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October 12, 2007

Book Notes - Jeff Parker ("Ovenman")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Some books are funny, some beautifully written, and some capture an era, Jeff Parker's novel Ovenman manages to do all three with ease. Ovenman's anti-hero (himself adrift in a sea of misfits) is a central Florida pizzeria employee in the mid-90's, and following his life is surprisingly captivating, this is one of my favorite novels of the year.

Of the novel, the Boston Globe wrote:

"Ovenman is funny, sad, and intelligent in all the right ways, with characters who are sometimes too real to be comfortable. In other words, they have a nasty way of making you think, or at least me think: there but for the grace of God go I."

In his own words, here is Jeff Parker's Book Notes essay for his novel, Ovenman:

The protagonist of my novel Ovenman, When Thinfinger, makes music of his own. Sample lyric: “A slurred speech creeps like a fat lip” and “Small pizza four slices plus sign”. The songs below represent his influences. Alternately, they can be read as a mood-setting playlist for optimal enjoyment of the book. (Don’t forget to light candles and ready a bubblebath.)

Descendents “Clean Sheets”

Sample lyric: “Those sheets are dirty / And so are you”. A perfect song by which to loathe an ex who has disposed of you. Which is not exactly the case through most of Ovenman—in fact the other way around. But when romantic attachment in general torments, this is a good song.

Bad Brains “I Against I”

Sample lyric: “I don’t want to have I go against I”. The first dude to synthesize irie and punk (ie. weed spirituality and aggro), the mythic JR summed it all up with this one: a simple articulation of man’s struggle against himself, the backbone of so many great stories. Making simultaneous the desires to burn a spleef and punch someone in the throat is exactly the effect I was going for in Ovenman.

Descendents “Pep Talk”

Sample lyric: “It’s not the end of the world / Since your baby left you / It’s going to be okay / You don’t need her anyway”. A cheerleader ballad for losers. Like your girlfriend/boyfriend and best friend, the Descendents stand by you no matter what stupid shit you have done, and “Pep Talk” is the song to put on when, evidence to the fact notwithstanding, you need a little sincere pop-punk bucking up.

Operation Ivy

sample lyric: “More than just another crowd / We need a gathering instead”, “No one’s got a thing against you / unless you got something to prove”, “All I know is that I don’t know nothing / That’s fine”… If there’s anyone Thinfinger might wish he could be, it’s Operation Ivy lead singer ska-punk poet Jesse Michaels. The son of the late great American writer Leonard Michaels, his f*ck-you voice ruled Southern California for a brief flash in the early 90s then disappeared. For the political conscience in American punk rock without preaching, Michaels lyrics have never been matched. Like his father, he’s one of the masters of the form. Sentimentality never entered into it. Drinking and drugs didn’t keep him from it. He had some things to say and found the perfect medium and the perfect moment in which to say them. He said them and folded the band, never looked back. Nuff said.

Descendents “Wendy”

Sample lyric: “Wendy, Wendy left me alone / hurts so bad”. Known as much for their songs about coffee and farting as their songs about girls, the Descendents typified what emo used to mean: you were pissed because you worked a shitty job, your girlfriend was probably f*cking around on you, and you were both sad and totally pissed off about that and the unfairness of it all, but you knew how to have fun (ie. backflips in a pit at a hole-in-the-wall hardcore club). Nowadays emo is ridiculed with t-shirt slogans like, “I wish my lawn was emo so it would cut itself”. Emo the way Descendents cut it had nothing to do with kids locking themselves in their rooms to slash at their arms. So I’m not sure how this has happened.

Dag Nasty “Under Your Influence”

Sample lyric: “Twelve ounces of courage / Makes the world look better”. This is the epigraph to the novel. If you’ve heard this one, I’m afraid you can pretty much stop reading right there. Sometimes nine words are better than sixty thousand.

Quit “Changes”

Sample lyric: “Changes / Changes / Changes / You’re growing up”. Quit was a Miami pop-punk band which, balls to the wall, cut its own record, 1991’s “Earlier Thoughts”. It’s totally geeky and pubescent, full of harmonic choruses that embarrass the f*ck out of you and make you want to simultaneously weep and slam the forehead of the dude next to you into the front of the stage. Granted it’s whiny and adolescent, but they were pretty much exactly like the Beach Boys would have been had they appeared in South Florida in the early 90s. They’re good for sing-a-longs in particularly drunken moments.

Slayer “Reign in Blood”

Sample lyric: “What I am / What I want / I’m only after death”. If listened to through headphones this song makes you better at pretty much any physical activity you may be doing at the time, be it skateboarding, jogging, working an oven, yoga. I highly recommend it during such activities but with a few exceptions, such as surgery and love making of the wistful persuasion. Also the thunder sound effect was rarely used in music as delightfully as Slayer used it in this one.

Jeff Parker and Ovenman links:

the book's website (with original music and video)
the book's page at the publisher
the book's MySpace page

The Believer review
Boldtype review
Boston Globe review
Emerging Writers Network review
The Oregonian review
Portland Mercury review
Willamette Week review

Tallahassee Democrat profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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