Can’t believe we’re into late October already. Since I last checked in I finished the first draft of MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE, MIXTAPE #1 returned to comic book stores, and I took a very much needed break from work to focus on being just “dad”, which has been awesome.
But I’m, back on the clock now, editing Magicians, clearing some old projects off my desk, and hoping to update this website with a little more frequency. To be honest, balancing being a stay-at-home dad with being a stay-at-home writer has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated. Something was going to fall by the wayside, so no surprise it was blogging that took the hit.
So, hopefully you’ll see more activity here soon. And as a picture is still generally considered to be worth a thousand words, here’s a quick 3K
Yes, that’s 150 signed copies of Mixtape #1, now available through Space Goat Publishing’s official store http://www.merchgoat.com
Just a very quick, and brief update to inform all of you that Mixtape is now on ComiXology!
That’s right — the biggest platform there is for digital comics will be releasing Mixtape Vol. 1 in weekly installments between now and September 2nd. Mixtape #1 is available through the link above. And#2 just went up yesterday. Check out this great re-branded cover:
Mixtape 3, 4, and 5 will roll out on ComiXology over the next three weeks. And that’s all in advance of the physical re-release of Mixtape #1 in September.
A lot of people don’t know, or forgot, that the original 2012 release of Mixtape only saw issue #1 make it into stores. So naturally I’m thrilled the entire series is getting its chance to find an audience and build upon its existing one. Strangely enough now feels like a better time to launch a comic book about teenagers and their feelings and, of course, music. In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy’s popular “Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1”, with the news Apple Music is creating an option where you can curate and send a digital “mix tape” to a friend, people are more nostalgic for cassette tapes and mixes now than they were three years ago. And it’s also fitting that Mixtape #1 will drop 25 years to the month after the events in that issue.
The physical copies will roll out bi-monthly starting in September, and we expect Vol. 1 to wrap in May of 2016. A collected edition will hopefully arrive sometime in the fall of 2016. Then, assuming this release goes well and scores us thousands of fans, it’s on to Volume 2, Naturally we want to see how this re-release goes before committing time, resources and money to it. So I’m really hopeful that people buy Mixtape, tell their friends about it, tell them to buy it, and everybody wins.
This was a long time coming – my wife and suspected it was coming since October, and we found out in early November, a week after St. Martins Press made their formal offer on Magicians Impossible. So the past 8-9 months have been a rollercoaster — me trying to cram in as much writing as possible from January thru June, my wife dealing with the wonderful changes the female body goes through when pregnant. But our child arrived finally, a few days ago, and we’re both overjoyed. He’s home now and (for the moment, thankfully) resting as everyone adjusts to being around each other.
So where does this leave me, and writing, and this website?
Everything should remain as it has been. I’ll still update when I can, though I’m probably not going to be as active online. I have a 100,000 word manuscript to dleiver for March 2016, I have 60 Squadron/Wing Men gathering steam, I have the debut of Now You Know Season One in September, and the Mixtape relaunch happening, well, right now.
You can order Mixtape #1 from your local comic book store right now (Diamond Code JUL151592) and I really hope you do because I have a baby to feed and clothe.
What I won’t be doing is posting any pictures of him on my website or any other social media. I know that’s the thing to do these days but my wife and I are very private people and that privacy extends to him. Things like name and birthdate, once they’re public, have a tendency to go viral. Paranoia? Probably; but to us it makes sense. When he’s of age, assuming there still is social media, it will be his choice how much or how little to be involved with it. I am very thankful I grew up in a pre-internet age, and as much as I’m able I want to provide that for him also.
But for now he’s at home, and for now all is right with the world. And as for how I’m feeling about being a dad? Well … this pretty much sums it up.
In March of 1985, I was living in Toronto. Scarborough, to be exact. We’d been there around three years, having moved there from Edmonton in April of 1982. I was 11 going on 12, and relatively happy with life. I had friends, I had a house I liked in a neighborhood I loved. We even had a swimming pool. Naturally that had to change and it did with the announcement from my parents that we would be moving yet again, this time to a place I’d never even heard of, and to a different country. We would be moving to Greensboro North Carolina.
