November 30, 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.
Bill Peters' novel Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality is a complex and inventive debut, innovative with language and delightfully unique.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"By turns funny and moving, this debut richly captures life in a decaying American city."
I find it weird that there are people who don't like music and own maybe one album by Boston and that's all. I've always needed, if not music, then background noise, and when I write I'll DJ through a bunch of songs or play one song on repeat. These are habits I've tried to break, but they tend to juice my mood enough to get me through a given sentence.
The songs or artists below are either mentioned in my first novel, Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality, or they just felt appropriate. The novel takes place in 1999 amid economic malaise in Rochester, N.Y., my hometown. Told in an elaborate language of in-jokes, the story concerns a kid named Nate, the narrator, who worries that his best friend, Necro, might be behind a series of makeshift bombings downtown after he stops returning Nate's calls.
In making this playlist, I realize I've been more influenced by WCMF, Rochester's classic rock station, than I ever thought. I'm okay with that.
"Time" Pink Floyd
In the movie version of Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality that will never be made, I imagine the drowsier part of "Time" that begins "Home, home again" playing during the opening credits while Nate and Necro cruise through downtown Rochester in Necro's car, the Vomit Cruiser – snow cupcaked onto bars' window sills, light reflections sliding over the windshield. Pink Floyd was an early entry into unhappiness for me, and Nate and Necro probably know something's wrong if they're out of high school but still able to despair over Pink Floyd's sometimes-dumb grandiosity (as in, ‘I hide my pain, as if to build, you know, a Wall'). To tweak that line from "Dazed and Confused": They get older, the dread stays the same age.
"Cico Buff" Cocteau Twins
I'd forgotten about the Cocteau Twins until I came to Massachusetts for grad school and a friend put on Stars and Topsoil at a party that was winding down. "Cico Buff," whose glassy guitar drifts pretty much allow one's entire youth to flash before them, stuck with me that night, and I listened to the Cocteau Twins a lot while writing this book. Elizabeth Fraser seemed willing to let her vocals be unintelligible or purely atmospheric. Nate and Necro's idiolect works in a similar way – intentionally unintelligible, deeply invested in such non-words as Manserum Bagelheart, Cultaneous, and dreams that ask if freinium hens can munter themselves.
"A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" Burzum
"A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" appears on the Norwegian black metal band Burzum's 1992 debut. The song – grandiosely unhappy, atmospheric and unintelligible but in a plummeting-toward-hell way – is also on a Burzum EP whose cover shows the burnt-up frame of an 840-year-old Norwegian stave church. Varg Vikernes, the dude behind Burzum, was believed but never proven to have been involved in the 1992 fire. (He was imprisoned, however, after being convicted on a murder charge and arson charges that stemmed from other church fires.) Since this book is about male camaraderie as it pertains to possible domestic terrorism, I had in mind with this song any of Necro's ultra-sovereign, ‘Turner Diaries'-reading weapons-enthusiast droogs who Nate contends with for Necro's friendship. That, and I like the way the title's words are ordered.
"What Time Is It" Ken Nordine
Ken Nordine narrated a video about Rochester made in the 1960s titled "Rochester: A City of Quality," from which this book takes its title. The video advertised a thriving Rochester, but today the video has its own parody, "Rochester: A City of Poverty," which is essentially a montage of boarded-up houses. It's weird to feel sad for a large company like Kodak – which spearheaded the ‘Quality' era but filed for bankruptcy protection this year – as it moves potentially toward bondholder-dictated revamping or liquidation. "What Time Is It" feels like an alternate-universe City of Quality.
"Adventures Through Inner Space" The Bomboras
In 1998 the Cramps played at Buffalo's Showplace Theatre with the Bomboras, a zombie-surf-type band whose show featured go-go dancers. Afterward, it seemed, about 60 percent of Rochester's music scene converted overnight to garage rock and Halloween novelty. Nate's dad, a fortysomething indie-rock dickhead who rents a room in a refurbished parsonage, loves this nonsense, and garage continues to sit dead-center in the Rochester Musical Spectrum of Frustration.
