May 25, 2005
Drive Like Hell, the debut novel by Dallas Hudgens, is filled with music, drugs, youth, cars and crooked sheriffs in the late 1970's south. Hudgens injects his flawed characters with warmth, whether they are the drug-dealing older brother, no-good ex-husband, or alcoholic mother. There are no stale southern stereotypes here (and being a southerner by location, if nothing else, I respect that), only a coming of age tale that reminded me a bit of my own high school days.
Hudgens has also started a blog promoting the book. Notice the "In Heavy Rotation" discs in the right sidebar (Mountain Goats, Okkervil River, M. Ward). Dallas may be my long lost brother...
Many thanks to Wendi at The Happy Booker for recommending not only this fine novel, but also the author for this feature.
Here is the Book Notes entry by Dallas Hudgens:
Almost every character in the book holds pretty strong opinions about what sort of music they like and dislike. When the young narrator, Luke Fulmer, slams a stolen car into a tree, his first dazed realization has nothing to do with the trouble that’s about to enter his life. No, he’s pissed off that The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane" has just started up on the radio. He really hates that song.
The story in the novel takes place in the fictional town of Green Lake, Georgia in 1979. And although the book mentions a lot of songs from that period, I was also influenced by other songs and recordings, especially from 1998 and 99, which is when I wrote the first draft of the novel. So, I’ve put together a list that includes songs mentioned in the book, songs that I was listening to as I wrote that first draft, and songs that I think the book’s characters might be listening to today.
Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band – "Texas Eagle": I was playing this one a lot when I wrote the book’s prologue, where Luke takes late night rides with his father in the old man’s 66 Chevelle.
Wilco – "When You Wake Up Feeling Old": I listened to this song many early mornings when I didn’t want to write. I don’t know why, but it always put me in just the right mood to work.
The Ramones – "Oh, Oh, I Love Her So": This song plays a crucial role in the book, helping Luke discover the importance of tempo and listening to your drummer.
Outkast – "So Fresh, So Clean": I stole part of a line from this song when I needed to describe just how cool Teddy Pendergrass is. The Outkast line (“cooler than Freddy Jackson sipping a milkshake in a snowstorm”) is a whole lot better than anything I could have come up with.
Teddy Pendergrass – "You’re My Choice Tonight": And here he is at his coolest, circa 1984.
The Replacements – "Beer for Breakfast": I stole from this song as well, when Luke’s older brother, Nick, voices his preference of beer and barbecue potato chips as breakfast food.
Mike Post - "Theme from The Rockford Files": This was Luke's favorite television show and one of the best TV theme songs ever; also my cell phone's ring tone.
Kitty Wells - "Making Believe": In a scene that I cut out of the novel, Luke’s mother, Claudia, sings this song to the love of her life, Lyndell. She’s a teenager at the time, and she tells Lyndell that she wrote the song herself. I wish I’d kept this moment in the story.
Drive By Truckers – "Steve McQueen" (live version): I think that wherever he might be today, Nick is a fan of this song. He and Luke would probably debate whether or not Steve McQueen could have really kicked Paul Newman’s ass. My view: why would those two ever fight each other in the first place?
The Mountain Goats - "This Year": Luke and his pal, Rachel, would like this one a lot.
Johnny Cash – "Heart of Gold": I think Claudia would've loved Johnny Cash’s great cover of this Neil Young song.
Neil Young – "Only Love Can Break Your Heart": Luke is a Neil Young fan, and this is the song I hear when I think of Luke stepping out of the Peugeot in the rain at the end of the novel, wounded and dressed in his courtroom clothes, but still determined to reclaim something very dear to him.