Up until then, we’d lived in Ottawa, Barrie, Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Vancouver, Edmonton, and now Scarborough. I thought that was just how people lived. The idea of growing up in the same house, going to the same school with the same people for years was as foreign to me as the United States, but we would be making the US our home for the next two years. That was the plan; my dad, an employee of Imperial Oil (that’s Esso in Canada, Exxon in the US) was being loaned out to a company called Gilbarco, a manufacturer of gasoline pumps and dispensers, whose head office was in Greensboro. This assignment was to last two years. At the end of those two years we would be moving back to the same house, to the same neighborhood, and I would be starting High School, picking up where things left off with friends. So I’d be skipping Jr. High in Toronto while attending it in Greensboro. We didn’t even sell our house in Scarborough; we rented it, to the family of one of my classmates. But come Summer 1987 we were going to be back. That was the plan at any rate.
I was actually looking forward to it because of the temporary nature of this move. That it wouldn’t be permanent. My family and I spent our March break that year in Greensboro so my parents could house hunt, and so my sister and I could see the city we would call home for the next two years. It was nice. It was clean, and my parents wisely bribed us with some cool toy purchases, one of which I still have sitting on my office shelf:
Pictured: My bribe
But I had made some very good friends in Scarborough, some of whom I’m still friends with 30 years later. In the movie Stand By Me, adult Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss) ends his recollection of that summer of 1959 with the statement that he never had friends like he did when he was 12. That pretty much was the case for me. And when you’re looking down the barrel of 2 years away it seems like a long time. In hindsight not so much; and when you’re in your 30s or 40s, that’s definitely not much time at all. My parents assured me and my sister that the two years would pass before we knew it, and we’d be back in Scarborough before we realized it. That also was the plan.
So I’ll admit once we got to Greensboro I was seduced. The climate was warm, if a little dry, and while we were landlocked our condominium complex had a pool, which made the summer heat easier to handle. I was also getting more into comic books by this point, and the discovery Greensboro had a couple comic shops meant the passage of time would be a little easier to handle. There was also the malls (plentiful), the arcades (ditto) and most importantly the toys. There was a Toy City (think Toys R Us without the Giraffe) in the strip mall a five minute walk from my front door, and the day I walked in there and saw shelves laden with toys I didn’t even know existed, well, I figured Greensboro wasn’t going to be bad after all.
Then school started. And everything came crashing down.
Let me tell you a bit about Charles B. Aycock Middle School.
Short version: I hated it. Long version: I really hated it.
First, it was way on the other side of town. Despite the fact there was a Jr. High close enough to my home in the northern part of town that I could walk to it, being at the tail end of what was known as the Desegregation Bussing era. This meant that kids from the more affluent northern part of town were sent to one of the less affluent schools in the southern part. I absolutely hated this for no other reason that I had to ride the bus there. And for some reason my bus was on a schedule where mine was the last stop to be picked up, and the last one to be dropped off. So in the mornings I had to fight for a seat, afternoons I had to stay on the bus until the very end, and was the last student to be dropped off, close to an hour after school had ended for the day.
Trust me, it was a lot further than that. Memory doesn’t lie.
[Note that route was the direct one from our house to the school. The route we actually took zigzagged all the way up from the school, though today I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. It took 45 minutes, that’s all I can remember.]
Second, owing to North Carolina coming in near the bottom of recent national educational standards, the school board decided the best way to correct that was to double down on homework, workload, and classes. We began class at 8:30, and our day was packed. I think we had seven or eight periods, all of which (for me anyway) meant crisscrossing the school, one end to the other. Back and forth, carrying all my books with me because I only had something like 3-4 minutes to get to each class. We got a whopping 30 minutes for lunch, then back into it. As someone who was coming from elementary school in Scarborough where you had one teacher to a Jr. High where you had many, it was like being taught how to swim by being dropped into the deep part of the lake. By 3:15 pm I was exhausted, and still had 7-8 classes worth of homework.
So all of that meant I was not a happy camper. After having what was relative freedom in Canada where I could walk or bike to school – the one close to home – I was bussed across town to a school I hated. And rather than make the best of a bad situation I doubled down on misery. I decided I wasn’t going to make friends, I wasn’t going to join any clubs or extra-curricular activities. What was the point in making friends when we were moving back to Canada, where my real friends were, in a couple years? By age 12 I had gotten tired of saying goodbye to people. Two years is a lifetime to a 12 year-old, but I knew I could do the next two years because I had no choice.
