Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Drummer" by Anthony Neil Smith (Two Dollar Radio, 2006)

Anthony Neil Smith’s second published novel, The Drummer, is now available as an eBook (both Kindle and Nook). (Print copies are also still available from Two Dollar Radio Press.) But, if you buy the eBook, Smith will donating a portion of the sales to a good cause. As he announced on his blog, "I'm donating the first two weeks royalties to the Martin County (MN) Humane Society, a small organization doing its best to take care of orphaned animals here in Southern Minnesota. And then we'll give $10 per hundred copies sold after that."

It’s hard to contain my enthusiasm for this book. I mean, let’s just take a second to say it out loud: Heavy Metal Noir. Anthony Neil Smith took two of my favorite things and made an awesome genre mutant. The writing is as feral a Slash guitar solo, and the plot as driving as Dave Lombardo’s drumming. Smith has fun exploring and exploiting the excesses of the rock n roll lifestyle, but he never falls into the trappings of outright parody or one-dimensional stereotype. The characters seem more real than the public faces that appear on MTV (or did, when they still showed music videos), and there’s a lot more to the story than the typical rise-and-fall sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll narrative that has become a cliché.

Calvin Christopher used to be drummer for the 80s hair metal band Savage Night. They lived the rock n roll life to the fullest – until the IRS caught up with them. Cal sees this as the perfect time to get out while the getting’s good. He fakes his death, moves to New Orleans and builds a new identity as “Merle.” Things are going well until Todd—Savage Night’s lead singer—catches up with him. For the second time in his life, Cal sees his whole life about to fall to pieces, and this time he’d do anything to hold on to his life. Anything…and that’s where the trouble begins.

While I was reading the book, some of my favorite 80s metal songs kept playing in my head. Which got me thinking…

What would the ultimate soundtrack to The Drummer sound like?

I’m not sure if these were the songs Anthony Neil Smith necessarily had in mind (or on the stereo) while he was writing, but these were the songs that seemed most fitting to me.

So, without further ado…here is The Pulp Serenade Soundtrack to The Drummer.

1) “Living After Midnight” by Judas Priest – Anthony Neil Smith uses a portion of the lyrics for the novel’s epigram: “Livin’ after midnight, rockin’ ‘til the dawn, lovin’ til the morning, then I’m gone, I’m gone…” It not only suits the plot of the novel and Cal’s disappearance, but also the semi-nihilistic impulse of noir.



2) “Hit the Lights” by Metallica – For those flashbacks when Savage Night is rocking the house. The lyrics do a great job of capturing that metal fever. “No life till leather / We are gonna kick some ass tonight / We got the metal madness / When our fans start screaming / It’s right well alright / When we start to rock / We never want to stop again.”



3) “Mandatory Suicide” by Slayer – The song is about war, but the title seems appropriate considering Cal’s decision to fake his own death. Plus, any excuse to play some Slayer is fine by me.



4) “Goodbye to Romance” by Ozzy Osbourne – So long, Savage Night…suckers! An elegiac power ballad that appropriately says farewell to everything in the rock n roll life that Cal left behind.



5) “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” by Metallica – The title captures Cal’s anxiety about his new life as “Merle” in New Orleans. It’s as much his home as it is his prison. He can never truly feel at home, since he’s always wondering if someone will track him down.



6) “Out to Get Me” by Guns N Roses – This is every noir protagonist’s theme song, and it’s especially suitable for Cal. This is a live version from GNR’s legendary concert at The Ritz in 1988. It is taken from a television broadcast, so the swears are bleeped out, making this safe for work viewing.



7) “Criminally Insane” by Slayer – How many noir protagonists could we diagnose as criminally insane? Tons. Plus, there’s a line in the song that totally sums up the noir protagonist’s doomed fate perfectly: “The path I chose has led me to my grave / To try again / I'd have no other way.”



8) “Sweet Little Sister” by Skid Row – For those scenes where Cal is seducing the bassist’s younger sister. You know this is what is playing in the back of his mind when they’re on the couch while the parents are out.



9) “Right Next Door to Hell” by Guns N Roses – The opening track to Use Your Illusion 1 is one of GNR’s best and most underrated songs. (Ok, technically the album was released in 1991, but the song was probably written earlier.) This one line seems particularly noir: “But when your innocence dies / You'll find the blues / Seems all our heroes were born to lose.” This song would go well at the end of the novel, when the chaos in Cal’s life reveals its true self. (If I said anymore, I’d spoil the dark surprises that ANS has in store for you.) This video, shot live in Noblesville, Indiana, is especially cool because Izzy Straddlin is still playing with them. He was their original rhythm guitarist, and their strongest songwriter. He left the band shortly after the release of Use Your Illusion 1 and 2, so this is probably one of his last shows with the group.



10) “Jump in the Fire” by Metallica – The decision that every noir protagonist must make. Over and over again. This song could fit so many scenes. When Cal decides to fake his death, when he makes up his mind to do something about Todd. Keep this link handy, because Cal jumps in a lot of fires throughout the course of this novel.



11) “On With the Show” by Motley Crüe – Save this for the last chapter. Trust me. The song’s narrative goes through many moods: at times it is nostalgic, other times naively enthusiastic, at times lamenting. It captures the spirit of Savage Night and the band’s unfortunate (but unavoidable) transformation.



12) “South of Heaven” by Slayer – Cal plays in a band named after a Jim Thompson novel (Savage Night). How can I not include one of the best 80s metal songs that also shares the name of another great Jim Thompson novel (perhaps unintentionally)?

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