Time for my annual baseball post. Last year I wrote one on the Top Ten Baseball Walk-up Songs in Literature. For the uninitiated, a walk-up song is that hard rock, hip hop, or country tune that blares over the speakers throughout the stadium as the ballplayer walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. True baseball fans can name the walk-up song for every one of their favorite players.
“All of which,” I wrote back then, “got me thinking about great characters in literature. What would Hamlet select for his walk-up song? Or Nancy Drew? Or Captain Ahab? Or Madame Bovary?” And so I put together a list and invited my readers to add to it.
Examples included Iago (of Othello), whose walk-up song was “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood, and Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost, whose song was, of course, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. And then there was Dr. Pangloss from Candide, who was unable to select a walk-up song because, as he explained in reviewing the song list, “All of these are for the best in this best of all possible song lists.” So Voltaire stepped in for him and picked Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Well, I happen to write mystery novels. And like most mystery writers, I read plenty of them, too. And thus I got to thinking about great detectives in mystery novels. What would Sherlock Holmes select for his walk-up song? Perhaps “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols or maybe “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks. What about Miss Marple? Would she be aggressive enough to pick Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”?
I’m willing to start a list of walk-up songs for mystery novel detectives, beginning with my own creation, Rachel Gold. I’m hoping some of you can add to it. And if you write mysteries, please add a walk-up song for your character(s).
- Rachel Gold Walk-up song: “Hollaback Girl,” by Gwen Stefani.
- Explanation: Rachel’s buddy, Benny Goldberg, made this choice for her, explaining that an obnoxious opposing counsel had made a huge mistake in trying to intimidate Rachel. “To quote the great philosopher Gwen Stefani,” Benny said, “you ain’t no hollaback girl.” To which Rachel replied, “Huh?”
- Philip Marlowe: Walk-up song: “Sharp-Dressed Man” by ZZ Top.
- Explanation: My inspiration for this choice comes from the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep, which happens to be one of the greatest opening paragraphs in modern American literature:”It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”
- Jack Reacher: Walk-up song: “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band.
- Explanation: If you’ve read any of Lee Childs’ Reacher novels (which my daughter-in-law Amy labels “man porn”), no explanation is needed. Reacher is a former Major in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps who quit that job and now roams the country taking odd jobs and investigating suspicious and frequently dangerous situations. As Childs explained in an interview, “I thought that I would do a book that’s not the same as everybody else’s. Everybody else had their guy working: a private guy in Boston, or a police lieutenant in L.A., or wherever. I thought, ‘Well, he won’t be working, and he won’t live anywhere, and let’s just take it from there.'”
- Cletus Purcel: Walk-up song: “Light My Fire” by the Doors.
- Explanation: Cletus is Dave Robicheaux’s hot tempered sidekick in the James Lee Burke novels. Other possibilities for Cletus: “Wild Thing” by the Troggs, “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, or “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.
- V.I. Warshawski: Walk-up song: “Born in Chicago” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
- Harry Bosch: Walk-up Song: “Another Day in L.A.” by Indigo Swing.
- Explanation: Oh, boy, this was a tough one. I eventually opted for this jazzier song because of Harry Bosch’s love of jazz, but others that made the final list include: “West L.A. Fadeway” by Los Lobos (a cover of the original Grateful Dead version); “2 a.m. on Mulholland Drive” by The All-Stars; and “L.A. Woman” by The Doors.
- Marlow: Walk-up song: “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses.
- Explanation: Yes, that Marlow. The narrator/detective from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A few years back I wrote a series of blogs on great works of literature that happened to fit the definition of a mystery–and I gathered links to all those posts into a compendium post entitled “Nine Mysteries for Literary Snobs.” There you will find a link to my take on Heart of Darkness, and why it fits the model for a classic mystery novel about a detective retained to find a missing person, such as, for example, The Big Sleep, where a detective named Marlowe is retained to find a missing person. Marlowe’s jungle is the dark side of L.A. Marlow’s jungle is, in fact, the jungle.
Okay, your turn. Who should we add? So many possibilities. What would Nero Wolf pick as his walk-up song? Or Easy Rawlins? Or Kinsey Millhone? Or Sam Spade? And so on and so on. And, if you’re a mystery writer, what would your detective pick?
And finally, which hapless detective gets the U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”?
* * *
A trial lawyer by day, Mike is the author of 11 novels, including 9 in the Rachel Gold mystery series, the latest being Face Value. The next novel in the series, scheduled for publication this Fall, is The Dead Hand.