Loose Canons: Sam Brooks
Loose Canons is a new series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work.
Sam Brooks is an Auckland-based playwright, journalist and lip-sync artist. In 2014, he received a Highly Commended prize at the Adam Awards for his play Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) Boys and was named Auckland’s Most Exciting Playwright by Metro Magazine. To date, he has had ten of his plays produced at The Basement Theatre, the eleventh being The 21st Narcissus, produced as part of The Young and Hungry Festival.
This Guy on Tumblr
I consider 2012-2013 my Tumblr phase. I was never into Tumblr like some people were.
I never identified as otherkin or SelenaGomezkin and none of my poetry is on there for all the internet to read, but for those two years I did have a tab open on my browser with it loaded, and every now and then I would click on it and lots of pretty pictures and less pretty thoughts would show up.
Before long – because however vast and unknowable the internet is, it has made the world so much smaller and reachable – one of the pretty pictures that showed up on my dashboard was a picture of somebody I had known since I was a small child, and somebody who I had known since the very day he was born. He would’ve been around eighteen at the time. The picture was of him in his appropriately eighteen-year-old room. He was completely shirtless and had a look on his face that I can only describe in a quote: “I know I’m attractive enough to put up this photo, but I don’t think I’m attractive enough to look proud about doing it.”
This messed with my head a little. Not because I’m some kind of puritan who found this shameful or disgusting, but because it was at complete odds with the person who I had seen grow up, albeit at a distance. This was the same kid who I had once bullied because he had a different accent than his brother. (He was three, I was six. He had a vague Devonshire accent, his brother had a Cajun accent. It’s a long story.)
I clicked onto his Tumblr to find someone entirely different from the person I had grown up with as well. Some of it was the usual vapid Tumblr stuff (this is a pretty picture, let’s reblog it kind of a deal), some of it was the usual vague stuff you usually find on Facebook (why are people so fake kind of deal) and the rest of it was photos of him, most of them with his shirt on and most of them with more production values than your average Basement show.
The weirdest thing I found was people encouraging him. He’s an attractive guy, if neutral white attractiveness is your sort of thing, but this anonymous chorus of faceless internet people were supporting this display of expression, because as vapid and pointless as I might’ve found it, it seemed to be a genuine form of expression for him.
This was the main experience that inspired The 21st Narcissus. Not out of a place of judgement or a place of shaming, but trying to capture the experience of being a teenager who didn’t grow up super confident in himself or of his own place in the world, trying to find it on the internet.
There is a limit to how many times you can listen to Avril Lavigne’s 2011 hit single ‘What The Hell’ before deciding that all your life, you really have been good and now you’re thinking, what the hell?
That number, according to my iTunes, is 237.
When deciding what popstar the protagonist of my play would be in love with, it was a hard pick. I started writing this play at the end of 2013 knowing full well that it would be performed in mid-late 2015. Remember late 2013? When Ariana Grande was just that girl who sounded a bit like Mariah Carey after a helium overdose and Meghan Trainor just couldn’t possibly be a person’s name? What ignorant times we lived in, readers.
I didn’t have to hunt far in my iTunes to find someone who I knew would sit in exactly the same place in 2015 that she did in 2013. Someone whose complete lack of enthusiasm for being a popstar wound up in a career that has lasted fifteen years, with only minimal peaks and lows. Someone who turned snottiness, complete apathy and a Canadian accent into a marketable personality.
Ms. Avril Lavigne (nee Kroeger, nee that guy from Sum41).
I’m an avid follower of female popstars (male popstars are immensely boring and unlikeable creations of A&R departments) and Avril Lavigne fascinates me. One reason is her longevity as a popstar; Lavigne came out the year after Britney and while she never reached the peaks of Britney’s career musically or commercially, she never hit the lows either. She has solidly remained in the ‘fairly successful worldwide, but bizarrely huge in Japan’ category since Let Go, and shows no signs of letting up.
