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August 20, 2009

Book Notes - Frank Anthony Polito ("Drama Queers!")

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

Frank Anthony Polito's debut novel Band Fags! impressed me with its snappy dialogue and realistic portrayal of late 1980's high school life. Drama Queers! is not a sequel to that book, but it does follow one of the characters from Band Fags! through an exciting and tumultuous senior year. The book is filled with humor (Brad's first trip to New York is one of the funniest things I have read all year), authentic characters, and an assortment of pop culture tidbits that immerses you in the late 80s.

The Detroit Metro Times wrote of the book:

"Drama Queers! delivers a multi-scoped microcosm of Americana and '80s pop culture in a neatly packaged time-capsule, complete with witty dialog interspersed with era-appropriate slang (remember "Bum F**k"?), quaint localisms and every TV show and movie that shaped the lives of every teenager of the '80s."

In his own words, here is Frank Anthony Polito's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, Drama Queers!:

As with my first novel, Band Fags!, I knew that music would play an important role in terms of helping to tell the story. To this day, when I hear a particular song from the 1980s, I can pretty much tell you what year and/or grade I was in at the time the song came out, and who I was doing what with.

As with Band Fags!, each chapter in Drama Queers! is titled after an '80s tune (again, with a few minor exceptions). I chose songs with lyrics that reflect what is happening to the characters at each particular moment in the story, and were popular at the particular time each chapter is taking place during 1987-88 (again, with a few minor exceptions).

Here are some highlights, with the complete Drama Queers! "soundtrack" to follow at the end…

Chapter 1—"True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper

"Oh I realize
It's hard to take courage…"

The first line of the book is "To thine ownself be true," from Hamlet by Wm. Shakespeare. Before I began writing, I knew this would be theme of the story, as Brad Dayton, the 17-year-old gay protagonist, sets out to discover his True Self during senior year at Hazel Park High School.

Chapter 2—"Let's Hear it for the Boy" by Deniece Williams

"Maybe he's no Romeo
But he's my loving one man show…"

From the Footloose soundtrack, this chapter focuses on Brad as a small boy, and his first crush on Shaun Cassidy, aka Joe Hardy from TV's The Hardy Boys (emphasis on "boy," as in "Let's Hear it for the…")

Chapter 3—"Never Let Me Down Again" by Depeche Mode

"I'm taking a ride
With my Best Friend…"

This chapter introduces new readers to Brad's best friend since 7th grade, Jack Paterno, the protagonist of Band Fags! and recaps ground already covered in the first book for those familiar with it.

Chapter 4—"Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths

"So for once in my life
Let me get what I want…"

Brad wants to be elected to Homecoming "Top 25." Enough said?

Chapter 7—"Dress You Up" by Madonna

"All over, all over
From your head down to your toes…"

An early hit from Motown's own Material Girl, this chapter begins with Brad reliving childhood memories of his favorite TV show, Mr. Dressup, a tiny no-budget production from Canada, which Brad and his three sisters would watch on Channel 9, out of Windsor, Ontario. He's also preparing to go see Rocky Horror, dressed up like Columbia.

Chapter 8—"Who's That Guy" by Maxwell Caulfield

"Everybody wants you when they don't know who you are

If you're a man of mystery, it really takes you far…"

From the Grease 2 soundtrack, one of Brad's all-time favorite movies. In this chapter, Brad meets a mysterious stranger in the band room after school, and wonders who he is.

Chapter 11—"I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

"Daylight, spent the night without you

But I've been dreamin' 'bout the lovin' you do…"

This one I fudged a little. The chapter is set in the late fall of 1987, but the song didn't actually come out until spring 1988. The focus here is Brad, refusing to admit he likes cute sophomore, Richie Tyler, his biggest competition for the lead in the school play.

Chapter 13—"Hungry Eyes" by Eric Carmen

"I've been meaning to tell you

I've got this feelin' that won't subside…"

From the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, this song sums up Brad's feeling for cute sophomore, Richie Tyler, once he decides he does like him.

Chapter 15—"I'm Falling in Love Tonight" by The Judds

"Moving together as one

'Til the first gentle Rays of the sun…"

Most of the songs featured in Band Fags! and Drama Queers! are "New Wave," which to me, is the only real "'80s music" (Though, personally, I was a big Whitney Houston and Debbie Gibson fan back in my day!). This one, however, is a country song, as Brad's mom is a big country music fan, therefore, he is, too. When Brad meets a cute older guy, Sean, in this chapter, they discover their mutual admiration for all things Naomi and Wynonna.

