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June 9, 2011

Book Notes - Eleanor Henderson ("Ten Thousand Saints")

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

Eleanor Henderson's debut novel Ten Thousand Saints is an edgy, imaginative, and riveting coming of age story set in the New York's hardcore music scene of the late '80s.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"The magic of Henderson's debut lies in the way she so completely captures the experience of coming-of-age in the turbulent and exciting era that was the 1980s."


In her own words, here is Eleanor Henderson's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints:


Ten Thousand Saints is a novel about teenage boys in a hardcore band, so I'd geeked out with a playlist for it long before I'd finished writing it. It follows the story of Jude Keffy-Horn, a sixteen-year-old kid from Vermont who loses his best friend Teddy to a drug overdose in 1988. When he's sent to New York City to rehabilitate, he's drawn into the straight edge movement with Teddy's tattoo artist brother Johnny and falls in love with a punky prep-school reject named Eliza. It would be easy to fill out this list with the testosterone of Youth Crew straight edge singles, and there are a few here, but the novel is also about how this Just Say No generation absorbs and reinvents the influences of their parents. So Jude may sing songs about kicking hippie ass, but he's also memorized all the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel.

Although I give my students a hard time for using more film analogies than literature analogies when they talk about their writing, I admit that I think of these songs as a soundtrack, each one accompanying a shot on the screen. Cameron Crowe, if you're looking for your next rockumentary romance, the film rights are still available.

Credit is due to my husband Aaron Squadrilli, who introduced me to most of these songs, and without whom I'd still be listening exclusively to Tori Amos.


1. "Wasted" by Black Flag

Jude and Teddy smoke pot out of a soda can under the stadium seats of the local college football team.

I considered the Ramones' springier "I Wanna Be Sedated" for this opening spot, but this updated anthem, a thesaurus entry of monosyllabic drug slang, more accurately fits the picture of 1980s suburban skater angst.


2. "Cease to Exist" by Redd Kross

Eliza, visiting Vermont on New Year's Eve, steps off her train, slow-mo style, while Jude and Teddy look on.

This song is from the first album by a ridiculously young brother band whose first gig was opening for Black Flag. Its endearingly slow-witted lyrics ("pretty girl pretty pretty girl..."), combined with the ironic-dramatic punk momentum, succinctly express the innocent awe of adolescent boy-meeting-girl.


3. "Hey Jude" by Bing Crosby

Jude in bed, where he remains for the many weeks after Teddy's death.

Even Wes Anderson couldn't get the rights to the original Beatles recording of this song, hence the lovely instrumental rendition in The Royal Tenenbaums. But this is the song that is Jude's lullaby, and the story is his attempt to "take a sad song and make it better." So I choose this phenomenally draggy, downer interpretation, which sounds as though it's recorded by Ward Cleaver on a megaphone in a subway tunnel filled with water.


4. "Rick James Style" by the Lemonheads

Jude, still in a numb state of mourning, skateboards into the Vermont night in search of a pot fix.

"Style" is maybe the most beautifully straightforward song about the love-hate relationship between drug and druggie: "Don't wanna get stoned, but I don't wanna not get stoned." This sleepy, swimmy, very druggy version, recorded by Evan Dando and a desperately soulful Rick James, is the sound of a kid at the bottom of a well.


5. "New York's Alright if You Like Saxophones" by Fear

This one's a montage. Jude, after arriving at his father's apartment on St. Marks Place, stage-dives into the full-color world of New York: going to shows at CBGB, getting jumped on the street, playing laser tag on the subway.

Another classic by an L.A.-based punk band, this song was part of Fear's notorious stint on Saturday Night Live in 1981. Lee Ving sounds like he wants to slam me into my locker. It's so fast and so sarcastic and so mean ("New York's alright if you wanna be pushed in front of the subway / if you like tuberculosis / if you like art and jazz / if you're a homosexual") that it perfectly captures the adrenaline and terror of a small-town kid bullied by the big city.


6. "Dandy in the Underworld" by T Rex

Johnny in his basement apartment on East 6th Street, his tattoo parlor/practice space, where customers, bandmates, and friends come and go.

This keyboardy slice of British '70s glam rock tells the tale of a "prince of players, pawn of none" who is "an old eighteen." It's the perfect soundtrack for a kid who's been living on his own in Alphabet City, who is the king of the subterranean straight edge scene but has been driving his own homosexual identity underground. "When will he come up for air? Will anybody ever care?"


7. "Fanfare – Fire Poem" by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Jude, tripping on shrooms, catches on fire at the Hare Krishna temple, thereby marking his conversion to straight edge.

A totally psychedelic tune by the totally crazy Arthur Brown, who indeed sounds like he's on fire. Like the Doors, only with more LSD.


