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December 17, 2008

Book Notes - David Yoo ("Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before")

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

This year I discovered a wealth of contemporary young adult fiction. David Yoo's second novel, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, is a wonderful example of the genre. Funny, insightful, and often touching, this book can be enjoyed by everyone...

In his own words, here is David Yoo's Book Notes essay for his novel, Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before:

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before is the story of an unorthodox high school love triangle. If Albert Kim has learned one thing in his tragic adolescence, it's that God (probably a sadistic teenaged alien) does not want him to succeed at Bern High. By the end of sophomore year, Al is so tired of humiliation that he's chosen to just forget girls and high school society in general, and enjoy the Zen-like detachment that comes from being an “intentional loser.” But then he meets Mia Stone, and all the repressed hormones come flooding back. Mia, his co-worker at the Bern Inn, is adorable, popular, and most intimidatingly, the ex- long-term girlfriend of Ivy-League-bound, muscle-bound king of BHS and world class jerk, Ryan “The House” Stackhouse. But -- chalk it up to the magic of Al's inner beauty -- by the end of a summer vacuuming hotel rooms and goofing off together, he and Mia are officially "something." Albert barely has time to ponder this miracle before the bomb drops: Ryan has been diagnosed with cancer, and he needs Mia's support, i.e. constant companionship. True, he's lost weight and he's getting radiation, but that doesn't make him any less of an asshole. And to Albert, it couldn't be more apparent that Ryan is using his cancer to steal Mia back. With the whole town rallying behind Ryan like he's a fallen hero, and Mia emotionally confused and worried for her ex, Al's bid for love is not a popular campaign, to say the least.

My Playlist:

“Theme For Kinetic Ritual” – Klark Kent

Klark Kent was a pseudonym for Stewart Copeland (drummer for the Police), who 30 years ago came out with a bunch of ridiculously catchy instrumental electronica-ish songs that achieved the impressive feat of sounding both futuristic and unbelievably dated at the same time. “Theme for Kinetic Ritual” was the theme song for the now long defunct MTV show, The Cutting Edge, which I watched religiously as a little kid growing up in a suburb of Connecticut. Anyway, this is pretty much the happiest song of all time, and one that frequently popped in my head when the writing was going well on Stop Me. While the novel takes place in the mid-90s, I was thinking back to my own adolescence and remembered this song for the first time in years, and for a while I couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Incidentally, the most deceptively happy song of all-time is, of course, Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy,” which is another song that seems to pop in my head whenever I’m trying to think happy thoughts as I write, even though the lyrics suggest otherwise.


“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” – The Smiths

Despite the fact that the title of my novel is a re-phrasing/bastardizing of another Smiths song, this is the one that I listened to a dozen times as I wrote the part in the novel where Albert, having just lost Mia, gets slightly depressed and goes a little crazy. I also gave repeated listens to the even more heartbreaking “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me,” although I usually skip past the long instrumental intro, because it sounds like the Hell portrayed in the movie Event Horizon and I get tempted to poke my eyes out with a highlighter or something.

“Won’t Go Wrong” – Let’s Active

Mitch Easter is known more for his producing credits, including REM’s Murmur, but back in the 80s his band Let’s Active put out my sentimental pick for favorite album of all time, Big Plans for Everybody. I’ve probably introduced Let’s Active to over a hundred people in my lifetime, and I’m always stunned when some people don’t ‘get it.’ I have a friend who works as a sound engineer/producer and when I played some tracks he grimaced and said, “It’s too busy. The melody’s too complex.” And then he proceeded to give me a spiel about how “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson was, like, the perfect pop song, ever. I actually like Clarkson’s song, but Mitch’s “Fell” I put on par with XTC’s “Earn Enough For Us” in terms of perfect pop rock songs, and he’s a highly underrated guitarist as well, and anyway this particular song is what I’d listen to over and over when I was in the midst of the equivalent of breaking up with a girl back in high school. That is, I never dated any girls in high school, but would always feel like I’d just been dumped once they started dating someone, and I’d sit in my car listening to songs like this one, for hours.

“Respectable Street” – XTC

This is one of the songs I’d blast in order to pump myself up to write the rough draft of the novel, on those mornings when my brain felt itchy (ie: utterly useless). This is one of those rare “favorite” songs of mine that I seem to never get sick of, whereas at this point I only listen to other favorites on special occasions because I feel like I’m running out of enjoyable listens (eg: “The Happening” by the Pixies, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” by the Clash, etc.)

“Ah Leah” – Donnie Iris

Another song I blasted when I would try to get my energy up for writing this novel. It features one of the greatest lyrics of all-time not written by Bob Dylan: You're such a sight, you're lookin' better than a body has a right to. This is my generation’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” I always tell people. I jest.

“Bone Machine” – Pixies

Speaking of lyrics, the line, “You’re so pretty when you’re unfaithful to me,” in this track just about perfectly sums up Albert’s perspective in this novel about a high school love-triangle as concisely as the line in Smog’s “Cold Blooded Old Times”: “How can I stand and laugh with the man who redefined your body?” Due to their relevance, I had these songs near the top of my daily playlist as I wrote the rough draft of Stop Me.

