The Gen-X Recollection Project


A few years ago, I found myself wandering the streets of downtown Athens, Georgia on a lazy Saturday morning. After dutifully visiting the local record shoppes, I chanced across Bizarro Wuxtry, an old school comic book store located on College Avenue. A wonderful mess, the place offered its customers the opportunity to sift through immense piles of back issues, nostalgia drenched toys and collectibles, and other miscellaneous pop culture debris. As I strolled through the store that day, I suddenly caught sight of an issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics, the cover of which is depicted above. I was instantly taken aback, as I had been searching for this particular comic book for a number of years. This issue – apparently published in the very early 1980’s when “Elson’s Gift and News paid DC to repackage some of [its] comics” – was the very first comic book I owned. I don’t recall very much about the circumstances surrounding its initial acquisition, but I suspect that my father purchased it for me as a gift during one of his business trips. Some Googling confirms that the Elson’s franchises catered to business travelers during that time period. Somewhere along the way, my original copy of the issue was lost to the ages (likely misplaced during a move or otherwise purged from my possessions during some vainglorious effort to achieve a more minimalist existence). But three decades later, there it was again, sitting atop a pile of comic books and beckoning to me. Of course, I bought it and relived a few moments of my lost youth.

Shortly thereafter, I realizedccomicspresentsd that in my late thirties, and now, in my early, early forties, I have been attempting to assemble a collection of pop culture relics from my childhood. Perhaps “reassemble” is a better term, as I continue to purchase items I once owned long ago, whether they be comic books, novels, cassette tapes, or even vintage toys. For example, I recently reacquainted myself with the works of Stephen King and Robert McCammon, two of my favorite horror writers from days gone by. Perched atop a coffee table in my office is an original Millenium Falcon spaceship toy (the one once manufactured by Kenner). Not too long ago, I reacquired a copy of DC Comics Presents #69 which, if memory serves, was an early addition to my nascent comic book collection all those years ago. (Published in 1985, the cover of that issue is at left, and yes, that’s the face of Albert Einstein to the right of Superman.). Sometimes, I wonder what has prompted the rekindling of my interest in these bygone artifacts. Although simple nostalgia prompts the search for such things, the quest becomes an effort to recapture that wonderful sense of possibility that permeates youth. This curious habit occupied my mind again recently because my old friend, the indefatigable blogger Ryan Steans, recently embarked upon something he has dubbed The Gen-X Recollection Project, an effort to gather together the childhood pop culture memories of those who came of age in the 1980’s. In a recent post at his fine blog, The Signal Watch, he asked his readers and friends to recount their childhood experiences with comic books, science fiction, and the like and compare them with today’s far more tolerant environment of such diversions. As Ryan suggests in that post, while knowledge of comic book lore might earn one “indie street cred” in today’s environment, the culture was not as permissive of those pastimes during the Reagan years. As you might expect, Ryan’s invitation to participate in this undertaking prompted some reminiscences of the 1980’s, the era when I first became an avid comic book reader. As a part of his project, he has asked a number of specific questions of the contributors to this effort, several of which I’ve elected to answer in this post (which will be published both here and at Ryan’s site).

What do you do for a living?

For the past fourteen years, I’ve practiced law. As a part of my job, I also serve as the editor of Abnormal Use, a products liability law blog. Each Friday, we run a column called “Friday Links,” in which we oftentimes analyze and comment upon comic books with legal issues depicted upon the cover. On that blog, I’ve even interviewed a few comic book creators, including Daredevil writer Mark Waid, She-Hulk writer Charles Soule, and Tiger Lawyer creator Ryan Ferrier. Back in college, I majored in screenwriting. A few years after I graduated from law school, I wrote and produced a low budget film called Pleadings. You can read a bit more about my background on my “About Jim” page.

Where do you live?

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before moving here five years ago, I lived in Greenville, South Carolina. Born in Tennessee, I spent most of my formative years in Texas.

