Friday, December 23, 2011

At the Republik, A Special Education

There's a couple of places in A Special Education where the historian in me is forced to take a little nap. I talked earlier about the Wagbeard concert being a few years too early, something I'll probably change, but there are others that will remain. For example, I remember wandering around downtown Calgary during my first summer as a parking lot attendant and seeing gig posters for Nirvana at the Westward Inn (although its the Republik that Jack and Isabel visit). Nobody knew who they were at the time, and I think it was rumoured that twelve people showed up. I know two guys who claimed to have been there, and they say they only came to see Dave Grohl who they admired from his time in Scream.

I have a moment where Jack takes Isabel to go see a local band she's been dying to meet. They're opening for Nirvana and the place is empty. The teens are there to meet the local band during sound check and when they arrive, everyone is ignoring Nirvana.

I once read an interview with Bob Mould in which he said the first time he saw Nirvana was in Canada, as they "unleashed Endless Nameless on an unsuspecting audience", so in my mind, this is the song the band is warming up with as Jack and Isabel arrive.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Party Scene, A Special Education

It's odd, I'll admit. I was never a big fan of the Smashing Pumpkins when they first came out. More neutral than anything else. However, one night back in 1997 I came home from a late night working in the parking lot and this video was on. I immediately sat down and wrote "Labellypock", my first short story in a long, long time. It wasn't meant to describe what happens in the video, it's just there was a lot of overlap between what I saw, and what I had experienced with my friends in junior high and high school. Set in pre-boom Calgary, with most of the city still mired in recession, "Labellypock" was about a kind of fin-de-siecle party featuring the "naked and the bored". It ended up winning me a small writing contest in university.

Fourteen years later, this video is still as evocative for me. The excerpt from A Special Education that I posted awhile back, which features it's own take on my early nineties party scene, once again leaned on the Smashing Pumpkins to help unlock those memories and experiences.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Long Road Back, A Special Education

In my younger days, I made the 12 hour drive from Calgary to Vancouver to watch bands play many times, often in considerably less time. Usually I stayed with family and visited for a few days, but one time we drove in to see Radiohead and stayed out at the Jericho Beach hostel, hoping to avoid all family since our turnaround time was pretty quick.

The idea for the trip that Isabel, Jack and company actually take came from a former student of mine. The first high school I taught at did take the senior physics class on an overnight trip to West Edmonton Mall, and one of the girls in my homeroom went skiing instead.

Since the kids happen to run into the mysterious Mr. Sinclair at the Pixies concert they've traveled to see, here's a song I imagine he would have enjoyed the most:

This particular song doesn't actually feature in A Special Education at all:

But it did encourage me to watch this movie, which did lead to a tellingly moment as the kids make their way back to Calgary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the Lam, A Special Education

There's a moment in A Special Education where the kids have run away to go see a rock concert. The morning of the show Isabel and her friend are standing on the beach and she whispers a secret to him that was inspired by this song.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Isabel's Theme

The early 1990s saw a surprisingly large increase in violent crimes perpetrated by girls.This is part of Isabel's milieu.

Despite the numerous fights she gets into herself, the guitar part in this particular song always seemed to me to be the sound of Isabel laughing.

You can hear and buy more from Superchunk here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Local songs, A Special Education

(I believe you can download all of this stuff from the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society in one form or another.)

With music playing such a pivotal role in my writing process, it should be no surprise that A Special Education is awash in it. In fact, one of the very first interviews has a character reference his fear of getting beaten up by punks on his way to and from school, a fear that many kids on my block had, largely because of the influence of bands like Beyond Possession.

I love this gritty video of them performing in the neighbourhood of Pembroke, not far from where I (and Isabel) grew up. It's also just north of where Jack and Isabel's classmate Chris was from, a place called Forest Lawn, the same community I saw my first concert in the park, featuring three of Calgary's pre-eminent bands of the early 1990s, Wagbeard, Field Day, and Primrods. It's a similar version of this concert (except at the more genteel location of Prince's Island Park) that Jack, Isabel, and Chris first meet each other, although they don't really know it. 

Here's an imaginary set list for that concert:

Piece of trivia: Isabel's math class on her first day of high school is drawn almost entirely from my own, with one little exception. Whereas the character of Chris arrives wearing a D.E.D. Souls t-shirt (from which Wagbeard emerged but not until a few years after A Special Education begins so that reference might change), I believe my friend on whom I based Chris in this scene (and who later went on to develop guidance systems for missiles, or so I'm told) wore an AC/DC "Raising Hell" t-shirt on the first day, and a D.O.A. shirt on the second. The D.E.D. Souls came third.

Bonus: A Special Education ends with a line stolen from a split Wagbeard/Primrods 10" from this era.

(Again, I believe you can download all of this stuff from the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society in one form or another.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jack Thomas, A Special Education

As much as Isabel felt that her old life was threatening to swallow her up at the end of junior high, I had always intended for Jack to feel the opposite. While Isabel feels compelled to use her potential to escape her friends, Jack is looking for ways to fit in with the kids around him without realizing that its the same gifts keeping him apart from everyone. When Jack and Isabel meet, part of what attracts them to each other is their background, and videos of late 1980s Fugazi always helped me keep this in mind. Jack wants to be a part of the aggressive crowd. He wants to be the one with his shirt off, body-surfing. Isabel is attractive to him because she's one of the few girls in the audience, and one of the only ones not standing in the back of the room.

"Waiting Room" was a good song for Jack because he also oscillates between these quiet brooding periods of sensitive reflection, and seemingly spontaneous explosions of emotions. Plus, early on, I imagined that it would be Jack who got the job in the parking lot as a means of "toughening" himself up, and this was also one of the songs that I listened to lot while working there myself. Luckily, my wife suggested switching that particular plot point around while the novel was still in the planning stages, yielding a far more interesting story.