September 17, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Chris L. Terry's Zero Fade is an impressive debut novel, an immersive tale of middle school in the '90s, and a book that both adults and teens will find fascinating.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Original, hilarious, thought-provoking and wicked smart: not to be missed."
I love music, but rarely listen to it when I write. This is a list of songs referenced by Zero Fade's narrator Kevin Phifer, a thirteen-year-old boy living in 1994 Richmond, Virginia. Kevin is two years younger than me, so it was fun to work some of the pop culture of my teen years into his story, while considering how the world's changes have been reflected in popular music.
Craig Mack, "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)"
This song was huge. You couldn't ride the bus or walk through school without hearing someone going, "Just like a piece of Sizzlean, you fit inside my stomach with the eggs and grits between" in the adenoidal Craig Mack voice. The remix doesn't have that line, but it does have a great verse by one of Kevin Phifer's favorites, Biggie Smalls. "Mad, 'cos my style you're admiring. Don't be mad, UPS is hiring."
Redman, "Time 4 Sum Aksion"
Those loose hi-hats are as early '90s as box fades. Redman's persona is everything that a teen boy like Kevin aspires to. He's funny, energetic and confident enough to speak his mind or make a weird joke. Plus, girls like him.
Mary J. Blige, "Real Love"
This song was a high point of '90s R&B. It was tuneful enough for pop and soul fans, but knocked enough to follow a hip-hop track on a mix…like this one. Plus, there's something about that ascending piano line. It has the hopeful feel that I wanted in the bar scene where Paul and Xavier really start to flirt.
Heavy D & The Boyz "Nuttin' But Love"
I see Heavy D as the forgotten face of hip-hop going pop in the early '90s. Heavy D was the coolest because he made songs that were fun without being corny. He was versatile, blending pop, R&B and dancehall into his music. He could produce to the very end – just listen to "The Don" on Nas's "Life is Good." He could also move. And, he did the theme song to Kevin's favorite show, "In Living Color." RIP, Big Homey.
Gap Band "Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)"
From the "Urban Cowboy" era when funk musicians rocked western wear. This is the song that Kevin's mother dances to when she embarrasses him at home. Listen to that bassline. How could you not get a little inappropriate to that?
The Isley Brothers "Between The Sheets"
This song's on the radio at Xavier's barbershop and Kevin is excited because it's the sample from "Big Poppa." It turns into an odd moment for him because he has to reconcile the song's sexiness with his perception of the Isleys as his mother's music. That's a big part of Kevin's maturation in Zero Fade, realizing that the adults around him have some of the same wants as he does.
Jodeci "Forever My Lady"
Kevin's fifteen-year-old sister Laura is coming off a breakup that has sent her down a bad path. Kevin seeing her boyfriend Corey as a role model made Laura think of her relationship as more adult than it was. Cue Jodeci, the tape that got her through. In 1994, "Forever My Lady" was a couple of years old – a tried and true classic to a ninth grader – and this song is about a very mature thing, going half on a baby. I picture Laura listening to this and feeling very adult.
The Pharcyde "Passin' Me By"
Self-deprecation left rap music in the mid '90s. I blame Puff Daddy and Jay-Z. They turned hip-hop into aspirational music as opposed to relatable music. You listen to "Passin' Me By" and it hits home because you can go, "I hear ya, Fatlip. I didn't get the girl either." Put on some shiny suit rap and it's escapism. You think, "Yeah! Fancy cars! Girly drinks!" then the fantasy ends with the song and you can't help but go, "Fuck those guys for thinking they're too good for me."
An earlier draft of Zero Fade had a section where Kevin was mulling over what happened with Aisha, the girl he likes, and comparing his relationship with her to "Passin' Me By." It ended up not making it into the final draft, but I needed to include this song because it captures Kevin's spirit. It's one of my favorites. A close third behind "When Doves Cry" and "Billy Jean."
Eddie Murphy "Faggots"
Where would a book about complicated black male masculinity be without Eddie Murphy, the prettiest, most homophobic, most male-hooker-loving black man ever?
In Zero Fade, Kevin is outgrowing homophobia. It's a difficult process because he gets called "faggot" for sitting with another guy during lunch, "gay" is one of the most popular insults out there, and Eddie Murphy is making strange jokes like this one, which simultaneously reinforce and call for the reconsideration of gay stereotypes.
Eighties pop culture is thirty years old. This type of casual homophobia wouldn't fly today. Revisiting "Faggots" this summer made me wonder at the homophobia and assorted –isms that I absorbed while coming up in the eighties and nineties. And I'm still waiting for my life to be like Boomerang!
Chris L. Terry and Zero Fade links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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