The Dead Shall Live, the Living Die

Read in Poets& Writers about a contest for a long work the features music. I already had a novella about a kid who discovers (quite accidentally) that he’s a musical prodigy. The contest deadline is January 31, so I gave myself the month of January to turn it into a full-length novel. This was accomplished late last night. Still have time to tinker before the deadline. The title is The Dead Shall Live, the Living Die, taken from “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day,” words by Dryden and music by Handel, which features in the narrative.


One day mother pulled her old record player into his room, the one she bought when she was working and had plenty of money. “Old” did not do the object justice. It looked like the grill of an ancient car. Within the body of the machine variously shaped bulbs glowed orange/red, and it was always hot to the touch. The heat made the dust inside smell like fire. He could get up to change the records, but not much more than that. The records were black clay, heavy, 78 RPMs left over from a faded era, and mother warned him he should burden the turntable with only one or two at a time. The music was old, too, ancient–Big Band and songs from movies of the 40’s, for the most part. Farrell didn’t like the music that much, but he had his favorites. His mother told him which had been her favorites, and those he played again and again, trying to learn something about his mother that everyday acquaintance had not revealed. Had she desired these records for herself, bought them, cherished them, or had they been given to her just as they had been to him? Why did she choose this and not that? Were his tastes the same as hers, and if not, why not? Some of the people sang in regular singing voices, while those on the opera records sang in a different way, thicker somehow, as though the argument of the songs would be impossible to convey unless you were loud and complex. Decca London Mercury Capitol Columbia Victor. He tried to figure out as much as he could without asking. Did everybody in his mother’s time play those records? What happened to that music that you never heard it on the radio now? Did the recording companies get to choose the colors on the labels, or were they assigned by some central power?Farrell had more leisure to think up questions than other people had to answer them. This disparity allowed him to imagine whole worlds. Narratives changed while he lay spinning them out. He listened to the ancient music and tried to figure what it meant. It never crossed his mind that it might mean nothing at all, just someone singing to make a few bucks in a world so different almost nothing remained of it.

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