Thursday, January 17, 2013

Save the Empire!

If you've never seen Empire Records (1995), most of this post may be lost on you. And I can't even apologize for this, as it's your fault you haven't seen this masterpiece of teenaged angst and rebellious love of music over capitalism. It may not be your fault - perhaps you didn't know - but now that you do there's no excuse and I expect you to get your hands on a copy immediately, but only if you were ever a teenager. The rest of you are off the hook.

Let's back up a little.

I have always loved to sing. I can remember my mother sitting at the piano smiling while I matched with my voice the notes she played. *She was even a member of Sweet Adelines, a traveling singing group that made the church circuit - I thought she was a rock star. I grew up listening to her sing her way through the house and I've always done the same. I was the little girl in children's choir who got the solo at the Christmas concert at church, and if chorus was an option at school, I was in.

Enter adolescence and the flush of hormones that turn every kid on their head and I quickly grew too self-conscious to let anyone hear me sing anymore. In church I'd grown up with these people and there was a sense of safety when I stood on the stage and sang my little heart out. In school, however, I never auditioned for the solo because I didn't want to stand out, preferring to hide in the small sea of elementary voices that surrounded me. When my elementary years ran out, middle school didn't offer any opportunities to sing, and when I entered high school I was too shy to seek them out. But isn't this one of the very reasons we love movies so much? To not only buy into the story, but imagine ourselves within the realm of another reality for a couple hours?

I was 14 years old when Empire Records came out. My best friend and I rented the tape and watched it at least four times over the course of one weekend. (Keep in mind that this was in the day of rewinding the movie when you were done, so clearly this movie spoke to us in special ways for us to rewind it several times just to watch it again. I can't even imagine rewinding anything these days, who has the time?) As with all Generation X teen flicks, we saw ourselves in the characters and felt their plight to the depths of our tortured, teenaged souls. Damn the man!
I saw myself in Debra, the angry and depressed girl with suicidal tendencies who shaves her head in a fit of frustration. I envied her courage to say what she thought and confront anyone who questioned her.

I wanted to be Corey, so oblivious to her pouty-lipped beauty but cool at the same time, while the sweet, slightly insecure, and properly grungy-hot A.J. fumbles after her in an attempt to reveal his love for her by 1:37pm. (You have to respect a boy with goals.)
But the one who really got me by the end was Gina. Gina is the record store slut, if you will, the sexy little wild thing who does what she wants and cares not what you think. (I didn't relate to this part, but secretly wished that I could.) But in the end, we find out that Gina does have insecurities like the rest of us (what!) and not only does she envy Corey's bright future in college, she's always wanted to sing in a band but is too afraid!

This was the moment I - and probably most other viewers - fell in love with Gina, not only because it's a relief to see the girl who seems to have it all under control really doesn't, but also because she overcomes her fears about singing in front of people and stands on that marquee and belts out lyrics to 'Sugar High' while the band plays around her at the finale scene where the people rise up to save the independent record store that is Empire Records! It's glorious and since 1995, any time I listen to the Empire Records Soundtrack and that song comes on, I sing Gina's parts loud and proud, pretending for a moment that I have the courage to sing from atop a lit marquee, too.

As long as no one else is home.

I still love to sing whenever I can, whether I'm in the car, in the shower, at my desk with iTunes blasting or making up silly songs to describe what I'm doing. Singing the words to a song that you connect with does something beautifully cathartic, and sometimes when I really need to tap into a certain emotion, whether to deal with something personal or get into the right headspace for writing a certain scene, all I need to do is play the right song and the room fills.

This train of thought was brought on by a recent post by a favorite blogger of mine, in which she discusses her fantasy job that she knows she'd suck at. The Cat Lady closes the post posing the question to her readers, What is your secret fantasy career that you know you’d be awful at? Well, Natalie, let me tell you...

Being aware that a career in singing would be a terrible move doesn't mean that I'm failing to believe in myself, I'm just realistic. I can carry a tune, and I admit that I have the ability to sing certain songs pretty well, but I lack the proper pipes and guts to pursue anything outside of my house. And it isn't that I'm not going after a dream, because I may fantasize about singing in a band like Gina, but my true dream is to be a successful writer. Singing is something I'll always do, but writing is something that defines me.

I think it's healthy to hold onto slightly unrealistic fantasies to keep our hearts hopeful and imaginations limber, just as long as we don't lose touch with reality and in turn, lose ourselves to the pursuit of a shattered dream waiting to happen. Some people find out what was once slightly unrealistic is really their true calling in life, but for the rest of us, it's fun to pretend between moments of stupid adult responsibility and what is sometimes a dull reality.  

Because wouldn't it be great if we could all end our days dancing in triumph on the rooftop of an independent record store behind the glorious neon glow of its sign? 

Yeah, I think so, too.

*See the next post, Your Memory is a Liar, for the correction to this slightly fudged memory.


  1. I love everything about this, Lindsey! You already know about my Empire fetish, and reading this was like reading a page from my sixteen-year-old self's diary. I related SO MUCH to the angst, the struggle against capitalistic death of anything pure and creative, and the trying to figure out one's place in it all. THIS WAS AMAZING.
    And I feel the same way about the piano and being a musician. I do these things in private, for me, a dream I don't even wish would become reality in the same way I do about writing.
    PS - I still have this video in cassette.

  2. Ohmygoshbestmovieever!!! I've never enjoyed performing musically in front of anyone else. I had to kind of get over that scare when I took a vocal class last fall, but I opted to go at the beginning of every recital just to get it over with! It's fun to have a private talent, and with your mom's genes, I bet you have an amazing voice that I'd love to hear, but totally get how much more fun and personal it is to do it by yourself, for yourself.

    1. I'm thinking one day you, me, & Nat can create a secret singing group. We'll be so hard to book we'll become an overnight sensation that NOBODY'S EVER HEARD!!! We'll be millionaires for sure.

    2. For sure! We'll get the Lawsbians to be our own personal PR team. They'll totally back us without ever having to hear us.

    3. It's really weird that I enjoy reading you three ladies' blogs (why don't men have interesting blogs?).

      This may make you all hate me, but I was thinking about writing a combo of your last two blogs about how memory doesn't serve us well, and how some movies we thought were amazing in our time, really didn't stand the test of time. I was going to use St. Elmo's Fire, Empire Records, and Mall Rats as examples of movies that whole generations loved, but really aren't good movies.

      Obviously some of this has to do with where we were maturity-wise, but I can understand why my students don't think Goonies or Neverending Story are very good...they're cheesy and made for our time (I think I'm a few years older then you ladies). Likewise, I watch movies like Empire Records, and want to yell at the characters to get a life.

    4. Why is it weird? I doubt you're sexist enough to say it's because we're women (you come across as too intelligent to be that stupid). Clearly you have good taste and recognize brilliance. And modesty.


    5. Ah, Goonies! The Neverending Story!! Classics from my childhood!!!

      Whereas I completely understand that none of the movies I cherish may actually be good films in the real world, in MY world they are golden, not to be touched, moments in my life. I imagine everyone has a cache of music and films from their life they hold dear regardless of actual merit. Like Footloose...I missed this one back in its day, and when I finally watched it last year, I didn't care for it at all. I actually kind of hated it, possible more because I expected to love it as much as I love Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.

      I'll read your post, but I'll have to reject your analysis of certain films simply because they're old friends of mine. And also because sometimes the cheesiest endings are the best medicine when you need a little boost.

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