“Down in the Hole” (song by Tom Waits): Authors discuss their love of The Wire and Homicide

October 20, 2008 at 1:12 am (books, Bouchercon 2008, Film and television, Uncategorized)

Five different versions of “Down in the Hole” were recorded for the opening credits of each of the The Wire‘s five seasons. I liked best the one performed for the fourth season. It sounds the least professional – like a couple of kids from the ‘hood trying to get it together. The artists, a group called DoMaJe, are identified by the HBO store as “a group of Baltimore teenagers.” I could find no other information about them.

These were the panelists who were on hand to discuss The Wire and Homicide:

Harry Hunsicker, moderator

Harry Hunsicker, moderator

Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips

Wallace Stroby

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Yes – THAT Peter Robinson – author of the Alan Banks series! Marge’s and my mystery-writing idol! We’ve been reading this fine series ever since Gallows View came out in 1987 and haven’t missed once since.

One of our greatest satisfactions as librarians (library associate, in my case) was watching this writer go from strength to strength and urging his books on eager readers. (Here’s my review of Friend of the Devil.)

It’s been some time since I’ve watched Homicide, but, as to The Wire,,,

It is one of the most riveting programs I have ever seen on television. Ron and I had just finished watching the last episode of Season Five the night before the first day of Bouchercon, and my head was still filled with these unforgettable characters: Bubbles, Bunk, McNulty, the courageous and beautiful Kima Greggs, Avon Barksdale and his ill-fated nephew Dee, Lester Freamon, the ultimate outside-the-box thinker on the force – although “Bunny” Colvin certainly belongs in that category as well, the charismatic “Stringer” Bell, the equally charismatic Omar Little, and Snoop, the killer with the heart of ice…

Well, I could go on – but you get the idea.

At one point, the panel was asked why viewers found drug dealers and killers to be such compelling characters.. Wallace Stroby observed that “Every villain is the hero of his own story.” (Spoken like a true crime novelist!) The series is marked by a combination of a mordant wit and violence which sometimes built up slowly and at other times comes out of nowhere in a way that is both shocking and terrifying., The stories reflect a complete lack of sentimentality and the almost total futility of good intentions.

Fans of The Wire differ on their favorite seasons. For veteran journalist Stroby, it was Five, because of the on-the-money re-creation of the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun. For me, actually, that was the least engaging, possibly because it suffered by comparison to earlier set pieces. For me, season Two, which was about the Port of Baltimore was especially powerful. The acting, always top notch in this series, was  especially good in Season Two. There are three actors in particular whose performances, I think, will always haunt me:

Chris Bauer as Frank Sobotka

Chris Bauer as Frank Sobotka

Pablo Schreiber as Nick Sobotka

Pablo Schreiber as Nick Sobotka

James Ransone as Ziggy

James Ransone as Ziggy

Some viewers could not stomach the violence in The Wire, and I can understand and sympathize with that aversion. There were times when I wanted to turn my face away – and, in fact, did. But even worse than the actual physical violence was the violence done to people’s lives – the blighted childhoods and the lives ruined by prostitution and drugs.

Amid all the devastation, there is one powerful redemption that occurs near the end of the show. It brought tears to my eyes; I had been desperately hoping it would come to pass, and was profoundly grateful when it did.

The Wire is David Simon‘s baby, and he deserves all due credit for it, and for bringing on board such world class crime writers as Richard Price, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane. Between the fabulous performances, the terrific dialog, and completely absorbing stories -a triumph.


Here are some of the novels by the panelists:

1 Comment

  1. All hail the Bard! Henry IV Part One at the Folger « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] All the performers did a splendid job, and it was a special treat to see Delaney Williams of The Wire playing that inimitable rascal Sir John Falstaff. Delaney Williams as Jay Landsman in The Wire and […]

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