Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Soul Music, Part III

A free music festival? Whoever heard of such a thing…


Dibbler gives the band their first gig date at the Cavern and he’s made t-shirts; he introduces them to their new roadie, Asphalt. A pair of songwriters come up with “rat music,” a new type of dwarf music. Ponder creates a music box, but Ridcully doesn’t think this solves their problems and advises him to follow the Dean to hear more rock music. At the venue, the band Insanity goes on as a warmup. Buddy insists that their next show should be free, which Dibbler is aghast at until he remembers how much he can sell at a free music festival. As the band plays the Cavern, Susan arrives and Ridcully concentrates his way into seeing and talking with her. She explains that she’s Death’s granddaughter, but finds him patronizing and goes back to trying to help Buddy. The band gets off stage and learn that Buddy has scheduled them for a minor tour before the festival. Cliff and Glod aren’t happy with the way things are going, but they demand more money and head out to do an encore set. A crew from the Musicians’ Guild are planning to murder the band, but Susan scares them off.

Dibbler finds out about Ponder’s box that captures the music before Ridcully can successfully lead him away, and he commissions many more. Ridcully and Stibbons find the rest of the wizards in a coffee shop following the concert, and drags them all back to the University. Glod and Cliff have a conversation about how the guitar is changing Buddy, and head back to the shop where they bought the guitar. Glod thinks it’s vanished, but it’s across the road. They question the proprietor and Glod buys something from her. Cliff mentions that Glod thought the shop was a magical disappearing sort on the other side of the road. The proprietor waits for them to leave, then moves the shop back to its proper spot across the road. Susan goes to talk to Buddy and explains how the guitar is taking him over, but she’s suddenly pulled away: Ridcully has done the Rite of AshkEnte and summoned Death. Ridcully asks Susan about the music and whether it’s natural, and she explains that it shouldn’t be in their world. Ridcully invites her to breakfast. Death is drinking in the Mended Drum.

Ridcully and Susan talk about how she wound up with her grandfather’s job and what’s been happening (after getting burgers from the University cooking staff). She has a revelation and leaves before eating any porridge. Ridcully finds the dean making denim trousers, and tells him he can’t have anymore Music With Rocks In. Death gets so drunk that he collapses at the bar, so the patrons check his pockets, then fling him into (onto) the river. He wakes up among the city’s homeless and decides to stay a while. Dibbler starts signing every act that approaches to different venues and the free festival, unconcerned with whether or not they can play. The Band With Rocks In is given a farm cart to do their tour in, which Glod protests, but Buddy doesn’t care. Back at the Musicians’ Guild, Mr. Clete decides it’s time to get the assassins involved and off the Band With Rocks In before everyone starts thinking music should be free. The band arrives in Scrote, a town that doesn’t like much of anything, but Buddy says they should show the town what they play. The town holds a barbecue, people come from far and wide, and the band gets a room at the tavern for free. Buddy goes outside and mulls over the fact that he feels dead when he’s not playing music. The assassins gather to kill the band, but Susan arrives and stops the assassin about to kill Buddy by showing him his own life’s hourglass.

Buddy talks to her, trying to find out why she’s following him, and tells her he won’t stop playing. Susan leaves as the other band members come outside to find out what’s going on, but they don’t see her. As they’re traveling to Pseudopolis, Cliff and Glod wonder if the thing they’ve paid for will be “done” by the time they get back to Ankh-Morpork. Dibbler has Surreptitious Fabric (which used to be Suck, and before that was Insanity) play for the music recording boxes, but they don’t work for the band. The group talks about how to improve their image and learn that Scum bought himself a deaf leopard instead of leopardskin trousers; they argue over their band name some more. The Death of Rats brings the raven as an interpreter to tell Albert that they can’t find Death, and also what Susan has been up to, which gets Albert involved. He’s only got nineteen days left in his lifetimer, but he sets out with the Death of Rats to look for his master. The band has to leave Pseudopolis in a hurry after their performance, while the assassins head back to the Musicians’ Guild and explain that they won’t be able to complete their contract on the band.


This book is actually a little eerie in its prescience. This is essentially five years before the initial release of platforms like Napster, and the change that overtook the music industry once pirating became common and music could be uploaded to the internet in the form of mp3s. The Musicians’ Guild in Ankh-Morpork is railing against the idea that music could be free in an analog world where their main gripe is the lack of even “passing the hat” around to collect change for the performers, but this is clocking what would soon become a much more pressing issue in the industry within our own world.

