NOVEMBER 23, 2013
MY NEW NOVEL, Wise Young Fool, is a rude punk rock black comedy. But also a love story. I think. It’s told in alternating viewpoints, half of which come in the form of a journal kept by the main character, Ritchie Sudden, while serving 90 days in a juvenile detention center. The other half spools out the year leading up to Ritchie’s arrest, so that by the final chapter he’s going in and getting out at the same time. The soundtrack of Ritchie’s life infuses the narrative, coming in the form of songs, poems, ring tones, albums, cassettes, CDs, and shower singing. His taste spans from The Misfits to Mastodon, from Cheap Trick to Carcass to Chuck Berry and back.
When I write, I constantly listen to music. I have a 160-gig iPod absolutely packed to the gills with blues, jazz, punk, metal, honky-tonk, soul, funk, hardcore, classical, swing, rock, and random dissonant screaming which I leave on shuffle up to eight hours a day. I must have it blaring at all times, and I am very easily bored. Sometimes the perfect snippet of music will wed itself to, spur, or inform a particular passage I’m working on. I find that to be the case while reading as well. I have near-synesthetic memories that rise like fresh pie when someone mentions a book I enjoyed while listening to a particular album. Like, for instance, Pere Ubu’s “Non-Alignment Pact” and Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Peanut butter and jelly.
With this in mind, I’ve chosen six bands/albums that are mentioned in Wise Young Fool, and then have paired each, like a fine wine or craft cocktail, with a perfectly suited YA novel. Plus a drink.
My advice? Turn it up very, very loud, crack a paperback spine, and pour yourself some refreshment.
1. What you’re listening to: My Bloody Valentine. Loveless. Creation, 1991.
One of the greatest melodic drone operas ever committed to vinyl. Makes Wagner sound like he just dropped out of Up With People during halftime at the Super Bowl.
What you’re reading: Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos.
Finished yet? I thought so. This book is a glass pipe full of candor, each line a scourge of complacency. Gantos has the stones to tell it like it is.
What you’re drinking: A crisp diet Fresca, rocks, twist of lime.
2. What you’re listening to: The Replacements. “Bastards of Young.” Tim. Sire, 1985.
Paul Westerberg’s voice like a cat’s tongue lapping against skateboard rash, each one of these songs a primer in capturing the essence of disaffection, like my 16-year-old DNA encased in amber.
What you’re reading: Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before by Dave Yoo
Hilarious slant on the usual formula: unpopular dude, hot chick, muscle jerk. Who’s gonna win? Guess. What makes this novel rise way above is the deluge of sarcasm and sly wit.
What you’re drinking: 7-Eleven coffee, no sugar, no cream.
3. What you’re listening to: Talking Heads. Fear of Music. Sire Records, 1979.
What you’re reading: Celine by Brock Cole
The eponymous narrator is an endearingly deluded painter and budding dramatist. Clark so convincingly occupies her head that if I had read this book as a teenager, I would have known exactly what girls were thinking. At least what the girls I wanted to make out with were thinking.
What you’re drinking: Absinthe, straight.
4. What you’re listening to: Mastodon. Leviathan. Relapse, 2004.
Uncompromising grind mixed with bebop-level musical chops, Mastodon is the band I go to when nothing else is vicious enough, but I still want to soak in complex musical ideas.
What you’re reading: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
This book is pure metal, laden throughout with hilarious gore and musical references far too outdated/obscure for its intended audience. Screw audience distinctions! Screw genre! Just read!
What you’re drinking: a huge stein of melted cheese.
5. What you’re listening to: Bauhaus. In The Flat Field. 4AD, 1980.
Many people think Bauhaus is Manchester Goth, but those in the know have long insisted it’s really a soundtrack to a year in the life of Coney Island junkies, hoop stars, and debutante chasers.
What you’re reading: The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
Quite possible the best YA novel ever written. Came out in 1978 and hasn’t lost a single line’s worth of relevance. Still just as sharp, funny, and brutal as ever.
What you’re drinking: a Shirley Temple, neat.
6. What you’re listening to: Elliott Smith. Either/Or. Kill Rock Stars, 1997.
An ethereal quietude surrounds the deceptively disturbed music of this record. Alternating with beauty and pathos, nothing else sounds like Elliott Smith.
What you’re reading: Crap Kingdom by DC Pierson
A fantasy novel written by your high school buddy cranked on intravenous Red Bull and some sort of designer hallucinogenic he ordered from an ad in the back of Muscle & Fitness, this book celebrates just the sort of delirious heroic slackerdom that will one day save our planet.
What you’re drinking: A tall glass of ice-cold milk, with just a splash of Old Overholt.