by Robert Dunn
A runaway girl
A down-at-its-heels roadhouse
A hotheaded sax player
A tormented record man
A drop-in by Elvis Presley
A magical car. . . .
Pink Cadillac is a secret history of the great lost 45 Pink Cadillac a record cut by a bluesy white girl in 1956.
A love story, a mystery, a book tinged with magic and mojo, Pink Cadillac tells one of the great unknown stories of rock and roll.
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1. Pink Cadillac is set in Memphis in the mid-'50s, the birthplace of rock and roll, and the book is concerned with the forces that come together to create this new musical/art form. What are these forces, and which characters represent them? What are the various sparks that bring about the birth of rock and roll?
2. In the novel the young singer Daisy Holliday is referred to as "a female Elvis." Was there anyone close to that in real life? How might the world be different if there had actually been a girl singer "who right now might have the glory afforded Elvis?" Was it possible in the '50s for a woman singer to be that powerful and famous for something other than pure sex appeal? Is it possible now? Compare Daisy's experiences in the music world with, say, current women stars such as Madonna and Britney Spears.
3. Also, discuss what makes Daisy a remarkable woman. What is her struggle? How does she fare with it? Why does she leave the roadhouse when she does, and what lessons does she learn by being away from it?
4. The novel uses the unusual tactic of the main story framed by the present day story of the record label owner Colin Stone. How does having this frame enrich the novel? Does it help or hinder the unraveling of the mystery of the lost 45 record that's at the heart of the book?
5. Elvis Presley makes a cameo appearance in Pink Cadillac. What is his role in the book? How does the author see Elvis?
6. The Pink Cadillac in the novel is a gift from Elvis to Daisy Holliday. Follow the path of the Pink Cadillac from the point at which she's given it. How does the action in the novel change because of the ownership of the car? What at bottom does the Pink Cadillac represent?
7. The white character Dell Dellaplane purposely sets the black character Bearcat up as his mentor. What does he hope to learn from Bearcat? Was this unusual in that time period, to have a white boy apprenticed to a black man? What change in society does this presage? Indeed, it can be useful to explore all the ways that the advent of rock and roll changed America, especially in terms of race relations.
8. John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful wrote: "I'll tell you about the magic that will free your soul / I'll tell you about the magic of rock and roll." Pink Cadillac is a book centrally concerned with the magic of rock and roll, as well as other forms of magic, including African-American hoodoo. Discuss all the forms of magic, and their meanings, in the novel.
9. At the center of Pink Cadillac is Bearcat's roadhouse outside of Memphis. What makes the place special? What happens when characters enter the roadhouse, and what happens when they leave it? Is it possible that the great lost 45 Pink Cadillac could only have been recorded in the roadhouse? Discuss.
10. If the definition of a tragic character is someone who 1) reaches too far; and 2) has a flaw that brings about a tragic fall, then which character in Pink Cadillac can best be considered tragic? Why? What is his or her great flaw?
11. All the characters exhibit great strengths and weaknesses over the course of the book. Is there one character whose strengths you most admire? Which character is that? What makes him or her so quietly powerful?
12. The resolution of the book solves the mystery of who killed the Bearcat. Who are the various "suspects" throughout the book? Does the true story of the lost 45 and Bearcat's death feel right to you? Discuss the way society in the book sees Bearcat and his death versus what in truth happens.
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'Real rock 'n' roll literature -- a book with all the wily literacy of a Chuck Berry song."
David Hajdu, author of Positively Fourth Street and Lush Life
Pink Cadillac will transport you to the birthplace and time of rock and roll. It also chronicles the beginning of the end for Jim Crow in the Memphis area. Imagine a young Elvis getting the fateful career exploding invite to come to New York. In a rush, he gives his pink Caddy to a young white hitch-hiking lady who drives it into potential stardom with detours along the way. The transition from black country blues and white hillbilly music into rock and roll takes place in a roadhouse outside Memphis. The characters are larger than life and yet believable in the way that it takes giants sometimes to effect cultural change. The author knows blues and early rock in the intimate way of a guitarist caressing people's lives out of his guitar strings. This is one super book!
Book Sense 76 Citation
Pink Cadillac brings both of its milieus, the present world of record collecting and its 1950s Memphis setting, to brilliantly vivid life. Dunn has a remarkable ear for the nuances of dialogue, and he never misses a note. His astonishing portrayal of Thomas "Bearcat" Jackson, as a brilliant, flawed, larger-than-life tragic hero is achingly real.
Karen McCullough, Scribes World