How did your interest in comic books, science fiction, and fantasy initially germinate? What year was that? Do you remember what was going on in your life?  

Like most members of my geavengersneration, as a youngster, I followed the Star Wars films with great fervor. Equally of interest was 1985’s Back to the Future, which prompted me, along with every other child that year, to request a skateboard and a guitar for Christmas. Michael Keaton was Batman, and of course, Christopher Reeve was Superman. I watched a lot of science fiction television, whether it be reruns of the original “Star Trek” series, new episodes of “Misfits of Science,” or Saturday morning cartoons like “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” I read Choose Your Own Adventure books and, later, Stephen King novels. When my Atari 2600 found its way to obsolescence, I began to save money to buy the new-fangled Nintendo Entertainment System. My favorite computer games, though, were the Infocom text adventures games. After learning computers using a TI-99/4A and then a Commodore 64, I discovered telecommunications and bulletin boards using my Tandy 1000’s 1200 baud modem. And there were the boxes and boxes and boxes of comic books. As noted above, my father bought me my first comic: that fateful issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics back in the very early 1980’s. Not long thereafter, I began to scour those iconic spinner racks for back issues. Although my initial introduction to the medium was through DC Comics, I quickly became a Marvel reader, finding my way through older issues of The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers (the cover of issue #250 of which, released in 1984, can be found at left). I obsessed a bit over The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, a series of comics which featured encyclopedic mini-biographies of super heroes and villains. I shuddered at the drama of the tragic Mutant Massacre storyline and the tale of Scourge of the Underworld, the vigilante who took it upon himself to execute third rate villains. Other favorites included New Mutants and X-Factor (both of which, along with the Classic X-Men reprints, further educated me on the larger backstory of the X-Men). The social and political stakes of the X-Men titles – represented by The Mutant Registration Act, Marvel’s faux political advertisement for which appears below – made the issues presented seem important to young readers. After all, Marvel introduced us to characters who were senators who discussed actual legislation. In the Marvel Universe, mutants were an oppressed class, and X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s nuanced and riveting storytelling during those years was, well, a marvel.


But, as all things do, that hobby came to an end, just a year or two after the release of 1989’s Batman, the major motion picture blockbuster which, curiously, instigated the incremental process of making comic book superheroes “cool” in the eyes of the general public. By 1990 and 1991, my interest in popular (and obscure) music overtook that of comic books. Who cared to follow the misadventures of Captain America or the West Coast Avengers when there was the output of Nirvana, R.E.M., and U2 to be explored? How could I spend my hard earned money on new issues of comic books when there were compact disc singles to be purchased? So, I stopped venturing to comic book stores, save for the occasional lark. A few times in the last two decades, I’ve thought about returning to the habit, but these days, the storylines and wearisome crossovers are too complicated. I haven’t the time to sift through so many reboots, multiverses, and other gimmicks.

Where did you buy comics?

For most of the 1980’s, I lived in either Memphis, Tennessee or Houston, Texas. There are a host of comic book stores from those cities which exist now only in the memories of members of my generation. In Memphis, I frequented the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records which, if I recall correctly, boasted two locations. In Houston, I shopped at Third Planet (which still exists, actually, but in a different location than the one I once visited) and The Silver Penny (which was located within a flea market somewhere near the Town & Country neighborhood). There are others, of course, but their names now elude me. (To no avail, I’ve spent the past few days attempting to recall the name of the comic book store on Gessner Road, just north of I-10 in Houston, which I visited in the early 1990’s.). I can remember patronizing these stores on early Saturday afternoons in the care of my parents armed with whatever money I had cobbled together that week. Decade laters, in an effort to reintroduce myself to comics, my store of choice became Comics Kingdom in Beaumont, Texas, the city in which I first entered private practice as a young lawyer. However, after valiantly attempting to keep pace with the ceaseless onslaught of new titles and issues, I gave up, as the task had become too much of a chore.

