February 3, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Sean Beaudoin's young adult novel You Killed Wesley Payne is a classic noir mystery set in a modern high school. Beaudoin proves himself a surreal Dashiell Hammett in this wonderfully over the top mix of pulp noir and teens.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Beaudoin plays a Chandler hand with a Tarantino smirk in this ultra-clever high-school noir, hitching you to a propulsive mystery with enough doublecrosses and blindsiding reveals to give you vertigo. Moreover, the opening “Clique Chart” might just be the funniest four pages you’ll read all year."
My first thought when I began writing Young Adult fiction was "I should cram some film noir into a high school setting--loot, gats, femme fatales and acne. It's a total natural!" It took two books and five years to tackle that mashup, but the result is finally here, and it's called You Killed Wesley Payne. Music plays a huge role in my writing process. Which is a fancy way of saying my overloaded 160GB iPod is on shuffle anywhere from three to eight hours a day. When I'm on a good run, I often don't hear the music at all. Other times, even songs I normally love will pry me away from an idea, and I'll thumb next with malice in my heart. Although I'm a lifelong crate-diving vinyl nerd, in general I prefer twentieth century classical and bebop while writing. But what I prefer is irrelevant, since the shuffle logarithm never fails to plop down a block of Slayer or Yma Sumac when least expected.
In order to replicate the exact working conditions under which You Killed Wesley Payne was produced, I just wrote down the first nineteen songs that came up. Why nineteen? Because it's a widely accepted insider dictum that if you can't produce a block of crystalline, highly publishable material within that span, you should probably get into retail.
"Ape Is High" by Mandrill
Classic 70's orchestral proto-funk. I have a number of their albums, one of which features a foldout poster of all nine guys listed by their astral sign, Marcus=Virgo, and so forth. At least two of them are bare-chested, wearing some kind of fluffy sheep's wool vest, alternating between naïve smiles and the sort of Detroit eye-lock that says "I just stabbed your sister." This combination of conditional love and implied violence (with costumes) is a theme which repeats itself throughout You Killed Wesley Payne.
"The Seeker" by The Quadrajets
The original version by The Who is, of course, a long accepted staple of the classic rock cannon. Here it gets the warp speed rave up treatment. Really, this is the sort of song that makes or ruins a paragraph. It's also conveniently analogous to the notion of stuffing Maltese Falcon-style dialog into the mouths of Internet-jaded seventeen year-olds.
"I Wonder Who" by Ray Charles
I could pretty much listen to nothing but Ray Charles for the entirety of a manuscript. Organ, backbeat, hook. Done. His voice is like being shoehorned into a wingtip of muscular prose, wearing a butter-sock.
"Push and Shove" by The Meters
The title alone pretty much describes my high school experience. The fear of being shoved. The push to accomplish something vaguely academic. The push and shove of trying not to fall in love with that sophomore girl in rainbow leg warmers. The Meters are beyond rhythm, a unified pulse, a tight paragraph that tells a story without calling attention to itself.
"Queen Bitch" by David Bowie
Hunky Dory is my favorite Bowie album. A friend and I spent most of senior year trying to learn these songs on acoustic guitars in my parent's garage. Bowie's transition from diva theater persona/hippie troubadour to worldwide rock superstardom could aptly be compared to the way in which unpopular characters blossom over the course of any given Young Adult novel. Bullies abound, desire is snubbed, and insults ring off locker doors. An ostracism foreshadowing sudden magical abilities, chaste vampirism, and a whole lot less Calc homework.
"Ibitsu" by Boris
The worst song ever recorded to try and write along with. An absolute cerebellum-melting grindcore hammer. But, you know, it's good to take your medicine now and again. Finishing a few sentences during this onslaught is probably terrific exercise for the neural pathways, and may even help stave off early Parkinson's.
"Super Stupid" by Funkadelic
I once saw George Clinton in the Cleveland Airport. He was in the middle of the concourse, wearing a gold jumpsuit, his multi-colored dreadlocks flapping in the breeze. I was too intimidated to walk over and offer to buy him a drink, so I stared from behind the Gate 16 Pizza Hut instead. But what I would have told George, had I the cajones, while leaning over hypothetical Cutty Sarks, is this: "I hit pubescence in a very Deep Purple kind of town. Lucking into a yard sale copy of Maggot Brain was like falling down the world's funkiest rabbit hole. Thank you, sir, for essentially saving my life."
"Are Friends Electric?" by Tubeway Army
The vast indifference. The eyeliner. The vacuum-tube vocals. Like being abandoned on a frozen tundra where the only food source is free range adjectives, all of which have already been picked clean. An object lesson in simplicity, and the wisdom of jettisoning authorial ego.
"Attica Blues" by Archie Shepp
Unrelenting out-jazz tenor player who managed to spot weld fierce post-bop licks to a very bold political stance. Playing with notes is the same as playing with words. Cut and paste at the expense of meaning, in order to create meaning. The career as arty manifesto.
