Guest List: The Pursuit of Happiness
While this is the name of a pretty good CD by the Weekend Players, it's more importantly (to me, to Tara) the name of a new YA book by Tara Altebrando. And she has graciously agreed to give us a little sneak peek inside the book by way of some music that inspired her work. This book actually releases today! So go pick it up. Hit it, Tara:
First, a little bit about The Pursuit of Happiness (MTV Books). It's about Betsy Irving, a teenage girl who's working at a colonial village, dressing up as a farm girl. Her mother has just died and her boyfriend has just dumped her. She thinks she's going to have the worst summer of her life but thanks to Liza, an oddball who works at the village, and James, a lanky surfer who works there, too, things don't turn out quite so badly. Liza introduces Betsy to the local beach party scene, and James, who's apprenticing at the carpenter's shop, starts to carve Betsy things out of wood. Inspired by him and by an art exhibit at the village, Betsy also discovers her own gift for silhouette art--cutting shapes out of black paper. I won't give away what happens between her and James...
So: I always have music playing when I'm writing and when I was working on "The Pursuit of Happiness," I probably listened to "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" by the Flaming Lips around 500 times. The whole mood of the book is dependent on that record's melancholy and drama. I think the song that stood out most was "Do You Realize?"; its lyrics can knock the wind out of you. There's one line: "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" It's heavy stuff but it's so beautiful. James plays this song for Betsy in one scene and the moment solidifies everything she thinks she's feeling for him. I think that when someone plays you a song they love and you love it, too, it's very powerful. I wanted to try to capture that.
U2's "The Joshua Tree" was probably the CD I played second most often when writing. That record came out the year my own mother died--like Betsy, I was sixteen--and to this day I can't listen to it without getting chills. I think the opening lyrics of "Where the Streets Have No Name" pretty much sum up what Betsy's going through: "I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside." She's being forced to deal with this huge adult thing but she's a teenager and all she really wants to do is BE, or figure out who she's going to be without everyone's expectations weighing on her. Other influences or just cool songs that I think "go with" the book:
"IOU" by Metric. This song is all Liza. She has a kind of edge that Betsy only wishes she had.
"Thirteen" by Big Star. Really sums up all the longing and frustration of young love. You want to run away with someone and spend every second with them but you can't--your parents won't let you!
"Take You Home" by Dutch Kills. Before I met my husband, Nick, I'd heard his band, Dutch Kills. I once spent a week at the Jersey Shore, where "The Pursuit of Happiness" is set, listening to "Take You Home" obsessively while sitting on the beach. I'd just been dumped by my boyfriend and I would listen to this song and wish that I would meet someone who could write a song like it--a romantic. I met Nick soon after that, and now we're married. Whenever I hear "Take You Home" now it reminds me of our first weeks of dating, how exciting and terrifying they were. I think Betsy's experiencing a lot of that with James. I'd LOVE to be able to play you another song of theirs, "Godspeed," a seriously gorgeous song about letting go that I listened to a lot when I was writing, but it's only a demo. The band's recording it for real now so I'll let you know when it's done!
Lastly, "The Pursuit of Happiness" is a summer book. There are parties and roller coasters and surf boards; the sun does actually shine. I think the Strokes are a great summer band. They make you want to drive somewhere with the windows down. "Last Night" is a particular favorite. So thanks for listening and I hope you'll check out the book!
Flaming Lips, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" (live on KCRW)
Flaming Lips, "Do You Realize?" (live on KCRW, too)
U2, "Where the Streets Have No Name"
Big Star, "Thirteen"
Dutch Kills, "Take You Home"
The Strokes, "Last Night"
*And for more Dutch Kills songs, check out their site, they have loads for download.
I agree with Tara regarding the Flaming Lips LP. I think it captures such a vivid, three-dimensional feeling from beginning to end. Anyway, buy her book today. Check out her website. And her My Space page. And fyi, she is also known as Tara McCarthy, the Tara McCarthy who wrote the siamese twin pop star book, Love Will Tear Us Apart! Buy that one here.