8. "Straight Edge" by Minor Threat

Jude becomes a straight edge warrior.

Written by Ian MacKaye for a friend who'd died of a heroin overdose, this righteous 1981 song introduced the term "straight edge," unknowingly sparking a minor revolution. It also happens to be one of the best straight edge songs there is. "I've got the straight edge!"


9. "Needles & Pins" by the Ramones

Jude, despite discovering that Eliza is pregnant with his dead best friend's baby and that she's engaged to his dead best friend's brother, can't help but be in love with her.

I'm a sucker for the Ramones' pop love songs—"I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," their cover of "Baby, I Love You." "Needles & Pins" captures the painfully pedestrian resentment and longing of unrequited love: "let her go ahead / Take his love instead, and one day she will see / Just how to say please."


10. "Straight Edge Revenge" by Project X

Jude and the rest of his crew, the Green Mountain Boys, target the hippies and jocks of small-town Vermont.

Drawn from the mainstays of late-80s New York straight edge bands, this project band put out a single eponymous five-track EP. So quintessentially righteous is this song's attitude—"I'm as straight as the line that you sniff up your nose / I'm as hard as the booze that you swill down your throat / I'm as bad as the shit you breathe into your lungs / And I'll fuck you up as fast as the pill on your tongue!"—that they're the only straight edge lyrics to grace the pages of my book (thank you, John Porcell, for permission!).


11. "Pop Star" by Cat Stevens

Jude and his band hit the road for a DIY summer tour.

Cat Stevens did okay by Harold and Maude, so I choose this song to illustrate the Green Mountain Boys' conflicted foray into fame. Hardcore is as anti-pop as you can get, but even Jude is tempted by the bright lights: "Oh, Mama, Mama see me, Mama, Mama see me on the TV."


12. "I'm Straight" by the Modern Lovers

On the road, Jude grows resentful and suspicious of Eliza's relationship with Johnny.

Minor Threat's "Straight Edge" is often credited as the first straight edge song, but this song, written a decade earlier, forecasts the movement and the book in a way that gives me the goosebumps. Jonathan Richman sounds like a very stoned Lou Reed, but the song is about a guy who wants to make the moves on the girl of "hippie Johnny," who's "always stoned": "I'm straight, and I want to take his place."


13. "Standing Hard" by Youth of Today

The band starts to splinter, but Jude stands hard.

Twenty-two seconds of straight edge hardcore fury.


14. "Why Can't I Touch It?" by the Buzzcocks

Jude finally gets his make-out sesh with Eliza—but he's stopped short.

At 6:36, this could be a make-out song, but like Red Kross and the Ramones, the Buzzcocks know more about what it's like to not be making out. My favorite part of the song is when the hankering gets so bad that the senses become confused: "It looks so real I can feel it / It feels so real I can taste it / It tastes so real I can hear it / It sounds so real I can see it / So why can't I touch it?"


15. "Teenage Riot" by Sonic Youth

The Tompkins Square Park Riot erupts, August 6, 1988.

No better song to accompany the spirited rebellion of the Lower East Side against the violently enforced curfew. I can imagine Thurston Moore's free-wheeling guitar crashing against the bloody images of the billy-swinging cops.


16. "Style" by the Lemonheads

Jude, amped by the game-changing riot, is tempted once again by drugs.

The Rick James version is a reprise of this more upbeat original, which has Evan Dando jonesing for a fix. My two-year-old son likes to race through songs at three times their intended speed, and then fall on the floor, exhausted with giggles. This is pretty much how this song sounds compared to "Rick James Style."


17. "Hare Krishna" by Marion Williams

Things fall apart, and into place.

An exquisitely unexpected rendition of the Hare Krishna mantra by the great American gospel singer. It's as oxymoronic as a bunch of vegan virgin teetotalers stage-diving at CBGB, and that's why I love it.


18. "Raised Eyebrows" by the Feelies

Epilogue, bleeding into credits.

This almost instrumental track from Crazy Rhythms is all bass and pencil-on-a-desk drums, but it has all the emotion and movement of coming-of-age. The lyrics don't pop up until close to the end, and until now I thought they were "Hello" or "Cello." I just looked them up on one of those garish but wonderfully handy lyrics websites, and found out that they're "He said oh / He said oh / He said oh / Some will make it and some won't make it oh-oh / Oh the glory glory and glory glory oh-oh." Which makes it, in my mind, an even more fitting conclusion for the Book of Jude.


Eleanor Henderson and Ten Thousand Saints links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

The A.V. Club review
Books, Music & More review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Full Stop review
Kirkus Reviews review
Literary Treats review
O review
Publishers Weekly review
Three Guys One Book review
Wilson Knut review

The Leonard Lopate Show interview with 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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