Don Winslow: "Bruce Springsteen is a writer of noir stories"

Don Winslow: “Bruce Springsteen is a writer of noir stories”

“I grew up in a Bruce Springsteen town. A city by the sea. When I grew up there it was all squalid, rust, unemployment”: she's come a long way, from Rhode Island. Today Don Winslow is one of the most popular noir writers in the world: of small build, he carries a backpack that seems enormous – a voluminous copy of a book by Charles Dickens appears from the side pocket. But Winslow's strength, charisma and moral stature are impressive.
Winslow concluded his Italian tour at the IULM in Milan, to present the recent “City in ruins” (Harper Collins): it is not only the last volume of a trilogy starring Danny Ryan, a character inspired by the songs of the Boss, a former criminal who finds himself managing casinos in Las Vegas.

But precisely the last book of his career: he retires to dedicate himself to political activism, because it is not only the city in ruins, but also America – especially if Trump wins again, which he fights with all his might.
“The rubble of America” was the title of the meeting at IULM University, introduced by the Rector Gianni Canova. On stage talking to Winslow was the journalist Massimo Rota and three teachers: Filippo Pennacchio, Ilaria De Bernardis and myself. There was also a lot of talk about songs and Springsteen, his hero.

Musical writing

Winslow is a great fan of music, which often surfaces in his novels, both in the characters and in the writing style: “You can't understand how to write mystery novels until you understand jazz,” explains Winslow. “I'm constantly thinking about those rhythms as I write. Does it have to be fast and hard and with lots of notes, like John Coltrane's “A Love Supreme”? Or do I need to tell a softer scene and should I slow down like Miles Davis in “Kind of blue”? Sometimes I want the reader to feel that feeling. So for me it's important to listen to those rhythms and those tones, whether it's dialogue or narration,” he says.

But even more evident is the influence of music in the construction of his characters. “When I left my city there was nothing there for me,” he says, evoking the final words of “Thunder Road”. “And so I described Danny, the protagonist of these books, as a Springsteen type: I I grew up with kids like him, listening to that music on the beach. Working class, fighting against the system and a desire, an anxiety to find freedom on the Great American Highway. I still drive it every year: I drive across the country twice a year. I know the people who live on those streets.”

“Darkness on the edge of town” is a great noir story

Winslow puts Springsteen on the same level as the great American noir writers such as James Ellroy and Stephen King. “He wrote a song called 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' in my opinion the greatest song ever. And it is unintentionally a noir, because noir lives in the darkness on the edge of the city: not with the beautiful people, but with the people who are in those border areas. The lyrics to that song have become my personal writing anthem. Springsteen couldn't help but choose noir, which is the only genre that talks about conflicts, people who have no chance.”

Winslow then recited the final words of this song from memory, proving that they are the construction of a wonderful noir scene.

(Video courtesy of IULM University)

Tonight I'll be on that hill.
Because I can't stop.
I'll be on that hill with everything I've got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time.
And I'll pay the cost.
For wanting things that can only be found.
In the darkness on the edge of town.

Genre literature, cinema and TV

Among the many interesting topics of the conversation, the relationship of his production with cinema and above all with seriality emerged: Winslow cites “The Sopranos” among his favorite works and explains how series allow us to tell and delve into the psychology of the characters in a in a way that isn't always possible in a film – which he tries to do in his novels.

But he also explains that he ultimately likes the definition “Genre Literature” – often used to declassify noir as a “commercial” genre: “I was asked once, I think in France, not in a particularly friendly tone: do you think , as a mystery writer, of living in a literary ghetto? I said yes, and I love the company. I think of Stephen King, Raymond Chandler and many others: and some of the best writing in literature comes from crime and horror. You will never find better writing than the first chapter of Raymond Chandler's “The Long Goodbye.” And looking at the roots of literature, we think of Cervantes: without “Don Quixote” modern detective fiction, the narrative of the private detective, would not exist. Philip Marlowe has different hats, weapons and armor types. And you can go even further back: Shakespeare, Virgil. But I'm very happy to talk about genre fiction: I think it's still possible. I think bookstores are happy to talk about genre fiction, because that's what keeps them open.”

The addiction to writing

The end of the meeting is also the story of what he will do now that he will no longer write books. “Writing is an addiction, there should be a 12 step program to cure it, Writers Anonymous. I'm thinking of writing something. Do not do it! How about even just a short story? No, man. A joke? No, no, forget about that keyboard. Go to a meeting! My first book came out in 1991, I think I started writing it in '88, I still had hair. So I'll miss it, I'll probably keep doing it but I won't post anymore, I might just write for fun. Just for my entertainment. I will continue to listen.”

And he really does: in the end he stops to sign books, to chat with everyone, before leaving for France, where in the afternoon he will have another meeting with his readers. He takes a photo with Datome, which he posts on social media in the afternoon, joking “For some reason, the angle of this photo was wrong and Gigi mistakenly looks much taller than me. I'm actually much taller than Gigi. I'll tell you in confidence that I even beat Gigi in a dunk contest before this photo was taken.” I ask him to sign my copy of one of his books and in his dedication he writes to me: “Born to run”. Everything comes back.