Did you have friends who shared your interest? How was your interest in such things perceived by others?

It’s strange what we remember all these years later. In elementary school, my friends and I would debate the various plot points of the latest episodes of “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe,” the two weekday afternoon cartoons we were too young to recognize as mere toy commercials. I clearly recall discussing the merits of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with a classmate during homeroom at White Station Junior High School in Memphis in 1988. About that same time, my friends and I began to watch the various slasher movies of the period, including releases from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Curiously, though, I don’t specifically recall discussing comic books with joker-t-shirtfriends during elementary or junior high school. I likely did, but I have no memory of any such conversations. As Ryan himself noted in his own post in this series, “reading comics [is] something people do on their own, like any reading experience outside of a class.” This is not to say I concealed my interests. In those early years, I brought my lunch to school in one of those metal Star Wars lunch boxes. A few years later, I would occasionally wear a Joker t-shirt, a wonderful image of which I’ve located online and appended at left. I’m not certain what my classmates thought about that particular fashion choice (and I cringe to speculate). Although it is axiomatic that comic books were not a path to popularity, I don’t recall any particular animus directed towards comic book readers. That said, I never took comics to school (a decision borne more of a concern for their condition than a fear of social ostracization). In sum, I knew my peers did not consider comic books to be “cool” in the way that, say, The Joshua Tree, Kick, or Green might be.

Generally, my parents were very supportive of the hobby. At least once a month, they would transport me to the local comic shop to find new reading material. Whenever comic books would make the news, my father would bring the news coverage to my attention. In fact, when John Byrne’s Man of Steel reboot earned national media attention in 1986, my father brought the clippings to my attention (and, of course, that weekend, we made our pilgrimage to the local comic book shop to buy the issue in question).

What is the oddest thing about how comics, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy have changed in their original form as you knew them?

mmmOf course, the Internet has changed nearly everything, and as such, there are countless websites where readers may discuss comics new and old. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a young reader with those resources at the fingertips. I’m not certain that the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which we read comics themselves (despite the prevalence of digital comics). But what do I know? I’ve certainly aware of the sheer number of titles being released of late and the daunting task readers face in attempting to keep up with the deluge of new titles and issues. For me, it’s now far easier to follow the various comic book film and television adaptations than commit to an multiple monthly series. As noted above, confusing reboots abound. In 2011, DC Comics rebooted itself with its New 52 brand, and just this year, the company announced it would relaunch itself yet again as a part of its Rebirth initiative. Marvel is no stranger to unwieldy crossovers, whether it be the “House of M” storyline or “Civil War” or what have you. To me, this modern approach seems far more convoluted than the simpler days of Secret Wars II or the Mutant Massacre storyline, both of which spanned a small number of titles during their heyday in the 1980’s. In fact, in 1986, Marvel created a handy Marvel Mutant Massacre Map (depicted above at right) which was distributed to local comic shops. Easy to follow and relatively small in scope, this storyline allowed the company to introduce readers to other potential titles while not asking their customers to break the bank. These days, such an affair would be far more involved and require a significant financial commitment to follow (especially in light of the increasing cost of comics). As such, these days, there’s just a bit to much noise for me to return.

What is your greatest joy when it comes to your memories of discovering comics?

Reading begets reading, whether it be the message boards on those long forgotten bulletin board systems, the aforementioned text adventure games, or the comics themselves. Without comic books, I would not have become a voracious reader. I would not have found the works of Stephen King, Douglas Adams, and other masters of genre. Without finding those novelists, I would not have later delved into Fitzgerald and Hemingway. So, generally, it is the joy of reading that I cherish most when I reflect upon those days.

What is your greatest disappointment?

When it comes to popular culture, my greatest disappoint remains the Star Wars prequels. Although films released in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s may seem outside the scope of this project, you likely understand the sentiment if you’ve made it this far into a post about the whims and caprices of members of Generation X when it comes to these issues. So, for the record, I formally object to the Star Wars prequels in response to this question.

