A Book With Its Own Soundtrack: Please Let This Be a Trend
Songwriter Josh Farrar's immensely likable and entertaining first novel, "Rules to Rock By" (Walker Books, $17), chronicles a middle schooler's efforts to form her own teen rock band.
Normally, when you're reading about a fictional music group, you need to rely on the limited skills of your brain's inner composer to get an idea of that imaginary band's style and sound. Depending on who you are, you could end up mentally singing all the lyrics to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas." But no such worries exist with "Rules to Rock By": It comes with its very own soundtrack.
The CD, also titled "Rules to Rock By" ($10), is a collection of 13 songs performed by The Bungles -- the band in the book. You get to really hear them (or at least a teen-led studio band acting as them), and that is wildly cool.
In a world where every aspect of a teenager's life has gone multi-media, it wouldn't be surprising to see this book-and-CD combo business catch on -- and I'd be all for it.
The Book: Annabelle Cabrera, the protagonist of "Rules to Rock By" is not just any random teen looking to play music. By age 11, she was already fronting a kid rock band that had a devoted following and was opening for grown-up acts in New York City. Then her parents decided to move the family to Rhode Island.
Determined not to let her musical saga come to and early end, Annabelle seeks out new bandmates in her new school -- and is shocked to find that her suburban community already has its fair share of local teen bands. She's going to have to prove herself as a rocker all over again.
Annabelle makes a wonderfully likable narrator, a young girl who makes decisions by asking herself, "What would Joan Jett do?" She struggles with missing old friends, making new friends, becoming jealous of new friends, bonding with her former-musician parents and watching out for her troubled little brother. All the markings of a great coming-of-age novel are here, but with a layer of "Almost Famous" rock star angst added in. Don't worry, though -- no sex or drugs here. Just rock 'n' roll.
The Soundtrack: The Bungles aren't the first fictional band to release an album -- in a way the band is following the tradition of the Monkees, Spinal Tap, Cheetah Girls and more. But, as far as I can recall, they're the first to provide a direct soundtrack for a book.
The real-world Bungles actually have two talented teenage vocalists, Justine Skyers and Sofie Kapur, both playing the part of Annabelle Cabrera. On the CD, they tear through a bunch of inspired cover tunes ("We Used to Be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols, "Animal" by Miike Snow, Cheap Trick's "Surrender" and more), as well as several originals written by the book's author, Josh Farrar.
The Bungles have a raw, indie sound -- authentic to the characters, but not amateurish in any way. This is a solid CD, and when you read the book, you're left with no doubt that this is exactly the type of album Annabelle would record.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.