June 8, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
With its unforgettable teenaged narrator and clever premise, Michael Landweber's Thursday, 1:17 p.m. is the rare book that will please both YA and literary fiction readers.
Foreword Reviews wrote of the book:
"Thursday, 1:17 pm is an unconventional and intriguing novel that blends thoughtful insight with an irreverent, anything-goes attitude reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk."
In my book, Thursday, 1:17 p.m., time freezes at, not surprisingly, a Thursday at 1:17 p.m. Duck, a 17-year-old kid, is the only person still moving in the otherwise frozen world. It is the day before his birthday, which will never come, and a few hours after his mother lost her battle with cancer. He is stuck, both literally and figuratively, on the cusp of adulthood. In a world where he can no longer listen to music, one of the things on his mind is the playlist of songs he made for his mom, who was a fan of all those 80s bands now clumped together under the bizarre moniker Classic Alternative.
Here's Duck's take on the playlist:
"When she was only a little bit sick, I created Mom's Sick Mix. Here's the thing: I told her I was using 'sick' like awesome, not 'sick' like diseased, but after a while I started to feel like it was just 'sick' in the head, but that was even worse because she had a brain tumor, which really was sick in the head."
Here are some of the songs on Mom's Sick Mix:
"Begin the Begin" - R.E.M. – Life's Rich Pageant
The novel opens with Duck wandering his neighborhood in a daze just before time freezes. He is already shutting out the world with music blasting at full volume. This song is the one playing at the moment that time freezes. The title – "Begin the Begin" - seems like it should be fraught with meaning, given his situation, but Duck has a little trouble parsing the cryptic lyrics and in the end just wants to kick Michael Stipe's ass for being so unhelpful.
"Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of" - U2 – All That You Can't Leave Behind
It is a little strange to create a playlist for a book about a world where time has stopped because none of the devices that play music actually work. Duck is completely unable to listen to any recorded music. Yet he can't help thinking about appropriate songs for any given situation he is in. And this U2 song is one he decides could play on an infinite loop on the soundtrack for a frozen world.
"(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes" - Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True
One of my favorite things about this song is that, unlike most stories about wish fulfillment, Elvis Costello isn't cutting a deal with the devil or a genie who will inevitably betray him. He's making what seems like a pretty fair trade with a ragtag bunch of angels – not getting any older for a pair of kick ass red shoes. Of course, Duck isn't getting any older either, but he didn't get much of a bargain. Time stops after his mom dies, which is definitely not the moment he would have chosen. He never had a chance to cut a deal with the devil or a genie or any angels; this just happened to him and he has no idea why.
I have a soft spot for covers. There is nothing more thrilling that when a great song is made even better after being interpreted by a different artist. When that band happens to be a seminal English new wave ska rock band paying tribute to legends like Smokey Robinson and Toots & the Maytals, well, let's just say you had me at "seminal." In the book, "Tears of a Clown" could be playing in the background on the car radio as Duck and his mom drive home after finding out about her brain tumor.
"Dreaming" – Blondie – Eat to the Beat
At one point, in a moment of boredom, Duck engages in a game of people tipping, running down a crowded sidewalk and knocking over as many immobile pedestrians as possible. I think this song would be playing on the soundtrack. Those drums are awesome. Something about the beat propelling this song forward makes me want to knock things over.
"Lost in the Supermarket" - The Clash – London Calling
The Clash are known mainly for being angry and political and anarchic, but sometimes you need to be reminded how damn catchy their songs were. This is one of their poppiest songs – a close second to "Train in Vain" – and that joyful feeling you get listening to it masks a deep malaise below the surface. In Thursday 1:17 p.m., Duck spends time in a supermarket as he figures out how to eat in the frozen world. If the PA system actually worked, this song would be blasting, reminding Duck that he can no longer shop happily.
If someone forced Duck's mother to pick a favorite band, it would have to be Talking Heads (or maybe R.E.M.). So there is a lot of the band on the Sick Mix. In the book, Road to Nowhere is definitely playing during Duck's road trip to West Virginia. And "This Must Be the Place" is the embodiment of the longing he feels to return to a time hours, days, years before time stopped, back home when he was a bit more innocent and a lot less alone.
"Inbetween Days" - The Cure – The Head in the Door
Even when they are singing about joyous things, The Cure sounds like they are contemplating the merits of suicide. That's part of their enduring charm. Duck is feeling that melancholy throughout the book, and certainly would identify with the in between limbo expressed by this song.
"Ma and Pa" – Fishbone – Truth and Soul
Can someone explain to me why, in a world where so many other bands have had a resurgence fueled by nostalgia or respect or both, Fishbone still seems to be waiting for their moment. Truth and Soul is one of my favorite albums. Where is the love? Well, it isn't in this song, which is about how a neglectful set of bickering parents is tearing at the very fabric of their children's existence. I could see Duck cranking this one up when he is feeling particularly aggrieved about his own family situation.
"Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" - Icicle Works
All hail the one hit wonder. The internet is a bit confused about whether the song is called "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" or "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)," but it doesn't really matter. This is one of the most propulsive songs to come out of the 80s. It should be on every mix tape of 80s songs that exists. There is a scene in Thursday 1:17 p.m. where Duck is hurtling through the streets of DC, disoriented and drunk; this is the perfect song for that moment.
"Gigantic" - The Pixies – Surfer Rosa
This song is playing when Duck realizes that he may be in love with someone that he didn't expect to be in love with. Because who writes a better love song than The Pixies. OK, probably most bands, but this is still the best one for Duck.
"Good Feeling" - Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
This song is heartbreakingly sad. It sums up much of what Duck is feeling, isolated in his frozen world. No one does malaise and alienation better than Violent Femmes, particularly on their first album.
"So. Central Rain" – R.E.M. – Reckoning
If my book had closing credits, this song would be playing over them. And since this is one of the best songs ever written, everyone would leave the book happy.
Michael Landweber and Thursday, 1:17 p.m. links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
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