That Summertime Sound is a vivid and memorable document of ’80s-era musical obsession.
Screenwriter Matthew Spector’s debut novel centers around a nineteen-year-old college kid who decides to skip summer back home in L.A. for the comparably more interesting Columbus, Ohio. The narrator (who wishes to remain nameless) seeks new experiences, as well as Lords of Oblivion, his mythical favorite band, so the trip doubles as a hajj to pray at lead singer Nic Devine’s wailing wall of sound.
That Summertime Sound contains all three tenets of rock and roll—from drugs to sex to violence (in that order). Yet despite all the acid and mescaline, the novel doesn’t read like a hallucination; rather, it feels like something that really happened (with some rock and roll fantasy thrown in for good measure). Specktor has not denied that some elements of the book are autobiographical.
Sex plays a major—but understated role—in the book. Early on, the narrator meets a stunning blonde who quickly becomes his girlfriend. Their romantic relationship doesn’t start immediately, though, and they even “sleep together” in the most literal sense possible before actually shacking up. The narrator also has trouble balancing his love for Felice, his girl, with Nic Devine, his idol. On numerous occasions, he ditches her to hang out with the ‘Lords.
Rock and roll definitely conquers all in the narrator’s mind, and also in this book (each chapter is a song title). This could explain why, when something traumatic happens to one of his female friends, his thoughts immediately drift to what song is on the radio—not the horror that his friend just suffered.
The violence comes at unexpected moments, and sometimes it feels natural. Other times, it feels like an after-school special. Regardless, no novel about music-obsessed midwestern college kids would be complete without a twisted ankle and altercations with “thick people” who reserve the word “faggot” for thrift-store-dressed strangers that they see walking down the street.
Nothing will stop the narrator from his ultimate goal, and no other thrill compares to the prospect of seeing Lords of Oblivion. It’s a generally fun story with a rock-fantasy ending, snappy dialog, and a literary quality. In many ways, That Summertime Sound feels like it’s written for the screen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned into a Road Trip style movie. Hollywood producers might elect to amp up the sex and tone down the seriousness, but the book’s built-in soundtrack and memorable characters are perfect for the big screen.
Interestingly, to promote That Summertime Sound, the publishers got some famous figures to read excerpts. Below, check out readings by Sara Kiersten Quin of Tegan and Sara, as well as actors Morgan Freeman and Jeremy Irons.
Also check out our Poetic Memory feature in which Matthew Specktor lists his musical influences.