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  • Songwriting:From Pop Music to Short Stories in Frode Grytten's Popsongar
  • John Brumo

In Popsongar (2001; Pop Songs), Norwegian author Frode Grytten tries to carry out the dream project of many authors: to translate music into literature. His Popsongar, a collection of short stories where each story is written based on a song, is an ambitious attempt to bridge the divide between music and literature, and, according to many critics, it is a very successful one. In his rhythmic, flowing prose, he manages to capture some of the qualities of pop music. In this article, I take a closer look at this difficult task: How is pop music rewritten as fiction in Frode Grytten's Popsongar? I will identify which strategies Grytten uses and consider whether he succeeds in his ambitions. My hypothesis is as follows. In Popsongar, Grytten follows three strategies of rewriting: First, his stories take inspiration from the lyrics or the "content" of the song. Second, the themes of identity and identity-making are prevalent. Third, the texts try to echo or reproduce a "mood" or a "feeling" from the song under discussion. However, let's first put this book into the broader context of Norwegian literature.

In several Norwegian novels published c. 2000, music plays an important role on different levels. Just to name a few, these novels include Lars Amund Vaage's Rubato (1995), Lars Ramslie's Destroyer (2000), Gaute Bie's Pure Popmusicbaby! (2003), Nikolai Frobenius's Teori og praksis (2005; Theory and Practice), Anders Bortne's Et bra band (2005; A Good Band), Johan Harstad's Buzz Aldrin, hvor ble det av deg i alt myldret? (2005; Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?), Erlend Erichsen's Nasjonalsatanisten (2005; [End Page 80] The National Satanist), Levi Henriksen's Babylon Badlands (2006), Sturle Brustad's Anarchy in Åmot (2007), Pedro Carmona-Alvarez's Rust (2009), and most of Tore Renberg's novels.1 In all these novels, the musical field is involved as a shaping element in the signification process, and they tell stories of the importance of music, about how people identify with artists, how people gain new insights from songs, and, in short, how music is one of the most important forces in the characters' lives. This literary interest in music probably mirrors what historians and sociologists have pointed to for a long time (Frith 1983; 1996; Marcus 1975; Christenson and Roberts 1998): in the postwar period, popular music has become a dominant source for youth culture. Fictional characters' (and young authors') interest in music is hardly surprising. At present, there are few phenomena as global and ever present as music. We are all surrounded by music on a daily basis, on TV and radio, as soundtracks to films, as advertising jingles, and as Muzak in shopping malls. Music is more mobile than ever; the integration of music players and mobile phones has made music ubiquitous.

However, contemporary literature's intimate affiliation with music is not only external, mirroring social realities. Literature and music also have an internal connection. In contrast to painting, sculpture, and architecture, both music and literature are auditory, temporal, and dynamic art forms. Historically, there is an intimate relationship between the "sister arts."2 We need only point to the fact that lyric poetry still has the name of an ancient musical instrument and how concepts such as "rhythm," "sound," and "melody" are still used as ways to describe poetry. Specific art forms, such as opera and film, are based on the combination of music and lyrics/dialogue. Presently, music and words are so frequently combined, for instance, in most popular music, that we often forget that two separate modalities are involved.

However, there might be other, more specific reasons to explain the presence of popular music in Scandinavian contemporary fiction. [End Page 81] Popular music's everyday presence, with its own history and its canonical works, means that music entered the network of intertextuality a long time ago. Authors' images of the world, of themselves, and of human relations are shaped not only by literature but also by the texts and culture with which they have an even more intimate relation: pop music...


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