Archive for the ‘XL’ Tag

Sobbing On An Airplane   4 comments

XL, A NovelI have no clue where to start, and only a vague idea of where I’ll stop.  Settle in, kids, this one may be rough.

First, I’ll blame Michael.  He got me interested in Bruins Nation, a sports blog for the UCLA Bruins, which is where he gets his Bruins sports trivia.  I subscribed to their RSS feed (I’m not cool enough for a twitter feed), and that got me to thinking … how about my alma mater?  Surely there is a sports blog dedicated to the University of Missouri?  My Tigers???

Mizzou LogoIndeed there is: Rock M Nation.  I began to read, and I am now awash in sports trivia for the two colleges’ teams I follow: Mizzou, where I went to school, and UCLA, where my money went.

One post on Rock M Nation pointed me towards a novel that was set at Mizzou.  It’s written by Michael Atchison, an alum that knows the guys at Rock M … come to find out, he’s a sports journalist who wrote a novel about music.  And growing up.  And being disappointed.  In Missouri.

I’m in.  There’s an excerpt you can read, here.

Meanwhile, back at the computer, I decided to upgrade my music consumption with one of those new fangled iPod thingies.  The lovely Velda gave me one for Christmas.  Perfect!  I had a business trip coming up in January to northern Iowa (the high was 11* while I was there), so I could use the iPod on the trip.

I proceeded to rip the soundtrack of my life.

I believe in purchasing music, by the way.  I have CDs and more CDs.  I do not steal music.  Haven’t purchased digital downloads, as I 1) had no place to put them and 2) I don’t like their inferior audio quality.

I’m an audio snob.  Get over it.

So I made digital copies of music from Carly Simon, Jethro Tull, Tom Russell, Bread, Eastmountainsouth, Chicago, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Madonna, Hank Williams, Orleans, Martina McBride, Rosie Flores, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Church, Nikka Costa, Pure Prairie League, Clint Black, Nicolette Larson, The Wailin’ Jennys, Frank Sinatra, Wylie & The Wild West, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin, Zac Brown Band, James Taylor, Danni Leigh, Amy Grant and Lady Antebellum. To name a few.  I got on the plane with 11,000 songs.  It was heaven.

My iPod, my noise cancellation headphones, and my kindle.  Three illegal items when the plane is taking off or landing, but, oh, when we were soaring … I was soaring.

I pulled up my nascent playlists.  Funk.  Mellow.  Western. Hits.  ’70s.  Country Stars.  Yum.

I had not had this level of aural control of my environment since I stopped regularly visiting my woodshop … where I have a great CD changer + sound system set up (OK, OK, my garage.  But it IS my woodshop.).  Unfortunately, my last woodworking projects were last spring, and life took some different turns since then.  All good … but I now had my music back, and it was wonderful.

On my way to Iowa, I finished my Poul Anderson series of 7 novels that collected the eon-spanning story that went from the Psychotechnic League to Domininc Landry into the Long Night that followed.  Great space opera, classic, award-winning science fiction, but I struggled a bit to finish it.  The series has been compared to the James Bond series (Ian Fleming introduced 007 to the world 2 years later).  Same dashing hero, same damsel-in-distress conquests. Good stories, really, but not great literature.  I was glad to be done.

On my trip home, I didn’t know what I wanted to read.  I had about 25 novels on the kindle … and I’d forgotten what XL was about.  I needed a change of pace, though, and this unknown author looked like just the ticket.

The music was a collection of favorites.  I jumped around from mellow to party to western to country.  But every tune, every tune, was a favorite.  It was transcendent.

And then the novel took me back, just as the music was taking me back, to the beginning of my college journey in Columbia, MO.  In 1974, I found a creative release like never before … just as David Hankins did in XL.  He met the love of his life, as did I.  He had his dream yanked from him, as did I.  His story might be more compelling than mine, but with my music in my ears, and his story in my heart, I was having a wonderful, wonderful trip.

And then the book turned sentimental, with a character that believed in David dying, and then using his funeral to give even more support back to David.

I sobbed.  In the plane.  Me.  Sobbed.  In public.

Now, I’m not a walking puddle of emotions like Velda.  Her profound leaking of tears at Christopher and Alley’s wedding became the stuff of legend.  She’s probably still dehydrated, 5 years later.  I am an emotional sort, and I’ve been known to shed a tear now and again.  But in public, in the company of strangers, while reading a book?  Not so much.

Until I played my soundtrack, and read XL, and it was simply pitch perfect.

XL’s about many things, but the engine that drives the book is music.  The author says on his website that there are 209 bands & musicians discussed in the book.  It’s about the music, and Hankins has the music in him.  It’s a great read.

You’ll meet David Hankins as he studies journalism at the University of Missouri.  There were a few landmarks in the book that made me feel at home … but the novel could begin at any college, really.  And when David went into the ’80s Goth underground club scene in Columbia I didn’t know if Atchison was kidding or serious.  I mean … Columbia?  A counter-culture?  Really?  Maybe it was there.  I was so straight in the ’70s, I wouldn’t have known a counter-culture if it hit me in the face … which it did a couple of times, come to think of it.

I finished the book after I returned home, and it did not disappoint.  I wholeheartedly recommend it to you, whether you know Mizzou or not.  In the end, the book is just about a guy, that loves a girl.  They both love their family … and his music.

This is Michael Atchison’s first novel, but I look forward to his next. Hope to see you around the Quad, Michael!

The Columns are all that's left of an Admin building that burnt in 1882, are set in the middle of Francis Quadrangle, AKA the Quad.

The Columns are all that’s left of Academic Hall, which burnt in 1892.  They are set in the middle of Francis Quadrangle, AKA the Quad.