Today is Monday, November 6th. I am currently working my way through the entirety of The Used’s discography because tomorrow, on the 7th, I’m going to see them live for the first time ever. I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that that’s really happening. If they don’t play Buried Myself Alive, I might cry.
The Used was instrumental in my high school survival. I’m honestly not sure how I haven’t seen them before? They were my jam, man. Back when the unholy trinity was barely a thing (P!ATD, FOB, MCR), I was almost constantly listening to My Chemical Romance, The Used, and Story of the Year. My parents once dropped me off on a street corner in New Hampshire in the middle of the winter to wait in line to see MCR. I think I was sixteen at the time? It was my first concert without them, and I was meeting friends there. It was, hands down, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. It was during the Black Parade era, and the show began with Gerard rolling out on a stretcher in hospital garb to sing the opening song. All of them were in the black uniforms, and it was just–wow. I’m never going to forget that night.
I never got to see Story of the Year, and I’m pretty upset about that, but tomorrow, finally, I’m going to see The Used.
Now, I have a kind of tumultuous relationship with The Used. I was in love with them for their first two albums, and then, right around when Lies for the Liars was coming out, there was this huge controversy between their singer, Bert, and their drummer, Branden, about the kind of lifestyle the band was leading. I had a very soft spot for Branden in my heart, and when he was kicked out of the band, I threw an absolute fit and stopped listening to The Used. This is not an uncommon thing for me. When Ronnie Radke left Escape the Fate, I threw a party and then refused to even entertain the idea of any new music he might put out. After Benedict Cumberbatch’s awful comment about people with autism, I refused to support anything he did. (I’m still furious they cast him as Doctor Strange.) There are others, too, that I’ve turned my back on, but it’s a long list, so I’m not going to get into it. However, a few years ago, Bert apologized to Branden, and they seemed, at least on the outside, to have settled things. I started to cautiously listen to their music again, but it wasn’t really until Imaginary Enemy in 2014 that I was tumbling head over heels in love again. When they released their tour this year and their new album, I was all over that.
You may be wondering why all of this is relevant to a writing blog. So, when I first start writing a novel, even before the writing part happens, I like to hop on Pinterest and start generating ideas. This happens every time, and always at the very beginning. I usually continue to pin while I’m writing, but I’ll get a good board going before I start. It helps when sometimes I just need to get in the right head space, looking at all of the different aesthetically specific things I’ve pinned, or even when I’m stuck and need to help myself get out of a hole. This is one of my favorite ways to accomplish what I always refer to as the Sheldon Cooper Writer’s Block. If you watch Big Bang Theory, you may be familiar with the episode I’m going to reference. If not, no worries, I’ll explain it.
There’s this episode where Sheldon, a literal genius, is trying to solve a problem. I can’t remember what problem it is, just that he’s stuck in a bad way, and he can’t see a way out. He decides that he needs to do something monotonous to let his mind just work, so he starts working as a busboy at the Cheesecake Factory, where one of the other characters works. While he’s bussing, the part of his brain working on the problem comes to the answer, and he has a true moment of epiphany.
This. This is a real thing every writer needs to apply to their process. If you’re in a rut, do something else. It doesn’t even have to be related. Go outside, and hike a mountain. Watch an episode of TV, or twelve. Read a book. Call up a friend, and get lunch. And if you want it to be related, head on over to Pinterest and start pinning the heck out of everything. Let your brain hang out in the world without actually working in the world. But stop trying to force yourself to write. Run away. Go do something else, and the problem will work itself out.
I don’t often subscribe to those “how to write a novel” articles, but this works. I promise.
This all connects, I swear.
After I’ve got a good board going, one of the things I like to do is find real life people to represent my characters in my head. Sometimes, you’re never going to find the perfect person. I’ve had at least four different actors for Ronan, and I don’t think I’m ever actually going to find what he looks like because he’s so specific in my head. Sometimes, you’re going to find a pretty good compromise, and you can adjust the rest while writing. Sometimes, you’re going to find the one.
That’s Alex. Unequivocally. That’s him. Yup. Who is that, you ask? Bert McCracken, lead singer of The Used. I’m not even sure how I stumbled across him. I might have just been in the punk rock tag, and he might have just been in there, but I remember scrolling through pins, stopping real quick, and just blinking stupidly at this picture. I remember thinking, wait, that’s Bert? No way. Yes way. And it just stuck. He became Alex for me.
A lot of the other characters in his novel are also perfect matches–Taylor Momsen for Michele (mom), Andy Beirsack for Billy (boyfriend), and Machine Gun Kelly for Max (dad)–but Bert stole the show for me. Every time I write or even think about Alex, this is who I see. There are, of course, small things that make him less Bert, more Alex, as with all real life people I find for characters, but still, it was pretty wild.
So now, I’m going to see The Used in concert tomorrow. Not only is little, teenage Mary very excited, but it also feels like it might be very surreal. It’s going to be like seeing my Alex onstage. Alex is already so real to me that this is just going to be taking it to a level I never even imagined. And I know all of this sounds really insane, and it probably is, but as someone who wrote about a punk teenager trying to survive with music as a crutch, this is just otherworldly, going to see the person who looks like him in my head. Right now, if Alex was real, he’d be onstage somewhere, singing his heart out, covered in sweat and tattoos and ripped up clothes, and some angry teenager in the crowd wouldn’t be feeling so alone. And maybe I’ve gotten past the part where I’m an angry teenager, but music still makes me feel less alone. And tomorrow? Tomorrow, I’m going to be closer to my Alex than I’ve ever been before, and I’m very, very excited.
So again, I say, here’s to you, every angry teenager out there. Rock on, you rad little beasties. Alex would be proud of you.