Rock ‘n’ Roll High School 56: One Part Clerks, One Part High Fidelity

You’re going to love the hell out of today’s RNRHS with Cara McKenna. I just know it. It’s the perfect blend of rich musical musings and self-deprecating teen angst, two things with which I am well acquainted. And if you don’t love it, I’m afraid to say there’s something wrong with you, but it’s nothing a little good music won’t cure.

Cara McKenna

Coastal Maine, Class of ’98, Currently: Smut Merchant

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Nine Inch Nails. Make of that what you will, but I would not have survived high school without Trent Reznor’s help. At sixteen I was skulking full-time in combat boots and an army jacket and stripey tights, as what we would later coin a goppy—not a proper goth, not a proper hippy, but a confused and non-committal hybrid of the two. But come my junior year, I landed a job at my local indie record and video store—one part Clerks and one part High Fidelity—as the lone teen amid a mismatched gaggle of slacker twenty- and thirty-somethings. There my ears got opened to a transcendent mix of new-to-me music: Tom Waits, the Specials, Portishead, Elastica, Soul Coughing, Patty Griffin, the Toasters, the Pogues, the English Beat, Kim Lenz… And at some historic moment on some fortuitous night, the song The Other Side of Summer came up on random shuffle and changed my life forever, turning me overnight into a rabid Elvis Costello fangirl, and graduating me out of Trent Reznor’s gloomy—if formative—tutelage.

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: Oh gosh. Surely my 12” vinyl single of Nine Inch Nails’ Sin, with its most inspired B-side cover of Queen’s Get Down Make Love. Bought it at cost, kept it in the shrink wrap, sold it a decade later for a tidy profit.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: The Grateful Dead. Circa 1995, every guy in my high school wore the same uniform: cords, Tevas or Birks, and a tie-dyed Grateful Dead skull tee-shirt under one of three distinct plaid L.L. Bean flannels. I never got it. Don’t see the appeal of the Dead at all. My loss, I’m sure.

Best show or concert you saw in high school: Oh, this is so sad, but I didn’t go to a proper concert until I was about twenty! There were a few random ska and punk bands I can’t remember the names of, at various and sundry all-ages shows in Portland, but nothing glamorous. My first real concert was during college, when I saw Elvis Costello in Boston, the first of many times. I should give the Orpheum Theater a shout-out. Their seats may be cramped, but I saw the Kids in the Hall there, and Janeane Garofalo, and Elvis quite a few times, among other excellent offerings that make me sound woefully piney-for-the-nineties.

Best high school make-out song: Hmmm… The only song I specifically remember making out to was Prison Sex by Tool. Romantic, right? If you’re familiar with the show Daria, I was a perfect mix of both Daria and Jane. Daria’s esthetic, with Jane’s snide artist sensibilities. Let’s just say I was not exactly rolling in eager, handsy jocks. But I bet if you’d asked what song I’d have liked to have been making it to, it might have been The 13th by The Cure, which I always thought was a terrifically joyful track. Or if we’re talking a real fraught, hot-and-heavy make-out session, then Natural One by the Folk Implosion. And later, Morphine’s Super Sex, and even later still, Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl or Little Trip to Heaven. But to be honest, I’d have made out to most anything, with most anything, at that age. Even my own hand, if I could be convinced it was actually Trent Reznor’s face. It’s just not a choosy age, is it?

Cara’s latest release is Coercion, the first of the Curio Vignettes, short follow-up novellas to Curio (aka the Parisian man-whore book). You can visit her at or chat with her on Twitter @caramckenna.

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