June 17, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
The graphic novel Life Sucks has been described as a cross between Clerks and The Lost Boys. The book puts a different spin on vampires, where young vampires are made to work entry-level jobs for their capitalist-minded masters, doomed to an eternity of drudgery. I was drawn to Life Sucks by Jessica Abel's involvement as a writer (La Perdida is one of my favorite graphic novels). Then my interest was piqued further by Warren Pleece's artwork, which which impressed me earlier this year in Incognegro. Gabe Soria wrote the book along with Abel, and the graphic novel brims with their combined ingenuity.
Although Life Sucks is ostensibly set in modern day Los Angeles, part of me will always see it as occurring in the early- to mid-90s, when I was the same age as the characters in the book and, like them, making my way through the bleak and wonderful streets of L.A. As such, much of the music that I associate with the book is stuff that I was listening to during that era and that I still listen to today. It's not for nothing that the first panel of the book features our protagonist waking up in a room surrounded by stacks of LPs and that one of those platters is credited to Harelip, a band that I played bass in from 1992-1995 alongside my friends Mike Thoman (guitar) and Moises Ruiz (drums). And while we're at it, let's not forget founding former members Wade Hammett, Joe Aumentado and Kevin White.
Anyway, what follows is a very brief look into the musical world of Life Sucks – I could probably spend a few thousand words and a few days mulling this subject over and obsessing over the right assemblage of representative tunes and I don't feel like driving myself crazy at the moment…
If I had the power to select the composers of the soundtrack to the wildly successful film or TV adaptation of Life Sucks, the band who would receive my Midas touch would be Los Angeles' late and VERY lamented Possum Dixon. To me, they WERE the sound of 90s L.A. romantic ennui. Sweet and bitter lyrics with a cleverly literary bent and anchored by hooks that could win a thousand Bassmasters fishing competitions, their first two albums were on replay in my head constantly as Jessica and I were writing Life Sucks. Possum Dixon's music is the sound of driving around aimlessly in Silverlake in somebody's '73 Dodge Dart looking for a party, hoping that that woman you've seen lurking around town is there, but also praying that she's not so she doesn't see you fall off the front porch drunk. Whenever I hear someone say that L.A. has no soul, Possum Dixon is one of the million things I want to slap them upside the head with. Man, I wish I could buy all of these guys lunch at Burrito King…
"Beestung (Remix)" by Charles Brown Superstar
A song that's just waiting to be discovered by DJs across the world. Charles Brown Superstar (formerly Dogstar, until Keanu Reeves' band successfully bogarted the name) was an… okay noise pop band that made the rounds of the L.A. clubs in the early 90s. They were the brainchild of Bobby Hecksher, who's now freaking people out in the Warlocks, and with the help of frequently off-key frontwoman Bennett, they were at the forefront of a very short-lived "cute punk" movement that never really made it out of the basment. Anyway, in their normal incarnation they were, like I said, okay, but on the Summertime EP, they remixed their "hit" song "Beestung" into a lopingly gorgeous and sexy little jam. One of my greatest pleasures in my musical life is whipping this record out, dropping the needle on it and watching a guest's eyes bug out as they start to dance. Anyway, in my mind, this song is the big local radio hit playing in the background throughout the duration of Life Sucks. It's not in there, but it's in there, you know? (Side note: A quick Amazon check shows this EP selling for FORTY DOLLARS used. Good lord.)
Another great Los Angeles pop band that toured endlessly, recorded a boatload of incredibly tuneful, heartbreakingly good songs and never made a thin dime. At various times, you could see these dudes riding the RTD around town and/or serving you your Devil's Mess at Millie's, an eatery mentioned in a Possum Dixon song and which still employs itinerant musicians to this day. Find their near-perfect single "Heaven's a Hole" and work your way around their catalog from there.
Jethro Tull's catalog, up until Heavy Horses
Seriously. Jethro Tull is the favorite band of Carl, Dave's roommate in Life Sucks, although this is never explicitly stated. I know this because Jethro Tull is one of MY favorite bands, popular opinion be damned. If you asked Carl, he would cite "Hymn 43," "Songs from the Wood" or the demo version of "Lick Two Fingers Clean" as his favorite songs by the band, but he would stress that his opinion on this stuff changes daily.
In one sequence of Life Sucks, we see our main character Dave Miller happily dancing and singing around his workplace, the fairly dismal and fluorescently-lit convenience store. He's feeling the confidence a person is filled when they suspect that the object of their affection just might feel the same way about them. It's a heady, druggy, euphoric feeling, and to represent this sort of unfettered joy, we used one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite "bands": "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies. Sure, it's pre-fab rock, but it's QUALITY pre-fab rock, totally joyous and completely unselfconscious and perhaps a happy accident. The Archies catalog is a gold mine of perfect pop, thanks to the likes of Brill Building alum Jeff Barry, guys like Andy Kim and singer Ron Dante, who performed the lion's share of lead vocals on the band's tracks. My vinyl collection includes their LPs Jingle-Jangle and Sunshine, the title track of which would be on my super-special summer mixtape of summer jams for even my worst enemy.
I kick myself for not insisting that there be a scene in the book in which the main characters go out and check out a band at an out-of-the-way dive in Los Angeles, because if they did, it would have given me the opportunity to include a quasi-cameo by one of the greatest out-of-the-way dives ever, the all-ages club Jabberjaw which was on a mean stretch of Pico Boulevard and which played host to innumerable amazing shows back in the day and which is ten years dead, but still fondly remembered. These two compilations do a fair approximation of summing up the type of experience you could have had at this little sweatbox, which was sometimes so pretentious, you could use its name as shorthand to describe someone's hipper-than-thou attitude, but also so effortlessly cool that it could back that attitude up. Anyway, even though you don't see it in the pages of Life Sucks, Dave, Carl and Jerome quite often visit a hole in the wall much like Jabberjaw where they see incredible, visceral performances by some of the greatest (and worst) bands to grace the planet.
Gabe Soria and Life Sucks links:
Bookshelves of Doom review
Comic Book Bin review
Entertainment Weekly review
Read About Comics review
Reading Rants review
San Francisco Chronicle review
School Library Journal review
The Watchtower Podcast review
Antigravity interview with Gabe Soria
Comic Book Resources interview with Warren Pleece
Comicscape interview with Gabe Soria
Daily Cross Hatch interview with Jessica Abel about the book
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by Jessica Abel for La Perdida
Publishers Weekly profile of the book and the authors
School Library Journal interview with the Gabe Soria
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)