Returning to the topic at hand, I suppose3181257-15 I regret, at least in part, the early focus on comic books as potential investment properties. Back then, we all fancied ourselves “collectors” in part because we labored under the misimpression that comic books purchased in the 1980’s might somehow exponentially increase in value, making us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. That folly was the one trait we shared with the baseball card aficionados of the era. Looking back, it is astonishing to consider how high the value of the first issues of Marvel’s Star Wars and G.I. Joe ultimately skyrocketed. I haven’t a clue how much those issues might be worth now, but I suspect their value has plummeted. Like many others, I owned a tattered copy of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which assigned a value to back issues based upon their condition. (An image of the 1985 edition of the price guide I once owned is at left.). When a new issue number one was released, I would typically purchase it, prompted in part by the possibility that it might increase in value. That philosophy led to many, many poor decisions (including the acquisition of a number of Star Comics and New Universe titles to my collection). Instead of meticulously archiving my comic books in plastic bags and cardboard longboxes, I should have treated them more like the ephemeral properties they were and enjoyed them as such. I’m not necessarily suggesting that I should have disposed on the comics immediately upon reading them (as one might a magazine), but I suspect I would have enjoyed the hobby to a greater extent had I relaxed a bit about their protection of their condition. Kids should read comics for fun, not financial worries.

Perhaps, though, my greatest disappointment is the slow but inevitable dissolution of the comic book collection I had so lovingly assembled. Bits and pieces of my collection were lost during various moves. I remember essentially donating hundreds of back issues to a used bookstore in Austin when it came time to move to Waco for law school in early 1999. It would have been nice, I think, to have maintained the collection as a whole, as if in a time capsule, such that I could revisit it in later years and remember simpler times. Unfortunately, the logistical demands of adulthood thwart most efforts to preserve our childhood in some sort of nostalgic amber (which is why, as I noted above, I’ve been attempting to reassemble some portion of that collection these past few years).

As a part of this project, Ryan requested that participants include a photograph of themselves. A contrarian of sorts, I choose to share the photograph below. Taken on December 19, 1979, my fourth birthday, it depicts me, standing and showing my friends the Star Wars action figures I just received as gifts that day. I have no recollection of that day. (Many thanks to my mother for unearthing this ancient photograph.).



The Return of Tanya Donelly and Belly

belly-starYesterday, Belly, a true gem of what we once called alternative music, announced its reunion as well as an upcoming tour. After folding twenty years ago, the band will now play a series of shows in the U.K. and the U.S. this summer. Among the members of Generation X (already excited by the recent return of British shoegazers Lush), nostalgia and anticipation abounded.

Few bands exemplified the dream pop of the 1990’s better than Belly, the act fronted by Tanya Donelly, the lead singer with the unmistakably ethereal voice. The band’s hits, including “Feed The Tree” and the magical “Super-Connected,” perfectly captured the carefree sense of possibility permeating the alt-rock of the mid-1990’s. But, as bands do, Belly soon fell apart, leaving the world just two full length albums and a handful of singles and EP’s.

At the dawn of the band’s career, its prospects seemed promising. Donelly’s musical pedigree was impeccable (having founded Throwing Muses with Kristin Hersh and worked with the Pixies’ Kim Deal on the first Breeders album, 1990’s Pod, a favorite of Kurt Cobain’s). But Donelly had larger ambitions. In late 1992, Spin magazine reported upon the birth of her new project, Belly, and heralded the imminent release of its debut album (which was to be Star, which arrived in January of 1993). For the band, those were the days. As a result of its early efforts, it received two Grammy nominations. The opening act for one leg of its 1993 tour was another band in its infancy: Radiohead. Belly even contributed a decent cover of “Are You Experienced?” to 1993’s Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix compilation album. King, the band’s second album, saw its release in 1995. In a Rolling Stone cover story that year, Jancee Dunn positively characterized the band as trendy intellectual alt-rockers (presumably with a bright future in the industry despite its members’ various quirks and apprehensions):

[T]he folks in Belly resemble hip graduate students. They’re well spoken, well read, funny. They are mindful of the truth (and consequences) of fame and dismissive of the myth of celebrity. This isn’t jadedness as much as cleareyed awareness — and detachedness. Talk of any trappings of fame makes them uncomfortable.

