If you grew up in the age of slow dancing, sock hops, transistor radios, powerhouse rock stations, record stores, first love and last kisses — you will love Michael Zadoorian’s new novel, “Beautiful Music.”
The book follows Danny Yzemski, who turns to music for solace after his music-loving father dies. His mother relinquishes her parenthood to Canadian Mist whiskey, and he is faced with a high school experience punctuated by bullies and emerging racial conflict. Much of the story is complemented by notable music of the era.
Zadoorian set the coming of age novel in the Detroit suburb of Redford. It takes place beginning in 1969 and the years following the Detroit Riot, when race relations were on everyone’s mind and the Detroit music scene was exploding.
The author, 61, also came of age during that era. He said some of the book is autobiographical in nature.
“The book takes place in my old neighborhood and high school, but unlike in the book, my family was damn functional,” he said. “The book is about a period of life and what many of my friends went through. I had many friends whose memories include, “Mom’s not getting out of bed today.”
Danny’s mother suffers from depression and her lack of career choices.
“There were few choices for women in that era,” Zadoorian said.
Danny finds himself keeping the family afloat taking a part-time job with two hippies who love rock ‘n’ roll, but torment Danny, sabotaging his work. In the book Danny laments, “So far hippies are not my favorite people.”
At home, life is worse. His mother’s drinking makes her helpless in the kitchen, and Danny takes over that chore, along with paying bills and doing the wash.
He muses about his dinner, “Is that the pot roast we had three weeks ago? Is this some sort of exotic cheese? Should this be furry?” Ultimately, Trix cereal becomes the food of choice.
Zadoorian couples this with an era when people were scared in the aftermath of the Detroit Riots.
“I didn’t want racism to be overwhelming, but I wanted it to be visible and present. Ultimately the book is about Danny having to survive and the music which helped him survive,” Zadoorian said.
The book opens with Danny listening to CKLW, the Detroit powerhouse rock station which broadcasted from across the border in Windsor, Canada.
“At night you could hear it all over Michigan and Ohio, and it even went into Chicago. I wanted it to be a part of Danny’s life,” he said.
“The station played such diverse music from soul and rock and psychedelic. Radio was such a communal thing. It was musically integrated, much more than Detroit was,” Zadoorian said.
Zadoorian admitted the book has echoes of “High Fidelity” and “Almost Famous,” two movies he admires.
He said the book is extremely popular with the aging baby boomer audience, and has lots of weird details about that era, such as the book’s partial dedication “in lieu of the Epic Poem of Foghat.”
In Zadoorian’s hands, Danny’s trip to Korvette’s Department Store to buy his first rock record is memorable. He walks out with a remaindered copy of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” and the opening of the packaging and the smell of the album cover are almost orgiastic: “I breathe in, the chemical musk of ink, new cardboard and plastic. I’m prolonging the moment, savoring it. As I bend the cover back, the spine of the album creaks and stretches in a satisfying way. I slip my thumb and index finger into the slit.”
Lately, Zadoorian has been on a writer’s high due to the unexpected buzz and success of his last novel “The Leisure Seeker,” about an emotional cross-country trip by a couple facing dementia and cancer.
The out of the blue the novel was made into a movie by an Italian producer for the English language movie market and released last year. Zadoorian found himself on the movie set meeting the two stars, Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, and was later treated himself to several memorable trips to Italy.
This was quite an experience for someone who has lived in Ferndale, Michigan, for 25 years.
“Before it was hip,” Zadoorian emphasizes. “I had been writing for a long time, and the success of ‘The Leisure Seeker’ felt like winning the literary lotto,” he said.
Zadoorian has written two other books, which to his credit are still in print. “Second Hand: A Novel” is a collection of short stories about character who confronts tragedy, bad luck and no luck, and “The Last Tiki Palaces in Detroit” is a nostalgic look at “lost Detroit.”
Musing about what will become of Danny given his limitations, Zadoorian says, “DJ. Danny will definitely end up as a disc jockey.”
In a postscript he hints of that and tells the readers life is getting better for Danny. His mother has found a job and is painting. In the meantime Danny wraps himself around legendary Detroit rock groups MC5, Iggy and the Stooges and keeps himself busy building model cars.
Michael Zadoorian presents
"Beautiful Music" Saturday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m.
Schuler Books 1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos www.schulerbooks.com (517) 349-8840