19 September 2020
When you see a line or verse from a song quoted in a book, the writer ought to have sought, and paid for, permission to use the lyric. It’s a thing. For reasons known only to science, however, it’s fair game to use a song title as a book title. Thus, I’ve used Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! and In My Time Of Dying and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and The Art of Dying and Ballad In Blue. (In a side note, I don’t like the exclamation mark at the end of Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! but since it’s in the song title, I felt obligated to keep it in the book title, in an OCD-y kind of a way.)
My original manuscript for THESE ARE THE STORIES WE TELL, 2021’s forthcoming blockbusting literary crime novel described by the Daily Worker as ‘the last hope for all mankind’, is filled with song and movie lines for which I’d need to ask permission. I did it to add colour, when the book was circulating around all those editors who ultimately turned it down. Now that it comes to it, I don’t really intend seeking several permissions, so I’ll be rewriting the necessary scenes as required. All but one.
There’s a scene where a character defuses a road rage incident by inserting himself in the drama. He doesn’t speak to the protagonists, he doesn’t try to smooth things over, he just sings a completely inane and inappropriate song, that has everyone looking at him like he’s mad. Whether this would work in real life or not doesn’t matter, what with this being art ‘n’ all, but in the narrative it takes the heat from the moment, and everyone calms the fuck down.
There’s no reason why the song has to be We All Stand Together from Rupert & The Frog Chorus. It could have been a nursery rhyme, or some standard that’s old enough to be in the public domain. Somehow, though, Rupert & The Frog Chorus - the apotheosis of 1980s popular culture - just seemed right, and soon enough I couldn’t imagine the guy singing anything else. So, for the first time in recorded history, I’ve used and paid for a few lines from a song.
There was some discussion about the utter pointlessness of this around the family dinner table. Of the four of us, three found it utterly pointless. Fortunately, I’m king.
That thing I argued, where it's so bizarre an idea it'll likely lead to us all getting invited to have lunch with Paul McCartney, hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time.
If there are any permission buffs out there, curious as to how much it costs to use a verse of a Paul McCartney song in a book… £120 incl. VAT. I’m sure when you read the scene, you too will think it’s worth it.