Another reason is that she makes pretty solid pop music. Each one of her albums contains at least one song that is among one of the best pop songs of that year (2001: ‘Complicated’, 2004: ‘Don’t Tell Me’, 2007: ‘Girlfriend’, 2011: ‘What The Hell’, 2014: ‘Rock N Roll’). Don’t question me on this, I will fight you.
There’s also something about Avril that I find weirdly admirable. Even at her most compromised, she never seems too far removed from her bratty, I-am-too-good-for-this brand. In fact, the least authentic Avril Lavigne seems is whenever she dips into balladry and post-teen angst.
I mean if Avril Lavigne has always been – at her core – Avril Lavigne, then I can definitely be Sam Brooks at my core, right?
I have a worn copy of the scripts for the first season of Absolutely Fabulous. It’s a hardback, with a still somehow pristine cover with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley mugging on the front. I have had this since 1994.
For reasons that are unknown to me, my mother introduced me to Absolutely Fabulous when I was four. I feel this fact explains my sense of humour and why I am the way I am today in every single way. It’s not so much that The 21st Narcissus is inspired by Absolutely Fabulous, but that everything I write is inspired by it. It’s been a weird constant throughout my life. On every birthday, I watch the 'Birthday” episode, where Eddy fire-extinguishes her birthday cake.
Whenever I feel poor, I watch the ‘Poor’ episode, where Eddy and Patsy try to go to the supermarket and end up stealing a bunch of alcohol.
Whenever somebody I love dies, I watch the ‘Death’ episode, where Eddy comes across her father lying in a coffin in her living room and says, “It’s a dead body, Pats.” “Yes, but is it art, Eddy?”
Absolutely Fabulous is my reminder that you should laugh at everything that happens to you, because life is ridiculous, because people are ridiculous and the only thing that dictates how good your life is is how much you can laugh at your alcoholic self and your alcoholic friends.
A Long Distance Relationship
Around the time I pitched this show to Young and Hungry, I was getting over a long-distance relationship that had started in murky waters and ended in pretty definitive not-fun waters.
I looked back over the relationship and realised that we had spent so much more of it talking online than we had in person. We met on Twitter, added each other on Facebook and talked for about a year-and-a-half over Facebook before we ever met.
For reasons other than catharsis, I wanted to try and capture this relationship in the same space as the Tumblr show. There’s a weird authenticity to an online-only relationship; all you have are the things you have in common because if you don’t have that, why are you even talking? There’s also a safety to it, like you can be really open with that person because you don’t ever have to stare them in the eyes if you tell them something really personal.
Stan by Eminem
(First, can we discuss this video? Do you think Eminem and Dido still hang out? How did this meeting happen? What happened to Dido’s acting career? She deserves at least half the chances that Alison Lohman got.)
stan – noun
Based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, a "stan" is an overzealous maniacal fan for any celebrity or athlete.
My first encounters with ‘stan culture’ was on Twitter.
For some reason, Madonna followed me on Twitter. Madonna only follows 52 people on Twitter, and there seems to be no reason why she would follow me, or any of the other people she follows. But within about three days, my follower count almost doubled. I get followed by at least one account per day that is dedicated to expressing their love of Madonna.
They ‘stan’ for Madonna.
There are humans behind those accounts. They’re not bots. They’re people with parents and people who love them, probably with a job or some form of education, who set up an account solely for the purpose of expressing to whoever runs Madonna’s Twitter account (I am realistic about this, there is no way Madonna looked my tweets and went ‘yep I want to know what this guy is saying lots of the time’) and then followed all the people she follows.
Every popstar you can name has this kind of fan. They might call themselves the ‘Beyhive’ (Beyonce), barbz (Nicki Minaj), a navy (Rihanna), soldiers (Cheryl Cole), but they all exist.
And they are people too. And they inspired part of this little piece.
You can check out Sam's new play The 21st Narcissus from October 10 - October 24 at The Basement.