Friday, November 11, 2016

"We Are Still Tornadoes"

Michael Kun is the author of the novels You Poor Monster, The Locklear Letters, and A Thousand Benjamins, among other works of fiction and non-fiction. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He practices law in Los Angeles. Susan Mullen is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied English literature, and the University of Virginia School of Law. She practices law and lives in Northern Virginia.

Kun applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, We Are Still Tornadoes, and reported the following:
This is what I was afraid of. This is exactly what I was afraid of.

When you asked me to write about page 69, my first thought was, "Please don't be the Prince letter, please don't be the Prince letter." Sure enough, it's the Prince letter. Dammit.

Let me explain.

We Are Still Tornadoes is the story of two high school friends, Scott and Cath, when one leaves for college and the other stays home. It takes place in the early 1980s, and it’s told entirely through their correspondence.

Not surprisingly, one of the things that Scott and Cath write about is the great new music that they discover. R.E.M., Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, the English Beat, etc., etc.

And, on page 69, one of the characters writes excitedly about discovering Prince's music for the first time, specifically "Little Red Corvette."

And, now I've just made myself sad.

Like the characters in our book, I discovered Prince's music in the early 1980s. Instantly, I had a favorite new artist. While I can't say that I enjoyed everything Prince produced over the next 30+ years, the list of albums and songs that I loved is a very, very, very long one.

1999, Purple Rain, Sign o' the Times, Around the World in a Day, etc., etc.

“When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” etc., etc.

Okay, I just popped Purple Rain into my CD player so I can listen to it while I write this. (Yes, I still have a CD player. Shut up.)

Here’s a point about Prince. He had a great song called "Take Me With You." I’m listening to it right now. It’s a perfect pop song. For most artists, a song like that would have been the best thing they would ever produce. For Prince, it was the fifth best song on the Purple Rain album. Maybe sixth.

He was remarkable.

He was incomparable. I know that “incomparable” is a word that gets tossed around to describe artists, particularly when they die, but I have chosen that word carefully and mean it in its true sense. Prince was incomparable because you can’t compare him to anyone else. Don’t believe me? Fine, go ahead and try to compare him to someone else. See, you couldn’t.

He wrote all of his own music, and frequently played all of the instruments on his albums. Not some. All.

He produced.

He sang.

He had an incredible stage presence. He was about the size of a box of Junior Mints, and you couldn’t take your eyes off him.

He was so good at so many things that people sometimes forget that he was one of the greatest guitarists we'll ever see. People from an earlier generation would say Jimi Hendrix was the best ever. Others would say Eric Clapton. But here’s one of my favorite rock quotes of all time: when a journalist asked Clapton what it was like to be the greatest guitarist alive, he answered, “Go ask Prince.” So, there.

And now he's gone.

It's been six months or so since Prince died unexpectedly. It sucked then, and it sucks now.

I could never have imagined how hard it would hit me when Prince died. Normally, I try to reserve my emotions for people I actually know -- friends, family-- and tend not to be too affected by what happens to celebrities. But Prince was somehow different, for me and for so many other people I know. And I had the hardest time explaining to our 10-year old daughter why her father was moping around the house for weeks -- no exaggeration, it was weeks -- and why he at times looked like he was on the verge of tears.

The best I can tell her, beyond what I’ve already written here, is that Prince's music transcended typical musical boundaries.

Was it rock? Yes.

Was it funk? Yes.

Was it R&B? Yes.

Was it pop? Absolutely.

And, perhaps as a result, his music transcended gender and age and race. Somehow, he had found a way to write great music for everyone. When his songs would come on at a party or a club, everyone would hit the dance floor. Girls, boys, black, white, Asian, straight, gay, everyone.

Looking at the performers who first became popular around the same time, I can say that I know many people who loved Springsteen. And I know people who couldn’t stand him.

I know many people who loved Madonna. And I know people who couldn’t stand her.

I know many people who loved Elvis Costello. And I know people who couldn’t stand him.

I don’t know anyone who didn’t love Prince.

Not one person.



When I learned that Prince had died, one of the first things I thought of was our book. It was already at our publisher’s, and they were already typsetting it. I sent an email to my co-author to ask her to remind me what we'd written about Prince in our book so I could make sure we hadn't said something we would regret.

And what we wrote about Prince is on page 69.

It's nothing we would regret. As I've said, it's one of the characters writing, with much excitement, about discovering his music for the first time. There's a little joke about the not-too-hidden meaning of "Little Red Corvette." (Hint: it’s not about a car.)

It makes me sad to see his name on page 69, but I’m also glad to see it there. I'm glad we acknowledged just how great he was in our book.
Visit Michael Kun's website.

Our Book, The Movie: We Are Still Tornadoes.

--Marshal Zeringue