Short Story: “A Playlist For Suburbia” By C. A. Brown

The only way to make suburbia interesting is with the right kind of music. For Steve, this was usually American punk music. When the furious guitars kicked in and the singer started whining sarcastically or blurting out elaborate descriptions, it somehow made suburbia ok. It magically turned boring Daily Mail middle England into something out of the kind of rebellious Hollywood comedies that he was always wanted to watch when he was younger.

Even the dreariest of playing fields and most forgettably ordinary rows of houses could be transformed into something from an edgy late-1990s comedy horror movie when he listened to the beginning of Bad Religion’s “Suffer” on his MP3 player. But, only the beginning. Somehow, the crashing, stabbing waves of angry guitars and the singer’s first frantic question made even the most leisurely of strolls feel like a dramatic tracking shot from some film he’d always wanted to watch when he was a teenager. For the ten seconds that it lasted, the world seemed more interesting than ever before.

Then, of course, there was Green Day’s “Tight Wad Hill”. Steve had never bothered to learn the lyrics to it, but it didn’t matter. Whenever he saw the old houses from the ’80s that were covered with faded white plastic and looked like something from a low-budget horror movie, he listened to this song. It had something to do with the singer’s slightly sarcastic, slightly slurred voice. Something to do with the cynical bitterness that drips from every word of the song. It made him feel like he was living in the beautifully run-down world of some corner of rural America, some horror novel town where strange things happen on an alarmingly regular basis.

And, for the brightest of cold summer Saturdays, there was always The Offspring. On those hellish days where everyone wears pastel clothes, where the air is polluted with the noise of twenty garden parties filled with crackly radios, the indecipherable shouting of noisy kids and the buzzing of lawnmowers, Steve listened to The Offspring. Not their edgier early stuff or even their mature modern stuff, but the really commercial stuff they put out in the late 1990s when, for a little while, they were mainstream.

The instant the first lines of “Pretty Fly” bounced through his headphones, he remembered when that song was playing on the crackly radios, he remembered when he was an annoyingly noisy kid and he remembered when pretending that the noises of distant lawnmowers were actually horror movie chainsaws felt like a really cool and edgy thing to do.

But, for grey weekdays, there was no choice other than No Use For A Name’s “Making Friends” album. If you actually listen to the lyrics, you’ll realise that they’re considerably less cheerful than the accompanying music. But, for a Monday when Steve had to trudge through the same suburban streets again, it gave him the gift of schadenfreude. At least, he thought, I’m living somewhere different to the nightmare world in the lyrics.

And then, for Sunday mornings, there was NOFX. When he went to the corner shop for snacks – and the rustling of Daily Mails and faint grumbles of queuing shoppers got too much, he’d listen to NOFX songs from the early-mid 2000s. They were the only punk band who were mercilessly sarcastic enough to make him smile. To make him feel just the slightest thrill of rebellion even when the topical satire in each song had long since passed it’s sell-by-date.

Then there was Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”. This was one of those songs Steve put on whenever a nearby car started broadcasting pop music through their open windows at top volume. “All The Small Things” was a whiny song, a commercial song and a generic love song of the worst kind. But, compared to the stuff on the radio these days, it was practically a work of art. Steve smiled. This was, of course, the only way to appreciate this song.

But, when Steve got home, he turned his MP3 player off and opened his laptop. A second later, the soothing tones of “One Foul Step From The Abyss” by Cradle Of Filth sailed gracefully through the air. He sat back and smiled. Punk music might be useful for getting through suburbia. But, he thought, to really relax, you need something else.

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Today’s Art (22nd January 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Reflection”, a new webcomic mini series featuring the characters who have appeared in most of my other webcomics. Although this mini series will consist of self-contained comics, I’m kind of thinking of making a more introspection-themed mini series this time. You can catch up on previous comics from this mini series here: Comic One, Comic Two

Surprisingly, although it’s the thid comic in this mini series, this was actually the first one of this set of comics that I planned (a couple of days before I started planning the rest of the mini series). Although my original plan was a lot less art-intensive, I’m feeling more creative than usual with this mini series. So, I decided to set the comic in the same nightclub that has appeared in this comic, this comic and this comic (and is loosely based on a pub called “The Angel” in Aberystywth).

