Michael Rubens, author of the upcoming Bad Decisions Playlist (on sale in August) has put together an awesome playlist to kick off your summer. Read a bit about the book below, and listen to the full playlist here.
Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.
Some notes about the song picks from Micahel Rubens:
The songs on this playlist are here either because they or the artists are mentioned in the book—or just because I like them and they inspired me while I was writing. I hope you like them too.
“Alison” by Elvis Costello: The song that sets the book in motion, the song the protagonist sings—well, attempts to sing—to a girl named Alison and gets clubbed over the head with his mandolin for his efforts. And, by the way, a great song by a fantastic songwriter.
“Down Down the Deep River” by Okkervil River: Okkervil River put out a coming-of-age concept album called The Silver Gymnasium, and I love both the sense of place that it has and the way it captures the mystery and magic and difficulty of being a teenager.
“Kiss Me on the Bus” by The Replacements: I grew up in Minneapolis, and you can’t have a playlist for a novel that’s about music and is set in Minneapolis without including some Replacements. And it’s such a good song.
“Cut Your Hair” by Pavement: A great song about the music scene and about changing yourself in an attempt to change someone else.
“B a noBody” by SOAK: “C’mon, c’mon, be just like me / c’mon, c’mon, be a nobody . . .” Another song that feels like a perfect snapshot of being a teenager. The longing and vulnerability in Bridie Monds-Watson’s voice . . . it crushes me, this song.
“Caroline” by Paul Brill: A simple, beautiful song by the very talented Paul Brill, who I’m proud to call a friend.
“Trampoline” by Joe Henry: A great song for a difficult talk late at night at a bar, which is how it appears in the book.
“The Book of Love” by Magnetic Fields: Beautiful. A group of us (led by Paul Brill, whose song “Caroline” is on this list) sang this for friends at their wedding. HI, JEFF AND JANE!
“Fireflies” by Rhett Miller and Rachael Yamagata: Big fan of Rhett Miller’s songwriting and lyrics, both as an independent artist and as the lead singer of the Old 97’s. Love the sad, almost languid back-and-forth duet in this song. It’s also the song that inspires Austin to see what it’s like to lie down on some train tracks, an activity I do not recommend.
“All for Swinging You Around” The New Pornographers: I listened to the New Pornographers a lot while writing this book.
“The Mortician’s Daughter” by Freedy Johnston: Used to go see Freedy play a lot in small venues in NYC waaay back. A haunting, nostalgic song, a song about remembering a love from long ago.
“Starfishin’” by Amy Correia: Amy Correia is just a fantastic singer-songwriter and should be massively famous. Another person I used to go see perform in NYC way back, and each time it felt special.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash: Austin mentions that he started studying Spanish because a girl wanted to know what the Clash were saying in the background of this song—inspired by a similar decision made by a friend of mine in high school.
“Cobwebs” by Ryan Adams: Don’t know. Just like the song.
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco: Who writes a song like that? And the lyrics: “I want to hold you in the Bible-black predawn . . .”
“Secret Meeting” by The National: Definitely going through a National phase while I was writing Bad Decisions.
“Hallelujah”by Jeff Buckley: This song has been completely overused in all sorts of TV shows and movies and blah blah blah and GUESS WHAT? IT’S STILL A GREAT SONG, particularly Jeff Buckley’s rendition.
“Blind River Boy” by Amy Correia: Another beautiful song from Amy Correia—actually about the immensely talented Jeff Buckley and how he died young, drowning in the Wolf River in Memphis. A song Austin and his father, Shane, sing together while sitting near their own river.
“Wish the Worst” by The Old 97’s: The perfect pathetic drunken breakup song. Don’t drink alcohol, kids!
“Cannibal Resource” by Dirty Projectors: Had a chance to see them live at the Troubadour in LA and it was such an incredible show, something that stuck with me when I was trying to capture the way music—particularly live music—can be a transcendent, sacred experience.
“Too Much” by Sufjan Stevens: Speaking of transcendent . . . I often think Sufjan Stevens’s songs are like being lost in an angel’s fugue state. Another Sufjan song makes a key appearance in the book.
“Stay Young” by Okkervil River: Another Okkervil River selection. Nails that desperate desire to hang on to being a teenager while knowing you have to move on.
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones: That guitar riff, tho . . .
“Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper: Think this is a cheesy, overplayed song? Maybe. But it’s also a really well-constructed, well-written song, a song for falling in love for the first time, and that’s the role it plays in the book. I make zero apologies for including it.
“Ciervos” by Astro: Astro is a band from Chile, and this feels like it emerged directly from a teenage dream. “Y que pasa si corro con los ojos cerrados” (And what would happen if I run with my eyes closed) . . .
“Makes No Sense At All” by Hüsker Dü: Again, can’t have a playlist for a music novel set in Minnesota without Hüsker Dü, and I have certain friends who would never forgive me if I didn’t add one. HI, FRED AND JOE.
“10,000 Emerald Pools” by BØRNS: This song is the experience of falling and being in love and I can’t stop listening to it.
“Waitress” by Hop Along: HER VOICE.
“Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” by Chris Thile: The book begins and ends with a mandolin, so here’s a selection featuring my mandolin hero, Chris Thile.