This is a public service announcement of sorts.
We’re five days away from The Big Day, and time’s running out to nab that special gift for that special someone. Of course, you all just wish that Mixtape #1 was in your hands already, but you’ll have to wait for that (though its February launch makes it the ideal Valentine’s Day gift – Hint Hint).
But there are several items I can recommend to anyone looking for that music or comics fan in your life. These are the books, DVDs and otherwise that were an inspiration, a research aid and just plain instrumental in getting Mixtape off the ground.
Mixtape was already “in the can” when I picked up this anniversary edition, yet I consider it essential to understanding Mixtape; In fact, it encapsulated what Mixtape is really about – the passing of an era .
Internationally, Canadian indie rock has traditionally gotten short shrift — sad but true. There was a brief moment when bands like Sloan or Jale were getting college radio play in the US, and The Tragically Hip (or “The Hip” as we Canucks call ‘em) seemed on the cusp of breaking out internationally, it never happened. To wit: look up any 90s era alternative rock compilations. You’ll see the USA and the UK well-represented, but nothing from Canada. No Thirteen Engines, no Pursuit of Happiness, Grapes of Wrath (a mistake Mixtape will not make — as you will see in Mixtape #3).
Why is this? It’s a mystery, because the span documented in Have Not Been The Same contains some of the greatest music of the last 25 years. And to be a teenage growing up in that era, you didn’t realize (or care) that the “scene” was a totally Canadian one. We didn’t have MTV in Canada – we had Much Music, which was probably the best promotional avenue bands had (thank CanCon rules for that), and in a pre-internet world, you either read about bands in magazines, or watched videos on TV (MM’s City Limits was essential viewing for a teenager in love with Alt-Rock — assuming you were willing to stay home on a Friday and watch from midnight to 2am). But what importance HNBTS has towards Mixtape is how it documented the rise, peak, and fall of an era that had all the right elements at play, and how that era could never happen again, in today’s climate. Much Music doesn’t play Videos anymore (ditto MTV), and music has become so fragmented that small niche trends and genres are able to sustain themselves without radio or TV play.
But, for a short period, you couldn’t escape this music, and you were glad it kept you captive. And this hefty 700 page book held me enthralled for the month it took me to read it. If you are a music fan (or know one) the tree will be a little bit barren if there isn’t a copy of this book underneath it.
The genesis of Mixtape came when I was packing my things to move to the USA. This involved sorting through boxes that hadn’t been opened in a good number of years – since High School in some cases. Among the many things I uncovered were many comic books, and many mixtapes. And so, rather than packing things, I spent my time listening to these tapes, and reading comic books, and saying to myself “self, there’s a story in this somewhere”. By the time I moved to New York, the idea was already simmering – I knew I wanted to write something about music, and how important it is to a teenager. I also wanted it set in the 90s. I didn’t have a format – a movie like Dazed and Confused? A TV series like The Wonder Years? I was stuck – until I was browsing the racks at Midtown Comics and saw a hardcover collected edition of a series called Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. Local follows Megan McKeenan, a young adult, over the span of a dozen years, as she moves from city to city, ranging from Portland Oregon to Chicago Illinois, to Halifax Nova Scotia, and to my old stomping ground of Toronto, Ontario. I’m a fan of Brian’s from his amazing DMZ and Northlanders series, and naturally scooped up Local, and by the time I finished reading it, I knew what that “90s era rock and roll story” was going to be.
Local is amazing and every time I get stuck on scripting Mixtape, I crack it open for a good dose of inspiration. By the time I finish just one story, luxuriate in Ryan Kelly’s beautiful artwork and Wood’s often haunting prose, it forces me to do better.
[Also be sure to check out the Wood-Kelly series' The New York Four and its sequel The New York Five]
Yeah, I’ve written about Degrassi before but it bears repeating; watching the entire run of Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High on Hulu was an eye opening experience. The two series spanned 1986-1992, and followed a large group of Jr High and High School students and they dealt with the pains of growing up. The cast remained largely static (a couple of whom ended up attending the same Film School at the same time I did) – some moved to the forefront, others faded into the backdrop. But to watch these two shows, five seasons worth, to see these kids age from awkward twelve and thirteen year olds to awkward seventeen and eighteen year olds, is, twenty plus years later, an oddly moving experience. To see them with braces and acne, and bad 80s hair (and worse 80s fashions), and to rectify it with the fact that this generation is all approaching 40 years of age, gives this era a “trapped in amber” sensation. In addition, the filmed in Toronto as Toronto aspect provides a nice snapshot of that city in the late 80s, and shows you how much that city has grown and changed in the years since. Both series are available on DVD
Here’s one little-known fact about Mixtape. In fact I don’t think I shared it wuith anybody before, so consider this my Christmas gift to you. An early, early version of the story was manifest in what was ging to be a YA novel I was outlining in April of 2007. The title was ‘Daydream Nation” cribbed from the Sonic Youth album. It was going to be the story of Brian Squares, a 40-something office worker who connects with an old High School friend — now a physisist who works for a hi-tech think-tank. And over drinks, Brian laments that his life didn’t turn out how he thought. That his dreams crumbled because of his failure to pursue them. How he’d give anything for just a taste of 1990 again.
And Brian’s friend asks him: “What if you could?”
You see, it turns out that buddy has found a way to travel back in time, to experience a period of your life – basically by inhabiting your body at an earlier point, and experiencing it again (think Quantum Leap, only you’re leaping into a previous period of your life). Naturally, Brian takes the plunge, and is back in the halls of his High School, jamming with his garage band, and dating his High School flame. Of course, he becomes addicted to these leaps, and when he finds out that, despite all of his scientist pal’s claims, that he can alter the outcome of events, sets out to make things “right” (including stopping the murder of a classmate). I must have outlined a good thirty pages of the book (all of which are copyrighted, so if you’re thinking of stealing this idea, please do; I could use the money), but it never progressed beyond that stage, because Alex Robinson wrote and illustrated a GN called Too Cool To Be Forgotten.
TCTBF is about a middle aged man who undergoes hypnosis to try and quit smoking, and wakes up back in 1985. He re-experiences High School – the good and the bad of it – and the real reason he’s travelled back to this era is as unexpected to him as it is to us. TCTBF is so fricking GOOD that it put Daydream Nation on the backburner, and over time I came to realize I wanted to tell this story about the 90s without the Sci-Fi aspect. So while Daydream Nation faded away (or at least was placed in the “future projects” drawer), Mixtape is what resulted. But TCTBF is a must read, and I’m glad I did just that. Also be sure to check out Alex’s epic “Box Office Poison”, a massive, multi-character tale about life in the frightening post-collegiate era – an era that, with a little luck, we’ll see the characters in Mixtape experience.
So with this blog post , my Christmas holiday can begin. Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in 2012, when the build up to Mixtape will begin in force.