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August 18, 2011

Book Notes - Ernest Cline ("Ready Player One")

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

Ernest Cline's debut novel Ready Player One is possibly the most fun book I have read all year. Cline skillfully weaves a plethora of 1980s pop culture references into this fast-paced and wonderfully geeky dystopian coming of age story set thirty years in the future.

Entertainment Weekly wrote of the book:

"If the many pop references don't mean anything to you, then Ready Player One probably won't either. But give Cline credit for crafting a fresh and imaginative world from our old toy box, and finding significance in there among the collectibles. To use a reference Parzival might appreciate: Cline strikes the nerves of nerd culture as expertly as Andy played that skeleton organ in The Goonies."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.

In his own words, here is Ernest Cline's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Ready Player One:

"Dead Man's Party" – Oingo Boingo

Ready Player One is packed with references to music and musicians, and several songs play a key role in the story. The first of these is Dead Man's Party, the song billionaire game designer James Halliday uses as the soundtrack to a video message that will serve as his last will and testament.

Halliday would have chosen this song for several reasons. He harbored a lifelong obsession with the 1980s, the decade during which he'd been a teenager, and Oingo Boingo was one of the great bands of the 1980s. "Dead Man's Party" was one of the group's biggest hits, and the band also performed the song in the classic 80s film Back to School, a movie Halliday probably watched countless times. And the song's title and ominous lyrics set the perfect mood for someone recording a video meant to be watched after his death, with lines like "All dressed up with nowhere to go, walking with a dead man over my shoulder" and "Waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin' to a party where no one's still alive."

If I'd had an unlimited budget for Ready Player One's book trailer, "Dead Man's Party" would have been my first choice for the soundtrack. Fingers crossed we can get it on the movie soundtrack.

"Verb" – Schoolhouse Rock

The hero of my story, Wade Watts, gets the lyrics to this song stuck in his head while he's sitting in his Latin class, listening to his teach conjugate Latin verbs.

Wade knows these lyrics because he's spent the past five years studying all of James Halliday's favorite books, movies, video games, and music, in the hopes that this knowledge will help him unlock the puzzles Halliday left behind. Knowing the right song lyric at the right time could change his life.

If it weren't for Schoolhouse Rock, many members of my generation (including yours truly) might not have retained any of the fundamental history, grammar, science, and math knowledge we acquired in grade school. All of those boring classroom lessons have long since faded from memory, but every line of every Schoolhouse Rock lyric is still fresh in my memory and ready for instant recall. Why aren't they still airing them?

"Invincible" - Pat Benatar

Ready Player One takes place partly in a virtual world, and Art3mis, the book's main female character, has named her virtual stronghold Benatar, after her favorite 80s female vocalist. Like Joan Jett, Pat Benatar was one of my hallowed 80's Rock Goddesses. She wrote kick-ass girl anthems that empowered a whole generation of girls who'd been raised on My Little Pony and showed them that a woman could rock out just as hard as anyone else.

Ladyhawke film score – The Alan Parsons Project

In the opening chapters of the book, my hero Wade has a heated argument with his best friend about the merits of the 1985 film Ladyhawke. Wade is a fan, but his friend thinks the flick is crap, and he cites this synthesizer-laden soundtrack as one of the main reasons.

For the record, I love Ladyhawke, and I also love the way the bizarre prog-rock score firmly cements it as an 80s film. Apparently, Richard Donner was listening to the Alan Parsons Project while scouting locations for the movie, and decided that it was the perfect music for his fantasy epic. (If I were him, I think I would have hired Basil Poledouris instead.)

"James Brown is Dead" – LA Style

I used to have this bootleg video tape called Martial Arts Mayhem. It was nothing but two hours of Jackie Chan fight scenes set to techno music, and it was beyond awesome. One of the most amazing fights on the tape was between Jackie and the great Benny Urquidez, and it was set to this song. It was the best fight scene music I'd ever heard – right up there with "Eye of the Tiger."

Ever since first seeing that tape, I've wanted to use that song as the soundtrack to a fight scene in a movie. Instead, I ended up using it as the 'soundtrack' for a fight scene in my book (the fight takes place within a dance club, and I describe the song playing in the background as the action takes place). I recommend playing the song when you read that scene.

"Don't Let's Start" - They Might Be Giants

Like every respectable 80s geek, I was a devoted They Might Be Giants fan, and ran up many employers' phone bills by calling the band's Dial-A-Song service from work. For a group with such an upbeat sound, TMBG has some extremely haunting lyrics, and Wade uses one of my favorite lines from their songs as his log-in password: "No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful."

"Subdivisions" - Rush

Back in the 80's, Rush was the quintessential band for outcast geeks like me, and their song Subdivisions was one of the anthems of my youth. It's all about being an isolated kid in the suburbs. Check out these lyrics:

Any escape might help to smooth
the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
the restless dreams of youth

Just when I thought I couldn't love this song any more, I saw the video on MTV, which featured a kid who looked just like I did back then, wandering the halls of his high school and escaping into a game of Tempest at his local arcade.

That music video is mentioned in my book because it might contain one of the crucial clues Wade needs to complete his quest. Or maybe the only reason it's mentioned is because it's an awesome song. You'll have to read the book to find out.

Ernest Cline and Ready Player One links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Book Checked review
Boston Globe review
Entertainment Weekly review review
Geekdad review
io9 review
Jefferson Stolarship review
Kirkus Reviews review
Literary Musings review
Medieval Bookworm review
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review
My Bookish Ways review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Reading on a Rainy Day review

Austin Chronicle profile of the author
Boing Boing interview with the author
Geekdad interview with the author
Goodreads guest post by the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Number One Novels interview with the author
Whatever 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)
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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