And, yes, punk music (especailly 1990s American punk music) is a lot more depressing than it might seem. Listen to “Soul Mate” By No Use For A Name – at first, it seems like an upbeat punk song but if you actually listen carefully to the lyrics, it’s ridiculously depressing. Now compare this to a metal song like “Ever Dream” by Nightwish, “Leather Rebel” by Judas Priest or “Heaven Can Wait” By Iron Maiden. The emotional tone is completely different! Seriously, metal is a much happier and more uplifting genre than it might look at first glance 🙂

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reflection – Music” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (5th January 2018)

Woo hoo! This is the punk painting that I’d originally planned to make yesterday. It was originally inspired by some punk collage art I’d seen on the internet (eg: the cover to Green Day’s “Insomniac” etc..). And I’d originally planned for this to be an apolitical painting that resembled old 1990s American punk album covers.

But, well, as soon as I started sketching it, it went in a much more “traditional” British punk -style direction and ended up being about ten times more political and cynical than I expected. But, damn, was it fun to make 🙂 And, yes, I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to include caricatures of both Boris Johnson (on what I imagine would be a British version of a 1990s Offspring album cover) and Donald Trump in the same painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Punk Montage” By C. A. Brown

Three Things That 1980s-2000s American & Canadian Punk Music Can Teach (Visual) Artists

2017-artwork-things-punk-music-can-teach-artists

Well, I thought that I’d write another “how can music improve our art?” article (like this one and this one) but, this time, I thought that I’d take a look at the very first “cool” genre of music that I ever discovered (and have rediscovered regularly since then). I am, of course, talking about American & Canadian punk music from the 1980s-2000s.

This includes bands like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Sum 41, AFI, T.S.O.L, Green Day and NOFX. Although these bands certainly didn’t invent punk music (I’m pretty sure that the Sex Pistols did that during the 1970s, but I’m probably mistaken), they have a very different attitude towards the genre when compared to more “traditional” punk music.. and they can be surprisingly inspirational.

So, what can 1980s-2000s American & Canadian punk music teach (visual) artists? Although I’ve already covered one thing that The Offspring’s “Americana” album taught me, here are a few more things that the genre can teach us:

1) Genre Blending: One of the cool things about American & Canadian punk bands from the 1980s-2000s is that they often weren’t afraid to look outside of the punk genre for inspiration. And, because of this, the genre contains significantly more variety than “traditional” punk music does.

Sum 41 is a great example of this since, although some of their stuff from the 1990s/early 2000s often has a fairly “light” pop punk sound, they also occasionally took inspiration from the heavy metal genre too (in songs like “Pain For Pleasure” and “Reign In Pain”). Even some of their “ordinary” punk songs from the mid-late 2000s sound a little bit “heavier” than you might expect.

Likewise, a band called AFI originally started out as a fairly “ordinary” punk band but, as time went on, they gradually started to adopt slightly more of a gothic style – whilst still remaining a punk band at the same time. The interesting thing is that, although the gothic rock genre and punk genre share a common history – most of the more “gothic” songs by AFI (during the ’90s and ’00s) have a very unique sound that is different from classic gothic rock and still very recognisable as punk.

So, what does this have to do with art? Well, it can be very easy to end up making just one particular type or genre of art, and there’s nothing wrong with this. But, the only way that your art is going to evolve into something unique and to stand out from the crowd is if you are willing to experiment occasionally and include elements and inspirations from other genres or styles.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that will be posted here in December. Although most of it is in my classic high-contrast style and includes my usual ink drawings, I wanted to try something a bit different. Inspired by a scene in a TV show I’d seen (where the camera focuses on the background and leaves the foreground blurry), I thought that I’d try to use a more impressionistic style in part of the picture:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th December.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th December.

This experiment certainly wasn’t a complete success, but it is occasional genre-blending experiments like this that can help you to make your art look a bit more distinctive and unique.

