July 17, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
With Band Fags!, Frank Anthony Polito transports readers back to high school in the 1980's. From its main theme of sexual identity to kids just trying to fit in, the novel faithfully depicts tumultuous teenage relationships as the two main characters come of age and deal with their homosexuality. Polito's background as a playwright is evident in the breezy, effortless dialogue that reamains as true to youth as it is to the era.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Polito shows great fondness for and recall of all things ’80s (Jordache jeans, mid-period Bee Gees, Jon-Erik Hexum, Nintendo etc.) as Jack’s journey through Webb Junior High and Hazel Park (“Hillbilly”) High becomes an angst-ridden rollercoaster ride. Polito also has the era’s teen talk down: Jack’s headlong narration is sweet and funny. And the book’s light and breezy “know thyself” ethos paves the way for possible YA crossover."
Growing up during the 1980s, music always played an important part in my life. To this day, when I hear a particular song from the period, I can pretty much tell you what year and/or grade I was in at the time the song came out, if not what exactly was going on in my life.
“99 Luftballons? Mr. Nixon’s 8th grade Science, I had a crush on Kelly Ball, so it had to be 1983-84.”
My first novel, Band Fags!, began as a play in 2001. The story is set in the suburbs of Detroit during the mid-to-late 1980s. When it came time to adapt Band Fags! from the stage to the page, I knew right away that I would give each chapter a title from an ’80’s song (with a few minor exceptions).
Not only did I choose a song with lyrics that reflect what is happening to the characters at each particular moment in the story, I chose songs that were popular at the particular time each chapter is taking place (again, with a few minor exceptions). In the play, I used music in between scenes, much in the same manner.
Here are some highlights, with the complete Band Fags! “soundtrack” to following at the end…
Prologue (9/82-6/83)—“We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s (original release: 1982)
“See the kids just getting out of school
They can’t wait to hang out and be cool…”
The book is called Band Fags! It’s about some teenaged kids who are in Band, so of course, this is a perfect opening song.
Chapter 1 (9/94)—“Johnny, Are You Queer?” by Josie Cotton. (original release: 1981)
“Johnny, what’s the deal, boy?
Is your love for real, boy?”
This one I fudged a little with the time period, but my protagonists name is Jack (with his real name being John) and he is indeed, queer.
Chapter 2 (10/84)—“She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper. (original release: 1984)
“We-hell- I see them every night in tight blue jeans
In the pages of a blue boy magazine…”
This chapter is all about Jack and Brad looking at a Playgirl magazine, deciding which guys they would think are cute…“if they were girls.”
Chapter 3 (10/14/84)—“Bless You Boys” by Curtis Gadson. (original release: 1984)
“Bless you boys
This is the year…”
This obscure song recorded by the winner of a local Detroit TV talent show called Saturday Music Machine served as the theme song for the Detroit Tigers when they won the World Series on October 14, 1984. In this chapter, Jack and Brad celebrate their victory.
Chapter 4 (10/30/84)—“Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler. (original release: 1984)
“Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?”
Jack and Brad hold a séance on Devil’s Night (a Detroit “holiday” celebrated on 10/30) to resurrect the recently deceased TV heartthrob, Jon-Erik Hexum, who died on 10/18/84.
Chapter 9 (6/85)—“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen. (original release: 1984)
“I think of all the education that I missed But then my homework was never quite like this…”
Brad helps Jack come up with a plot to seduce his Total Babe (male) Civics teacher in order to get an A on his final exam.
Chapter 10 (8/85)—“Obsession” by Animotion. (original release: 1985)
“I will have you
Yes, I will have you…”
Jack travels to the Food Town Expo in Toledo, OH, to meet the love of his life, Days of our Lives star, Kristian Alfonso (Hope Williams Brady).
Chapter 12 (10/85)—“You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive. (original release: 1985)
“All I know is that to me
You look like you’re lots of fun…”
Jack and his friends play Spin-the-Bottle at a Halloween party in his parents’ basement.
Chapter 13 (12/85)—“Secret” by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (original release: 1985)
“I’ve got a secret and I can’t explain
All the time I’ve waited for this day…”
For the first time, Jack admits he might indeed by “like that,” and that he’s known deep down inside for quite some time.
