Looking back, the peak years of my love for music, particularly what was labeled Alternative, really spanned 1990-1995, from age 17 to around 23, roughly corresponding with my college years. I moved to Toronto in 1992, breaking out onto the adult world at the same time the “Alternative” music I had come to love burst into the mainstream. The fact the 1992 MTV Music Video Awards boasted performances from Pearl Jam and Nirvana, while the 1991 installment had the then biggest band out of Seattle – Queensryche – is as good an indicator as any of this quantum shift in music culture. Being unleashed upon Canada’s largest city with its vibrant live music scene was like giving matches to a pyromaniac; I saw more bands than I can remember – but they included Beat Happening, Mudhoney, Stone Temple Pilots (at the Rivoli), Alice in Chains, Sonic Youth, Rollins Band, Ministry and who knows what else. I actually blew off a return to Brockville for my commencement ceremonies to see Mudhoney – and my love of music was at its height. But even as early as 1993, music was finding a tough competitor in film. I was at Film School after all and with no discernable musical talent, it became apparent I needed to focus. And so, a slow, steady erosion began.
That wasn’t the only thing that eroded. When I moved to Toronto, it was alongside a good half dozen close friends from Brockville. One went to the same school I did and we saw each other regularly, the rest at a school across town, and for the first year or so they remained my closest friends. It was like High School all over again, only we had the whole city at our doorstep, no curfews, and we were all legal drinking age.
But in the fall of 1993 I moved into a house with several other film and theater students – including film director Warren P. Sonoda (Cooper’s Camera) and actor Jason Jones (now of Daily Show fame) – and I think that marked the start of a decline in my relationships with my old friends, and with music in general. My love for music gradually turned into a love of movies (a love that’s been lifelong I should add), and music suffered as a result. Part of that had to do with the alternative scene imploding around 94-95, but a lot for me had to do with money (and the lack of it). I couldn’t download tracks – I wanted an album, I had to buy it. Concerts became too expensive for someone blowing what little spending cash he had on movie tickets and film for his class projects. By 1995 I’d pretty much stopped buying music which, not so coincidentally, was the same time I lost touch with the friends I thought I’d be friends with for a lifetime. That lifetime ended up being 5 years.
The Pixies split in 1993, and I counted myself among the fortunate to see them twice in concert – once when they were touring Trompe Le Monde in November 1991, then again in March 1992 when they opened for U2 on the Zoo TV tour. They still remained in my playlist over the following years, on regular rotation as they say. When they reunited for a tour in 2004 I was not going to miss them for any reason, so I found myself at Arrow Hall near the airport on a frigid November evening waiting for the band to hit the stage. I looked over the large crowd and realized then that:
- It had been 13 years almost to the day I first saw them, and that;
- It was a strong possibility that many of the people I saw them with back then were probably somewhere in that crowd. And with that in mind;
- There were a lot of people in this audience who were born sometime after Bossanova.
As the Pixies hit the stage for two subsequent hours of musical bliss, I found my mind drifting on the waves of sound and found myself wondering what had happened to those music obsessed teenagers I knew, and I once was. What had happened to me? Does “growing up” and “becoming an adult” mean letting go of that thrill music gave you when you were younger? I thought about how much had changed in the years that had passed since the Pixies last stood on a stage before me. I thought about how much I had changed, but more than anything else, I wondered why people move in and out of your life with alarming frequency. I wondered how common that experience was, and realized it was common to everybody.
I thought about that and more a lot in the years that followed that reunion show, and it reached a pitch in summer of 2008 as I sat in my basement, sorting through old boxes in preparation of my move to NYC. One of the things unearthed was my old portable stereo; another was a series of boxes and containers holding my old collection of cassette tapes. I found Soundgarden and Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub and Pearl Jam … and mixtapes. Lots and lots of mixtapes. Ones I made myself. Ones made by friends. I hooked up the tape deck and rewound the mixtapes, and pressed play. I listened to the songs, their selection, the order they were laid down in, and I wondered; who made that tape? What was on their mind at the time? What were they trying to say with the playlist? Were they trying to say anything? It was like stepping back into time as I listened – I unearthed a box full of old copies of Rolling Stone and Spin and other music mags and found myself spending hours there, listening to music and reading (and not packing).
Hell it was like 1991 all over again really. And it got me thinking.
Being a writer means you’re constantly asking yourself if there’s a story in everything you see or hear or experience. Ideas will occur to me in the strangest places at the strangest times. My wife can attest to that when at home, I’ll often wordlessly go to my desk and scribble something down on a post-it note, and return equally wordlessly. And when I sat and listened to those old mixtapes, and read through those old magazines (and unearthed old photo albums), I realized there was a story here; about that period in your life when you transition from your teen years to adulthood, and the friends and music who gradually disappear from your life. About that period we all experience. In fact, it’s probably the most universal story out there – it’s one we all experience, no matter the music or the people. But what to do with it? I could have outlined a TV series … maybe a movie script, maybe a novel? But none of those possibilities stirred me creatively. Of course the answer was right in front of me, sealed in Mylar bags and packed into long-boxes.
In advance of my move, I had determined to properly archive the hundreds of comic books I’d collected over the last 25 years, which meant trekking to the local comic shop to buy bags, boards and boxes to store them for their move. Like music, I had stopped buying comic books for the longest while, and when shopping for storage materials, found myself perusing the shelves, and I found a lot of material to catch my eye; DMZ, The Walking Dead, Fables, Y: The Last Man, and indie books like Local and Black Hole, and Box Office Poison. And thus, I started buying comics again, sticking with trade editions over single issues … and as I got back into music, and back into comic books at the same time, the solution was obvious.
And that is the response to the question I’m always asked; “where do you get your ideas from?” They come from my heart and my experience, and in this case, the project is called MIXTAPE, a comic book/graphic novel about love and life in the early 1990s, set to a blistering Alt Rock Soundtrack. It’s a story about a group of small town high school friends who bond over a shared love of the music that becomes the soundtrack of their lives, and how they come to grow apart, from that music and from each other. Because you never really forget that music and those people. As I type this, it has been 20 years from that day I decided on Bossanova over Abbey Road at that record store. Music is now as important to me as it was back then, and those friends … have re-entered my life in many surprising ways.
You’re going to be hearing more about Mixtape in the coming months. I’ll be giving it a push at the New York Comic Con, and there may even be an opportunity for you to play an active role in it. But for now, you can look at some of the completed artwork below, throw on a favorite album or even a mix tape, and remember a time when music meant everything to you.