The Bad Decisions Playlist

by Michael Rubens

Austin, 16, a self-described screwup, finds out that his father isn’t dead. He’s alive, and moreover he’s Shane Tyler, a famous singer/guitarist/song writer—Austin’s dream for himself. But Shane is battling his own demons, and Austin must figure out how to grow up on his own terms.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328742087
  • ISBN-10: 1328742083
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 10/10/2017
  • Carton Quantity: 24

About the book

“Funny and painful, it’s a sharply etched portrait of fallible human beings living, loving, screwing up, and making do.” —Publishers Weekly 


Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked in to his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty and audacious, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching novel. 


About the author
Michael Rubens

Michael Rubens is a producer and correspondent for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. In addition to The Bad Decisions Playlist he has published two novels: The Sheriff of Yrnameer (Pantheon), and Sons of the 613 (Clarion). His fourth novel is slated for publication in June of 2017. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker's Daily Shouts, HuffPost Comedy and Salon. He was previously a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and was for a very brief period the world's least effective bouncer. Visit him online at and on Twitter @michaelsrubens.



I went looking for trouble / and trouble went looking for me / 

well me and trouble, we met in the middle / 

what a sight for the devil to see

I’m lazy, and I’m a coward, but I’ll do pretty much anything if a girl is watching. 

     And there’re several of them watching right now, really good-looking ones, maybe the best-looking in school, at least in that blond cheerleadery sort of way, because that’s what they are?—?Alison Johnson and Kate Schwartz and Patty Nordstrom and Marcy Ueland, all of them calling out to me and laughing and egging me on. 

     Which is why I’m doing something this dumb-ass stupid, standing in the canoe like a Venetian gondolier as I wobble my way across Cedar Lake, paddling an erratic line toward the beach where they’re all stretched out like languid kittens in bikinis. 

     “Hold tight, ladies!” I call out. “I’m coming to serenade you!” They cheer and hoot and applaud. 

     Whoa. Bad wobble. High-wire moment of flailing arms and stuttery teeter-tottering, then I recover. Not sure if the weed is helping or hurting. 

     “I’m fine! No worries!” I announce, and keep paddling. 

     How many different flavors of stupid is this? A few. First off because of course it’s not just the hot cheerleaders on the beach, it’s the hot cheerleaders and the four massive scowling guys from the varsity hockey team, and even from fifty yards away I can tell that they’re a lot less amused by my impending visit than the girls are. I can make out a torn-open case of Miller High Life and lots of empties on the beach, and each hockey player has a can in his hand. Just what they need to make them less aggro: beer. 

     As I was climbing into the canoe, preparing to set off from the little willow-protected cove where Devon and Alex and I were smoking the world’s worst pot, Devon said, “Dude, Todd Malloy is over there.” 

     Todd Malloy, legendary bully and scourge of the Edina public school system. Not nearly the biggest of them all, but by far the meanest. The sort of person who would push a kid with cerebral palsy. Which he’s done, because I saw him. And then punch the kid who makes a halfhearted attempt to intervene. Which he’s also done, because I saw that, too. Up close, because that intervener was me. I got a black eye for my efforts, and there wasn’t even a girl watching. 

     Just before I pushed off, Devon said, “What are you doing? You think you’re going to add those girls to your playlist?” 

     His term, not mine, for the girls I’ve been with. 

     “What you’re going to do,” he said, “is get your ass kicked.” 

     “Where’s your sense of romance and adventure?” I asked him. 

     “Where’s your sense of not getting your ass kicked?” 

     “It’s all right,” said Alex, who I’d thought was asleep, his spiky bleached punk-rock hair crunched into the damp sand. “He won’t even make it over there.” 

     Which is probably accurate. That’s part two of the stupid. Everyone knows you shouldn’t really stand up in a canoe, especially when you’re a wee bit altered, but of course being a wee bit altered tends to make you forget those sorts of facts. I’m pretty likely to do a header into the lake, and I’m not a great swimmer, so there’s a good chance I’ll drown and get eaten by carp. 

     Which might actually be a blessing, considering I’ve got the mandolin slung over my shoulder?—?stupid part three?—?and it won’t survive a dunk in the murky gray-green water any better than me. And it’s not just any old mandolin. It’s an actual old mandolin, a beautiful bluegrass mandolin. Vintage. Antique. 

     Also . . . it’s not exactly my mandolin. 

     Strictly speaking, it belongs to Rick the Lawyer, my mom’s boyfriend. He bought it to demonstrate to her that she’s rubbing off on him, that he’s learning to be like her, to be fun!Yayyy! A grateful lab rat in her grand project, Extracting the Stick from Rick’s Rectum: C’mon, Rick! Let’s take swing-dance lessons! C’mon, Rick! Let’s go to the circus! C’mon! Let’s go on a hot-air-balloon ride! C’mon! You should get a hobby! Wheee! 

     So he surprised her by getting the mandolin. Except you know how often he plays it? NEVER. And you know what it sounded like the few times that he has? ASS. It’s just another expensive thing for him to collect, like the way he has to have the most expensive watch and has to have the Audi TT, and the carbon-fiber bike that I think he’s ridden, like, once, and the frigging seventy-two-inch flat-screen TV in his downtown Minneapolis apartment. Which, yes, is the penthouse. 

     He brought the mandolin over to our house about six months ago during one of their “sleepovers”?—?that’s what my mom calls it when they both need to get some?—?and then he left it there. I think he was sort of showing off?—?Look at my new toy!—?because he knows I like to play instruments and write songs and whatnot, and other than a twenty-five-dollar keyboard and a garage-sale ukulele, all I have is the crappy guitar my mystery dad left behind when he died, which was before I was even born. 

     Sleepovers. Just call them humpy-humpy time. I’m sixteen. I get it. 

     I always used to ask my mom about my real dad?—?Who was he? What did he do? What was he like? She’d deflect and deflect and deflect, until finally one evening at dinner she blew up and slammed down her fork and said, “He was an asshole, okay?” 

     I was six. That’s the last time I asked. 

     Anyways, the mandolin. Rick leaves the mandolin at my mom’s, but he also tells me not to touch it. Like he’s taunting me. Actually, he tells my mom to tell me: “Honey, Richard would prefer that you only handle the mandolin when he’s there to supervise.” 

     I need you to understand how beautiful this mandolin sounds. Not plinky-plinky and annoying, but rich and warm and lovely, tobacco and honey and brilliant stars in the summer night sky. 

     It seemed a shame to keep that loveliness trapped and voiceless in a hard-shell case, so I started pulling out the mandolin and researching stuff on the Web and practicing a lot while my mom earned her twelve dollars an hour at the salon doing the nails of rich Edina ladies. I’m pretty much crap at, let’s see . . . everything. Life in general, really. But I can sing, and I can play things. I can play guitar and ukulele really well, I can play keyboards not too horribly, a...


"An infectious read. . . . The key is the amount of heart with which Rubens infuses his characters. They are flawed, authentic, and tragically real. . . .Tailor-made for teen boys and the people who, for better or worse, know them." 



"Funny and painful, it’s a sharply etched portrait of fallible human beings living, loving, screwing up, and making do—and a fine look at the Twin Cities music scene." 

—Publishers Weekly 


"A charming, at times brutally funny peek inside a slacker's mind."