I Can See Clearly Now: A Novel

Overview

It’s a revolutionary idea: use cartoons to actually teach something to the kids of America. In the summer of 1972, the suits at a major television network bring together a motley crew of songwriters and musicians to work on Pop Goes the Classroom, a series of short, catchy, educational songs that will air during Saturday-morning cartoons. And so four young, talented songwriters find themselves in the basement studios of ATN, at the height of the Age of Aquarius, tasked with writing the songs that will come to ...
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Overview

It’s a revolutionary idea: use cartoons to actually teach something to the kids of America. In the summer of 1972, the suits at a major television network bring together a motley crew of songwriters and musicians to work on Pop Goes the Classroom, a series of short, catchy, educational songs that will air during Saturday-morning cartoons. And so four young, talented songwriters find themselves in the basement studios of ATN, at the height of the Age of Aquarius, tasked with writing the songs that will come to define an entire generation’s childhood. Led by free-loving folk legend Pamela Sanchez, the self-styled prefab four –naïve, sweet, sheltered Sarah; Peter, a struggling Bob Dylan wannabe; Julie, who cut her professional teeth on commercial jingles; and Levon, a bassist most recently known by the stage name Apollo Von Funkenburg–struggle to stifle their uncertainty and tap into their creativity. With the help of an enormous amount of pot and a little sexual innuendo, they eat, sleep, drink, smoke, couple and uncouple–as they work to change the world, one song at a time.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Clever and infectious.”—Publishers Weekly

I Can See Clearly Now captures those elusive moments when art, friendship, and love coalesce and define lives. Brendan Halpin creates characters to whom we can all relate and tells their stories in a voice so engaging you won’t want to put this book down until you’ve reached the last page.”—Tasha Alexander, author of A Fatal Waltz

Publishers Weekly

Halpin's amusing fourth novel explores what happens when you mix art, love, friendship, business and children's cartoons in the Age of Aquarius. It's 1972 and Levon, Peter, Sarah and Julie, a group of idealistic young musicians, are holed up in the basement of ATN studios in New York City, attempting to write educational jingles for a Saturday morning children's program called Pop Goes the Classroom. The group is led, albeit astray, by Pamela Sanchez, a brown-rice-and-millet-eating, aura-reading semifamous folk singer. At first it feels like a dream job: no regular working hours, free food stolen from the employee cafeteria, a warm place to crash and all the dope they can consume. The gang is briefly blissed out, but the freewheeling atmosphere can't survive the office politics, crash-and-burn relationships and selfish manipulations that run rampant in the hazy basement studios. Like the group's songs about George Washington and the magic of the number nine, this novel is clever and infectious. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School

This story offers teens a realistic look at the glamour and grime of life as a working musician in New York City in the early 1970s. There is a bit of sex and quite a bit of pot smoking, but the rock 'n' roll has been replaced with kids' music. The four young songwriters, a fading star/producer, and a recording engineer/drummer/family man have been hired to create educational songs for a children's cartoon show called Pop Goes the Classroom . They are all receiving a paycheck, for which they are grateful, and they get to work, even sleeping in the basement recording studio. But with the money and free pot come doubts about selling out and the fear of losing their artistic integrity. The creative and romantic chemistry among the musicians evolve quickly but are believable on both fronts. They write plenty of good learning songs, such as "Nine's Magic Multiples" and "Funky Solar System," and the relationships develop in realistic and unexpected ways. Each chapter focuses on a different character, and teens will enjoy seeing the conflicting perspectives on the same events. The love scenes are tame enough, but the romantic and artistic estrangements and betrayals are fairly brutal. The story ends with a present-day reunion of the group that shows where they all ended up.-Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812977035
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/24/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Brendan Halpin is the author of the novels Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Long Way Back, and Donorboy, and the memoirs It Takes a Worried Man and Losing My Faculties. He lives in Boston with his wife, Suzanne, and their children.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Dingo

He didn’t even want to do the encore. The idea of staring at a half-empty theater for even five more minutes was just depressing. But the pathetic little crowd had shown up had to hear “Shadows in the Twilight,” and Dingo was enough of a professional to know that they owed it to them.

So he stared at his crash cymbal while Pamela sang her heart out. In her way, she was a professional too. The song ended soon enough, and the applause was enthusiastic; it only sounded pathetic when compared with the sound of a full house applauding.

They walked offstage, and Pamela seemed to be as elated as she always was after a show. She floated backstage, held aloft by the adoration of the crowd.

Dingo looked at Alec and Keith. They all just shook their heads. They’d been in the business long enough to know that this was the end of the line of the Pamela Sanchez gravy train. First she’d been dropped from her label due to what she insisted was the “crypto-fascism” of the head of the label. The label stiffed her on distribution of her latest album and made no effort to get it onto the radio, so without the sales and the airplay, the crowds just weren’t big enough anymore for her to justify paying them. Especially not when she could tour around college campuses with no more expenses than gas and guitar strings and play little coffeehouses surrounded by worshipful ?eighteen-?year-?olds. She’d tell Rolling Stone, if they asked, if they cared anymore, that she had decided that the full electrified band experiment wasn’t really working, and that she’d decided to go back to her roots and really connect with her fans.

