September 2, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Bill Flanagan's novel Fifty in Reverse: is incredibly entertaining and filled with music.
Colum McCann wrote of the book:
"Bill Flanagan has inherited the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut and written us a sharp, funny, charming novel about the enduring fantasy of living a life twice. What if we could live knowing what we know now? And what might happen to those around us? This is a wonderful comedy with a distinct social undertow."
In my novel Fifty in Reverse, a 15 year old boy in 1970 insists he is actually a 65 year old man from 2020. He tells skeptical listeners – his parents and psychiatrist – that in the future he works for a music streaming service, a job that does not exist in 1970. Frustrated with his inability to convince anyone he is from the future, he joins a teenage garage band and tries to teach them songs that he knows as rock classics – but which no one in April of 1970 has ever heard before.
Some of the songs that come up in the story are:
Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – The boy, Peter Wyatt, stuns his classmates at an assembly to discuss the Kent State shootings by strapping on a guitar and performing a song Neil Young is ABOUT to write about the massacre. Peter figures that he wins either way; if Neil Young’s version appears in a couple of weeks it will prove he is from the future. If Neil Young’s version never appears, Peter is headed to a lucrative future as a songwriter.
School's Out by Alice Cooper, Smoking in the Boys Room by Brownsville Station, Radar Love by Golden Earring, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple – Some of the songs Peter attempts to teach to Malleable Iron, the not-terribly-talented high school band he takes over.
Purple Rain by Prince, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, Superstition by Stevie Wonder - Some of the songs the other members of Malleable Iron tell Peter are not good enough for their group.
Racing in the Street by Bruce Springsteen, Wildflowers by Tom Petty, Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan – songs Peter plays to impress his band-mates’ attractive single mother. She is 38 years old – too old for Peter the boy in his body and too young for Peter the old man in his head.
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse, My Baby Loves Me by White Plains, United We Stand by the Brotherhood of Man, Gimme Dat Ding by the Pipkins – Peter’s band attracts the attention of a lowlife local music promoter named Lou Pitano who informs the teenagers that none of these four group exists – they are all the work of a single British production company that churns out hits to order. “What if I told you that all four of those groups are actually the same singer recording under different names?” Lou asks the boys. Rocky the bass player replies, “I’d say somebody better shoot that motherfucker.”
Billy Don't Be a Hero by Paper Lace, Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band – two songs Peter offers that Lou Pitano likes.
So Intoxifying by the Beatles – Peter is stunned to hear a new Beatles song on the radio in May of 1970, along with the assurance that rumors of the Beatles’ breaking up are not true. This challenges his belief that he knows what is going to happen next. There is a real song called So Intoxifying. It was written and performed by a Rhode Island new wave band called The Shake in the early 1980s. It could have been a Beatles song.
The Beatles Let It Be album – Peter tells his psychiatrist that the last thing he remembers before he left 2020 was floating in his swimming pool listening to the Beatles’ Let It Be. The doctor puts the album on replay and makes Peter listen to it over and over while he hits him with questions about his life in the future. This leads to a breakthrough.
All Along the Watchtower by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum – the soundtrack to Peter’s final rebellion, stealing a car and going to look for the little girl who he believes will grow up to become his wife.
Red River Shore by Bob Dylan – a song about the impossibility of going back to fix what can’t be fixed.
I found it useful, during the time I was writing Fifty in Reverse, to make playlists of songs that were popular when I was in high school. Not songs by the Who and the Stones and Marvin Gaye that we still hear all the time – but songs that came and went and are almost forgotten. Draggin' the Line by Tommy James, Do You Know What I Mean by Lee Michaels, Who's Making Love by Johnnie Taylor. When I played back this music it uncovered all sorts of buried memories, some of which made it into the novel.
Bill Flanagan is an American author, television producer and radio host. He wrote the novels A&R, New Bedlam, and Evening's Empire, the nonfiction books Written in My Soul and U2 at the End of the World, and the humor collection Last of the Moe Haircuts. Flanagan hosts the Sirius XM radio shows Northern Songs and Flanagan's Wake and contributes essays to CBS Sunday Morning. He created and produced the TV series Storytellers and Crossroads and has worked on series and specials for NBC, ABC, HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, PBS, the Sundance Channel, and Showtime. Flanagan has written for Spy Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Air Mail, Men's Journal, and The New York Times. He wrote the 2020 film Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President.