August 31, 2012
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.
Frank Anthony Polito's first young adult novel Lost in the '90s is an always entertaining and pop culture-filled coming of age story.
After publishing my first two '80s-themed novels, Band Fags! and Drama Queers!, I felt that it was time to move on to a new decade, the 1990s being the most logical choice. Having grown up in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park where my first two books are set, I wanted to continue the tradition of telling yet another tale of teen-life in "Hazeltucky."
But instead of taking the characters from my earlier books into a new time period, (I recently did this with a novella called "A Christmas to Remember," the sequel to Band Fags! as published in the collection Remembering Christmas) I decided to create a completely fictitious story when writing my first Young Adult novel, which I would later publish under my own imprint, Woodward Avenue Books, after being told by editors at all the major publishing houses that "kids today won't read a story set in the 1990s."
Borrowing from Hanging Out with Cici, aka My Mother Was Never a Kid, a little-known Young Adult novel from the 1970's written by Francine Pascal of Sweet Valley High fame, and the Michael J. Fox film Back to the Future, I set out to give today's teen readers (and their nostalgic parents) a look at the decade in which most of them were born by writing a story about a teenage boy who travels back in time, where he meets his teenage parents and helps them fall in love.
As with my earlier novels, I knew that music would play an important role in the new book, and once again I decided to title each chapter after the name of a popular song. Unlike with BFs! and DQs!, I didn't limit myself to choosing songs that were current as of the story's setting — 1994. Instead, I opened up my selections to encompass the entire 1990s decade. I did, however, choose my titles based on the events of each particular chapter.
Here are some highlights, with the complete Lost in the '90s "soundtrack" to follow…
Chapter 1 — "About A Girl" by Nirvana (1989)
I cheated a bit as this is technically an '80s song, but who would deny that Nirvana is a '90s band? The story opens with our hero, Kurt (as in Cobain) Peregrin, entering his high school cafeteria where a "Lost in the '90s" theme dance is taking place. Kurt laments the fact that he's recently broken up with his girlfriend, Chelsea Love (as in Courtney), who he soon sees at the dance with another guy. Not so coincidentally, "About A Girl" is also the title of a song by a now-defunct contemporary band called The Academy Is… that was featured on TeenNick's Degrassi (one of my guilty pleasures) at the time I began writing the book.
Chapter 2 — "Creep" by Radio Head (1992)
The first line of this chapter reads "The hell am I doing here?" which is a riff on the first line of the debut single by Radio Head. This chapter (and subsequent others) is narrated by a character named Dave, a wannabe grunge musician, who bears a strong resemblance to Kurt's own father.
Chapter 3 — "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root (1995)
This chapter ends with Kurt making the trip back in time to 1994, after he hits his head while stage-diving at the school dance and he blacks out. A favorite band of mine from the 1990s, I first came to hear of Rusted Root shortly after I moved from Detroit to New York City in 1995. This particular song served as their biggest hit, and has been featured on screen in the films Matilda and Ice Age 2 and on TV's Chuck and New Girl.
Chapter 4 — "No Scrubs" by TLC (1999)
In this chapter we meet out third narrator, Michelle Darling, a popular cheerleader who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand with bad boy, Dave, which means she just might be Kurt's mother. The "scrub" refers to Michelle's jock boyfriend, Jason, whom she's ready to kick to the curb after he accuses her of sleeping with Dave — which she did! This song was the debut, Grammy Award-winning single by the R & B girl group, TLC, and will forever remind me of the time I spent serving daily meals to wealthy Jewish seniors at the Hotel Esplanade on NYC's Upper West Side.
Chapter 5 — "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" by the Geto Boys (1991)
I had no idea who this band was or what the song sounded like until I looked it up on YouTube, but it fits this chapter perfectly. Kurt wakes up in 1994 and has no idea what's going on or why he doesn't recognize anyone he meets.
Chapter 6 — "Coffee & TV" by Blur (1999)
Again, not a song I listened to back in the '90s. But it fits with Dave sitting around the local diner drinking coffee and watching Mad About You on TV.