"Station to Station" / "The Jean Jeanie" David Bowie
I'm a huge Bowie fan, and when I learned that a well-publicized mugshot of him from 1976 was taken after his arrest at a Rochester hotel on a felony charge of marijuana possession, I Googled around and, in this creepy, possessive way, did as much research as I could on the incident. According to a website that compiles setlists, "Station to Station" and "The Jean Jeanie" were the first and last songs, respectively, during the concert Bowie played in Rochester before his arrest (the charges were eventually dropped). I couldn't not include a reference to the incident in the book.
"Hysteria" Def Leppard
When I was in high school, I had a crush on a girl who I emailed with on Prodigy. We also occasionally arranged to speak over the phone, though that was rare since my parents weren't thrilled with paying for long distance or with online friends in general. But on chat I could hate myself all I wanted with her, and she had deep reserves of pity. One night, after I couldn't find her online for weeks, I got worried and called her, unarranged, and she told me she was leaving Prodigy. All that actually meant was that she'd be changing her email address, but when I figured out we'd never hear from each other again, "Hysteria" happened to be playing on WCMF. When the song's outro relaxed into one chord, this intense "Being John Malkovich" thing happened where I imagined feeling, from her perspective, her excitement as she entered college and matured into an amazing human being and gradually forgot about me. And I was imagining her experiencing this while simultaneously imagining myself, in the future, appreciating her accomplishments, whatever they were, long after I'd made peace with my own failed life. Which, in turn, was this weird saint-like sadness I'd never felt before. Even though it was all just my serotonin doing a mockup of these feelings, and I didn't appreciate or accept anything and hadn't come of age for shit.
Anyway, a similar version of all that narcissism – which Nate experiences when he hears the song, seemingly always late at night – is a central emotion in this book, and clearly what Def Leppard intended.
"Goodbye" The Sundays
In college, for two summers I had a job working at Rochester's Kodak Park industrial plant. I wore goggles, a white cleansuit and a hairnet and often worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. operating a machine that lined film-waste canisters with trash bags. I hated it, but now I feel like I was at least part of Rochester's history. On the morning drive home, the college station played "Goodbye," which never gets played, and I was caught off-guard and thus noticed that I liked the factory-exhaust-diffracted sunrises and having the highway to myself while workday traffic accumulated in the opposite direction. I also noticed the song's last line: "Oh well, just give me an easy life and a peaceful death." Likewise, probably all Nate wants is to not desire anything and for the time to pass quickly.
"November Skies" Tomas Barfod
Song that was playing when I finished final copy edits.
"Rev On the Red Line" Foreigner
As Nate's dad mentions, "Rev on the Red Line" is maybe the only song to make national airwaves that contains a Rochester reference, in the line "Runnin' all night on Lake Avenue." Another line, "You'll still be here and I'll be gone" seems to sum up Nate's fears of Necro outgrowing him. But maybe that's kind of dumb, because the song is about street racing.
"Bark At the Moon" Ozzy Osbourne
I feel like if a classic rock radio station plays "Bark at the Moon" – as opposed to going straight for "Crazy Train" and calling it a day – then that station is at least trying. In 2004, during winter break in grad school, I was driving on I-90 into Rochester from Massachusetts. My workshop for a draft of this book, originally set in Batavia, N.Y., had gone well, and I was feeling the post-workshop adrenaline that was always way better during winter. My friends back home would be drinking and listening to stoner rock, and when I drove within CMF's wattage, "Bark at the Moon" came on. Then it started snowing – huge, globe-like, Hello-Kitty snowflakes that ate up the light from my headlights and threw off my depth perception, and it was one of maybe twelve emotionally perfect moments that made me relocate the book's setting to Rochester.
Bill Peters and Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality links:
ArtSake interview with the author
Black Balloon Publishing interview with the author
Dear Teen Me contribution by the author
Litquake interview with the author
Masslive interview with the author
Visions of the Unexcused interview with the author
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