Invitation to the Blues
A few days after the long awaited release of The Beatles’s catalogue on iTunes, Booktunes was honoured to attend a lecture and interview with Lars Saabye Christensen. This famous Norwegian novelist, poet, scriptwriter & musician is internationally known for his masterpiece The Half Brother, but Booktunes is also partial to some of his other titles: Beatles (translated as Yesterday), Bly (translated as Waterloo) and Bisettelsen (Translated as The Walrus).
BT: Booktunes doesn’t like to denigrate the people from our hometown, but what are your thoughts on people not being too lively at a lecture of a famous writer?
LSC: Well, I am a Norwegian writer, not everybody knows me here but I thought it was all right. In Norway these events are really popular, I think people like to hear the voice of the writer reading his work. The audience is really polite though, they don’t shout, because that is how we Norwegians learn to be an audience. I once read poems at the Pakistani Literary Festival in Norway. They have a completely different idea of being an audience. If they like something they shout, if they don’t like it they shout and give comments too! Reading under those circumstances is like a boxing game: A good hit and they shout.
BT: You told the audience that your writing career started with a song by The Beatles.
LSC: When I was thirteen or fourteen years old, while enjoying their music I suddenly became interested in the lyrics of The Beatles. In fact, the first poems I ever read were rock music lyrics. It was pretty inspiring material, so I started to write them down and translate them. I think that’s how my interest in language, stories and metaphors started.
BT: Although you are well known for the beautiful realism in your work, the beginning of Bisettelsen is far from realistic and, for that matter, different from your other novels.
LSC: Bisettelsen starts like 'Strawberry Fields' and ends like 'Love Me Do', from surrealism to realism. I hope it is fun. I want my readers to have a good time, a modest goal, but I did realize I was going to confuse my reader at first to have them find the key in the middle of the book where things fall into place.
BT: What was it like, writing the first part of the book?
LSC: I made my debut with a collection of poems, I still write them and I have always been writing lyrics for rock bands. The first part of Bisettelsen is in fact a large funny poem.
BT: … motivated by the fact that you did not want to do the same trick with every book. Which leads us to the comparison of your trilogy about these guys and the actual Walrus song by The Beatles, being a compilation of two regular songs and a strange idea. That is a compliment.
At the lecture Christensen told us that 'The Walrus' inspired the fourteen years old Lars because it showed him it was possible to actually play with words. Later, 'Strawberry Fields' made him into a poet and 'Penny Lane' turned him in to a novelist.
When he wrote his first novel Beatles at the age of twenty-five, he didn't listen to the Beatles because he wanted to write about the way he felt when hearing them for the first time.
LSC: I think the great thing about pop and rock music is that a song needs only two minutes and forty seconds. It is kind of the sonnet of the music that can include a lot of memories; your entire life passes by in one song. Suddenly you remember where you were, together with whoever.
I think Sgt. Pepper is really important in my own life. It is a record that holds very strong feelings from summer 1967: Girls - future - optimism - joy. And maybe it is the best or most spectacular album proving that Lennon and McCartney, when putting their things together, sounded like nothing else done before. 'A Day in The Life' is a marvelous composition, marvelous lyrics, lovely.
BT: It seems like you really are in love with them!
LSC: Yes haha!
The lecture also touched the fact that Lars gets his inspiration not only from music. Most of his ideas originate from pictures. When we asked him how this worked for record sleeves he told us that in his youth, he’d spend one day just looking at the sleeve before allowing himself to actually play the record. For example, the sleeve of Rubber Soul is a piece of art in itself, and even a little bit frightening with the strange faces looking up or down at you. In his literary work, Rubber Soul is a turning point for the four characters Christensen writes about in his trilogy, the sleeve representing their leaving childhood and entering another world.
BT: What other musicians besides The Beatles do you like?
LSC: I used to listen to The Spencer Davis Group a lot before I moved on to the more classical blues, which was really important for my writing since there I found things I didn’t find in any other or classical poetry. Nowadays I am a great admirer of Tom Waits. He is a marvelous poet and storyteller that has continued to develop his music and lyrics for forty years without making a fool of himself.
BT: What would be your favorite Tom Waits album?
LSC: Swordfishtrombones, but my favourite song is 'Invitation To The Blues'.
BT: We know you make music yourself. Booktunes and its readers are very curious about it.
LSC: I have a band called Norsk Utfluk (Norwegian Escape). We do blues and poetry and play out during the weekends with the occasional festival every now and then.
BT: We understood you play the keys?
LSC: No I leave that to other people who are good at it. I write the lyrics and recite poems - but hey you can dance to it!
text by e. de loor / photo by Siv-Elin Nærø