In sum, the band seemed to be going places. Of course, not everyone dug its second album. In a 1995 Austin Chronicle review of King, music critic Margaret Moser noted that the record “may be a kind of sophomore slump . . .  as Donelly’s inclination toward feyness can be suffocating, and tender becomes cloying on ‘The Bees’ and ‘Red.'” But the center would not hold. Just four years after the band’s formation, in late 1996, Julia Chaplin of Spin reported that its members had “amicably” parted ways, ostensibly paving the way for Donelly’s inevitable solo career. On her own, though, Donelly never equalled the success or critical acclaim of Belly (despite releasing a number of solo albums). For the last several years, she has released recordings in her “Swan Song Series,” a title more suggestive of impending retirement than a return to past projects.

As bands from the 1990’s began to reform in the 2000’s, Belly remained conspicuously absent from the 1990’s nostalgia machine. Thirteen years ago, writing in the Austin Chronicle about the band’s greatest hits release, writer Chris Gray questioned the band’s legacy: “Belly deserved much better than they got: two albums and also-ran in the alt.rock sweepstakes.” Would the band be remembered only as a historical footnote as Gray’s review intimated? Would Donelly truly retire from music and leave Belly behind forever? Would anyone have the opportunity to see “Super-Connected” live one last time?

These questions now have answers.

Yesterday, on its official website, the band announced:

Belly is very happy to announce that we will be reuniting to play some shows this coming summer in the US and the UK.  Dates will be announced as they are confirmed, but right now we can tell you with relative confidence that the UK shows will fall in the middle of July, and US shows will be scattered throughout August and possibly into September.

We’ve also got a handful of brand new Belly songs in various stages of writing and recording, that we’ll be releasing one by one over the next few months.  First previews will be right here on the website!

We are very excited to be playing together again, and hope to see you out there in Summer of 2016!

In conjunction with its resurrection, the band also appears to have unveiled new Twitter and Instagram accounts. No word yet on where the band will perform during its tour.

Upon hearing the news of the band’s reformation, I felt a bit of elation. Back in the day, I never saw Belly in concert. Some Internet sleuthing reveals that I had several opportunities to do so when Belly performed in Texas in the 1990’s. The band put on a show at The Vatican, a Houston rock club, in April of 1993 with Velocity Girl as support. Belly returned to Houston in September of that year to headline a gig at Rockefeller’s with Radiohead in tow. In May of 1995, when I lived in Austin, the band played at that city’s beloved Liberty Lunch in support of King, released just a few months earlier in February. But the stars did not align. If the band schedules a show somewhere in the Southeastern United States, I plan to rectify my prior error in missing them back then.

(The color magazine advertisement for Belly’s Star depicted in this post originally appeared in the March 1993 issue of Spin magazine. The black and white advertisement for The Vatican, a rock club in Houston, Texas, originally appeared in the April 21, 1993 issue of Public News, a now defunct alternative newsweekly).


  • Both Belly and Lush released songs called “Untogether” in the early 1990’s.
  • Along with Juliana Hatfield, Donelly covered the theme to the cartoon, “Josie and the Pussycats,” on the 1995 compilation album, Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. I remember purchasing that disc sometime in the mid-to-late 1990’s (at the now defunct Duval Discs on Guadalupe Street in Austin, if memory serves).
  • “Thief,” a b-side from Belly’s “Now They’ll Sleep” single, also appeared on the soundtrack to the 1995 film, Tank Girl. That album also featured Veruca Salt’s resplendent magnus opus, “Aurora.”