Chapter 18—"Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses

"You can taste the bright lights

But you won't get them for free…"

In January 1988, Brad travels to New York City to audition for the Juilliard School of Drama. What better song to describe the Big Apple to a gay boy from Hazeltucky, MI?

Chapter 19—"Hot Child in the City" by Nick Gilder

"So young to be loose and on her own

Young boys, they all want to take her home…"

A throw-back to the '70s, this was Brad's favorite 45 RPM as a child… More of his exploits in the Big Apple, going out to his first NYC gay bar, and getting in a tiny bit of trouble!

Chapter 21—"Faded Flowers" by Shriekback

"We had some good machines, but they don't work no more

I loved you once, don't love you anymore…"

To quote Brad, "What the hell is a Shriekback, anyways?" This chapter focuses on the student film Brad and cute sophomore, Richie, are starring in for Mass Media class called "Faded Flowers." In the film, the boys play secret gay lovers, something that will require a lot of rehearsal!

Chapter 23—"Only in My Dreams" by Debbie Gibson

"Couldn't see how much I missed you (now I do)

Couldn't see how much it meant…"

Brad and his new friend, Miss Patrick, hanging out at The Gas Station (a gay bar) on Valentine's Day. When this song comes up on the jukebox, Brad is reminded of the first night he set foot in the bar as a wee lad of 15, with Miss Debbie greeting him as he made his arrival.

Chapter 26—"Through the Eyes of Love" by Melissa Manchester

"Please, don't let this feeling end
It's everything I am…"

Another '70s top hit, from another of Brad's fave movies, Ice Castles, starring Robbie Benson and Lynn-Holly What's-Her-Name? Brad goes to Gigi's, a Detroit drag club, where he performs as "Lexie Winston," singing her theme song—complete with ice skates!

Chapter 27—"Always on My Mind" by Pet Shop Boys

"Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn't died

Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied…"

I had intended to fit this one into Band Fags! at a moment when Jack is missing his best friend, Brad. But I find it more fiting to show Brad's missing of his new found love, Richie "The Sophomore" Tyler, as chronicled in this chapter.

Chapter 28—"Shattered Dreams" by Johnny Hates Jazz

"Woke up to reality

And found the future not so bright…"

An obscure one (but a good one), this song describes the moment when Brad gets word about his Juilliard audition. Need I say more?

Chapter 29—"Forever Young" by Alphaville

"Let us die young or let us live forever

We don't have the power but we never say never…"

I, personally, didn't come to know this great tune until the early 1990s, but thankfully it was originally released in 1988. This chapter is a retelling from Band Fags! of a tragic event in both Brad and Jack's life, and serves as a reminder just how precious is our youth.

Chapter 30—"Never Gonna Give You Up" By Rick Astley

"I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling

Gotta make you understand…"

Brad comes clean with Richie about his feelings… But will they live Happily Ever After?

Drama Queers! by Frank Anthony Polito Official Soundtrack

1987

"True Colors" - Cyndi Lauper
"Let's Hear It for the Boy" - Deniece Williams
"Never Let Me Down Again" - Depeche Mode
"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" - The Smiths
"Kiss Him Goodbye - Bananarama
"The Final Countdown" - Europe
"Dress You Up" - Madonna
"Who's That Guy" - Maxwell Caulfield
"Heaven Is a Place on Earth" - Belinda Carlisle
"Looking for a New Love" - Jody Watley
"I Hate My self for Loving You" - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
"I Think We're Alone Now" - Tiffany
"Hungry Eyes" - Eric Carmen
"Last Christmas" - Wham!
"I'm Falling in Love Tonight" - The Judds
"New Year's day" - U2

1988

"Hideaway" - Erasure
"Welcome to the Jungle" - Guns N' Roses
"Hot Child in the City" - Nick Gilder
"What I Am" - Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
"Faded Flowers" - Shriekback
"Didn't We Almost Have It All" - Whitney Houston
"Only in My Dreams" - Debbie Gibson
"Magic Changes - Sha-Na-Na
"Control" - Janet Jackson
"Through the Eyes of Love" - Melissa Manchester
"Always on My Mind" - Pet Shop Boys
"Shattered Dreams" - Johnny Hates Jazz
"Forever Young" - Alphaville
"Never Gonna Give You Up" - Rick Astley

Frank Anthony Polito and Drama Queers! links:

the book's website
the book's MySpace page

AfterElton review
Ambiente review
Detroit Metro Times review
Pop Wired review
Rainbow Reviews review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist by the author for his debut novel, Band Fags!
Melissa Walker profile of the author (Polito discusses the book cover designs)
Out in Jersey review
OutSmart review
PrideSource profile of the author
Windy City Times interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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