Guest Post: High School’s Greatest Hits by Robert Paul Weston

As part of  the blog tour for his new book, Blues for Zoey, author Robert Paul Weston graciously agreed to write a guest post for Lost in a Great Book today. When we emailed back and forth with his publicist (hello, Vikki *waves*), I mentioned that I was struck by how clearly I related to the music references in the book, and asked him to talk a little about the role of music in his high school life. My thanks to Robert for his great article below!

Music and high school are bound so close, I can’t imagine one without the other. Those years are a time when it’s so easy to sink into one musical obsession after another. The hormones and mood swings make you a dead sap for the euphoria and misery of love songs, the rage of protest music, the mawkish wisdom of ballads. At the same time, you have these sudden, sustained stretches of freedom and control that were never there before (which I’ll sum up with two words: driver’s license). The new freedoms give the music more power and makes it even more memorable.

Writing Blues for Zoey, I wanted to capture the way that, when you’re young, a song suddenly sums up your whole world. A single lyric morphs into the meaning of life. It’s a beautiful time. When I was Kaz’s age, I made mix tapes (yes, on plastic cassettes). I had two or three shoeboxes full. If I boiled them down to a greatest hits album, it might look like this:

1. Murder in the Red Barn – Tom Waits

When I thought up Shain Cope, the fictional musician in Blues for Zoey, I imagined his voice would be somewhere between Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.

2. The Future – Leonard Cohen

In Canada, Cohen is more or less a god. Maybe a reluctant angel. In my head, Shain Cope’s song “Colt’s-Tooth Blues” sounded like Tom Waits’ voice, covering a Leonard Cohen love song. (That was the idea, at least. It is highly debatable whether or not I pulled that off.)

3. You Can’t Take That Away From Me – Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald

When I was sixteen, I spent two weeks of that summer with my grandfather in London. I was a big fan of Jim Jarmusch movies and Night on Earth was playing at the Empire in Leicester Square. I took him to see it and all the way back to his flat he kept telling me how much he enjoyed it and how, if it weren’t for me, he never would have seen a film like that. When I asked him to reciprocate, he introduced me to this song. I always think of him when I hear it. Listening to it together is the last memory I have of him alive.

4. Made for TV – King Apparatus

Every high school generation going back forty years seems to have a local ska scene. These guys were in the thick of it in Toronto, circa 1992.

5. Vinnie – Screaming Headless Torsos

(Best. Band name. Ever.) At some point in high school, I discovered the College Music Journal, a review magazine that came with a free CD. Of all the issues I collected, there were two tracks that stood out as my favourites. This one was one of them.

6. O Pastor – Madredeus

And this was the other one. I had a teacher who always talked about “being moved” by music. I didn’t know what he meant until I heard this song.

7. Fight the Power – Public Enemy

This song was everywhere in the early 90s, due in no small part to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

8. Everybody’s Got AIDS – Me, Mom and Morgentaler

Dr. Henry Morgentaler was an abortion doctor who ran a controversial practice in Montreal in the 1970s and 80s. Apparently, the band chose the name because they were playing a Catholic college and wanted to annoy the nuns. Rock and roll!

9. Cream – Prince

Prince was a guilty pleasure for me, but only because my friends didn’t like him. I always thought he was kind of a genius. Plus, he dated Sherilyn Fenn, who was my great celebrity crush in those days.

10. Born of Frustration – James

In the middle of high school, I spent a month studying French at an off-season ski lodge in the Swiss Alps. The local claim-to-fame was the annual Leysin Rock Festival. James played, and this song got lodged pretty deep in my amygdala.

11. I Think the Answer’s Yes – The Beautiful South

I had a friend who was a hardcore, thrash-metal skater. He stopped me at his locker one day and said, “You gotta hear this.” I thought he expected me to make fun of the bright melody and Paul Heaton’s sugar-sweet voice. Then I listened to the lyrics—and I got it.

No acceptable video here, I’m afraid – but click HERE to listen!

12. Sheela-Na-Gig – PJ Harvey

I had big fat crush on PJ Harvey in high school. She was gorgeous and she could play everything. I was shocked when I read the liner notes: Guitar, bass, piano, trumpet, cello, violin, harmonica, drums… Then came another shock when I found out what a sheela-na-gig was.

13. Falling – Julie Cruise

Aside from Don’t Believe the Hype, the other omnipresence in the high school years was Twin Peaks. The famous theme music combined with Julie Cruise’s ethereal voice were as haunting at that mysterious last episode.

14. Into the Great White Open – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

One of my best friends in high school became obsessed with the “Magic Bus,” a schoolhouse-on-wheels, teaching US social studies by driving to the sites where history happened. The founder of “the Bus” thought Tom Petty made the best road-trip music. I agree.

15. Suck My Kiss – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

This is what you play after sneaking into your parents’ liquor cabinet and then feel the need to jump around like animals.

16. Road Movie to Berlin – They Might Be Giants

A friend’s older brother introduced me to They Might Be Giants when I was eleven and I never stopped being enthralled with the surreal cleverness of their lyrics.

17. New Orleans is Sinking – The Tragically Hip

What would adolescence in Canada be without The Tragically Hip? (For readers outside Canada, the answer is: Crappy). I feel  distinctly privileged to have gone to high school in the wake of their 1989 album Up to Here.

Our thanks to Robert Paul Weston for his great article (and the trip down memory lane … I’m off to download a bunch of music from iTunes now). Just for the record – Prince IS a genius, the Tragically Hip is also part of my own personal soundtrack… and PJ Harvey still rocks my world.  Blues for Zoey is now available from Indigo, Kobo and your friendly independent bookseller. ISBN: 288 pages.