Tag Archive for Tom Petty

My Tom Petty Moment: A Scene from a Book When the Radio Plays

The idea for my young adult novel, Before You Go, came fully formed. Page one, four teenagers traveling in a car at night. The radio plays. The car spins out of control, hits a tree, someone dies. Then the story rewinds six weeks into the past. The book is divided into two parts: “Before” and “After.” The book catches up with the accident about two-thirds of the way through.

02-tom-petty-90s.nocrop.w710.h2147483647I had to decide what song plays on the radio, though I guess I could have punted that one. Selecting the Petty song seemed in some ways a mistake. Classic rock. Maybe these young people would have been listening to something more current, more typical of teenagers of that age: rap, possibly. But I went with Petty because: 1) It was still believable, certainly; and 2) The song was perfect. Besides, nobody would know.

Can you name the song from the clues in the scene below, which represents pages 1-3 of the book? I’ll send a free, signed book to first person who guesses it — just send me a note at jamespreller@aol.com with your name and address.

NOTE: Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! I’ll be sending the book out to Carlos in San Diego who correctly guessed, “Here Comes My Girl.” The key line from that song? “And then she looks me in the eye, says, “We’re gonna last forever.”

This is the moment between before and after, the pivot point upon which story, like a plate, spins.

See:

Two cars drive down a bleary road. One headed east, the other west. A small animal moves from the shadows to paw the asphalt. Not thirty seconds sooner, nor a moment later, but exactly now.

To the eastbound driver, traveling alone after a long night, the animal appears only as a dreamlike shape, two red eyes floating in the misty wash of headlights. He veers to avoid it and in doing so drifts into the approaching lane.

Music plays from the westbound car, intermixed with teenage voices, laughter. Eyes widen when the car swerves toward them. The driver jerks the wheel and the car cuts counter-clockwise, careens across the left lane. A foot stomps the brake pedal, back tires lock and skid, loose gravel sprays from the wheels. The side of the car crashes against a mighty oak that has stood undisturbed for over one hundred years. The front passenger’s door collapses inward, its metal panel crushed like a paper cup.

It happens fast. The span of a heartbeat, the time it takes to squeeze a hand, to shut your eyes and . . . nothing. Blood flows, bones shatter. It is the slice of a razor: when before becomes after, when everything changes.

And all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men . . . 

There is a moment of stunned disbelief, an absence of movement, the vacuum suck of unreality. The music still plays like the soundtrack of a frozen photograph: a car on the side of the road wrapped around a tree, broken windows, mangled metal, the cold-eyed moon indifferent; a record voice bounces off a satellite to sing about a town that seems so hopeless.

51VCNQbfPKLAfter a pause, the summer bugs start in again, the buzz of cicadas, a cricket, the croak of a bullfrog from a muddy pond. Now the screaming begins from inside the car, drowning out the other night noises. Hysterical, high-pitched, piercing. The driver’s side rear door flies open, a figure staggers out from the backseat. The figure turns, eyes wild and unseeing, falls to both knees in the middle of an empty road on a warm, wet, shimmering summer night, battered head in bloodied hands.

Movement appears from inside nearby homes. Shadows cross behind the panes, curtains shudder. A door opens and a shaft of light spills to the ground, stumbling like a drunk on the sidewalk. Phones are found, numbers punched, 9-1-1.

Hurry. An emergency. Car accident. Hit a tree. Hard to see, sounds bad. Morgan Road, please hurry. Woke up to a crash and screaming, terrible screaming.

Come and stop the screaming.

Two of the four passengers will walk away with minor injuries. A miracle, some will say. Thank God, thank God almighty. The third will suffer a concussion, three broken ribs, cuts, and bruises. The injuries will not be fatal.

The final passenger, who sat in the shotgun seat opposite the driver, never had a chance. Death came instantly, like a curtain closing, a theater turning black.

The night animal scurries into the underbrush, its role in the passion play complete. One car races unscathed into the distance, hurtling east like a bullet from a gun. Taillights dim, then fade. The crashed vehicle plays a song from the radio.

This town, it seems so hopeless, so hopeless.

That’s the scene when you run out of miracles. The light, the light just disappears.

Rest In Peace, Tom Petty. Thanks for the music. 

BEFORE YOU GO: The Imaginary Soundtrack to My Young Adult Novel, Part 1

No blogging for at least a week until I beat a deadline into submission, literally. So ’til then . . .

I’ve concocted an imaginary soundtrack that plays during the imaginary movie that’s based on my (real!) upcoming Young Adult novel, Before You Go (July 17, 2012) I didn’t sweat the details, such as, oh, there’s no movie and even if there was, we couldn’t afford many of these bands. Not going to worry about that. These are the songs I hear in my head as I move through the book, the songs that helped me as a writer.

Setup: For those who don’t know, the story opens with four unnamed teenagers driving on a dark road. The car spins out of control, hits a tree. One passenger dies. Next page, we rewind six weeks into the past, and gradually meet all the characters. The reader does not know who is going to be in the car, or who will die. The book catches up to the accident about 2/3 of the way through. So the book is in two sections: “Before” and “After.”

For purposes of length, and to avoid disclosing any key spoilers, I’ve limited today’s post to Part One, “Before.”

And away we go, chapter to chapter . . .

THE ACCIDENT

Tom Petty, “Here Comes My Girl”

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Probably not the hippest selection in the world, and surely classic rock isn’t the right note to start off with, but I always heard this Tom Petty tune blasting from the radio as the car races through the fogged, misty night. Anyway. Key lyric: “You know, sometimes, I don’t know why, but this old town just seems so hopeless.”

