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May 20, 2011

Book Notes - Tara Altebrando ("Dreamland Social Club")

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

The Coney Island of past and present is brilliantly juxtaposed in Tara Altebrando's new young adult novel Dreamland Social Club. This coming of age story brims with colorful characters, and cleverly integrates the lore of Coney Island into its tale of self-discovery and family mystery.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Altebrando provides exceptional depth in both the setting and the motley cast of Coney Islanders, teen and adult, living and dead…. The result is a memorable tale of personal growth and acceptance that will make teens eager to join a Dreamland Social Club of their own."

In her own words, here is Tara Altebrando's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Dreamland Social Club:

When I've been invited to "Book Notes" before I've always written about songs I listened to while writing. But Dreamland Social Club, about a girl who inherits an old house on Coney Island, took me so damned long to write (almost four years) that I've mostly lost track of what I was listening to while doing it. So this more of a playlist to accompany the book—a combination of songs I listened to while writing and songs that just feel relevant.

"Come Dancing"—The Kinks

While the book's main plot follows Jane as she learns about her family's past on Coney island and tracks her struggle to fit in there now, there is a big subplot based on Coney's current woes—the ongoing battle between local businesses that have been there "forever" and developers who want to glitz Coney up a bit. The idea of writing a Young Adult book having to do with urban redevelopment and the accompanying socio-economic issues seemed a little daunting at first. And also just plain foolish. But I took inspiration from the Kinks. I mean, if they get have a #6 Billboard hit lyrics like "They put a parking lot on a piece of land/Where the supermarket used to stand/Before that they put up a bowling alley/On the site that used to be the local Palais," I figured I could sell readers on a plot about the clash between an old Coney Island dive bar and a flashy developer. I also love the nostalgic angle of the song and the teen melodrama—"The day they knocked down the Palais/my sister stood and cried/the day they knocked down the Palais/part of my childhood died/just died." I mean, come ON. That's awesome. Progress and loss have never been so catchy!

"Pinhead," "Blitzkrieg Bop"—The Ramones

In the book, Jane discovers that her grandmother was actually a famous sideshow performer who claimed to be half-bird and who starred in a fictional movie called Is It Human? , which is similar to the actual cult classic Freaks, which inspired the Ramones's "Gabba Gabba Hey" catchphrase, which opens "Pinhead." (You still with me?) An early draft of the book had a few actual pinheads among the cast of characters but the final version is firmly set in reality, so while dwarfs and giants still fly, pinheads not so much. "Blitzkrieg Bop" was in rotation because the main character has a vague memory of dancing to it with her mother when she was little, though she never knew its name or who sang it.

"Palisades Park"—Freddy Cannon

While I like the Ramones cover I'm most drawn to the original recording by Freddy Cannon. With its crazy organ bit (which must rank right up there with "Bolero" and "Tubular Bells" in its capacity to potentially drive you insane), and the sound effects of carnival rides mixed in, it's just one of those great, quirky summer songs of a bygone era. I liked the idea that this song was probably blasting from little portable radios on the beach at Coney back in 1962.

"The Whole of the Moon"—The Waterboys

This song rose quickly to the top of my "Top 25 Most Played" list on iTunes when I was in the final revision of the book. I became sort of focused on the line "I saw the rain dirty valley/You saw Brigadoon" because I was writing about Coney Island as a sort of constant double exposure of past and present, of greatness and decline. Coney's beauty—more so than that of most places, I think—is firmly in the eye of the beholder.

"Aquarium"—Camille Saint Saens

There's a fictional bar/lounge in the book called The Coral Room that has a massive aquarium behind the bar, much like the defunct Coral Room formerly in New York's West Chelsea. I found myself playing "Aquarium," a French Romantic piece that I only discovered via HBO's Classical Baby program, while writing scenes set in the club just to conjure sea-salty lingo and what not. "Aquarium" is part of a musical suite of fourteen movements called "The Carnival of the Animals," so that felt right, too, what with all the seahorses and starfish and octopi floating around the book.

"Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland"—Judy Garland

This old timey song about two lovers rendezvousing at the Dreamland amusement park was a big hit in 1910 but I find Henry Burr's original recording almost intolerable. I like a version Judy Garland sings but there's also a sort of nutty cover/riff of the song recorded by the Beat Circus. Their entire LP Dreamland is a concept album inspired by, well, Dreamland, and has some awesome creepshow and burlesquey stuff on it.

And that's it! I'm sure I'll take some heat for not talking about Lou Reed's "Coney Island Baby" and Magnetic Fields' "Strange Powers," but there you have it.

Tara Altebrando and Dreamland Social Club links:

the author's website
the book's video trailer

365 Days of Reading review
The Bodacious Pen review
Buried in Books review
A Curious Reader review
I Like These Books review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Sophistikatied Reviews review
Ten Cent Notes review

the author's Book Notes essay for her novel Love Will Tear Us Apart
the author's Book Notes essay for her novel Wouldn't Miss It for the World
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for What Happens Here

New York Daily News profile of 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)
musician/author interviews
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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