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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barry Hannah: A Musical Writer

Hannah died two years ago at 67. I recently read his semi-autobiographical first novel, Geronimo Rex, and enjoyed it very much. He was Mississippi born, and although it's a lightly populated state there must be something in that soil that produces so many writers, blues singers, and pro football quarterbacks.

Looking around the internet, I found an interview that Hannah gave to The Paris Review a few years ago, and this passage caught my attention:

"Some writers are curiously unmusical. I don’t get it. I don’t get them. For me, music is essential. I always have music on when I’m doing well. Writing and music are two different mediums, but musical phrases can give you sentences that you didn’t think you ever had."

Those thoughts brought to mind what I liked best about his writing: it's the lyricism and rhythm of his prose. His love for music shows in his writing. Once I heard a lecture from poet and novelist Erica Jong who said that before she sends a book to the publisher she reads it aloud from beginning to end because her writing has to sound right to her ear.

I think that much of the writing I most admire has a pleasing, musical sound to it. I was generally a mediocre musician, but nobody appreciates listening to music more than I do. Similarly, I may never be any better than an adequate writer, but I sure enjoy and appreciate reading good writing, especially writing that reflects a love of music the way Barry Hannah's does.

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