When I was 14 there was this one album I simply had to have. I’d heard so much about it from friends, and read about it in magazines that it had attained near mythic status before I ever heard a single note of it. Remember this was back in the 1980s, which might as well be the 1880s as you look back from 2011. If you were interested in a band, or in hearing a song, you didn’t go “online” and listen to an “mp3” through “iTunes” or some other “streaming” service.
If you wanted to hear a song your options were:
1. Listen to the radio until you heard it
2. Watch MTV until you saw the video
3. Buy the album
Options 1 and 2 were fine if what you wanted to hear (for whatever reason) Madonna or Bryan Adams or Poison or Bobby Brown. In point of fact, in the 80s you couldn’t do 1 or 2 without hearing or seeing at least one of those artists. If they were Top 40/mainstream acts there was no escaping them.
But, if the music you wanted to hear was not Top 40 mainstream, you had to go with option 3 – buy the damn album, or buy a blank cassette so a friend who owned it would make a dub for you. That’s right – no “downloads”, no “torrents” – those words didn’t exist back then. It took actual effort to hear that song or album that would change your life and set you on a different path; albums groundbreaking, so essential, that everything that followed it will never be the same for you. That is why in the summer of 1987 I took three weeks of cumulative allowance to the record store (yes, you actually had to go to “stores” to “buy” music) and bought
What you were expecting a different album?
Well, I’ll get to that.
For a 14 year old – Bollocks was like nothing else. To own a copy (and blast it from your stereo) was to perform a small act of rebellion, especially living in a small, very conservative town. I even had a Sid Vicious poster adorning my bedroom wall (much to the horror of my parents) – I was a real rebel. In fact to the horror of any parents out there, I’d say a copy of the Sex Pistols’ one and only studio album is (along with the first albums from The Clash, Patti Smith and The Ramones) something every boy (or girl) between the ages of fourteen to sixteen should own.
As you can probably tell by this decree, I don’t have children.
But when I do I’d like to think I’d encourage them to find music that has meaning to them. It will probably be music I can’t stand – in fact I’m counting on it – and will prompt me to dust off my Black Flag or Butthole Surfers albums and force them to listen to it with the old man while he waxes on about how music in his day was better, same as my parents inflicted Simon & Garfunkle and The Carpenters on my ears.
Now here’s the thing; in 1987, Bollocks was a ten year old album – its impact had already been made, and for a 14 year old, one couldn’t help but think that all the best music, and all the most interesting moments in culture, had already happened. You’d missed the British Invasion, Punk, New Wave – and there was nothing remotely interesting on the horizon. One couldn’t be faulted for thinking this; the 80s were dominated by my parents’ generation — the affluent Baby Boom generation hitting forty. They were the drivers of culture and they wanted music that was familiar to them. Radio in the 80s was dominated by boomer nostalgia – oldies stations and top 40 – and what was left was music that was produced by record companies run by boomers.
But as it happens, there was great music out there – you just had to dig a little deeper. And for me, The Sex Pistols were the shovel. They were the gateway to The Clash and Patti Smith and the Ramones, but also to the Pixies and R.E.M. and Jane’s Addiction and The Replacements.
And, of course, these guys:
I remember the first time I heard Nevermind – on a return trip from nearby Kingston, having blown some allowance on dinner and a movie, and a stop at the Vinyl Vendor – which remains the coolest record store ever. I actually hadn’t bought Nevermind – my friend did (I settled on Trompe Le Monde by The Pixies because – well, they were the Pixies dammit). But that friend had heard good things about Nevermind, and had seen their video ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. We listened to both albums on the way home and the next weekend I bought Nevermind for myself. It spread through the school like wildfire, bit by bit. The younger kids – the skaters, the punks, the misfits had the same reaction we all did – that here was a band, and music that expressed the way we felt; losers, freaks, no future.
It was, well, nirvana.
The preps and jocks didn’t know what hit them. With their Polo shirts and boathouse row wardrobe, they had been firmly in charge. Now there were these kids – these weirdoes, these losers – who not only didn’t dress to conform, they didn’t give a shit about conforming either. What the hell was happening? Probably the same thing that happened at that same school in 1977, when Punk exploded – the same preps didn’t know what the hell hit them either.
Looking back on Nevermind now, it’s taken on the same mythic quality Never Mind the Bollocks did when I bought it. There’s probably some 14 year old out there right now who doesn’t feel like they fit in at school, and worries about the same things teenagers have always worried about, is going to read about Nevermind and give it a listen, and have their life changed. It will be the gateway that brings them to bands like Arcade Fire or The White Stripes or Fucked Up — it’ll change their life.
That’s because music means more to you in your teens than it ever will before or after. That fact (and it is a fact) bears repeating. It’s the time of your life that’s unlike any other – when your friends and the music you share with them are the most important things in your life. Because every life has a soundtrack – yours, mine – everyone. It’s something I’ve spent the last three years thinking about and working towards this moment when I can make it all official;
MIXTAPE, my comic book series about life, love, and music in the early 1990s, hits finer comic shops everywhere in February 2012 from Ardden Entertainment. Featuring art by Jok and scripts by yours truly, it’s the story of the 90s alternative rock revolution as witnessed by high school seniors Jim, Siobhan, Terry, Lorelei and Noel. United by their shared love of music found “left of the dial,” we follow them through the years and their many emotional travails, grappling with sex, suicide, depression, and the horrors of “real life.” Looking down the barrel of the separation that will come with graduation, they resolve to forge their bond through the music they love, but find that the friendships they thought would last forever have already begun to break apart. Only when they reunite in the present at the funeral of one of their own do they learn that what they’ve given up can also show them the way back home.
You can’t comprehend how proud I am of having come to this moment. Mixtape had its genesis roughly three years ago, and to see it come together has been one of those rare experiences, unmatched even by my film and TV work. Those represent the efforts of hundreds of people — Mixtape; the efforts of a half dozen. Every new batch of pages from Jok blows my mind, and I wouldn’t have connected with him if not for the great gang at Space Goat Productions (thanks Shon and David).
Brendan Deneen at Ardden has been the real champion here — after being rejected by seemingly ever publisher out there, he stepped up. I knew he and Ardden were a perfect fit for Mixtape when I noted the huge Sonic Youth poster adorning the wall of his office. Along with Ardden’s Richard Emms, Mixtape is in great hands, and I really hope you check out the amazing titles they’re putting out on a consistent basis
It’s been a rough week for GenX. R.E.M. called it quits after 30 years, and its been 20 now since Nevermind changed music and the lives it touched. Mixtape is the story of that music and the generation whose lives it touched. Every life has a soundtrack — yours, mine — and through Mixtape, those stories will be told.
It’s happening, for real this time, and I couldn’t be happier. Makes me want to chill out, throw on Nevermind (or Never Mind) and crank it until the walls bleed.
Actually, I’ll see you later.