"Lighten up Baby" by Ty Karim
A song for when it's clear that lust needs to seep into your prose. Karim was a 60's LA soul goddess, unfairly forgotten, and one tall drink of water. A very scarce album and a very husky delivery. Guaranteed to limber up the erotic chakra of any manuscript.
"Cripple Creek" by Skip Spence
Just the source for a taste of madness when you're already sick of your Elliott Smith and Syd Barrett discs. Skip Spence apparently wrote most of this while in the psych ward at Bellevue. A testament to pain and confusion, a rambling mess, at times beautiful, always on some self-inflicted precipice. The soundtrack to the next big abuse memoir, or just the tour guide needed for a dive into modern Lovecraft.
"Sagg Shootin' His Arrow" by Jimmy Smith
Probably the best known of all the truly great fifties and sixties Hammond B-3 players, and for good reason. This ferocious slice of gutbucket from a club in LA in '69 was sampled by some obscure band named The Beastie Boys, who turned it into big mansions in the Hollywood hills and a walk-in closet stuffed with about 9,000 pairs of Adidas. Pretty much justification for cribbing notes, copying homework, and dropping out for a lifetime on the tracksuit grift.
"We Will Not" by Bad Brains
I came very, very close to being stomped to death by a bunch of skinheads at a mid-80's Bad Brains show. The only thing that saved me was this tiny purple-haired punk girl who apparently intuited that I might make an excellent father for any number of her Mohawked children, and decided to step in. She saved my cranium from numerous steeltoes, but the relationship itself never really panned out. The point here is that you should never feel pigeonholed by one genre. Additionally, you should never wear a Jimmy Page T-shirt into a mosh pit.
"Cucaraca Maraca" by the Harvey Averne Barrio Band
If I could have three things in life, one would be an isolated parcel of Tahiti, two would be Monica Bellucci, and three would be having been the conga player in the Harvey Averne Barrio Band.
"Bootie Cooler" by Shuggie Otis
The son of bandleader Johnny Otis, Shuggie put out his first album when he was only fourteen, sporting an afro so massive that it apparently eclipsed the sun during a break in the recording session, causing superstitious groupies, soundmen, and various onlookers to flee into the sewers and cower like rats. "Bootie Cooler" is very likely the best name for a song, ever. With the possible exception of George Michael's peon to onanism, "One on One." In order to move serious units, your novel needs a fantastic title.
"Lock ‘Em Up" by Charles Mingus
The typically conservative Newport Jazz Festival of the early 60's refused to let Charlie and his band play this song, among others, which they deemed "too provocative." Mingus told them to piss off, dragged all his gear to the other side of the festival grounds, and put on a free show. Recalling the large number of people who left Dave Brubeck mid-cliche and wandered over to listen to Charlie instead, the following year concert organizers let Mingus play whatever he wanted. In other words, never listen to your editor! Write what you want to write, and dare them to tell you you're wrong! Also, as the Pop Chips and Four Loko people will tell you, free samples energize the slavering masses.
"All This And More" by Dead Boys
The perfect song for the character Kurt Tarot, who fronts the fictional band Pinker Casket in You Killed Wesley Payne. In fact, it's almost too perfect. I swear this came up randomly. Kurt Tarot is not Stiv Bators. But "All This and More" is what's dancing in the head of every noir anti-hero throughout pulp history, and "None of This" and "San Quentin" is what awaits in the last reel.
"Candy Yam" by Lee Dorsey
I love Lee Dorsey more than I can say. His immaculate voice, natural delivery, and upbeat persona have helped me though numerous despairing days when the novel seemed doomed, the characters foolish, the plot in an irreversible freefall. Lee Dorsey could have charmed Faulkner into another dozen Yoknapatawpha novels, could have pulled F. Scott and Hem back from the edge. And that's just his first few singles.
"Kekak" field recording: Gamelan Monkey Chant
Finally, what do you say about this truly terrifying snippet? Undoubtedly the good citizens of 1930's Bali cooked and ate the gentleman who swam over to record them during this sacred tribal meeting. Somehow the tape survives, as does the need to get your feet on the ground if you plan to write anything beyond the insular scope of your experiences. As modern fiction moves increasingly inward, necessary fiction must push in the reverse.
Sean Beaudoin and You Killed Wesley Payne links:
Book Labyrinth review
Books Complete Me review
The Goddess of YA Literature review
Guys Lit Wire review
The Hopeless Bibliophile review
Killin' Time Reading review
Kirkus Reviews review
That Teen Can Blog! review
Traf Trash review
Wandering Librarians review
Avery's Book (and Other Fun Stuff) Nook interview with the author
Books Complete Me interview with the author
cane Toad Warrior interview with the author
My Love Affair With Books interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Splash Of Our Worlds interview with the author
YA Fresh guest post by the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists
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