David Bowie (1947 – 2016)


David Bowie now belongs to the ages. In the seven days since the world learned the sad news of his passing, much has been written about the man and his majestic oeuvre. Our communal bereavement compels us to compose online eulogies and assemble playlists of cherished songs which once served as the soundtrack for both recent and distant moments. Mike Doub, writing at 33⅓’s blog, puts it well when he notes that our “degree of collective mourning has been beneficial to [his] own grieving.” Just as so many other admirers have done, I too must share my thoughts on David Bowie.

Although I didn’t appreciate his place in the cultural realm at the time, I first encountered Bowie by way of 1978’s David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I’m not certain when my parents purchased that record for me, but I do remember listening to it during my very early years. As a child of the 1980’s, I came to know his hits from that glorious decade, including “Let’s Dance,” “Dancing in the Street,” and, of course, “Under Pressure,” his magnificent collaboration with Queen. The soundtrack to the 1986 film Labyrinth, which starred Bowie as the Goblin King, offered us “Magic Dance,” which to this day still provokes a genuinely wonderful joy.  As the late 1980’s fell to the early 1990’s, I found myself listening to classic rock radio and learning a bit of his fine work from the 1970’s (although the disc jockeys of that era rarely strayed beyond a limited set of Bowie’s popular singles). If memory serves, it was about that time that I came to own Changesbowie, the 1990 compilation album, and “Fame ’90,” a remix single released that same year in conjunction with that hits package.

1992 saw the release of Cool World, the curious live action/animated film starring Gabriel Byrne and Kim Basinger. Its soundtrack introduced me to a new version of Bowie, who contributed to that effort “Real Cool World,” a work of what was then called techno. That same year, he briefly appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a film based on the “Twin Peaks” television series, an obsession of mine at the time. Shortly thereafter, I was taken aback upon first hearing “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” the vibrant first single from Bowie’s 1995 concept album, Outside. In the following years, I collected what I could of his sizable discography. When I moved to South Carolina from Texas in 2006, the instrumental track “A New Career in a New Town,” from 1977’s Low, became the unofficial theme song of my journey. Just last year, when I created a playlist composed of one song from each year I’ve lived on the occasion of my fortieth birthday, I chose Bowie’s epic anthem “Heroes,” his finest moment, as my selection for 1977.

The epic concerts we miss haunt us for many years to come. Though I’ve seen many artists perform live, I never beheld David Bowie in concert. I am the poorer for it. He released Outside in September of 1995 in the dawn of my sophomore year at The University of Texas at Austin. Only a few weeks later, on October 14, 1995, Bowie brought The Outside Tour to South Park Meadows, a now defunct Austin live music venue I frequented in those days. My old friend Ryan Steans, an indefatigable blogger who now writes at The Signal Watch, recently recounted that Bowie’s 1995 Austin show served as his first date with Jamie, his wife of now 16 years. Looking back, I’m not certain what occupied my attention that night, but I negligently failed to attend that show (a grievous error, especially since I had just seen Radiohead open for R.E.M. and the Ramones perform with Pearl Jam on consecutive nights at that venue just a few weeks earlier). In 2004, I lived in Beaumont, Texas, 100 or so miles from Houston, where David Bowie stopped at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in April of that year. Unaware of the show, I missed it, as well.

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new. Unlike many of his contemporaries who long ago lost whatever edge they once maintained, Bowie never halted his quest to experiment and reinvent himself. One need only listen to Blackstar, his haunting final album released just a few days before his death, to confirm that fact. Its stark album cover, appended at the top of this post, now seems especially foreboding in light of what we would soon learn about the state of his health.

We are, as one Twitter user recently observed, “losing the unloseable.” Like intrepid concert photographer Ben Stas, I now marvel at “the degree to which the man has been omnipresent in my life since I first took a serious interest in music.” Upon learning of his death, I could react only by creating a Spotify playlist of my 50 favorite David Bowie tracks. For how many artists could one assemble a list of 50 beloved songs? His vast body of work, coupled with his ostensible permanency in the world of music and film, explains why his death affects so many who never personally knew him. We never thought it would come to an end because we could not conceptualize a world without him. But now he is gone.