They got backstage, and Dingo went to change clothes. When he emerged, Pamela was holding court with the usual crowd of girls dressed in peasant blouses like the one Pamela was spilling out of on the Shadows in the Twilight album cover and boys with big beards. After an hour or so of hearing about how far out the show was, how it really blew their minds, man, Pamela would leave with one of the boys, and, since this was a special night, last night of the tour and all, probably one of the girls as well. Alec and Keith would take whichever of the unshaven, disappointed girls ?didn’t get to go worship more intimately at the altar of Pamela.

Alec, who was English, was particularly bitter about this end of the arrangement. He claimed to have gone to high school with members of Foghat, and he would periodically complain about how he could be shagging groupies far more attractive and less hairy if he’d only gone along when those blokes begged him to join their band.

Dingo found Alec tiresome. Actually, this being the end of the tour, he found everyone tiresome. He just wanted to be home. The hotel was only two blocks away, so he decided to walk while everybody else was deciding who’d get to ride the limo back to the hotel. Well, no more limos, Dingo thought. He’d better get used to walking.

As he walked, he tried not to worry, but he didn’t succeed. When he got home tomorrow, he’d have to think about exactly how they were going to pay the mortgage once the money from this tour ran out. Would Cass’s job at the doctor’s office be enough? Why had he listened to her If they’d stayed in the city, paying next to nothing in their rent-controlled building, they would have plenty of extra money to get through times like this. But no, Davey and Jenny deserved a yard, and Cass wanted a real house to take care of while he was on the road, she wanted to be a Jersey mom like all her friends, so she was a Jersey mom, which meant she needed a car, because you ?couldn’t walk to anything, so that was more money, and all of this was fine as long as Pamela was still selling records and selling out concerts, but what about now? What the hell were they going to do?

Back at the hotel, Dingo kicked off his shoes and flopped on the bed. He reached over to the phone and called home. Running up hotel long-distance bills was another perk of being on the road with Pamela that he would have to get used to doing without. Then again, if he wasn’t on the road, he wouldn’t need to make long-distance calls. Cass picked up on the first ring.

“Hey, sweetie,” he said.

“Hi, baby! How was the show tonight?”

“Depressing. Half empty.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Yeah. Thanks. I guess I’ll call Tony when I get home and see if I can get some commercial work.” Dingo ?didn’t really want to go lay down some drum part for a song about the joys of extra-soft toilet paper, but he had a family to support.

“Okay, honey. We don’t have to worry about that right now. Let’s just talk about how we’re gonna celebrate you getting home. Davey is going to be thrilled. He’s got a game at three tomorrow, by the way—do you think you’ll be home by then?”

“Well, I mean, it’s going to depend on how late Pamela sleeps. I sure as hell hope so.”

“Well, you can take a train. It’s only an hour and a half.”

“You know what? I will. If she’s not up by eleven, I’ll just go take a train. I can’t wait to see you. I miss you so much.” Alec and Keith both had girlfriends they said the same thing to, sometimes while a groupie was down on her hairy knees in front of them, but Dingo really meant it.

“I miss you too. Now, I thought we were going to talk about how we were going to celebrate.”

Dingo unbuttoned his pants and smiled. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

dingo woke at eight, showered, packed, had a disgustingly huge breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and was not even all the way through The Philadelphia Inquirer when Pamela appeared in the lobby. Dingo was shocked and delighted. He’d be home in time for Davey’s game.

“You’re up early,” he said.

“I have to meet someone,” Pamela said. “Oh, there he is now.” She was looking across the lobby at a man in a suit. Suits. That couldn’t be good news. And yet, as Dingo took the guy in, he thought he didn’t look sleazy enough to be a record company suit, so this wasn’t about Pamela’s career getting a new lease on life with a new record company. The guy was tall, blond, and good looking, but not stoned, adoring, or young enough to be Pamela’s type. So what the hell was this?

It was mysterious. As Pamela walked over to meet with the suit, she said, “I left wake-up calls, but we’re pulling out in half an hour, so maybe you want to go pound on Keith and Alec’s door. Or maybe you don’t. We’ll go either way.”

Dingo smiled, just imagining Davey fielding grounders, and imagining what Cass was going to do after Davey went to bed. He didn’t particularly feel like facing Keith and Alec hung over and tired if he didn’t have to. She’d left them wake-up calls; they’d have to pretend they were grown-ups and fend for themselves.

As it turned out, Keith staggered onto the bus with ten minutes to spare, reeking of sex, booze, and stomach acid. Dingo wondered idly if the spots on Keith’s shirt were his own vomit or someone else’s. Alec was left in the hotel in Philadelphia, and would probably wake up in a couple of hours bitching about how Foghat never would have left him behind at the end of a tour. Good riddance.

Pamela huddled with the suit for the whole ride back to the city. The bus pulled up at Penn Station, and the suit got out, as did Keith, who gave a visibly repulsed Pamela a big hug. Dingo headed to the front of the bus, and Pamela said, “Wait, David.” (When Dingo’s mother had died two years earlier, she’d left Pamela as the only person on earth who called him David.) “We’ll drive you home. I want to discuss something with you.”