Chapter 9 — "Mother Mother" by Tracy Bonham (1996)
From her debut album, this Tracy Bonham song serves as the title of the chapter in which Kurt first recognizes his teenage mother, Michelle, singing karaoke at a bar called The Crash Landing.
Chapter 12 — "Fade into You" by Mazzy Star (1994)
The highest charting hit from this group (peaked at #3), this single was released on 4/12/94, the week after the story of Lost in the '90s takes place. A minor discrepancy, I chose to have Michelle listening to the song on the radio as she rides along in Dave's 1992 Ford Probe after attending an underground Rave, DJ'd by Moby, who I'm told often made appearances in the Detroit techno scene.
Chapter 15 — "Ode to My Family" by The Cranberries (1994)
Round about the summer of '94, I attended a The The concert where the opening act was none other than a then-unknown band called The Cranberries. Surprisingly, they were good! This song serves as the title to a chapter in which Kurt chronicles his family history, whom he has come to appreciate now that he's stuck in 1994 and might never seem again in 2012.
Chapter 16 — "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie (1989)
Looks like I cheated again with this one! In my defense, I didn't come to learn of this song until 1999 when I was working with a group of "kids" who had all graduated in 1994 and grew up listening to this "comedic hip hop song" (as per Wikipedia), so to me it's a '90s song. In this chapter, Kurt meets his maternal grandmother whom Michelle informs is "just a friend" as she doesn't realize Kurt is really her own kid!
Chapter 17 — "Heroes Die Young" by Sleeze Beez (Year - ?)
Perhaps the most obscure song on my set list, all of a sudden I can't find online what year it was released. But I know that I discovered it on a list of 1990s tunes. I chose it because, in this chapter, Dave learns of the tragic death of his idol, Kurt Cobain, at the tender age of 27.
Chapter 21 — "The Future Song" by Vanessa Paradis (1992)
Another little known song, I'm sure, I first came to know of Ms. Paradis (known to most others as the ex-Mrs. Johnny Depp) when a friend was working at Express and she gave me a compilation cassette (remember those?) of French pop tunes, featuring two of Vanessa's early hits, "Joe Le Taxi" and "Petit Soldat." Having studied le francais all through high school and in college, I was smitten and immediately picked up Vanessa's self-titled American debut, produced by Lenny Kravitz. In this chapter Kurt poses as dad Dave and serenades mom Michelle, then tells her of the future they will spend together once they get married and have their first kid – Kurt!
Chapter 25 — "Here's Where the Story Ends" by The Sundays (1990)
A pretty spot-on choice for the final chapter, huh? But I couldn't resist. The Sundays are probably my all-time favorite musical act of the 1990s. I first came to know their work via MTV's 120 Minutes during the summer before my sophomore year of college. So sad when the band disbanded, but happy to hear that singer Harriet Wheeler and her guitarist/hubby David Gavurin are still together after all these years!
Lost in the '90s by Frank Anthony Polito
"About a Girl" — Nirvana
"Creep" — Radiohead
"Send Me on My Way" — Rusted Root
"No Scrubs" — TLC
"Mind Playing Tricks on Me" — Geto Boys
"Coffee & TV" — Blur
"Name" — Goo Goo Dolls
"Good for Me" — Amy Grant
"Mother Mother" — Tracy Bonham
"Deadbeat Club" — The B-52's
"Next Is the E" — Moby
"Fade into You" — Mazzy Star
"Stranger in This Town" — Richie Sambora
"Divine Thing" — The Soup Dragons
"Ode to My Family" — The Cranberries
"Just a Friend" — Biz Markie
"Heroes Die Young" — Sleeze Beez
"Sing Your Life" — Morrissey
"Long Day" — Matchbox Twenty
"Come to My Window" — Melissa Etheridge
"The Future Song" — Vanessa Paradis
"Under the Bridge" — The Red Hot Chili Peppers
"The Downward Spiral" — Nine Inch Nails
"I'll Stand By You — The Pretenders
"Here's Where the Story Ends" — The Sundays
Frank Anthony Polito and Lost in the '90s links:
Children of the 90s guest post by the author
Debonair profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Band Fags
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drama Queers
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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