Someone — maybe Ray Bradbury, maybe some other scribe — once said that every writer has a million bad words in them, and that once those bad words are gone, you can write something worth reading.
When I was a teenager of middling talent and musical taste, I chose to blow all million of my bad words on short stories inspired by Can Rock songs.
I didn’t do it consciously. I just had a deep and abiding love for listening to melodramatic songs that Edge 102.1 played to fulfill their CanCon requirements as well as writing even more melodramatic fiction and I saw no reason that I shouldn’t combine my two great loves into one throbbing mess of angst that I totally wouldn’t find adorably embarrassing 20 years later.
So I wrote. And listened. And wrote. And somehow, I managed to amass an entire collection of short stories inspired by songs that has been released by Canadian artists in the mid-1990s. Not all of those stories were terrible (arguably) and not all of them were by terrible artists (thank god for The Lowest of the Low, whose excellent music and literary references may have single-handedly saved me from this phase) but they all managed to contribute to my million.
Now that I am a nominally successful writer who never pens anything abjectly terrible, I think it’s time to celebrate and acknowledge the words and music that made me everything I am today.
So, for the next few weeks, I am going to be sharing the best/worst of the lot with you. And I’m going to start with an absolute gem.
I wrote “Fire in the Head” at some point in 1997, when I was 15 years old. I was, on the surface, a Good Kid at the time. I didn’t smoke, do drugs, drink, or bang (some of these were personal choices; others were a matter of access) but I did some things that were much worse, like reading obsessive amounts of Joseph Conrad and listening to Windsor, Ontario’s favorite Doors tribute band, The Tea Party.
I have no fucking clue what I was thinking on either count. I read Heart of Darkness at least seven times while I was in high school, and managed to miss every single pertinent point you could make about the book every single time. I somehow missed the glaring bullshit colonialism that runs through Conrad’s entire oeuvre (which is a massive, MASSIVE achievement in obliviousness) and whatever point the old white dude was trying to make himself and somehow got it into my head that all of Conrad’s works, especially Heart of Darkness, were about transferable madness. I was pretty sure that you could pass mental illness around like a common cold, and that this was the greatest literary fodder of all time.
Around this time, I started listening to The Tea Party. I don’t know how or why this happened, to be honest. I resisted for years. I actively mocked them. And then, one day, after seeing them for the 29875483975th time at some Edgefest or other, I just gave in. From one minute to the next, I was just like “Well, fuck it; I guess I’ll be a Tea Party fan.”
So then I bought Edges of Twilight and somehow convinced myself that “Fire in the Head” was listenable. And then I read Joseph Conrad WHILE listening to “Fire in the Head.” And then this story happened.
I probably should have done drugs instead.