‘The Pursuit of Cool’ by Robb Skidmore: A Crash Course in 80s Punk Rock [EXCERPT]

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck

Robb Skidmore’s The Pursuit of Cool is a critically acclaimed novel about a ragingly ambitious, pop culture obsessed, tragically romantic young man who tries to find “cool” while attending college during the 1980s. The novel is full of the music, movies and television of that era. The main character, Lance Rally, in search of the elusive “cool,” is a sponge of all he experiences.

In this excerpt, Lance is introduced to the world of alternative music by his punk rock actor friend Ian LaCoss and it seals their friendship.

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LaCoss embarked on a crash course. He plucked twenty albums from the mystery crates, explaining that he was starting from the very beginning, the point of conception, with the Ramones. Static issued from the speakers, then wild hyperactive music roared in Lance’s ears, startling him. He knew in a loose passing way that the Ramones had biker jackets that were too small, mop top hair, and an unmentionable frog man on lead vocals. Corporate powers had deemed them unworthy of radio play. The song was crunchy from LaCoss listening to it every morning for the past three years. Lance fixed his gaze on Sophia Loren on the far wall, let his arms hang to the floor and let go. Then their brilliance sunk in: they had stripped rock down to the raw stuff; they were The Crickets, post plane crash, taking up secret drug habits behind the auditorium after a sock hop. The song “I Wanna Be Sedated” blasted, and a feeling of liberation swept through him like realizing some good news he’d been trying to remember for days. A euphoric smile dented the upper reaches of his cheeks. He imagined taping LaCoss’s collection, the hours of blissful discovery, a new soundtrack to his life. LaCoss cranked the volume to eight, the loudest setting possible on the Krako. Then he sprung into the air repeatedly like a human pogo stick. He pounded straight arms against his sides and thrashed around unpredictably, twisting with seizure-like intensity.

Lance gripped his chair, alarmed. Then he laughed and howled in camaraderie. He jumped into the air also, thrashing, jumping, happily possessed by the music, inhabiting a new body, until he was out of breath and the song ended. With other songs they headbanged to the beat and shook their fists, Lance accentuating a satisfying guitar lick with air licks of his own. How had this musical category been missed? Where had he been?

He was deprived, but resolved to make up for it with strict focus.

LaCoss covered the rest of the New York punk scene, playing Television, putting special emphasis on Richard Hell and The Voidoids. These brave souls cross-pollinated with Brits to produce the Sex Pistols, Gang of Four and The Clash (who Lance was perfectly well aware of; I mean, come on). Crunching guitars filled desolate landscapes. Inexperienced fingers rattled and twanged in guitar wires. The voices were scratched, imperfect, though earnest. They told tales of warped joy, of embracing one’s torment — an emotion Lance well understood — and taking ownership of it.

 

Excerpted from Robb Skidmore’s The Pursuit of Cool, a Quarter Finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Follow Robb on Twitter @robbskidmore.

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