Your mama’s not around, there’s no telling what we’ll do when we’re free

It occurred to me recently that I’ve become one of those boring old people that lionizes their youth beyond all recognition, despite the fact that I hated it when I was stuck in it (of course). This has come to my attention more starkly lately because I’ve been writing a young adult novel based on my youth. Not quite autobiographical, but not completely fiction, either. The events (mostly) are fictitious; the people, and the settings, not so much. The characters are all thinly veiled or composites, which, I guess, isn’t really so unusual for fiction.

What writing the book has done, is re-engage me with all of the things I did love about that age of the early 90’s, the summer of 1994 to be exact, especially the music and the aesthetic. It’s funny, because one cultural marker I keep returning to over and over while I’m writing is that appalling movie KIDS. How I loathe that film for its faux nihilism and reveling in violence both physical and emotional while pretending to condemn it. Besides, it’s just boring as hell. But man, I love the aesthetic of that film. I imagine my novel to be the anti-KIDS. Yes, my book contains a teenage suicide, some drugs, sex, a little violence, a gun. Kids wandering wild through the endless and desolate night (nothing new when it comes to teenagers, really). But those kids are me, and my friends, and things we really did and experienced, and while the kids also hate it at the time, I’m looking back at it through a lens smeared with the vaseline of nostalgia and longing. I get the feeling that Larry Clark filmed KIDS with a feeling of resentment and a giant boner, which is never a good combination. I also realize that KIDS came out in 1995, a year after my book takes place, but that’s irrelevant; the song remains the same.

It’s been really fun listening to a lot of music from that era that I loved, but haven’t listened to in a long time: old Hole, Automatic For the People, Nirvana, Little Earthquakes, a lot of random punk, some industrial (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Ministry), Green Day, old Rancid, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and lots of 80’s music that my friends and I ate up at that point, like The Smiths, Concrete Blonde, New Order, Jesus and Mary Chain. If there is one song, though, that I’ve listened to over and over and over that I feel gets me in the mood to write, it’s “Natural One,” by Folk Implosion, which, yes, was from KIDS. And it’s just a fucking awesome song. I’ve also been pretty inspired by some newer music as well, though, that I think fits the tone and ambiance of the book, like Frightened Rabbit, Bon Iver (who I’m in love with right now), Blonde Redhead, and just in the last week, Big Pink.

It’s weird how much I feel like I’m siphoning off of that movie for my writing, but it’s almost like an attempt to rewrite that movie and get it right. One of my characters is even based, in a strange way, on Chloe Sevigny, probably my favorite actress, and to me, someone who represents a true adult product of that era that’s still around. I don’t know if anyone else remembers this Details layout, but I do, and I loved it. I really wanted to be those kids, at least until I saw the movie.

There was, without a doubt, a serious strain of nihilism and hedonism running through youth culture at that time, far more than now, I think. If Kurt Cobain was considered the spokesman for my generation, then it was nothing but shattered idealism and hopelessness. In some ways, the book I’m writing is a recognition, I think, of that pervasive feeling and attitude with which we all grew up, but also an attempt to move past it, to acknowledge that youthful malaise with a weary, but much wiser, adult sensibility, and to finally acknowledge that people like Cobain are no role models, and I kind of hope my future kids know who he is, but either think he’s just as much of a douche as I do, or that they just don’t care. I can’t quite concede that kids are better off with Lady GaGa than with Courtney Love, but maybe they are. Who knows.

Hopefully I’ll finish the damn book. I’ve written up to and a little past the climactic point, and the rest is all come-down and denouement. It’s been a lot of fun to write so far, and I hope that someone will find it a lot of fun to read someday. I’m writing primarily with a contemporary teenage audience in mind, but there’s definitely a part of me that hopes 30-something’s will pick it up and feel as nostalgic and silly reading it as I do writing it.

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2 responses to “Your mama’s not around, there’s no telling what we’ll do when we’re free

  1. OK, now that I’ve finally had a chance to digest this….

    I think there is a huge audience of 30-somethings reading YA fiction. Our generation seems to have a particularly hard time letting go of our youth, so I’m sure there are lots of readers out there who would love to revisit 1994 with you.

    I don’t know if the youth of today feels that same sort of shattered idealism and nihilism that certain kids of our generation did. But as long as there are teenagers, there are going to be pissed off, angry, hurting, horny teenagers. So if you write it well, your book should resonate. I hope to God mine does, even if it’s way fluffier and hopeful than yours sounds. Can’t wait to read it!!

  2. Wow… really fantastic matter. I will write about it as well.

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