PART ONE: BEFORE

ONE

The Cure, “Pictures of You”

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This is Jude’s recent obsession as a guitar player, this exact tune, and the music plays when he shoves in the ear buds while riding the bus to his first-ever summer job. I see him staring out the bus window, crossing the bridges, the summer morning, the traffic and the water and the gulls.

TWO & THREE

The Head and the Heart, “Lost In My Mind”

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This doesn’t precisely connect to the material, but somehow reflects interior Jude, going through the motions at his new job, punching the clock, meeting the new boss, putting on the paper hat. It’s a mood thing. Key lyric: “‘Cause there are stars/Up above/We can start/Moving forward.” And also, “Put your dreams away for now/I won’t see you for some time/I am lost in my mind/I get lost in my mind.”

FOUR

Toro Y Moi, “Still Sound”

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Full on beach mode, Jude working hard now, the sun-burnt throng, great-looking girls in bikinis — and he sees Becka for the first time.

FIVE

Arcade Fire, “Suburban War”

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I see Jude returning home from work, walking the suburban streets, seeing his father out front, opening the door, going inside. Key lyric: “This town’s so strange/They built it to change/And while we’re sleeping all the streets, they rearrange.” There’s also a foreshadowing in a later line: “In the suburbs, I learned to drive/People told me we would never survive.

SIX

Big Star, “I’m In Love with a Girl”

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One of the all-time favorite songs, all that teenage vulnerability and yearning. We’ve got to find a place for it somewhere in the imaginary movie soundtrack, so we’ll squeeze it in here.

Ben Folds, “Not the Same”

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Jude and his best friend Corey climb the roof of his house, overlooking their suburban world. About the homemade fan video, above, made by two brothers, I love the vibe they created. Good, clean fun. Nice job, guys.

SEVEN & EIGHT

Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Me and Jane Doe”

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Cool tune, seems to be a conversation of sorts, and I wanted a female voice entering the soundtrack. I hear this with Jude and Becka outside on the bench in the open air, feeling each other out. Leads to this miraculous version of “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman. All the lyrics to this song work for this character, “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain/Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” Or this: “And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do/The movement you need is on your shoulder.

Wilson Pickett, “Hey, Jude”

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NINE

Teenage Fanclub, “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything”

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Fits with the feeling of time on the boardwalk, putt-putt golf, and talk about guitars. Sunny and happy, Becka and Jude. And I worship Teenage Fanclub.

TEN

Stornoway, “Fuel Up”

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The car imagery again, the youthful reflection, the open road — but not in the way that Springsteen writes about it, or even Kerouac, but here with a mixture of innocence lost and trepidation. Key lyric: “And your head’s on the window, your eyes are just closed/There’s a voice in the front and a hush on the road/You’re a passenger but your mind is travelling on.” Again with Jude, there’s this insular sense, lost in his mind almost regardless of circumstances. So many times he’s not fully there.

ELEVEN

Yuck, “Get Away”

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Just the right sound as the pace picks up, four boys in the car kicking back. But at the same time, a part of Jude will always, always, remain separate. He’s texting with Becka, thinking of her. Key lyric: “Summer sun says get out more/I need you, I want you/But I can’t get this feeling off my mind/I want you, I need you.//Oh, I can’t get away, Oh, I can’t get away . . .

12

Laura Marling, “Rambling Man”

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I kind of associate Becka with Laura Marling. I can imagine Becka owning some Marling on vinyl, spinning it in a candle-lit bedroom. Marling appears on this soundtrack in my head — lawyers be damned. This little scene between Jude & Becka at the beach has, like so many scenes with Jude, that underpinning of sadness to it. Key lyric: “Oh, naive little me/Asking what things you have seen/You’re vulnerable in your head/You’ll scream and you’ll wait till you’re dead.”

13

Rosewood Thieves, “Los Angeles”

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This song just brings the hip, cool vibe I needed to hear. But it also reflects absence and longing, Jude’s little sister, Lily, gone forever. Key lyric: “It’s been so long since I’ve seen her around here/I can’t remember if she’s real/Summer days spent walking around/And up all night yeah/Trying to remember if she’s real.”

14

M83, “Midnight City”

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Let’s party like it’s 2012. Good times, hanging out, knocking down the pins, drinking smuggled-in rum & coke. If this song plays when I’m bowling, hey, maybe I finally crack 150 if it’s cranked up LOUD enough.

15 & 16

Beirut, “The Rip Tide”

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Sun Kil Moon, “Floating”

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Joni Mitchell, “All I Want”

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There’s the beach, the sadness of their conversation, and then together entering the water, floating, faces turned to the sun, and liquid desire. These songs are those feelings.

17

Wilco, “You and I”

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Jude and Becka swapping songs on guitar, hanging out on a blanket, falling in love, together. If you don’t know this song, or the greatness of Feist, listen up!

18

Foo Fighters, “Home”

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A stunning and sensitive performance by Dave Grohl. At the end of this chapter, Becka wipes a tear from Jude’s face and tells him, “When you cry, I taste salt.”

19

The War on Drugs, “Brothers”

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Good times, Corey and Jude, gaming in the basement. Great friends, waiting for their ride, ready to hit that party at Gilgo Beach. As they are about to leave, four teenagers in a car, Jude’s father calls out, “Hey, before you go . . .”

20

Lana Del Rey, “It’s the End of the World

The original version of this song, by the great Skeeter Davis, ran through my head all through the writing of this book. I don’t think Lana Del Ray nails this version, by any means, but I like the idea of a hip update, sans strings, so submit that notion here. This is the chapter of the accident: “Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.”

Anyway, here’s the Skeeter Davis version — now imagine a more contemporary, stripped down take, without the syrupy excesses of the classic arrangement. Not criticizing Skeeter, btw, the original song is perfect. Just that for my movie, and for this song to reach a new audience, it needs a different take. IMO.

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