My life is unfolding in the most mysterious ways. Things were happening to me during my teens that I didn’t know were of any significance until lately. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine got together to watch some music documentaries. I thought we were going to watch the history of rock but it ended up that punk rock is part of that history. And while they were exploring that history I realized that they tracking a history that was very much part of my own.
When I was a kid, I started my own zine. The whole thing started because I sent my poems to get published in a local zine and they rejected it. So I said, “Fuck you, I’ll start my own fanzine.” So I did. I worked at a restaurant on weekends and I took all my earnings to pay for offset printing on a quarter-fold format newsprint. The printing was done by a very conservative company that DID NOT want credit on the masthead for printing it. LOL. People were sending me poetry, stories, and artwork and I would publish them. Ironically, I never published my own poems but I was the editor and interviewer for all the bands. I didn’t knowing anything about publishing.
I had a friend, Brad, an older guy who was a beatnik poet that owned his own printing machine. He published his own books in fat perfect binding. I met him while I took a career program in high school where I was learning graphic design. And as part of the curriculum, we had to learn how to operate a printing press. And Brad was an apprentice. This was the only extent I knew of publishing. But I didn’t print my zine there. What I tried to do was print my flyers and I got sent to the headmaster’s office for it. And it nearly got the printing teacher fired. Not because of printing itself but because of the subject matter. I was posting S&M artwork on my flyers. I didn’t even know what the fuck it was. I just thought it was funny. So someone told on me.
Years later, I’m in my parents basement cleaning out stuff and I come across a diary entry I wrote. And in it, I described the day I got censored by the school. I remembered vividly how I played it off. I said to the headmaster, “Well, hey, if I’m going to spend my time learning how to print, why can’t I print something that’s useful?” I basically said I was building a career, just like they wanted. How many kids were doing that? Wasn’t that the point?
It turns out that my teacher was a real liberal guy and was best friends with my English teacher (who taught at a separate school). My English teacher was also a philosophy teacher, and he was also a really liberal guy. And these liberal guys were all about tearing down the system! My English teacher spent two years trying to un-brainwash us, to show us what’s wrong with the world, and to do something bigger with ourselves. But we are all drugged by mass media and sleeping. And we couldn’t really see it. Both these teachers were trying to save our lives—to save our brains from frying. I look back and realized that my printing teacher was hoping I’d get away with doing something so outrageously punk rock. But there’s always a mole somewhere who’d get offended. Apparently, he was a little pee-on redneck assistant teacher who wanted my teacher’s job. And eventually he got it. He was the one that reported me and my teacher, and he became a horrible teacher. He had no personality at all. But I really respected what these two other teachers did for me. I can understand it all now.
So I’m sitting there watching this doc, and it’s mentioning all these legendary people that started American punk. The biggest one being THE BAD BRAINS, which is a band I thought was OK. But they are noted today as being one of the best. I interviewed the Brains when they came to town and they were so sweet to me. This is ironic, because in the doc, the record producer was afraid of signing them because the lead singer just sat there and stared him down, like he was giving him a death threat. They mentioned the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, who aren’t punk today. But they started out in the hardcore scene. They mentioned DISCORD record label, which I tried to sell ads to. Back then, everything was easy because no one respected punk. It was not considered to be music. So, although I looked 12-years-old, I would show up at a gig early and asked if I could interview the bands. Sometimes I’d walk up to the band directly and usually I’d get an interview. I met the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS while they were lined up against the side of a building taking a piss. I didn’t care that they had their pants down. I came up and introduced myself. After the show, I was very tired and I might have had school the next day, I’m not sure. As I left, Flea (the guitarist) ran to the front door and chased after me. He was very cute and a real flirt. He said, “Hey, do you still wanna interview us?” I said, “Nah, I’m too sleepy” and we smiled at each other and said goodbye.
That was probably one of funniest moments in my personal rock history. I had no idea they’d become so big.
I was still a child, living with my parents and using their home phone to conduct business. Sometimes I’d hang out with adult friends and we’d connect very well and then it dawns on them that I’m still under my parents’ dictates—and this caused a clash. Many times, I’d hang with adults and if it’s a male, people would give us dirty looks and accuse him of being a pedophile. I did not have many friends my age. Most of my friends were 20 to 70 years old. Brad was 29.
Music labels, bands, and advertisers would call me at my parents’ house. Sometimes my sister, brother, or mom would answer the phone and they’d yell my name throughout the house like, “Answer the damn phone!” then they’d lay it down and abandon the receiver. I was just a kid so I didn’t care. No one seemed to really mind that it was totally unprofessional. I spent a great deal of time in my room listening to records. I became accustomed to picking up tons of mail from bands sending me press kits and demos. This probably explains why today, I don’t deal with the film festival submission process very well: because I could probably run a festival myself—and I don’t like other people telling me whether my shit is good or not; especially from those who lack vision. But we won’t go there. And no, I’m not going to start a festival.
One day, I decided that I wanted a really nice label to advertise with me so I called up SST records. SST was virtually unknown and remains so today in the mainstream world. The owner picked up the phone and we started to talk. The funny thing is, we just talked about life. He’d tell me his problems, I told him my problems and we laughed a lot. He was really understanding. A real down-to-earth and super friendly guy. After a few weeks of chatting on the phone for usually about an hour, I’d ask him if he wanted to advertise with me. He took up the whole back page of my zine for a band called HÜSKER DÜ. I was glad. Then he sent me the halftone screen artwork for offset printing. It was the slickest ad I had in my “rag.”
