July 5, 2005
Colleen Curran's Whores on the Hill is a coming-of-age novel set in an all-girls high school. Her characters are filled with youth and a vigor for living life to its fullest, and Curran breathes credibility into them. This was a great summer read, well-written and very, very cool. The author has placed the first chapter online, as well as soundtracks for the main characters, and even an character quiz.
Thanks to The Happy Booker, whose blog alerted me to this book.
Whores on the Hill is about three girls, Astrid, Juli and Thisbe, who go to the last all-girls’ school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Everybody calls them the Whores on the Hill, but they don’t care. The book is set in 1987, during Astrid, Juli and Thisbe’s sophomore year of high school.
When I was in high school, things like a certain song or a shirt were vitally, crucially important to me. This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I was a total Depeche Mode freak in high school. “But Not Tonight” from the Black Celebration album was on constant repeat on my cassette Walkman. I felt like that song or the green army bag I carried everywhere were a part of me. That those things were special, they were mine and mine alone. And they defined me.
In the book, Astrid, Juli and Thisbe are fifteen years old. They have no idea who they are yet. And it’s things like what kind of music they love that helps define them, that gives them a sense of identity.
This soundtrack comes from my website where I put together a playlist for each character.
Pretty much all you need to know is that Astrid is the wild, precocious leader, Juli is the self-destructive friend (and the only one who has a car), and Thisbe is the shy, self-effacing narrator who falls in love for the first time.
Serge Gainsbourg, "Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus." Astrid loves Serge Gainsbourg. She references him several times in the book. She admires how he’s sort of this old, gross French man who’s this huge sex icon and has girls doing simulated orgasm sounds in the background. Roughly translated, the woman breathily says, “I love you” over and over to Serge. To which he drily responds, “Me neither.” And that would make Astrid laugh.
Violent Femmes, "Kiss Off." This song is a classic. From the first line to the last. The cascading bass line that goes into, “You can all just kiss off into the air.” That’s exactly how Astrid feels. Exactly how almost all fifteen year-olds on the planet feel. And who doesn’t love the counting? “I’ll take one, one, one ‘cause you left me and two, two…” Play this song again. It’s still an ass-kicker. Plus, the Violent Femmes are from Wisconsin.
Dead Milkmen, "Punk Rock Girl." Juli’s favorite song is "Punk Rock Girl." She’s Asian and dyes the tips of her black hair white to go to a Fenwick party. She would drive around town in her dad’s old hand-me-down Audi and listen to “Punk Rock Girl” on repeat, imagining that the Milkmen were singing about her with her bleach-tipped hair. But if you listen to this song now, twenty years later, it doesn’t really hold up like the Femmes’ “Kiss Off” does. It’s campy and sort of annoying.
Fishbone, "Ma & Pa." Juli’s parents are breaking up. She’s not taking it well. But this song would make her laugh and shout and scream about it. Have you heard this song? Bright ska, trombones in the background, fearless and jubilant, absolutely ahead of its time. I will always have a soft spot for Fishbone. Probably because my high school crush wore a Fishbone t-shirt and I thought that was the coolest.
This Mortal Coil, "Kanga-Roo." This Mortal Coil is so goth, but so good. From the big brains behind Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil is dreamy and lush, right up Thisbe’s alley. She’d close her eyes and imagine the first time she saw her big love, Devin, when the lyrics go, “I first saw you. You had on blue jeans… You were at a party. Thought you were so cool.”
Sinead O’Connor, "Just Like U Said It Would B." This is off The Lion & The Cobra. O’Connor was 18 or something when she recorded it. She is screaming, shouting about love and sex and religion. She is furious about it. In the book, there’s a chapter named "Just Like She Said It Would Be" where Thisbe has her first orgasm with Devin. And in my head, Thisbe was listening to this song. She was talking to Astrid in her head. She finally understood what Astrid was talking about when she was talking about sex, and she felt like she had crossed over. But she was angry too, like the song, because she knew she had crossed a line and left her childhood behind.
If you want to get an idea what Astrid, Juli and Thisbe look like at, check out: http://sepulculture.blogspot.com/. My publisher, Vintage, put together an incredible party for me in New York where young actresses dressed up for the part and did a dramatic reading. It’s weird to see how close the girls look to what I imagined. Especially Thisbe.
What was the soundtrack of your life from high school like? Hop on the Comment Box at (http://www.colleencurran.com/soundtrack.php) and post the Top Ten List from your high school days. I can’t wait to see them.