2) Substance matters more than style: One of the interesting things about 1980s-2000s punk music from the US and Canada is that it can sometimes be more sophisticated than “traditional” punk music. The classic example of this is probably the band Bad Religion, whose lyrics are significantly more complex than anything you’d traditionally expect from a punk band.

They aren’t afraid to dive into the thesaurus at every possible opportunity and they aren’t afraid to sing about a wide variety of topics and ideas. They don’t even look like what you’d expect a “punk band” to look like. They know more than three chords. Their music is rarely about shock value or rebellion for the sake of rebellion. And, yet, they’re about as punk as you can get!

So, again, what does this have to do with art? Well, it’s a reminder that, whilst attitude and emotion will get you so far, substance matters more than style. It’s all very well to think that you’re some kind of “bohemian” or “rebel” or whatever because you’re an artist, but you still need technical skill if you want to make art that will impress actual people (rather than art critics).

In other words, you need to practice regularly (even when you aren’t feeling “inspired”) and focus more on making interesting art than on being “cool”. Yes, regular art practice might occasionally seem “boring” or like it’s some kind of chore, but it’s what allows you to go from making art that looks like this:

"Cave Sculptures" By C. A. Brown [9th July 2012]

“Cave Sculptures” By C. A. Brown [9th July 2012]

To making slightly better artwork that looks a bit more like this:

"Architecture" By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

3) Do what you want: On the surface, punk music and “the mainstream” seem like polar opposites. But, for a while during the 1990s and early 2000s, American and Canadian punk music was mainstream. This is how I first discovered this amazing genre during my childhood. And, surprisingly, “mainstream” punk music wasn’t terrible (well, most of it wasn’t).

Yet, whilst I can be fairly cynical about the mainstream sometimes, punk music was an exception to the rule for the simple reason that it still sounded like punk music. Yes, there was censorship on the radio and some of the music had a slightly “light” sound to it but, at it’s core, it was still punk music. Like with heavy metal bands, punk bands just focused on making the kind of music that they liked making, regardless of whether it was mainstream or not. Compare this to an anodyne designed-by-committee pop band that is manufactured purely to make money and you’ll see what I mean.

Yet again, what does this have to do with making art? Well, it just means that you should make the kind of art that interests you, regardless of whether or not it is “cool” or “avant garde” or whatever. For example, if you really like painting realistic natural landscapes – then paint them! You’ll have a lot more enthusiasm (which will translate into inspiration and creativity) and produce much better artwork than you would if you try to be “avant garde” because you think that this is what an artist “should” do.

Punk music, at it’s core, is about doing your own thing. If this happens to be popular, then do it anyway. If this happens to be unpopular, then do it anyway. If it makes you famous, then this is good. If it doesn’t make you famous, this is also good. Nothing else matters than creating the kind of things that you find fascinating and the things that you thrive at making.

Punk music might have got a lot of radio airplay in the past but, those who weren’t interested in it have probably forgotten about it. And, those who were interested in it still listen to it. It’s a great example of how, if you do your own thing, then you’ll have enthusiastic fans. You might not have hundreds of millions of them, but they’ll be a much better quality of fan than you might get if you try to make things that aren’t really “you” because you think that these things are “popular” or “cool”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (15th August 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was an interesting one. As regular readers probably know, I make these daily paintings ridiculously far in advance – so, this one was made the day before Halloween last year. Originally, it was going to have a more “realistic” colour scheme – but this looked genuinely creepy, so I ended up digitally changing it to a cooler punk-style green/purple colour scheme.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Cryptic Corridor" By C. A. Brown

“Cryptic Corridor” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (16th May 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fourth comic in “Damania Relocated” – a new sci-fi/comedy webcomic mini series about travelling back in time to 1990s America. This mini series is also in the tradition of my “Time Travel Trilogy” that can be read here, here and here.

Links to lots more comics featuring these characters can be found on this page.

Yes, I couldn’t resist taking a brief diversion from the main plot to make a comic about 1990s American punk music. No prizes for guessing which awesome 90s punk band appears in the first panel(hint: it isn’t Nirvana!). And, yes, Roz has a history of confusing punk and grunge music.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Relocated – Never Mind” By C. A. Brown