When I was in my teens, I lived in a kinda crappy building in a borderline scary neighbourhood, where people nonchalantly referred to near child abductions by pedophiles as a typical occurrence. Ten minutes away from my apartment lay one of the dumpiest, tiniest malls in the history of the structure. Aside from its theatre ($2.50 movies on Tuesdays!) and the department store chain, it had little going for it, including the mediocre food court.
What it did have was a pretty awesome independent music store. The kind of place where the staff genuinely loved to work. A place where the staff knew you and your preferences and would stow away promotional posters they knew you’d love. A wonderland where you could step inside and someone would greet you and say, “I know a great release you should check out.” I remember a time where a fellow X-Files enthusiast excitedly waved me over to show me the hidden track on the show’s soundtrack — the one where you had to search backwards from the start of the first song to hear it. It was amazing, and instrumental in changing my life.
Being someone who avoided TV and locked herself away in the sanctuary of her bedroom with music ever playing, I learned of the film Empire Records in a backwards, yet fitting way: the soundtrack. I wandered into my favourite store and was immediately greeted by one of the usual staffers, who gestured to the Empire Records soundtrack on the wall. I scanned the back and nodded my approval. Yes. This is a must-buy.
Months later, I was babysitting for my usual clients when I noticed that Empire Records was on Pay Per View. Being as they had a “black box” (read: descrambler of free movie goodness), I asked if they’d mind taping it for me sometime. They did so, and I took home my treasure after my next Friday night gig.
I was in awe. The music was great, of course; it was a given. But the characters, the story, the microcosm of the record store… It was what drew me in to watch it again… and again… and again. It not only became my favourite movie and, to date, my most-watched film (at least 300 times, no exaggeration); it became a close friend of sorts. Empire understood me.
I understand that treating a film as sentient sounds utterly mad, so allow me to elaborate: each and every character carries an aspect of my own self, whether past or present or both. For an angsty teen living with an abusive parent, I could connect with Deb as she wielded sarcasm as a defense for the genuine pain she struggled with. I could relate to Lucas and his good intentions gone horribly awry, at his clear sense of chosen family. Ever youthful in an outright defiance of aging and adulthood, Mark speaks to my playful side, the side that wants to still believe in the inherent good of people, who is hungry for more music, more laughter, more life. When Corey winces at her father’s gifted flowers and the note attached, lamenting that nothing is ever enough for him, I recall the time I got berated for getting 95% on a test. It echoes how despite being the first in my family to attend and graduate university at all, that somehow, my not getting into a graduate program negated all successes. Lovesick, shy AJ, quietly crafting art? Story of my life through age 22. Gina’s fearful musings that her mother’s life “ended after high school“? My own mother, and her resentments, come to the surface.
Also, I was born at 1:37am, and consider it my destiny that this movie and I should meet. It’s an excellent time.
But that doesn’t fully explain my adoration of the film itself. Why does Empire Records remain my favourite film? Why do I have a quote from it on the back of my business card? Why did this music blog earn its moniker from said film?
Simple: in a world where nothing is fair, where each day brings new challenges that push us to our limits, it’s nice to bear witness to the defeat of “The Man”. It’s touching to watch a group of so-called misfits love, support and nurture each other. For a music fan, it’s a hotbed of discussions and arguments that many of us have had about genres, mainstream releases and the importance of vinyl.
It’s a perfectly imperfect world, one I love getting lost in on a regular basis.
So today, on Rex Manning Day, I’d like to say thank you to the cast, crew and creators that gave the world this film that I’ve loved for over 18 years. Thank you for your talents and sincerity of portrayals. Thank you for making me laugh on the worst days of my life, and for reminding me of hope when little remained. Thank you for being so goddamn quotable. Thank you for being there for us music-worshipping misfits, oddballs and/or addicts. Through insomnia, grief, depression, and drunken nights with friends, I’ve worn out two VHS copies and now endure a skipping DVD. I can’t say that about any other film in my collection, which makes you all very, very special indeed. I’d make you all buttons if I could, but instead, my life mantra will have to suffice.
Damn The Man. Save The Empire.