December 7, 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.
Brett Hartman's Cadillac Chronicles is a gritty and honest young adult novel, an unforgettable coming of age story.
School Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Hartman's effort is fresh and gritty....The mix of humor, gravity, and angst will keep readers engaged, and this debut novel has enough of all three elements to appeal to reluctant and eager male readers alike."
Music amplifies the experience of living, adding color and contour where there was only cacophonous buzzing between the ears. Of course, music can also be totally annoying if it doesn't serve the moment. I write primarily at home where I like it quiet—just me and the caffeinated melodies in my head. But if I'm out writing at a café, I like good music to fill the space. This LHB project has spoiled me. It gave me permission to sit for hours playing songs while re-imagining my novel, Cadillac Chronicles, as a movie with a musical score! How could that not be fun? I ended up focusing on key moments in the narrative, trying to match the mood while not to giving away too much. Some of the tracks come from me, some from the novel's protagonist, Alex Riley, and a couple emanate from Alex's partner in crime, Lester Bray. Here we go:
Admittedly, this is a heavy way to start such a list. The mother in Pink Floyd's The Wall helps build for her son a wall of emotional alienation. You feel like she's stolen an essential part of his humanity. Likewise, Cadillac Chronicles opens with fatherless Alex in a state of detachment. He walks alongside his mother in a mall, sizing up female body parts, but he's far from ready to engage emotionally. One problem is his mother. In fact, the first three scenes of the novel are flooded with negative mom energy. The big question: how will he break that toxic bond?
There's certainly some wishful thinking on Alex's part as he tries to get Britney Garrand to sign his yearbook, because he's far from possessing her heart or anyone else's at this stage. But let's be patient. By the end of the journey, Alex may not come across as the stalking outcast any longer. Maybe he'll get his shot. For now, though, he's a long way off.
What better way to start a sputtering road trip than with a song entitled, "Don't Let's Start?" Even though the lyrics don't fit the narrative precisely, the herky-jerky beat is infectious, and it's one of my favorite tunes…so there.
I'm designating this track for all those anger-laden scenes: Alex's meeting with the shrink, Lester's confrontation at the truck-stop buffet, and the rage Alex feels when he finds out what his mother has been up to. That soda can he carries across the parking lot is combustible. Lester's rage is combustible. Virginia Tech 2007 is combustible. Over-medicated kids were combustible, until it got wiped right out of them. My own indignation drives such scenes, and I think these are the bumps along the way that make the journey worth taking.
When it's not being badly karaoke'd, this song is so beautiful and so poignant. To me, it's the universal anthem of unrequited love. It gives voice to all who've put themselves out there only to realize the love will never be returned. That heartache lives in Alex as he struggles to find his father, afraid the whole time the man will continue to ignore him. And Alex's mother felt a similar heartache years ago when she tried to salvage her marriage to a man she clearly loved.
Here's Alex at the motel mirror, flexing his muscles, imagining their heft after six months of intensive training and how desirable he'll be to the likes of Britney Garrand. "I work out," the song says, as if that's enough to attract all the babes you can handle. This seems to be what Alex thinks, at least for the moment. The sexiest part of the song is the band's playful ability to make fun of itself. Let's hope Alex picks up on that.
In honor of Lester Bray, we've got an ancient black man in an ancient Cadillac cruising through the Deep South. There's no better song to typify the moment. Lester would have preferred the original Bo Diddley version, but the old man got outvoted two to one in favor of this 1964 Kinks cover.
As Lester drives his Cadillac past the state line from Georgia to Alabama, I'm honoring Lester with his official home-state song (despite this being totally cliché…sorry).
I'm calling this Alex's Ode to Selma—the girl, not the city. These lyrics could have come directly out of his mouth: "It's a pleasure to meet you/ya look like one incredible creature/wanna treat you fine/lets dance and grind/get so funk-inflicted it's a crime/you're divine/you're sublime/and well you blow my mind." Then that randy horn takes over the melody. Things are gettin' steamy.
This song does a nice job covering the depth and meaning of loss. And it's sung in such an achingly heartfelt way, which is to say, sung like Mumford & Sons. Sample lyrics: "Sigh no more/no more/One foot in sea and one on shore/My heart was never pure/And you know me/You know me." What I get from the song is that to be known—to be truly known by another person—is a quite a treasure. In Alex's case, it's curative.
Call it guilty pleasure or nerd alert, but here's a confession: my wife and I watch American Idol, and it's because of contestants as talented and soulful as Phillip Phillips. We were happy to see him win. And even though pop radio stations are currently over-playing the crap out of it, this song still resonates the closing mood of the novel. Alex is home. But he's not the same. And, therefore, his home will never be the same.
Roll the credits.
Brett Hartman and Cadillac Chronicles links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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