So I got home, got my homework out of the way, and retreated into my comics and toys, and dreaded the next day of school. I lived for weekends because that meant I wasn’t in school. But by Sunday evenings I was back to dreading it. I even had developed something of a nervous condition. That clenching fear you sometime get in your stomach? I haven’t had it since I was maybe 14 but back then I had it all the time, and it all had to do with school.
My parents were worried too. They even talked about pulling me out of school and hiring a tutor, but it was decided that school was just something I would have to endure. And lest it seem like I was living through some Dickensian nightmare, my parents did help by signing me up for karate classes, two nights a week and the occasional Saturday. Thatwent a long way to boosting my overall confidence and helped me work out some aggression at an age when I had a lot of it. They also drove me to the local comic shop once a month so I could buy the latest books, and we went to one of the many local malls once a week or so where I could get a book, see a movie, buy a toy, or just unwind. We also did a lot of weekend excursions to places like Asheville, Winston Salem, Wilmington, and vacationed a bunch of times in Myrtle Beach. Were it not for school I would have to say I really did enjoy North Carolina. But not during school. Never during school.
I also had the radio. I began listening to it obsessively. It was your typical Top 40 radio. That meant Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen, Duran Duran (who I was already familiar with), and the occasional David Bowie and Simple Minds tracks. It was all pretty generic; you were guaranteed to hear a particular popular song once or twice a day, but as this was before the era of Clear Channel there was just enough eccentric stuff that slipped over the corporate wall to make things interesting like Paul Hardcastle’s “19” which was, well … this:
So, I had comic books, I had music, and if you know me or my work at all, you can see this as something of an origin story. And hindsight being what it is that’s a pretty accurate assessment, especially when I think of one song, and one person in particular.
3:15 pm Monday to Friday was the happiest moment of the week (doubly so on Friday, quadruple so on long weekends and Thanksgiving and Christmas and March Break). That was when the dismissal bell would finally ring, that’s when we’d run to our lockers to drop off what books we wouldn’t need for homework, and that’s when we beat feet to the fleet of busses parked out back waiting to usher us home (in my case 45 minutes later). Our bus driver was a 20-something named Roger. He had a deep southern accent, and referred to everyone – boy and girl – as “Dude”. “Hey dude, what’s up dude, good day dude?” He also had a boom box parked beside him. Monday thru Thursday he’d have it tuned to one of the Top 40 stations because he wisely knew that music would keep the kids on the bus relatively under control. But on Fridays, he’d play some of his favorite tunes to gear us and him up for the weekend. That means I heard this song once a week, every week, from September thru May 1986 when classes ended for the summer.
Now I mentioned the strip mall earlier. The one with the Toy City? That mall also had a movie theater. Not a first run, but not a rep either. Basically once a movie’s shelf life ended, before it was whisked away back to the studio vaults and eventual home video release 9 months later, it stopped in one of those theaters (the other being on the other side of town). Shows were only a dollar, so on many weekends I would go there on a Saturday afternoon, pay my dollar, and go watch a movie. The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Back to the Future, Young Sherlock Holmes, Weird Science, Commando – they’d play for weeks, if not months; as long as people kept coming to see them they’d stay – I think I saw BTTF a total of five times before it left that theater.
Anyway sometime in April of 1986, the movie of the week was Pretty In Pink. Like most 13 year old boys I harbored a crush on Molly Ringwald.
Yes. Yes she is.
So I went, down the street, to the theater, armed with my dollar, on a Saturday afternoon. I paid, took my seat and watched the movie. I wasn’t too conscious of how many people were in the theater but there was a relatively sizeable group. Anyway after the movie I went outside, and who did I see standing there, also having exited the theater, bur Bus Driver Roger? He was there with what must have been his girlfriend, and she was talking with one of her friends but he saw me and I saw them and I said “Hey Roger.” Hey Dude, was his answer. I went on to tell him I rode his bus and he said “Yeah, dude, you’re the last one to be dropped off. Bummer, huh?” I don’t remember much else of what we said, but I had to ask him and I did.
“Hey Roger, that song you play every Friday when we leave school? What’s it called?”
