May 18, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Neil Smith's Boo is an original and masterfully told debut novel, a dark and deeply affecting depiction of the hereafter.
Neil Smith will be in conversation with his editor Lexy Bloom at Manhattan's McNally Jackson bookstore on June 3rd.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Short story writer Smith (Bang Crunch) delivers a splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing in a unique afterlife."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
"Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees
Boo died in September 1979, a year and a half after the Bee Gees topped the Billboard charts with this single from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. For dead thirteen-year-olds living in a heaven modeled after a public-housing project, I can think of no better theme song than "Stayin' Alive," which according to Robin Gibb is all about survival. The lyrics even mention "the wings of heaven." Like the song's narrator, Boo has been "kicked around" since he was born.
"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday
Haunting, eerie, devastating, "Strange Fruit" was chosen as the song of the century by Time in 1999. Originally written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish teacher, the song became famous thanks to versions sung by Billie Holiday (1939) and Nina Simone (1965). The lyrics describe a lynching with references to "blood on the leaves" and "strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." In my novel, Thelma Rudd, a black thirteen-year-old who died on the end of a rope, sings the song at a Halloween pageant in a reenactment of her death.
"Friendship" by Cole Porter
Boo's parents sing this Cole Porter standard as a duo to their customers at their barbershop, Clippers. Boo later sings it to his new friend Johnny Henzel when the two of them are on the lam. After Johnny is jailed, Boo sends his friend a line from the lyrics: "If you're ever in a jam, here I am." Cole Porter wrote the song for the 1934 musical Anything Goes. Over the years, it's been sung by many duos, including Ethel Merman and Bert Lahr, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, and even Paul McCarthy and John Lennon.
"Monster Mash" by Bobby Pickett
Though religious holidays aren't celebrated in my heaven, Halloween is still a big deal. The dead children of Town dress up as ghouls and zombies with fake knives sticking out of their backs and fake blood dripping from their wounds. They put "Monster Mash" on their record players and do spastic dances inspired by the moves of Frankenstein's monster. Bobby Pickett wrote and recorded this "graveyard smash" in 1962. In it, he imitates the voice of horror-movie master Boris Karloff.
"The Wobblin' Goblin" by Rosemary Clooney
Another novelty song for Halloween, this gem recounts the story of a goblin who can't fly too high because his magic broom keeps breaking. I learned the lyrics when I was five and have never forgotten them. In my novel, Boo discovers a music box that plays the tune. But this innocent children's song takes on a more sinister note when Boo also discovers bullets inside the music box. Will he use them to put an end to Johnny's afterlife? Fun fact: Rosemary is George Clooney's aunt.
"Miss Otis Regrets" by Ella Fitzgerald
Thelma Rudd, formerly of Wilmington, North Carolina, is the first friend that Boo makes in Town. A gifted singer, she plans to mount a one-woman show called Out to Lunch inspired by Miss Otis's misadventures. In the song, written by Cole Porter in 1934, a butler tells the story of his employer, a lady who strays down on lovers' lane and later pulls out a gun and shoots her lover down. She's hanged for her crime, but not before she utters the unforgettable line, "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today."
"To Wish Impossible Things" by the Cure
In 1992, Boo finds a portal back to America and encounters a goth teenager with mascaraed eyes, white makeup, and a nest of messy black hair. On the kid's T-shirt is the name "Robert Smith," a reference to the Cure's lead singer. In the goth's apartment, Boo hears a slow song sung by a gloomy man who says he's always wishing for "impossible things." This was my sly way of bringing back to life my brother, also named Robert Smith, who OD'd when I was around Boo's age. The Cure also recorded a song called "Just Like Heaven."
Neil Smith and Boo links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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