If You Look for My Heart (Novel, eBook) (2012. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1451564754) and If You Look for My Heart (CD/MP3) (2012. sonaBlast Records.) Both by Ben Arthur.

I came across New York based musician Ben Arthur through my subscription to Poets and Writers Magazine. Arthur wrote a wonderful piece of acoustic guitar music set to Minnesota essayist Paul Gruchow’s words (see my blog about Paul and another fine Minnesota writer, “The Good Stuff” by using the search engine at the top of this page) that appeared in a recent P&W issue. I was intrigued by Arthur’s skills as a musician and also by the fact that he had apparently married his music to a novel he’d written, If You Look for My Heart.

The premise of the merger of the two art forms (prose and song) is an overt attempt to provide the consumer with an enhanced literary experience. The eBook version of the novel uses  embedded hyperlinks to the novel’s 12 songs so you get both words and music in one package. But if you buy the paperback or hardcover versions of the novel, you are required to buy the CD/MP3 through a separate purchase.

Being a failed (actually, never attempted) musician myself (like Minnesota musical icon, Leo Kottke, my voice is a bit like a goose fart in a snow storm and my piano playing died a slow and agonizing death years ago) but a somewhat successful regional novelist, I was intrigued by the idea of merging words and music, especially if technology allowed seamless navigation from story to song. So let me take on the technology first: It isn’t all that smooth. Whenever I came to a hyperlink to one of the songs connected to the story, I clicked the link and was sent to YouTube where the music was waiting. The “not so smooth” part of this equation isn’t that the links were slow or broken, but that I found jumping from the very monkish act of reading fiction straight into music a bit disconcerting and distracting. A wonderful concept but, for an old guy who grew up reading in solitude and relishing the peace that comes from such an individualized experience, the leap was simply too wide for me to negotiate.

To the novel. I disagree with the pundits on Amazon.com

(see http://www.amazon.com/If-You-Look-My-Heart/dp/1451564759/ref=sr_tc_2_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369839671&sr=1-2-ent)

who rated the novel as “great” (5 stars) or “terrible” (2 stars). The writing isn’t bad and the action carried me along. But there wasn’t a character in the book who grabbed me by the heartstrings or slapped my in the face to make me take notice of his or her lot in life. Despite the emotionally charged issues tackled by  the tale (betrayal, adultery, longing, isolation), I felt like I was reading a script for Sex and the City or some other self-absorbed New York story even though the setting isn’t the Big Apple. Despite this mild criticism,  I don’t agree with the two-star Amazon.com review faulting  the book’s editing. Heck, as a self-published author, I’ll cut anyone trying this gig some slack! The minor errors in the text don’t distract a bit from the tale, such as it is.

All the same, there are many other novels out there more deserving of your reading time than this concise, predictable, fairly flat effort. But I give Arthur an “A” for ingenuity in his attempt to create a new art form. That takes guts.

3 1/2 stars out of 5 for the novel.

The music? Well, that’s a much different story (pun indeed intended!) Arthur is, so far as this non-musician can tell, the real deal. He is courageous in his eclectic use of genres on the novel’s soundtrack  including orchestral (“Prelude”), contemporary folk/pop (“If You Look for My Heart”), country/bluegrass/Americana (“Where I Belong”), and rap (“Love Your Enemy”) in the mix. There’s really not much to criticize on this fine album, one that stands on a higher plain of artistry than the companion novel.

41/2 stars out of 5 for the album.

Edible Darling by Ben Arthur (2004. Bardic Records)

Having read and listened to If You Look for My Heart and experienced the quality of Arthur’s musicianship, I ordered a second CD, an older effort, Edible Darling.

With a bit more electric “pop” than the soundtrack to the novel, this collection really rocks. There are tunes that remind me of Jude Cole (“Mary Ann”), the Wallflowers (“Tonight”), and Snow Patrol (“Broken Hearted Smile”). Arthur also displays a great sense of humor in the lyrical twists embedded in “Edible Darling” and “Keep Me Around”. There’s also a nice acoustic guitar number (“Instrumental #3) and a fine, fine ending tune, “Jesus”.

Add to this great harmonies, great musicians, and solid songwriting and this CD will make you wanna dance. It’s one of my favorites of 2013. My teenage son is trying to get me to stop playing Edible Darling in the Pacifica because it’s been playing non-stop for a month. In response, I just turn up the volume on “Mary Ann” and smile at my kid.

Hear’s (again, pun intended) what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7gOEx-RhKI

5 stars out of 5.

 


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