In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!
“Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever.” To many people, no doubt, those seven words would most instantly relate to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But not to me: to me, they’re the title of the penultimate track of Bad Religion’s 2004 album The Empire Strikes First. Bad Religion, for those of you not in the know, are an LA-based punk band who’ve been going since 1980, i.e. for two more years than I’ve been alive (also: yes, I will persist in using plural pronouns for groups of people unified under a single name. I’m British; it’s what we do).
Let’s rewind. It’s 1995 and I’m on the 10th Ipswich Scouts summer camp, sheltering from the sun and (less effectively) from wasps in a tent pitched on Skreen’s Park in the Essex countryside. The air is hot and thick, and smells of warm canvas mixed with the faint, plasticky scent of the waterproof groundsheet. Jamie Dreher has a battery-powered stereo and two cassettes: Smash by The Offspring and Bleach by Nirvana. He gets to The Offspring’s “Self Esteem” and suddenly something in my head clicks. Up until now the bits and pieces of pop music I’ve heard has seemed vacuous and pointless. But “Self Esteem” isn’t pop. I can hear the lyrics, and the lyrics tell a story, and it’s a story that makes sense. It’s nothing I have personal experience of, because the song’s about lacking the guts to walk away from a girl who treats you awfully, and as a socially-awkward, spotty 13-year-old I don’t really have much clue about that (and that wouldn’t change for quite a while). But it is, at least theoretically, a song that has a point.