September 30, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Greg Olear's novel Totally Killer is a comic thriller that immerses the reader in the early '90s, an impressive debut from a talented authors whose writing I have long admired at The Nervous Breakdown online literary collective.
Colleen Curran wrote of the book:
""I totally loved Totally Killer. It's American Psycho meets I Love the '90s. It's The Firm with an ironic, sexy twist. Flawless writing, funny, sweet, and thrilling, Totally Killer is a fast moving page-turner that had me hooked from the first page."
When I met my Harpers editor, Jen Schulkind, for the first time, I brought her a compilation CD called Todd’s Totally Killer Mix. This was, supposedly, a mix tape Todd Lander, the narrator of my novel Totally Killer, made for the love of his life, Taylor Schmidt, in November of 1991.
To be funny, I wrote the songs out on the liner of a Maxell cassette tape, as Todd would have in the early nineties. I copied this and used it as the CD cover.
Jen took one look at it and said, "We have to use this in the book." And so we did, right up front, in lieu of an epigram.
Here, then, are the songs on Todd’s Totally Killer Mix. Taken together, they not only evoke the mood of the ’91 East Village, but also adumbrate the plot of the book:
SIDE A (tapes, of course, have sides)
"Shiny Happy People" R.E.M.
The R.E.M. catalog is a calendar, a way of marking time. For me, Document means junior high, Automatic for the People college. Think of this track—not one of their strongest, but catchy as H1N1—as a date stamp.
"Give It Away" Red Hot Chili Peppers
Blood Sugar Sex Magik: 1991’s perfect album.
"(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea" Elvis Costello
He’s talking about a prostitute or the neighborhood in London, but I can’t go to West 23rd Street without this popping into my head.
Cobain and Company didn’t hit the big time until the end of the year, with "Smells Like Teen Spirit"—which, incidentally, is supposed to have been cribbed from a line in Gravity’s Rainbow—but you can’t have a 1991 compilation sans Nirvana. Especially when the song goes so well with TK.
"Lorelei" The Pogues
I love everything about this song: the rhythmic strum of the electric guitar, the lament in Shane’s voice, the allusiveness of the lyrics, the simplicity of the melody. If they ever make a TK movie (oh please, oh please), I’d want this played over the opening credits.
"Careless Memories" Duran Duran
From their diamond-in-the-rough eponymous debut. Simon is never as angry and bitter as he is here. But don’t worry; by Rio, he gets over it.
"Femme Fatale" Velvet Underground + Nico
I put this compilation on iPod shuffle, and this was my daughter’s favorite song. She made me play it again and again and again. Yes, she’s only two years old, but she has great taste.
"Everybody Knows" Concrete Blonde
Its inclusion in the underrated Christian Slater flick Pump Up the Volume hipped me to this Leonard Cohen cover. And Christian—if you’d like to do the audio book, I’m sure we could work something out.
"Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now" The Smiths
I was looking for a job / And then I found a job / And heaven knows, I’m miserable now. ‘Nuf said.
"All I Want Is You" U2
To this day, I can’t hear this song and not think about Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder making out in Reality Bites. Which, to me, is a good thing.
"Mea Culpa" Enigma
I would have hooked up in college without the Enigma CD, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy. Trip hop + Gregorian chants + chicks moaning in French = aphrodisiac.
"Gonna Make You Sweat" C+C Music Factory
Number Three on the Billboard chart for 1991. Impossible to go to a bar that year and not hear it. I hope you didn’t buy stock in the factory, though, because it seems to have curtailed production.
"OPP" Naughty By Nature
What can I say? I’m down with it.
"Love Her Madly" The Doors
The Doors enjoyed a resurgence in 1991, particularly among Gen X-ers, because the Oliver Stone movie came out that spring (with Johnny Drama as the drummer!). Todd is more of a Doors fan than I am.
"Hey Hey What Can I Do" Led Zeppelin
To hear this song in 1991, you either had to own the rare single record, on which it was a B-side, or else wait for the classic rock station to play it. Hearing it was the aural equivalent of seeing a rainbow. Now, it’s on the Led Zep box set, iTunes, YouTube, etc. The thrill is gone.
"Add It Up" Violent Femmes
How can you get just one kiss? By playing the Femmes, and playing them loud.
"Jane Says" Jane’s Addiction
One of the best band names of all time. Almost as good as Joy Division, and orders of magnitude better than My Morning Jacket.
"November Rain" Guns N’ Roses
We remember 1991 as the birth of grunge, because Ten and Nevermind both came out that year. But the most anticipated release of ’91, by far, was the double album Use Your Illusion I & II. It was like a new Harry Potter book—record stores opened at midnight to sell it. You know what’s cool about GNR? They write codas. You almost never hear codas in rock music. "Hey Jude," "Layla," "Cavern," and that’s about it, apart from "Sweet Child O’Mine" and this.
"Cold Ethyl" Alice Cooper
This doesn’t really fit with the others, but it had to be on the TK mix. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book!
Greg Olear and Totally Killer links:
also at Largehearted Boy: