A Chain Letter from Fear Street.

20 04 2012

I can’t remember the occasion or if there even was one. Most likely, it was one of those “I saw this and thought of you” type of moments. The gift in question was a box set containing four books that would become my very first exposure to the world of young-adult thrillers. It was given to me by a family friend who knew I had a fondness for ghost stories and reading. Four books. Christopher Pike’s Remember Me, Last Act, Spellbound, and Scavenger Hunt. I list them in that order because I distinctly remember them being arranged as such in the box. They would always be put back in that same order… even when my collection grew to massive proportions on my bookshelf… those four remained lined up just so.

Die SoftlyGoing to Google Images and searching for images relating to either the Christopher Pike books or Fear Street series brings back a flood of memories. There was no mistaking that neon candy-colored font that was scawled to look like a cross between dripping blood and being written in lipstick or chalk.

The teen characters portrayed on the covers all had that typical 90s flare to them. The girls had voluminous hair with teased bangs, baggy sweaters, and tight jeans. Varsity jackets told the reader that the male protagonist was the boy-next-door jock type whereas a motorcycle or distressed denim jacket let us know that he was a bad boy with an attitude to boot. The oft-reserved female lead would always have the best girlfriend who was funky and spunky. If the story had a body count that made it past tertiary characters, the outspoken BFF would turn up dead somewhere in the third quarter of the book. Of course, we always had the weird, quasi-nerdy guy who would play the role of the story’s red herring for a good portion of the novel.

My library grew more with each Scholastic book fair that came to my school. Pike and R.L. Stine hogged most of the shelf space but there were also a few titles from Diane Hoh (Funhouse) and Caroline B. Cooney (The Fog, The Snow, and The Fire), to name a handful.

My creative imagination was always encouraged when I was a child. That, coupled with the sheer horror of what was written on the pages, was a type of rush that I couldn’t get enough of. I learned the art of speed reading from these books. Weekend evenings would see me up until the pre-dawn hours, eyes burning from ingesting page after page. Study hall in school became the perfect time to check in on the latest stalking or murder in Shadyside (the town in which the Fear Street series takes place). When Pizza Hut began their Book-It program and I found out I was going to receive free pizza for reading (something that I was clearly doing as often as possible), I thought I had died and gone to heaven. If memory serves, I recall having a teacher write “Try reading something different” on at least one book report in 6th grade.

You never questioned the logistics of the stories. You never wondered about forensics or the details that they dwell on in shows like C.S.I. or the array of other slow-moving cop dramas. You never questioned why, after all the unfortunate mishaps, people kept throwing parties at that creepy house on Fear Street or why camping trips would take place at that abandoned campground or why a terrorized and stalked baby-sitter would continue to take calls to sit for kids. You suspended disbelief. You enjoyed the ride and rush of adrenaline as the story unfolded.

The Wrong NumberLooking back now, I think the greatest aspect of these books were the worlds that were built within the pages. Shadyside could easily have been any suburban town in America. Growing up in the neighborhood in which I did, it was easy to visualize the places the characters spent their time. Their school was my school. We were the kids that had to solve these mysteries or deal with these supernatural occurrences. We were the geek. The baby-sitter. The jock. The cheerleader. The plain but pretty girl-next-door. The bubbly best friend. The odd new kid in town. The punk with the bad attitude. Being left home alone for a night suddenly became its own addition to the Fear Street series as did receiving a chain letter in the mail or a prank phone call during a slumber party.

A History Told in Pops and Crackles.

16 04 2012
Adrienne Frost

Adrienne Frost

psy*com*e*try noun: divination of facts concerning an object or its owner through contact with or proximity to the object.

Adrienne Frost: deceased mutant villainess and older sibling to the X-Men’s Emma Frost. Psychometric.

A favorite pastime for most kids (at least for this kid) is imagining what kind of superpowers you would choose to have should you have the opportunity to live out your favorite comic book storylines. Of course, the obvious abilities come to mind… flight, invulnerability, super-strength. Telepathy and other mind-based powers were usually thrown by the wayside. Why pretend you can probe someone’s mind when you can run around with your friends and make believe you’re soaring through the clouds or landing earth-shattering punches at the bad guys?

As someone who always preferred spending more time in the library than the gymnasium when I was young (okay, and still to this day), I’ve always been drawn to the characters whose powers required brains over brawn.

Recently, Will gave me an original pressing of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack. He has a wonderful knack for giving the perfect gift (it’s one of the many things that I love about him and it’s also a skill that I hope to one day master). The outer sleeve was worn around the edges and had a piece of blue tape holding part of it together. The inner sleeve was yellowed with age and had that distinct basementy smell that typically accompanies vintage records.

One of the great things about receiving a gift like this is that not only are you receiving the gift but also the history that comes along with it.

Adrienne Frost had the mutant ability of psychometry. She could touch an object and immediately know the object’s history, its previous owners, events that occurred around the object, and the possible future of the object. This would be one of those “brains over brawn” powers that I mentioned being intrigued by.

What mental snapshots would Adrienne see when holding this well-loved record?

Every pop and crackle that the record makes under the needle on the turntable is another piece of its history. Another story to tell.

A middle-aged college professor in the 1960s (think Colin Firth in A Single Man) sitting in his library, swirling brandy in a glass, cardigan sleeves rolled up with Sylvia Plath in hand and Henry Mancini’s Moon River swelling up from the turntable while rain pats down on the window from outside. When it’s not the college professor, it’s a teenage girl, probably named Betty Jean (or something of the sort), laying on her bed, gossiping into her princess phone with her best friend about going steady with the captain of the football team… the record sitting amongst a pile of LPs on the plush bedroom carpet of her family’s suburban home.

It’s been bought and sold, traded and swapped numerous times. It has seen the inside of more than one flea market and been pawed at by bargain hunters at garage sales. Now we have the opportunity to add our own history with another layer of pops and crackles.

Fathers’ Music Syndrome.

12 04 2012

To quote Portlandia: “Do you remember the 90s?”

The programming on MTV was relevant. Britpop reached its height. Kids roamed around in wide-leg jeans and Airwalk sneakers listening to their Walkmans (or Discmans if you were fortunate enough to have a decent allowance). Music was a genuine artform instead of a mass-produced marketing gimmick that humps on autotune the way a dog humps a leg.

Blood for Poppies

Garbage "Blood for Poppies"

If you are like me, refreshing every music blog/website/tumblr from Spin to Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound to Brooklyn Vegan, then you are well aware that the decade that paved the way for the modern indie-rock scene to come to fruition is making quite the resurgence.

Garbage will be touring for the first time since 2007 and has been selling out shows in mere minutes of the tickets being made available. Mazzy Star (dream pop pioneers who were Beach House before Beach House was Beach House) reunited to release their first material since 1996 with promises of a full-length record and tour to follow. Melancholic waif, Fiona Apple, releases her fourth record (The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do a.k.a. The Idler Wheel…) in June just prior to a summer tour that takes her across the United States and Canada. Irish alternative band, The Cranberries, also released a new record after a 10-year hiatus.

These were some of the big names in music in the 90s that helped define who I was during my high school years. In fact, Garbage was the first live show that I saw (they opened for The Smashing Pumpkins at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in July of 1996).

My first reaction to the news that some of my favorite bands were returning to the spotlight and releasing new material was to wonder if I was suffering from what I call “Fathers’ Music Syndrome.” If you grew up in a household where your father was a music junkie, you might have a pretty good idea of what it is that I am referring to.

I will be the first to admit that when I was a teenager and engrossed in the music that was popular at the time (namely Seattle-based grunge rock), I couldn’t help but throw a side-eye of judgment at my father when he would pull out records by The Beach Boys or The Rolling Stones (it would be a few more years before my love for music developed enough and allowed me to appreciate these rock-n-roll legends). This was the music he grew up with. The music he loved. I remember being taken to see The Beach Boys at Pilot Field (currently Coca-Cola Field). I remember thinking to myself that only washed-up bands must play at minor league baseball games.

Have Fiona Apple, Garbage, et al become my (our) own “Fathers’ Music Syndrome?” Save for the fact that they can still sell out shows, still record amazing music,  and have cult followings decades later, there’s still that part of me (us) that finds comfort in the familiar sounds of a youthful era. I’ll be the first to admit that I would be the first in line to see Courtney Love play a free show at a baseball diamond.

Ironically, Hole just started playing on my iPod.

Saturday Night Nostalgia.

