I’ve found one side benefit of being a writer is that I appreciate words more than I did before I wrote seriously. Writing short stories, novels and blog posts such as this have all given me a greater appreciation of how other writers work. But it also makes me aware there are several ways to work with words.
It is ironic then that two of my heroes, who worked with words albeit in different ways, should both recently have died of cancer at 69.
By the time this post appears, I’m sure you will have read many tributes to David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Mine will focus on how they worked with words. In David Bowie’s case he wrote them, in Alan Rickman’s case he didn’t but both took the material they originated or were given and did something very special with them. This is why they will both be missed.
One of my great loves aside from books is music in a wide range of genres. I love songs that tell stories, which must be one of the oldest forms of entertainment given many of the Psalms, which would have been sung and not recited, tell the story of the Israelites. Our tradition of ballads certainly goes back to medieval times.
My favourite stories in songs include:-
Up the Junction – Squeeze (a truly great ballad).
Creature from the Black Lagoon – Dave Edmunds (track on his wonderful Repeat When Necessary album, the first record I bought from Woolworths in Shirley High Street with a £5 gift token sent by my grandmother. I don’t know what happened to the vinyl edition but do have this brilliant album on CD. I highly recommend it.). I also love this song because it tells a story from a monster’s viewpoint and that isn’t common!
Hazard – Richard Marx. A story about a misfit accused of murder by a small town he knows has never accepted him. He proclaims his innocence throughout but knows the likelihood of being believed is slim. (I like the cheery ones!).
Space Oddity – David Bowie. Everything about this is special. The breadth of imagination is, to my mind, amazing. It’s so easy to visualise Major Tom thanks to the marvellous lyrics. It is also of its time given the space exploration that had taken place in the early 1970s yet doesn’t sound dated. It also effectively acts as a reminder of the near disaster that befell the Apollo 13 team.
It can be argued that Bowie’s lyrics were poetical. There is storytelling behind so many of his songs.
When I write my short stories, I put myself in the head of my characters so I understand why they would act/react the way they do and what drives them. Bowie did this for each of his musical incarnations. I can’t think of anyone else who did this. Despite the wonderful inventiveness of The Beatles, there was no question of them being anything other than The Beatles.
The originality and invention of David Bowie is beyond question and given the music industry is often accused of being derivative and a rip off, he stood out as one who never did sell out. Space Oddity is my favourite from him though I also love Ashes to Ashes (how many songs mention a character in a follow up song? Major Tom lives on…!). I also adore Life on Mars, Heroes and Modern Love amongst others.
Whatever music he came up with, you could guarantee Bowie would invent something interesting. I think the best tribute is that almost everyone, particularly of my generation, will miss him. He was also an actor but it will be for his music he is rightly remembered.
There has been a campaign to name a star after him. Well it would be appropriate for the Starman. And I loved the way fans gathered in Brixton, where he was born, to sing Starman together.
I also love the fact Bowie wrote his own work. How many hours did he spend getting one song right? How many hours did he spend getting the music right? Talent is brilliant but without dedication to hone that talent, it withers away. David Bowie’s music will live on long after him and rightly so.
Alan Rickman may not have written his own material but he knew how to use the material he was given. He performed with words. And each performance was great.
My favourite roles of his were as the Sheriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (strong candidate for best Sheriff of Nottingham ever) and as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. I also liked his Die Hard role. An intelligent terrorist is truly frightening.
While also great as a romantic lead in Truly Madly Deeply, Alan Rickman’s strength was in villainy. Well someone has to do it…
I think Snape is the most interesting character in the Harry Potter series simply because of his ambiguities. There is subtlety to the character and Alan Rickman brought that out beautifully. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role.
I remember reading the books and I’m going to say this because I’m sure the world and his cat will know the Potter stories by now (or know enough about them anyway) but I was hoping Snape was not going to be an out and out villain. The books kept me guessing, as did the films, as J.K. Rowling had not finished the series when the films began.
I know little about acting (and certainly wouldn’t dream of trying it!) but I do know something about the importance of being true to character and Alan Rickman was true to Snape as he is written.
Snape is also a romantic (as his back story makes clear towards the end of the series) and my only regret is that he and Harry did not get to have a kind of stepfather-stepson relationship once the main story was over. That could have been interesting as both would have had to adjust to a new reality.
I can also see why Snape did not survive. Voldemort would get rid of anyone in his way so J.K. Rowling was being true to his character when he removed Snape. It wasn’t just Harry who had the tragic past in the series.
Snape is also a repressed character for many reasons which is not an easy thing to write or portray and yet still be able to generate some sympathy for that character. It took good writing and a great acting performance to bring that to life.
I also like a character who definitely did not wear his heart on his sleeve. It makes for variety and makes you wonder why the character is the way that he/she is.
As for the Sheriff of Nottingham, I loved the witticisms especially the “and call off Christmas” one. Yes, I knew the Sheriff was not going to come out of the Robin Hood story well (how could he?) but Alan Rickman could combine being funny with being threatening without going over the top. He also made a formidable opponent to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood and rightly so. I like to think the Robin Hood story is a true one, whether that can be proven is another matter, but the Sheriff would have been no pushover and I think Alan Rickman’s portrayal shows that.
I think it is crucial to most good stories to have a villain who is a worthy opponent of the hero/heroine, otherwise there is no conflict. Without that there is no plot or story. In film and on stage you need great actors to bring those villains to life.
And Alan Rickman will be remembered as one of the best.
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 5th February 2016.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
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