Requiescat in pace, David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016).

“Sing This With Me, This Is 40.”

“Sing this with me, this is ’40,'” implores U2 frontman Bono, as he introduces the song to the crowd assembled at the band’s August 20, 1983 concert in Sankt Goarshausen, Germany. Recorded and released on U2’s 1983 live album, Under A Blood Red Sky, this live version of the song captures U2 in its prime but not quite yet at its zenith.

I was seven years old in 1983, but as two weeks ago, I am now 40. With that milestone arriving so close to the end of the calendar year, I’ve spent some time of late thinking about days gone by. As Morrissey once quipped, “the past is a strange place.”  Indeed. With each passing day, the bits and pieces of our personal experiences and the remnants of our era’s popular culture sink further into our memory. I’ve often wondered about the harm we do to our memories when we fail to give them sufficient space in our minds. Years ago, I discovered Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, which would later win the Pulitizer Prize for Fiction. Not for the feint of the heart, the book offers a dark and gritty tale of the future. In one passage, McCarthy remarks upon the peril of remembering the past:

He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.

In revisiting our memories, do we risk altering, or even overwriting, them? Is there such a thing as spoliation of memory?  By the same token, when we travel again to a familiar and fondly recalled place, do we corrupt our recollection of earlier visits? Again, I turn to a novelist who can capture the sentiment far better than I ever could. A decade or so ago, I read Elizabeth Kostova’s first novel, The Historian, in which she chronicles the exploits of a scholar in pursuit of Dracula. One passage struck me:

As an adult I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler: the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery. Sometimes we search out again even a place that was not remarkable itself – we look for it simply because we remember it. If we do find it, of course, everything is different. The rough-hewn door is still there, but it’s much smaller; the day is cloudy instead of brilliant; it’s spring instead of autumn; we’re alone instead of with three friends. Or worse, with three friends instead of alone.

Reading Kostova and McCarthy together, we learn that the simple acts of revisiting a place and remembering our past experiences adulterate our memories of those things (to say nothing of the nullifying effect of the passage of time on our ability to reminiscence generally).

But what can you do?

This, I suppose, is 40. Happy belated birthday to me.

(The photograph above was taken by me near the famous pier in Santa Monica, California on a chilly December day in 2013).



Nearly two weeks ago, I turned 40. That milestone naturally prompted some nostalgia. To me, nothing evokes the past more than the music of days gone by. Accordingly, about forty days before my birthday, I took to Facebook and posted one song per day for each year that I’ve lived. Using the hashtag #40Songs40Days40Years, I offered a bit of commentary on each song (an example of which you can find in the screenshot above). I timed the project such that I would post my final selection – a song from  this year, 2015 – on my actual birthday in mid-December. Today, on the last day of the year, I’ve assembled a list of all of the songs in one place.

For each year, I scoured the contents of my iTunes library and record collection for the perfect choice. For many years, I easily identified the perfect song (usually one which I remembered fondly or which I felt perfectly captured the spirit of that particular year). Other years proved far more difficult, particularly the dreaded 2013. Throughout the endeavor, I was ever mindful of the words of Rob Gordon, the character played by John Cusack in High Fidelity, who analogously remarked in that film:

. . . [T]he making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you ‘re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.

Wise words. Thus, I established some rules for the project. I followed most of them (including the very strict requirement that only one song could appear per year, making the choice for 1991 an extraordinary dilemma). I did, however, break the self-imposed rule that a particular band could only appear once on the list. In the end, I even created a three hour Spotify playlist collecting all of the songs I chose (which I hope you will enjoy).

Without further ado, the complete #40Songs40Days40Years list is below.