It’s an issue that people are still talking about and failing to find adequate solutions for. The recent dustups around music streaming services like Spotify are proof of that issue, with the advent of society’s inherent “online-ness” making the problem more puzzling than ever. In addition to anyone being able to upload an album they recorded in their basement to YouTube or Soundcloud, there’s the question of how to get musicians paid in this era, and the answer increasingly seems to be—you’ve got to see groups live and buy band merchandise. That’s where most of the money is inevitably going to come from, unless you’re dealing with superstars who sell millions of albums each release.

Ignoring the fact that seeing bands live during a pandemic is a very different kettle of worms than it would be otherwise, this is fascinating because it has always been true. Did you know what Mick Jagger went to business school before becoming frontman of the Rolling Stones? Do you know why? Because his own father knew that it would be useful no matter the job his kid wound up with, and he wasn’t wrong. There’s a story somewhere about Jagger almost throttling a music exec who tried to cut the band out of a merchandising deal in their early days. Well before their success, he knew what was going to be making them the most money.

My only complaint here is that I’d forgotten how much Susan’s story falls away in the middle of this book. We get such a great setup with her character, only for her to largely vanish in the book’s interim. Her contact with Buddy is awkward for the fact that we’re led to believe that she has a crush on him, but we don’t really know why? Sure, he’s a rockstar, and it’s a little pointed to have someone as practical as Susan get swayed, but it doesn’t really mean anything about her character in the long run. Which makes it feel as though the crush is just a way to expedite her role in Buddy’s story, and that’s sort of too bad. I wish there was another tie here, even if more needed to be made of Susan feeling like an outsider to achieve it.

Death starts spending time with the homeless, and there’s a fascinating juxtaposition in the descriptions of the beggars, being that they’re a group that are invisible, yet simultaneously impossible to ignore. I remember having an acting teacher make that point in a class when she was talking about how to use your physical body in power dynamics. She was trying to explain that societal power in the form of wealth or class didn’t always amount to power in one-on-one exchanges, and talked about how many people who make money on the street are experts at inserting themselves into people’s lives and demanding their attention. What the narrative describes about beggars like Foul Ole Ron and the rest of the group dovetails with that point. It is possible to be invisible to society and impossible to ignore wherever you go—which is pointedly similar to Death’s plight in this moment. But the fact that it doesn’t lead to more empathy or aid for these people is a piece of that tragedy, and one that goes unsolved. It is something that Death is uniquely poised to see clearly.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • There are so many band name puns in this section, it’s silly to try and count them all (though I have special love for the reuse of Lead Balloon which was used in Good Omens, and also for Surreptitious Fabric as a joke on Velvet Underground), but I do love the joke about the dog (probably Gaspode) listening to a music box in a parody of the “his master’s voice” RCA ad.
  • This is the first time Dorfl the golem gets brought up, which I definitely forgot about.
  • So, Death is drinking “mexical,” which is their version of mezcal, and there’s the whole discussion about the worm in the bottle and why it’s there and what it’s about. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional side-eye here, but if you know your liquor, you know that the worm in the bottle gets this wild rep for making people hallucinate and such, which is completely made up. It’s likely that the inclusion of it was specifically a marketing ploy aimed at white people. The point is that Death is right to question its presence.
  • The bit where we hear about the Sto Plains, which are “the grocery of the continent, but not an awe-inspiring panorama unless you were the kind of person who gets excited about fifty-three types of cabbage and eighty-one types of bean” speaks to anyone who’s grown up anywhere near the Great Plains and is accustomed to being surrounded by soybeans and corn every time you go for a drive.


He reached down and his huge hand closed over the bow. He squeezed. Bits of wood oozed between his fingers.

The big sideboard had sprouted copper tureens like autumn fungi.


The universe had a definite tendency toward awareness. This suggested a certain subtle cruelty woven into the very fabric of space-time.

Perhaps even music could be alive, if it was old enough. Life is a habit.

They were called towns because they were bigger than the villages. The cart passed through a couple of them. They had two streets in the form of a cross, one tavern, one seed store, one forge, one livery stable with a name like JOE’S LIVERY STABLE, a couple of barns, three old men sitting outside the tavern, and three young men lounging outside JOE’s swearing that one day really soon now they were going to leave town and make it big in the world outside. Real soon. Any day now.

He stared in blissful deafness at the group for several minutes until a general cessation of movement suggested that whatever they had been perpetrating had been committed.

Next week we’ll finish the book. See you then!


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