“That’s Ready Steady Go” by Generation X, dude.”
I told him I liked it a lot, but I never heard it on the radio.
“Then you need to listen to better radio, dude. Not the top 40 crap from Greensboro, but the station from Chapel Hill, dude. WXYC 89.3. Signal is way weak in the daytime but at night it comes in a lot clearer, dude.”
I muttered something like “Yeah, I’ll do that”. Roger left with his girlfriend, I left for home, got to my bedroom, closed the door, turned on my radio and began searching on the FM dial. I landed at 89.3 or thereabouts and could hear some music, but it was faint, with a lot of static. I raised the antenna and it came in a little bit clearer, but nothing great. After dinner I think my parents must have rented a movie because around 10pm I went to my room to read, and listen to music. By now night had fallen and when I turned on the radio the music came in nice and clear. And that was my introduction to the music found Left of the Dial. Bands like The Replacements, REM, Talking Heads, U2, The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division. Thing is I didn’t know their names at the time; just the songs, and over the years (and in some cases decades) that followed I would rediscover them. on Much Music, on CFNY, on MTV, on Spotify. Even recently I’ve found songs I heard 30 years ago but lost, finally unleashing the power of the internet to rediscover them.
That was April 1986. Around the same time my dad came home with a surprise. We were moving back to Canada a year ahead of schedule, having just been offered the job of President of Gilbarco Canada. But we would not be moving back to Scarborough; instead we were bound for a town called Brockville that my dad claimed was “near Toronto” (but was in fact 3 hours east of there). Once I finished Grade 7 at Aycock I wouldn’t have to go back there again ever. And when we moved in August that was the last time I set foot anywhere near Greensboro NC. Things changed. Plans changed. But after having survived Greensboro I was better equipped to manage the little curve balls life throws your way.
As for Roger and that bus, the only thing else that stands out was the last trip I took on it. It was the last day of school, we had early dismissal, and I knew it would be my last time taking that ride and that route. With each stop, with each group of kids who god off, I knew that was the last time I was ever going to see them. As we neared the home stretch, and it was just me and Roger I made a request; “Ready Steady Go. Can you play it again?”
And Roger grinned: “Any time, Dude.”
That was the last time I saw Roger, and the last time I rode that bus. 30 years on I do think about those years with a little more nostalgia than I did at the time (the blessing and curse of advancing age I guess). I did hate being there, but in the end it, like most negative experiences, ended up being good for me. And I even managed to make some friends at Aycock. Unfortunately, I can’t remember their names. My time there was too brief, and the span of years since then has grown long.
But Roger? I’m never going to forget that dude, or that song.
If you’re a regular reader of this infrequently updated blog – or better yet a reader of Mixtape – you’ll know I’m a firm believer in the ability of music to change your world. The right song at the right moment in your life can have repercussions that echo through your entire life. This is the story of one of those songs that still echoes.
So it’s 1992. My birthday to be exact. Note I didn’t say “happy” birthday, because this one wasn’t. Generally I hate celebrating my birthday because who on earth wants to celebrate getting older? Most years I won’t even acknowledge it. But this year in particular sticks out because it was my last birthday “celebrated” at home. This was senior year of High School and I was heading off to college that fall. Of course in the moment I wasn’t sure that was going to happen because I had something of a problem, namely I thought I was a talentless, worthless, and doomed to failure. My Big Plan was to go to Film School. Everyone thought that was a bad idea. They thought I should be realistic, that I should have a backup, that a career in the movie biz was incredibly difficult and who was I to think I could succeed in it when so many others more talented than me didn’t? they told me I was just not good enough or talented enough or hard working enough to ever make it.
And I believed them.
Plus, this was also at a time when my parents were fighting and arguing, near constantly (the news that hit me later that year – at Christmas, naturally – that they were separating wasn’t really a surprise). On the birth day in question, while opening my presents, something set one or the other off and soon enough they were yelling at each other while I tried to enjoy my birthday. But, I didn’t and rather than confront them, or ask them to keep their B.S. to themselves for just one day, I left. I got my coat and keys, hopped into my car and drove off. I had a dinner invite, and a party to go to later that night but I blew those off and just drove to nearby Kingston by myself, grabbed dinner by myself, drove around by myself, drove home by myself. Naturally I was listening to music – my mixtapes – but the song this is about wasn’t on those.