The 1970’s

  • “Thunder Road,” by Bruce Springsteen, from the album Born To Run (Columbia Records, 1975).
  • “Blitzkrieg Bop,” by the Ramones, from the album Ramones (Sire, 1976).
  • “Heroes,” by David Bowie, from the album “Heroes” (RCA, 1977).
  • “Radio, Radio,” by Elvis Costello, from the album This Year’s Model (Radar, 1978).
  • “Suspect Device,” by Stiff Little Fingers, from the album Inflammable Material (Rough Trade, 1979).

The 1980’s

  • “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Joy Division, from the single of the same name (Factory, 1980).
  • “Ceremony,” by New Order, from the single of the same name (Factory, 1981).
  • “Tell Me When It’s Over,” by The Dream Syndicate, from the album The Days of Wine and Roses (Ruby Records/Slash, 1982).
  • “Kiss Off,” by Violent Femmes, from the album Violent Femmes (Slash, 1983).
  • “The Killing Moon,” by Echo & The Bunnymen, from the album Ocean Rain (Korova, 1984).
  • “Bastards of Young,” by The Replacements, from the album Tim (Sire, 1985).
  • “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths, from the album The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986).
  • “Where The Streets Have No Name,” by U2, from the album The Joshua Tree (Island, 1987).
  • “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies, from the album Surfer Rosa (4AD, 1988).
  • “Strange,” by Galaxie 500, from the album On Fire (Rough Trade, 1989).

The 1990’s

  • “Candy,” by Iggy Pop, from the album Brick by Brick (Virgin, 1990).
  • “Black,” by Pearl Jam, from the album Ten (Epic, 1991).
  • “Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M., from the album Automatic for the People (Warner Bros., 1992).
  • “Soma,” by Smashing Pumpkins, from the album Siamese Dream (Virgin, 1993).
  • “Pay No Mind (Snoozer),” by Beck, from the album Mellow Gold (DGC, 1994).
  • “Fake Plastic Trees,” by Radiohead, from the album The Bends (Capitol Records, 1995).
  • “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” by Oasis, from the single of the same name (Creation, 1996).
  • “No Surprises,” by Radiohead, from the album OK Computer (Capitol Records, 1997).
  • “Oh, Comely,” by Neutral Milk Hotel, from the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge Records, 1998).
  • “Wise Up,” by Aimee Mann, from the original motion picture soundtrack to the film, Magnolia (Warner Music, 1999).

The 2000’s

  • “The Night,” by Morphine, from the album The Night (DreamWorks Records, 2000).
  • “Fell In Love With A Girl,” by The White Stripes, from the album White Blood Cells (Sympathy, 2001).
  • “Dear Chicago,” by Ryan Adams, from the album Demolition (Lost Highway, 2002).
  • “Maps,” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, from the album Fever To Tell (Interscope, 2003).
  • “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” by Arcade Fire, from the album Funeral (Merge, 2004).
  • “Mr. November,” by The National, from the album Alligator (Beggars Banquet, 2005).
  • “The Funeral,” by Band of Horses, from the album Everything All The Time (Sub Pop, 2006).
  • “Intervention,” by Arcade Fire, from the album Neon Bible (Merge, 2007).
  • “For Today,” by Jessica Lea Mayfield, from the album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt (Polymer Records, 2008).
  • “You and I,” by Wilco, from the album Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch, 2009).

The 2010’s

  • “I Think Ur A Contra,” by Vampire Weekend, from the album Contra (XL, 2010).
  • “If It’s Alive, I Will,” by Angel Olsen, from the album Strange Cacti (Bathetic Records, 2011).
  • “Continuous Thunder,” by Japandroids, from the album Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2012).
  • “Spring Break (Birthday Song),” by Ex Cops, from the album True Hallucinations (Other Music Recording Co., 2013).
  • “Archie, Marry Me,” by Alvvays, from the album Alvvays (Polyvinyl Records, 2014).
  • “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” by Lera Lynn, from the digital single of the same name (Harvest Records, 2015).