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July 5, 2012

Book Notes - Tara Altebrando "The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life"

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Tara Altebrando's The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life is a fast-paced and riveting young adult novel, a coming of age story that is one of the most fun books of the year.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Funny and nostalgic, a highly contemporary riff on a timeless rite of passage. "

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Tara Altebran's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life:

When I sat down to write The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life I did so with the spirit of John Hughes in mind. After spending several years writing Dreamland Social Club, a sort of languid and serious novel, I wanted to write something faster, funnier but not throwaway or slight. So I set out to write a teen dram-edy that packed in romance, social angst, class warfare, and all the great hallmarks of Mr. Hughes's films. Hanging the whole story a 12-hour senior week scavenger hunt, I put together a team of mostly nerdy underdogs, self-dubbed The Also Rans, who are desperate for one night of glory before high school ends…but who end up getting in their own way as their friendships and romantic entanglements all come to a head.

A few of the tracks on this playlist (which you can listen to over on Spotify) will come as no surprise to anyone raised on Hughes films; some others here are songs that could've/should've been on a Hughes film soundtrack. Some are songs I listened to while writing, because they set the mood, and others are here just for fun. So here it is, the soundtrack to The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life:

"Postcards from Paradise"—Flesh for Lu Lu

I wanted to put "I Go Crazy" on this playlist but Spotify doesn't have it—not even on this bizarre The Best of Flesh for LuLu (Rerecorded) LP—so there must be some weird licensing issue. No matter. I absolutely LURVED Some Kind of Wonderful, wanted to BE the Mary Stuart Masterson character—all tortured and tough as nails—and since I was writing about the same sort of barely hidden unrequited love as was featured in that film, I listened to the soundtrack a bunch of times, and to Flesh for Lulu a lot. Probably more than anyone in the world this year is my guess.

"Beds are Burning"—Midnight Oil

The four Also Rans have all been bullied and harassed by the same guy and his posse of a-holes for years and this is their last chance to try to get back at them. I played "Beds are Burning" on a loop while writing the sort of major confrontation that happens between their two teams (in a park, where they are supposed to be building something out of bales of hay that are part of a public art installation, for a possible 100 points). I'm not trying to compare the historical plight of the aboriginals down under with the plight of nerdy underdogs on a scav hunt, but this song sounds like a war cry and these kids feel like they're at war.

"Life in a Northern Town"—The Dream Academy

Any good playlist—and book—needs a dreamy moment or two and who better than The Dream Academy to provide it? I love the line "and the morning lasted all day/all day." Frankly, the timeline/ticking clock aspect of this book was a real pain in the kisser. Sometimes if felt like the morning lasted all day and the afternoon lasted all afternoon and night. I had to change the start time and end time of the hunt a million times and had a few drafts where I had to keep track of the realistic passing of time in the margins and rewrite accordingly. Don't even get me started about the points tallying. Oh, the points!

"Bring on the Dancing Horses"—Psychedelic Furs

When I was a teenager, I was probably more partial to "If You Leave" by OMD, in terms of what songs got played most from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. But the years have been kinder to the Psychedic Furs' sound, I think, and I always find the intro to this song makes me nostalgic in a happy way. Though I confess I don't really have any idea what it's even about. "I'm shaking while I'm breaking your brittle heart" is a pretty awesome lyric, though. I think this song really just put me in a Pretty in Pink frame of mind. And that's where I wanted to be, especially in scenes involving my "richie" character.

"Disappointing Mary"—Valentine Smith

You've probably never heard of this band and they don't exist anymore but I was friends with them in their heyday. I actually wrote "Disappointing Mary" into the first draft of the book, and it's probably the reason why the main character is named Mary. The song was featured in a sort of overly dramatic, entirely unrealistic scene in which Patrick, who is in love with Mary, plays a song that he wrote about her (and recorded? somehow?) while their team is driving to their next scav hunt destination. The lyrics are sort of bitter —"We're all disappointing Mary/She's trying to save the world/But we don't know what she's trying for/or why she's crying for/bet she wouldn't die for me"—and at that point in the book Patrick was angry at Mary for not loving him the way he wants her to love him. Anyhoo, that scene rightfully got edited out, but the song stayed in heavy rotation.

"The Rose"—Bette Midler

This song is here because one of the items on the scav hunt list is "Sheet music to a theme song from a movie" and this is the sheet music that The Also Rans turn up. I used to play this song on the piano when I was a kid, and I was a little bit surprised by how emotional I got when listening to it while making this playlist. There is a sort of poignant moment in the car when Dez starts singing "The Rose" softly, right after some romantic drama has occurred, but then Winter gets irritated by the lyic "Love is a flower/and you its only seed." She can't believe that those are the actual lyrics—they're SO BAD—but they are. This song is so ridiculously melodramatic and overblown in so many ways that it sort of sums up the kind of night these kids are having.

"I Don't Know Why I Love You"—The House of Love

All of these characters reach a point in the hunt/the book where they sort of sick of each other, questioning why they're even friends, or why they even care about a scav hunt in which all they're going to win is custodianship of a garden yeti. All of their friendships are being tugged at and tested on this night when they're supposed to just be having fun and trying to work together as a team. I don't know. There are so many song that I felt could go on this playlist. Maybe I just wanted to give House of Love some love.

"I Want You to Want Me"—Cheap Trick

I came late in life to Cheap Trick. I honestly don't know what my problem was. But even as late as 2005, I was at a friend's wedding and the band played "Surrender" and I was like, "Who IS this?" We all have gaps in our music knowledge, I guess. But I've since become a huge fan. This song is sort of Patrick's song. It's probably the happiest, most rocking-est song about unrequited love there is.

"This Time"—INXS

The album Kick came out during my senior year of high school so I have a lot of crazy end-of-everything emotions associated with that album but let's face it. It sort of sucks. The lyrics of "This Time"—"This time will be the last time that we will fight like this" etc.—felt right for this novel about the end of high school. Also, "We are always wanting/things we cannot find/You know that we are/always wasting time" seems sort of scav hunty. I think that "Listen Like Thieves," "This Time," and "Don't Change" form a sort of trifecta of greatness and then the rest of INXS feels sort of hollow by comparison.

"Back on Earth"—Valentine Smith

In my head this would be the Also Ran's victory lap song, if they had a chance to take a victory lap. And I can't tell you whether they do or not.

"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"

Seventy-five points are on the line if you can play this song on a toy piano and send the video in to the judges!

Tara Altebrando and The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Dreamland Social Club
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel Love Will Tear Us Apart
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel Wouldn't Miss It for the World
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel What Happens Here
Sara Zarr's This Creative Life interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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