That was my birthday, February 21, 1992. The End of Silence by The Rollins Band dropped four days later, on February 25 1992. But it would be a while before I picked it up.
I first saw The Rollins Band at the first Lollapalooza festival the summer before, where they had the first slot of the day. The unenviable opening slot; first in the afternoon to a half-empty stadium. Not that they cared; they brought everything they had. And while I liked them, nothing indicated just how important this band and singer were to become in my life.
Low Self Opinion was – I believe – the second single off the album, so it didn’t appear on my radar until later that year, just before I graduated. By then that miserable birthday had been shoved off onto the corner where I keep all my other unhappy memories. I managed to graduate with pretty good grades, and shortly thereafter I found out I had been accepted into the Film Studies Program at Ryerson University. So to set the scene; I was looking forward to college, I was frightened of leaving home, but mostly I was looking forward to moving to Toronto already. But there was still some unfinished business — Lollapalooza 1992 was approaching, and I was trying to cram in as much fun into that summer as I could before college began and shit got “real”.
To me (and frankly, to everyone) college represented a chance to reset the clock and reinvent myself. Really it’s one of the few chances in life you get to become the person you want to be. But doing that is more difficult than you think. You can maintain the illusion for a while but that old you – the real you – is still there lurking in your shadow. And while I knew who I wanted to be I also knew who I was. That angry, lonely kid who still felt he was destined to fail.
And then one day in June I heard it. More appropriately I saw it. I watched. I listened. I hopped in my car, drove to the local record store, and bought the album. Because the person that song was describing was me to an absolute T.
[Do me a favor, even if you know it, please click and listen/watch this video below before continuing]
It was freaky how accurately it described me at that time. Because I had been alienating myself and everybody else. My self-ridicule, my continued suffering in silence, my brushing off of friends and parties, my generally treating people like shit so they’d feel the way I did, which was miserable. Hearing this song, listening to it over and over again told me that I wasn’t fooling them – I was fooling myself. And slowly but surely I realized that while I had no control over who I was, I could control how I was. And I knew that if I carried the baggage of that person to college I’d end up being the same person I was thru high school.
Was it easy? No. Was I successful? More or less. I still have those moments of feeling inadequate, of feeling like a failure, but they don’t last nearly as long as they used to, and when they do come I usually get over them off and move on. But success is built on the foundations of your failure. Like a pyramid, the base is large and wide, chock full of disappointment. The next level is slightly smaller, and the level above smaller than that. All the way up those failures get less and less and pretty soon you find yourself standing at the summit, gazing out over a whole different looking world.
If I tally up Rollins Band performances and spoken word performances over the years I realize I’ve seen Henry Rollins more than I’ve seen any performer ever, and spanning over two decades.
But the most important show — to me anyway — was on August 26 1992, six months after The End of Silence, six months after that disastrous birthday. Only a few short days before I departed for college, I saw the Rollins Band in Ottawa. And as the band tore through their ferocious set I reflected on how much had changed since the last time – the first time – I saw them only a year before. And it was the first time I really knew that I would be alright.
I now live in New York, and have been writing movies and TV and comic books and now a novel, all full time since early 1999. All those predictions that I wouldn’t make it fell flat. That’s not the first time people have bet against me and lost, but I’m still here, and in its own small way that song was responsible for putting me here. I’m successful, obviously, but not so successful that I forgot what it’s like to think you have nothing to offer to anybody.
I still listen to Henry Rollins too. He’s more or less retired from music, but he still does spoken word tours, hosts a radio show on KCRW in L.A. And he has an excellent podcast along with friend and assistant Heidi May called Henry and Heidi that is my weekly listening ritual (and you can find that on iTunes)
Now I’m not saying that this song or any song is the be all and cure-all for whatever’s ailing you. If you’re really dealing with severe depression, you need to see someone about it. But for me, the right song at the right moment told me that I wasn’t alone. That what I was feeling was felt by countless others at some point in their lives. And Henry probably felt it because he wrote and performed a song that ended up changing this kid’s life. If there is a song that has that effect of saying “things aren’t that bad. I can change. I can make it better” then hang onto that song for dear life and it’ll always be there for you when you need it to.