Chapter 14 (2/14/86)—“Oh, L’amour” by Erasure. (original release: 1986)
“What’s a boy in love
Supposed to do?”
Research shows that this song didn’t come out until June 1986, so I guess we’ll call it “artistic license.” This chapter takes place on Valentine’s Day with Jack hanging out with the new love of his life. (I’m rather proud of the fact that chapter 14 falls on this day!)
Chapter 16 (4/86)—“Edge of Heave” by Wham! (original release: 1986)
“It’s too late to stop Won’t the heavens save me?”
Brad and his lesbian friend, Luanne, take Jack to his first gay bar, aptly named Heaven. (I didn’t make this up. It was the name of a real gay bar in Detroit, and the first one I ever went to, myself.)
Chapter 19 (10/86)—“Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. (original release: 1986)
“Watching I keep waiting, still anticipating love Never hesitating to become the fated ones…”
From the “Top Gun” soundtrack, which in this chapter, Jack, Brad, and their friend Max, go to see on a triple-date with three girls.
Chapter 20 (10/86)—“Shellshock” by New Order. (original release: 1986)
“No matter how I try and try I hide the truth behind a lie…”
From the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack, which in this chapter, Jack and his new girlfriend, Diane, go to watch at a video-party with friends. At this point, he starts calling into question his decision to get involved with a girl.
Chapter 21 (11/86)—Rumors by Timex Social Club. (original release: 1986)
“Look at all these rumors surrounding me every day
I just need some time, some time to get away…”
Jack falls victim to (yet another) rumor going around school that the he’s a Total Fag.
Chapter 26 (9/87)—Breakout by Swing Out Sister. (original release: late 1986)
“The time has come to make or break Move on don’t hesitate…”
Jack makes a life-changing decision about being a Band Fag.
Chapter 27 (11/87)—“Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” by Aerosmith. (original release: 1987)
“So never judge a book by it's cover Or who you're going to love by your lover…”
A new word has found its way into the vernacular at Hazel Park High School, aka “Hillbilly High,” and Jack has a new jock-friend who likes to use it a lot.
Chapter 28 (12/87)—“Venus” by Bananarama (original release: 1986)
“Goddess on the mountain top
Burning like a silver flame…”
Another exception to the time-period rule, this song was chosen as the title of this chapter as it’s all about Jack and his new jock-friend, Tom, going to see comedienne, Judy Tenuta, who is affectionately known as “The Giver-Goddess.”
Chapter 29 (12/31/87)—“Shake Your Love” by Debbie Gibson (original release: late 1987)
“I’m under a spell again
Boy, I’m wondering why…”
On New Year’s Eve, Jack finds himself longing to kiss a new Special Someone when the ball drops at midnight.
Chapter 32 (5/88)—“Friends” by Michael W. Smith. (original release: 1983)
“But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone…”
Another obscure one, this song was very popular with the kids in Choir at my high school, and I sang it with one of my classmates at our Senior Banquet. While Jack doesn’t do this in Band Fags!, I chose to include it because the lyrics are a reminder to what a lot of us were feeling as we prepared for graduation and the uncertainties of our futures. (They also pertain to a tragic event that occurs in this chapter, which I won’t give away.)
Epilogue (9/88)—“The Promise” by When in Rome (original release: 1988)
“You know in the end
I’ll always be there…”
As Jack prepares to leave for college, he and Brad make a vow to be Best Friends Forever.
Band Fags! by Frank Anthony Polito
WE GOT THE BEAT
JOHNNY, ARE YOU QUEER?
BLESS YOU BOYS
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?
SOONER OR LATER
DANCING IN THE DARK
HOT FOR TEACHER
BLISTER IN THE SUN
The Violent Femmes
YOU SPIN ME ROUND
Dead or Alive
Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark
THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR
Dionne Warwick & Friends
THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
NO ONE IS TO BLAME
TAKE MY BREATH AWAY
Timex Social Club
POINT OF NO RETURN
FRIENDS & LOVERS
Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson
Swing Out Sister
DUDE (LOOKS LIKE A LADY)
SHAKE YOUR LOVE
HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU
SIGN YOUR NAME
Terence Trent D’arby
Michael W. Smith
When in Rome
Frank Anthony Polito and Band Fags links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)