10 04 2012

This past weekend was spent in with my family in Boston. In between playground visits, comic book signings, a visit to Harvard, and an Easter Egg hunt, Will and I managed to catch up with some of our childhood friends on Saturday night.

Chris Parker and co.

"She's got the baby-sitting blues..."

Chris Parker and Ryan Lynch were the first to arrive. It had been a long time since Chris and I were in touch and the last I heard, she was attending the University of Chicago and she and Ryan were still together and very much in love. Who wouldn’t fall very much in love with Ryan? He’s charming, sensitive, and warm-hearted. Alterior motives aside, it takes a special kind of guy to drive from the city to the suburbs just to return a rollerskate to a child that he barely knows. It turns out that Chris received her MEd and shares a loft with Ryan in Chicago’s North Side neighborhood. We had to chuckle at the notion of her going into the education field considering her infamous baby-sitting-gig-gone-awry.

Ryan excused himself to take a call from their dog-sitter (he and Chris have two Welsh corgis named Thor and Handsome John) just as Sara Anderson arrived looking like she fell out of the pages of an Urban Outfitters catalog. She had certainly grown up from being the little girl with the Asgardian helmet and Gizmo backpack. To our delight, we learned that she had continued to pursue her passion for drawing and eventually pencilled her own independent graphic novel based on the Chris’ pseudo-botched night in charge. She met her girlfriend, Darcy, at Chicago Comic-Con and the two of them are the proprietors of The Enchantress’ Lair, a comic book shop/cafe/performance space. A launch party was hosted at the store for the release of Sara’s graphic novel which may or may not have included an impromptu performance of “The Baby-sitting Blues” when Chris arrived to offer her congratulations.

Before the three of them left for the evening, I had to ask Chris about her old best friend from high school. It turns out Brenda finally managed to successfully run away from home and was last seen operating a hot dog food truck in Manhattan. In case you were wondering, she doesn’t accept checks.

The next guests at our little reunion were Jake Ryan and Samantha Baker-Ryan. To my surprise, they went against the stereotype of high school romances not lasting. After conversing for a while, we learned that Jake was a corporate attorney working at his father’s firm and Samantha was a stay-at-home mother to their four children. They were still close friends with “Farmer” Ted. In fact, he was their weekend baby-sitter. Thankfully, Ted has the entertainment factor built directly into his geek gene and the children adore him. Jake and Samantha were truly living a blissful, upper middle-class, suburban life… complete with a two-car garage and white picket fence.

Close your eyes.

"Close your eyes..."

Like most high school friends/acquaintances, the couple lost touch with Caroline Mulford after graduation. Jake jokingly commented that she was lucky that the Sinead O’Connor/buzzed head look came into style not long after the unfortunate pruning of her hair to free her from a door jam. Apparently, when you’re intoxicated, simple actions like opening a door are completely lost on oneself.

While Samantha regaled Will with the list of men that her sister Ginny had since married and divorced since leaving the “oily variety bohunk”, I took a quick call from Mercedes Lane. She had the night off from dancing at The Shanty (a club in Los Angeles that is as glamorous as the name insinuates). “It seems like all your old friends are coming out of the woodwork tonight,” she said after I mentioned who had stopped by that evening.

Mercedes Lane

Mercedes Lane

She and Les Anderson stopped seeing each other not long after they started. In the end, they really didn’t have much in common other than a love for mega-hold hair care products. When she said that, I could practically see her sitting in her small L.A. studio apartment, hair teased, frayed denim skirt on, and rocking a faded Guns N’ Roses tour t-shirt. For Mercedes Lane, the 80s never died. How could it with a name like Mercedes Lane and a career at a strip club called The Shanty?

It really was a fantastic Saturday night. These were the childhood friends that kept me company when I was sick, entertained my friends and I at slumber parties, and taught us that your bangs can never be too high nor your jeans too pinned. They were the friends that remind you of a time when the most stressful decisions in life revolved around which folders to keep in your Trapper Keeper.


Tangerine... flashy and trashy

I’ve already begun digging through my old contacts from way back when to see who I should reconnect with next. I’ll have to let Will know about the rumors buzzing around the fashion circuit that Tangerine is looking to reignite her “flashy and trashy” apparel line. Something tells me that Dodger and his pals won’t be her sweat shop workers this time around.