I promised I’d post a playlist for those of you reading After the Race (or about to read it!).
Music is an integral part of writing for me. In fact, the weekend I finished writing the first draft of After the Race, I checked into the hotel section of the Indiana University student union building, found a 1980s station on Pandora, and let it play the entire time I was there. There are many times when a song encompasses all of the elements I want to convey in the scene.
In Chapter One, Alexandra and her friend Meg are preparing for the Little 500 race and John Cougar Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane plays. (Still one of my favorite videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h04CH9YZcpI)
Three years from that date and 500 miles away from her mother, Alexandra stared into the lighted mirror considering Jane Ann’s educational objectives. Other than mascara, I don’t think I’ll need any of the First Lady training today. I’m about as far away from the White House as possible. The opening bars of Jack & Diane boomed from a radio down the hall, “Two American kids growing up in the heartland.” With that, all thoughts of her mother slid right out of Alex’s head.
Slathering her upturned nose with zinc oxide, Meg Swenson turned from her own makeup mirror. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” Meg said. She pulled a blue and white Gamma Chi Omega sorority visor over her short, dark hair to screen her fair skin.
“Meg, I am not going to the social event of the year with a white nose. I tan anyway, I don’t burn. It’s you Yankee girls that have to worry.”
“Jane Ann isn’t opposed to tanning for First Ladies to-be?”
“Men love seeing a healthy glow on a girl.” Alex imitated her mother’s sugary, Southern voice. “It makes them feel virile and virile means nuptial.”
“I really think your mother could rival Phil Donahue with her own daytime talk show. Sort of a Southern etiquette-dating-fashion expert and Dear Abby all in one.”
“She would adore that. You should offer to be her producer.”
“I’m so sure.” Meg laughed. “What team are you for today?”
“Celts, I guess. You?”
Meg nodded agreement. “The party will be definitely be more fun if the men of Chi Lambda Tau win.”
Alex checked her teeth in the mirror then turned to approve the rear view of her new Girbaud jeans with the white tab on the fly, a GCO t-shirt and Reeboks. Good. She stuffed her college ID, the Little 500 ticket, and a five-dollar bill in her pocket. From outside Becky Boone’s room, they heard John Cougar ending the song and Alex joined in the refrain, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
“I never get that line,” Meg said.
“Maybe Cougar himself’ll be at the race and you can ask him to explain it. Becks!”
Becky emerged splashed with a cloud of Jean Nate, her hair falling in luxurious blonde Farrah Fawcett wings and curls. “Ready!” Becky’s voice rose an octave on the last word and the three left in a fit of giggles, hair spray, and perfume.
John Cougar Mellencamp’s music was ubiquitous on the campus of Indiana University in the mid-eighties and sightings of the singer happened frequently. In the book, the girls call him “Cougar,” because in the early part of his career, he performed under that name. He switched to John Cougar Mellencamp in 1983.
In one of the early interactions with her Washington, D.C. roommate, Alex overhears Dottie singing in the shower. I wanted Dottie’s penchant for malaprop singing to show her character’s personality.
A night of thundering rain dissipated the cloying humidity seeping up from the District’s marshy foundation. Alex woke to the rush of pink-blossomed morning air and car exhaust fumes and Dottie’s shower warbling what sounded like “every snake you shake.”
“Dottie, are you almost done?” Alex pressed the bathroom door open a crack and heard Dottie sing, “I’ll be washing you.” She slammed the open window, girls with short hair had no concept of frizz.
“Hurry up.” Alex chose a rose-colored silk dress and black patent sling-back pumps. She lay back on the bed, the cooled air and Dottie’s singing washing over her enjoying the thought that another day in the nation’s Capital was about to begin.
After five more minutes of waiting, she returned to the bathroom door. “I need to get in the shower. Now!”
“OK, OK! I am out… NOW!” Dottie emerged naked, a viridian green towel turbaned around her spiky hair. “Whatcha got going that you’re in such a hurry?”
“Ugh. This bathroom is disgusting. Could you at least rinse the sink out after you brush your teeth?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She sang, “Every fart you fake… “
“Poor Sting. If he only knew what you’ve done to his beautiful lyrics.”
“Don’t tell me those aren’t the right words?” Wide-eyed innocence.
The scene takes place in 1984, Every Breath You Take was released in 1983. https://youtu.be/OMOGaugKpzs. A year isn’t quite long enough for Dottie to learn the words.
When Alex and Billy go on their first official date to a piano bar in Georgetown, they unexpectedly bump into what will become “their song.”
So Bill led her toward a brick building with a narrow M Street doorway that led to a piano bar overlooking C&O Canal. Within minutes, they each held a frigid fishbowl of beer and were sitting in front of a pianist silking jazz from the keyboard. The golden, buttery perfume of steamed clams suffused the air. Bill slipped a dollar bill in the performer’s tip jar, then rested his arm on the back of Alex’s chair.
“Do you want to hear anything special?” The musician ran his fingers up the scale waiting for a response.
“Play ‘Misty’ for me,” she said, playacting a sultry voice.
“I love that movie.” Bill squeezed her shoulder as the first three notes rang down the keys.
“I’ve never actually seen it. But I do like the song.”
Couples wandered hand in hand down the towpath outside their window, pollen spun gold by the setting sun settling into their hair. Bill, his skin tan and smile warm, drew Alex closer and she relaxed against him, swaying slightly to the music. The burble of conversation from other tables grew louder.
Although Johnny Mathis’ Misty was released in 1959, Alex and Billy would’ve been familiar with it. https://youtu.be/DkC9bCuahC8
Here’s the rest of my list, though there may be song references I’ve omitted. I hope you’ll enjoy reading After the Race even more with its own soundtrack. And if your book club chooses After the Race, you will be able to surprise them with all the music for the night.
After the Race is available from rabbithousepress.com, Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578618346/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_4ZewEbCWT807Q),
In Lexington, Kentucky at
Mulberry & Lime, https://www.facebook.com/MulberryandLime/, and
Black Swan Books, https://www.facebook.com/Black-Swan-Books-174020642630246/.
In Bloomington, Indiana, at The Book Corner: https://www.facebook.com/btownbookcorner/
On Sanibel, Island, at MacIntosh Books & Paper: https://www.facebook.com/MacIntoshBooks1/
If you don’t find After the Race in your local bookstore, please ask them to order it.
Always on My Mind, Willy Nelson
Stardust, Hoagy Carmichael
Here I Am, Air Supply
Jack & Diane, John Cougar Mellencamp
American Pie, Don McLean
Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner
It’s Getting Better All The Time, The Beatles
Bad Boys, Wham
Little Red Corvette, Prince
Every Breath You Take, The Police
Misty, Johnny Mathis
Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys, Waylon & Willie
Lucky Star, Madonna
Electric Slide, Marcia Griffiths
What a Feeling, Irene Cara
Dixieland Delight, Alabama
She Works Hard for the Money, Donna Summer
Beat It, Michael Jackson
Hurt So Good, John Cougar Mellencamp
Double Trouble, George Jones & Johnny Paycheck
Happy Reading! And Singing along!