Earlier today, I was on the internet looking up something totally unrelated. I was actually looking up “transmitter” and a search came up for “SST” and it rang a bell. So I read a bit more about it and remembered that this was the record label I used to deal with. Then it hit me that all that time that was in my parents house, I was on the phone with Greg Ginn! He’s the founder and early leader of BLACK FLAG! I was like “holy shit.” This put me in a bit of a shock. And then I laughed my ass off.
Now that I’m working on my graphic novel, RED AS BLUE, my history and exposure to music, and namely the punk world, are surfacing. Hidden things about my life that I had completely ignored are being revealed. I lived my life not thinking about its importance and in fact, I felt that my life was worthless and unimportant. I don’t mean to sound self-deprecating but I still feel the same way. It is something I can’t shake off and today, I realized that I don’t want to shake it off. I have a low capacity for self-importance. I have value, but not an over-valuing of my life. I believe that this has granted me an opening to have experiences that others may not have. What I mean is that I am totally unworthy to society. I am only worthy to what truly matters, so what truly matters comes my way.
I took this element of being nothing and put it into the main character June. She feels like a nobody and she is a nobody. Yet she never tries to be anything but herself.
The Jewish rabbis spend years praying and chanting to become “nothing.” All they want to do is to abandon their egos and make themselves empty to be a vessel for life, divine wisdom, or G’d to pour into. In Western society, we do the opposite, we constantly strive to be somebody and when we are not treated as being important, we make more noise and we praise people who make lots of noise. And this noise is the distraction that crowds out listening, awakening, and the ability to see straight. People often ask why there is so much crap out in the world: in movies, music, and books. The short answer is that most people contribute to that. Most are chasing to be heard, to be important, while the unimportant are the ones that are really listening.
The idea of being nothing is a major component for June Lusparian’s character development. Being important only within the eyes of Truthfulness is what she represents. In RED AS BLUE, when she finds love, it doesn’t come from the praise of many, but from the one person who accepts her defects and greatness with totality. June would go on to become a great musician, but not to acquire worship from adoring fans or fame. She never once looked outward, and neither do I.
To tell a story that shows a dedicated path of living an authentic life is important—because it sets a tone for the youth to know that this is possible.
Whereas most stories end with the hero reaching a big goal to be loudly redeemed by the outer world, in my story, the hero is redeemed by quietly rising above the noise.
Writers focus on the “hero’s journey” when creating a story. This journey can mean many things. My hero’s journey is always mythic: it is about the hero finding all that he has ever searched for was always near to him but he has to earn its worth.
A writer has to live the story he writes, because you have to write what you know.
Today, everything is coming full circle for me. Forgive me if this seems offensive, but I do not like mainstream music. I just don’t. Most of my childhood was spent in depression because of mainstream music. I could not get away from it in the cars, the supermarkets, everywhere. So when my ears are forced-fed music, I have an averse reaction. This is probably because I am aware that my individuality and freedom of choice is being violated on a subliminal and visceral level. Today, I can tolerate it a lot more because my brain is developed to censor things I don’t want. But as a child, you absorb everything. So, radio music really put me into a depression. If you think about it, radio music is a chant. Imagine hearing a chant that you don’t want to hear or believe in, five thousand times in the course of your lifetime. Chants about people’s problems, their heartbreaks, their self-pity, and their value systems and ways of coping that are infantile and stupid. Often these people singing these songs never solve their problems so they dump on you with their music. All this is working a pattern into your brain. And you’re supposed to put up with it when all you’re trying to do is get out the store with a carton of milk. So they put it far away enough so by the time you check out, you would have to hear the song from beginning to end. It’s inescapable. It’s psychic pollution and criminal. This was why punk rock came into play: it gave people a chance to scream and release all the crap we have to put with. It is often considered angry music, but it solves problems and is a pressure valve for the “corporate rock” which labels like SST hates so much.
When I started writing RED AS BLUE, it was self-healing for me to accept mainstream music. There are characters in my story that love mainstream music, mainly Beverly and her best friend Kimberly. Because I love my characters, I love what they love. At the same time, when I get into June’s head, I appreciate why she hates mainstream music: because those songs counter her existence.
A change took place in my drafting of the story. During a rewrite, I decided to use the love of music as a thread to show two people falling in love. I had them fall in love with each other’s music. They end up liking music they never liked before because they love each other.
Yet, this decision is not contrived. I kept a place in the book to show how music when force-fed can drive you crazy. I gave this part of my life to Beverly, the cheerleader character, who realizes that all the music she has listened in her life was a sham and finally, it gave her a migraine and then a mental breakdown. This scene symbolizes her many years of social pressures to be somebody, to like certain things, and to be acceptable by liking everything that everyone else does. So I gave Beverly some of my torment and she handled it well, not as a punk rocker, but as your typical all-American girl having an atypical awakening.
I see people in my life cling onto mainstream songs to get by with their day. The music actually makes them very happy. I find myself asking, “What’s wrong with me?” for not liking it. And then I’d say, “What’s wrong with them?” I came to the realization that good music is not a question of “taste.” It is a question of “consciousness.” Some people like music that puts them to sleep (so they don’t have to think). But, I like music that can make the dead inspired.
I put that concept inside my novel too. The most existential question that Beverly asks herself is, “What’s wrong with me?” Then, she turns around and asks, “What’s wrong with them?” This is the turning point where Beverly has an awakening.
So what is “coming-of-age?” In most cases, the stories pertain to sexual awakening, which mine has. But what’s different in RED AS BLUE is that it hones the spiritual aspect of teenage angst—the aching of wanting know if your reality is real or not, and how does it pair up with a society that contradicts it? Coming-of-age in this case is about realizing what’s real and what’s not and the longing to live out one’s truth. To “come into the age” of realizing one’s truth.
Some SST t-shirts to fuck with your brain: