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August 29, 2008

Book Notes - Drew Ferguson ("The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second")

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

The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second is a tragicomic debut novel from Drew Ferguson. In the increasingly crowded field of young adult gay fiction, The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second stands out with its believable characters and the credible situations they face in this coming-of-age tale everyone can relate to.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Ferguson's exuberant portrait successfully re-creates coming-of-age's dizzy heat."

In his own words, here is Drew Ferguson's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second:

Here’s a mix of some songs that appear in The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second, others that didn’t make the final cut, and others that I listened to because they inspired scenes, said something to me about the relationships between characters or just seemed to be three-chord character summaries.

1) Queen – The Hero

OK, so Queen isn’t exactly known for understated music, but when it comes to over-the-top cheesy bombast, this track off the Flash Gordon soundtrack is pure Velveeta pop perfection. Sure, others may claim that songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Innuendo” with their operas and flamenco guitar cross the line, but “The Hero” has it all ... Freddie flaming out, great guitar, amazing drums, Max Von Sydow cackling and an explosion at the end. A frickin’ explosion. Queen does to music what I’ve always wanted to do to sentences—cram as much in ‘em as I possibly can.

2) Maria Muldaur – Midnight at the Oasis

This is a song that I put in the book, ‘cuz it’s one of those tracks that you expect to hear on bad suburban radio stations or when you’re drunk and “dumpster diving” on iTunes for the stuff so bad it almost redeems itself. The thing I love/hate about this song is the lyrics. Didn’t the person who wrote it realize there aren’t cacti in places where there are camels?

3) Parliament – Flash Light

The genius of George is that he was able to make even white bread, milquetoast, ironing-board-assed white boys find the funk. This is one of those songs that, if it doesn’t have you shaking your booty, you probably don’t have a pulse.

4) Tim Curry – I Do the Rock

Does anyone remember this song at all—outside of the Rocky Horror Picture Show geeks (back off, I was one)? It’s got Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the butler from Clue, Rooster Hannigan from Annie) doing some kind of Jamaican-slash-ska thing where he growls through lyrics like “Rockne’s pretty Knut, you know.” It’s definitely an ear worm track, and hands down, it beats and predates so many of those bad “list” tunes like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

5) David Bowie – Station to Station

Here are we … introduced to Bowie’s coked-out Thin White Duke in a track, that, like Queen’s most baroque stuff, seems to be want to be everything all at once—weird, edgy paranoid German (is paranoid German redundant?) electronica, funk/soul, synths, and, who can forget, a train engine. I know this makes me a freak, but I seriously think this is probably one of the best love songs of all time. I don’t no why I think of it as a love song. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written as one. Still, it’s got the added bonus of clocking in at just over ten minutes, making it a great bargain for the bar jukebox. That said, you’re likely to get your ass kicked for playing it unless you have friends who understand and appreciate your tendencies towards OCD.

6) Elton Motello – Jet Boy Jet Girl

While I was writing The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second, I’d listen to this song over and over again. To my mind, it’s basically Charlie’s theme song. Gay teen boy angst with a driving beat and a take-no-crap, tell-it-like-you-want-it-to-be sensibility. Of course, there’s the other, cleaner tamer version that got used in a soda pop commercial. Ugh.

7) Sundowner – Jackson Underground

While Sundowner is vaguely alluded to in the book (it’s a solo project of The Lawrence Arms’s guitarist Chris McCaughan), this song doesn’t actually make it into the book, but the “warm nostalgia” Chris references remind me of the book’s fetal origins—where discussions in George’s (the bar in the song) started to push the book from a short story into a novel.

8) Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)

This was a song that was originally in the book, but ended up getting cut. Another great love song. So simple. So beautiful. It’s the kind of song you want playing when you’re driving in a convertible—top down, wind in your hair—with the love of your life. Neither of you needs to say anything. More than any other piece of music, this probably did more to inform Charlie’s early relationship with Rob.

9) Vladimir Ashkenazy – “Presto” from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

If Charlie has “Jet Boy Jet Girl,” the character of Rob Hunt gets the third movement from the Moonlight Sonata. I think most people are more familiar with the first movement—I think there’s a requirement that it be on every one of those Time-Life “Very Best of Slow, Moody, Pretentious, but Oh-So-Pretty Classical Piano Music” compilations. The “Presto” section has so much more fire and anger. It’s almost as if Beethoven was demanding that the pianist beat the keyboard into submission—you know, really smack it around, make it hurt. Kind of fitting for Rob and everything he does and goes through.

Drew Ferguson and The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second links:

the author's website
the author's MySpace page
the author's page at Queer Writers
the book's website

Edge Chicago review
Modern Tonic review
Publishers Weekly review
Reading Keeps You Sane review
Shooting Stars review

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 (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)


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