This line, from a young adult novel called Saving Francesca, was something I noted every time I read the book.
Do you have 'comfort reads'? Books that you dip back into when nothing else seems quite right. Books that hail you like an old, well-loved friend from the shelves on a lazy night? Saving Francesca is one of those for me. I came across it years ago while I was pricing books at the used bookstore where I used to work. A perk of working at a store with no computerized inventory is that there was no record... Reader, I liberated this book (and a few others over the years, I'll admit). And I read it many times, and I still go back to it a couple times a year. I don't know exactly why, except that the author, Melina Marchetta, manages to capture the essence of teenagers: moody, unfinished, loyal, loving, fierce, yearning, angry, funny...
Here's my book-jacket blurb:
Francesca, whose larger-than-life mum is suddenly stricken with debilitating depression, suddenly has to figure out the tough stuff by herself: she's in Year (grade) Eleven at a new school, and the crowd she used to run with isn't around to tell her how she should act anymore. After five years of being largely subdued and colourless- just to fit in better- Francesca may just rediscover her real personality and save herself, with the help of some new friends, her large Italian family, and a certain Will Trombal...
The characters are well-drawn (Marchetta is a teacher) and wonderfully three-dimensional: Francesca often clashes with her uncompromising mother, but also loves her more than anyone else; her two closest male friends are two frequently oafish and crude teenaged boys, but they also show moments of true kindness as Francesca negotiates her difficult year. And although it's a story that could take place anywhere in the world, it also has little touches that set it firmly in Sydney, Australia, which makes it slightly exotic.
So anyway, I really like this book. And I'd always wondered about The Whitlams, but then I'd finish the book and totally forget to look them up on the internet to see if they were real.
Well... last July, Jay and I took a little road trip on Vancouver Island, and we stopped in at Ladysmith to look at my favourite antique store, and we also checked out a store that was most definitely second-hand as opposed to antique, and they had a tray of used CDs so we pawed through them, and lo and behold-
There it was. So I paid my 50 cents or whatever it was, went back to the car, and put the CD in the slot...
The lush strings of "No Aphrodisiac" came on, and 3 tracks later, there was "You Sound Like Louis Burdett", with its slightly deranged honky-tonk piano, and bizarre lyrics:
I'm chewing ice and grinning/I'm spewing up and spinning/It's biliousness as usual in my corner of the kitchen/Hey you, lose that friend before we go anywhere/
And of course, the refrain:
All my friends are fuck-ups/but they're fun to have around/Banana chairs out on the concrete/Telling stories to the stars...
There was '90s piano rock, there were more guitar-based tunes, there were songs that owed a lot to The Beatles, there was a song that wouldn't have sounded out-of-place in an Irish bar; there was even a Bob Dylan cover! And I was hooked.
We played The Whitlams quite a few times over that weekend road trip. Then I took it home and forgot about it, and just pulled it out two nights ago as I was sorting through receipts and papers to get stuff ready to do my taxes. And got pulled in again, the lush arrangements and loopy lyrics providing a cool counterpoint to a boring chore.
And that's the story of how a novel lead me, after many years, to an album I love. I'm glad I never remembered to look up The Whitlams while I was reading Saving Francesca. It made finding Eternal Nightcap in that grotty second-hand store all the more exciting.
Here's the song that Francesca and her brother Luca liked to sing at the tops of their voices. Enjoy.