Well, Dingo thought, he did appreciate the fact that she was going to give him a ride home when firing him. It showed professionalism and a certain amount of consideration for all he’d done for her.

“Okay,” he said, already mentally preparing his burn-no-bridges speech, something about how much he’d enjoyed working with her, how she was a real professional and an artist as well, and how he hoped if things changed in the future she’d keep him in mind. He would probably leave out the part about how he didn’t really mind her screwing him out of a producing credit on the albums she supposedly produced herself. Not fighting that one had been a conscious choice— Cass had been furious, but Pamela had already had a number one single under her belt at that point, and Dingo figured that not making waves and sticking with her would be better for maintaining the kind of steady income that pays your Jersey mortgage than winning the credit and then not being able to work because he was “difficult.”

“So, David, that man I was speaking with was Clark Payson.”

Dingo looked at Pamela blankly.

“Briggs Payson’s son. We’ve been in touch since I co-hosted Mike Douglas. Of course that was NBC, but Clark took me to lunch and told me to look him up if I had a yen to perform on the boob tube again. I thought my falling-out with the fascists at Antigone Records might provide an opportunity to branch out.”

“Well sure, of course.” The ATN Paysons. All of a sudden, things were looking very different. Were they going to give her a variety show? It seemed unlikely—Pamela, despite having held her own on Mike Douglas, wasn’t exactly Sonny and Cher, and Dingo had a very hard time picturing her cracking jokes with Special Guest Star Joey Heatherton on a weekly basis. Still, maybe they’d tape six or eight episodes before they canceled it, and that would be a nice chunk of change.

“He’s given me the opportunity to guide a group of young songwriters through the creative process as they work on an educational project— educational songs to run between cartoons on ATN Saturday mornings.”

So he was getting fired after all. Well, the TV show had been a nice, momentary dream.

“I see,” he said.

“So I will be needing a drummer for this project, and they’ve asked me to produce the recordings as well. And, well, I’ve really appreciated everything you’ve brought to the recording process, so I was hoping you would work with me on this. They’ll expect the first results on the air in a few months, but it’s a yearlong project, and Mr. Payson said he’d pay you twenty thousand dollars.”

Twenty thousand dollars! More money than Dingo ever could have hoped to make in a year of commercial gigs. They could pay off the Ford Torino station wagon. Hell, they could trade it in and upgrade to a Gran Torino. Actually if he was going to work in the city, Dingo would need a car, and that beautiful ?five-?year-?old GTO over at the used-car lot could actually be his if he was making this kind of money.

A year of steady work, a regular paycheck, and enough money that they could actually put some away for leaner times. If Cass didn’t decide she needed to do some big home improvement projects. He’d probably tell her it was fifteen just so she didn’t start planning a new kitchen or something.

Sure, he’d be doing producing work that Pamela would take credit for, but Davey would have back-to-school clothes, they’d keep the car running, and maybe they’d even take a nice family vacation.

“I’m in,” Dingo said, and when the bus pulled up outside his house, it was all he could do not to kick up his heels as he ran off the bus and picked up Davey in a big, joyful hug.

two weeks later, Dingo climbed behind the wheel of his GTO and fired up the engine. Well, he actually coaxed the engine to life. Pamela hadn’t wanted his input as she and the ATN guy chose the young songwriters to work on the project. Which was fine with him. He’d gotten reacquainted with his family (with a special stab of regret at how big Jenny had gotten, all the things she was able to do now that she hadn’t been able to do when he’d left on tour). He’d then spent most of the last two weeks making the GTO look shiny and beautiful— cleaning the seats with a toothbrush, shampooing the floors, filling in scratches with the paint he’d gotten from the Pontiac dealer, and washing, waxing, and buffing the exterior. He’d neglected the mechanical side because everything had been running fine. But today the GTO seemed to be deciding that it needed a new starter.

Traffic was so heavy that Dingo never really got a chance to open the GTO up, which just seemed like a shame. He pulled into the ATN garage and showed his pass to the guard, who smiled and waved him through. It was surreal—most of Dingo’s encounters with guys like that involved them kicking him out of places.

Inside the building he asked another uniformed guy for directions, then took the elevator up to Clark Payson’s office. He checked his watch. He was five minutes early.

Sitting in the office were four kids who must have been the songwriters—they all looked really nervous, and the mousy girl with the brown hair really looked like she might actually vomit. Dingo was nervous too—you don’t spend fifteen years in the music business without developing a fear of suits. Dingo’s heart was in the garage rather than the coffeehouse, so he didn’t really like most of the music Pamela listened to (or, for that matter, played) on the bus, but when she’d been in her fourth or fifth Woody Guthrie revival, Dingo had been struck by the line “Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen.” Meeting with the suits almost always led to getting screwed.

Still, he was the elder statesman here, so he felt like he should try to put the terrified kids at ease. “Hi, everybody,” he said as the secretary behind the desk glared at him. “I’m Dingo Donovan. I’ve been Pamela’s drummer for the last three years, and I’m here to play drums and help on the production side.” He grinned as broadly as he possibly could.

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