A song whose time has now come. A song that talks of warm memories of younger years. A song that speaks of changes.
The song is called Changes, and it could be seen as the theme song for the novel. I was thrilled when the producer of ‘Book at Bedtime’ decided to use the intro for the radio adaptation. The whole lyric is apposite, but perhaps this verse most of all: ‘Scenes of my young years were warm in my mind, / Visions of shadows that shine. / Till one day I returned and found they were the / Victims of the vines of changes.’ You can see Phil Ochs sing the song on YouTube. As an additional reference, Forgotten Songs Of Some Old Yesterday is the name of a John Stewart album.