“Untitled #1” – Spain

I listened to a lot of depressing music while writing the section in the novel where Albert goes a little crazy. I had to listen to sad music in order to get into his mindset, given the fact that in real-life I’m such a perpetual bundle of joy, and anyway this was one of them. Listening to painfully sad songs makes me feel like the barely standing hero in Will Christopher Baer’s novel, Kiss Me, Judas, so depressed he orders eggs sunny side up because it sounds cheerful. I should clarify that I prefer ridiculously sad songs like this one over ridiculously sad songs like “Blue Light” by Mazzy Star because rather than making me want to off myself with a lungbrush it merely makes me feel really f---ing sad, which is much safer if you’re otherwise not remotely suicidal.

“Like the Weather” – 10,000 Maniacs

I never liked 10,000 Maniacs (I’m not really a fan of the band Spain, either, for that matter), but I have to admit that whenever I’m in memory-lane mode as I write a novel about teens and picture a girl from my own high school experience, this song always tends to pop in my brain for some reason, and within seconds I find myself Fraggle-Rockin’ my noggin along to it, despite my best intentions. This poppy track reminds me of New England summers, denim cutoffs, that nervous ache in your belly as you try to dial that seventh number…

“Whistle Down the Wind” – Nick Heyward

Aside from the utterly cheesy conclusion to the song (when he sings the actual title of the song), the first few minutes otherwise captures love and longing as well as any. It’s syrupy and somehow sounds mono no matter what you play it through, yes, but it effortlessly tugs at the heartstrings.

“Square Dance Rap” – Sir Mix-a-lot

At last, a song actually featured in the novel. There’s a flashback of sorts where Albert kinda screws himself socially during gym class in freshman year. Basically what happens is they’re learning square dancing and every guy is paired up with a girl except Albert, so he’s forced to dance with a broom, and in an ill-advised moment of inspiration he gives the tip of the broom handle an epic kiss, thinking he’s being funny, when in actuality he’s just filled everyone’s heads with an unintentional image of him performing fellatio. Anyway, the song playing during this gym scene is this one, and it’s just about the weirdest song in the history of modern music.

“Alone at Midnight” The Smithereens

Although the lead singer has so dull a voice that it kinda makes me feel like I could be a lead singer, too, and despite the fact that after their incredible album Especially For You their music got increasingly boring for me to listen to, this is my favorite song by them, and again, it was one I listened to on constant repeat back in high school as I sat in my bedroom with my headphones on the night of yet another winter semiformal I wasn’t attending, staring out the window feeling sorry for myself. I always get such a visceral feeling of déjà vu listening to this song that I usually have to follow it up with something really cheerful, like “Happy Birthday,” by The Vitamen or “Sleepwalker” by the Kinks.

Adagio for Strings – The Platoon Soundtrack

This is the whopper of depressingly sad music, the ultimate piece to listen to when you’re trying to get into the mindset of an achingly sad teenage boy. In the novel, anytime Albert sees Mia after they’ve broken up, the opening strains of this piece starts playing in his head, a curse that actually befell me back in the day-no kidding. Also, I figure now is as good a time as any to admit something I’ve held secret for over a decade: my freshman year at Skidmore College this soundtrack was really popular, and in hopes of impressing my new peers I told everyone in my dorm that I was at the live recording of this track in Vancouver (according to the CD’s liner notes) and that I was the audience member who coughs really loudly, about six minutes into the track. You’d be surprised how much this impressed no people.

“Classic Girl” – Jane’s Addiction

This song best represents how Albert feels for Mia during the summer when they first fall in love. Along with my lie about being the cougher in the live recording of “Adagio for Strings” on the Platoon soundtrack, in college I once played this, my favorite Jane’s Addiction song, on my guitar for a girl and told her I’d written it myself, and for her. Truth be told, she wasn’t nearly as impressed as I’d thought she would be. In hindsight, I probably should have played it strictly as an instrumental…

“A Groovy Kind of Love” – Phil Collins

There’s a scene in the novel where Albert and Mia, vacuuming rooms at an inn for the summer, take a nap together during their lunch break one afternoon. This song is filtering in through the open window as they lay there and it makes Albert feel nervous, wondering if Mia is listening to the lyrics, too. Albert then notes how, having listened to the song lyrics for the first time, it seems clear that Phil Collins is describing getting an erection. It’s true—seriously, look up the lyrics and I bet you’ll agree, given his usage of the word “quivering.” The only two things that “quivering” can ever be associated with is fencing foils or erections, and the song ain’t about fencing…

“Seven Seas” – Echo and the Bunnymen

This song has nothing to do with the actual novel, but again rather with my writing process. That I associate actual songs with my writing process speaks volumes as to how melodramatic I am in general. Basically, this is the song playing in my head whenever I type the last sentence of a novel. I don’t know why that is, but for some reason I equate this song with “writing closure,” and so I might as well end with it here, as this playlist is now officially over.

David Yoo and Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's MySpace page
the book's page at the publisher
the book's video trailer

The Compulsive Reader review
School Library Journal review
Into the Wardrobe review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
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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