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Lyrics and Life


By Caitlin Ward

Sugar High (Empire Records Version)
By Coyote Shivers

They all said life’s just a bowl of cherries, but
Sometimes it seems like anything but
Think again
Sometimes reputations outlive their applications
Sometimes fires don’t go out
When you’re done playing with them
I feel so funny deep inside
I wanna kiss myself goodbye

Sugar high (Gotta have it really need it to get by)
Sugar high (Wanna feel it can’t conceal it)
Sugar high

I could go out and not even leave the house
A TV set and a bottle of wine, just fine
Crashing out on that old pull-out couch
Watching Saturday Night Live
I guess that’s why
I feel so funny deep inside
I wanna kiss myself goodbye

Sugar high

When I think about my life
I wanna kiss myself goodbye

Sugar high
Sugar high

All right...

I’ve . . . far and wide
I’ve explored the deepest caverns of my mind
To try and find an explanation why
I get this funny feeling deep inside
When I think about my life
I wanna kiss myself goodbye


So, April 8th is Rex Manning Day. I didn’t realize Rex Manning Day was coming up until Rex Manning Day was nearly upon us. On April 7, a friend from the Netherlands sent me an article about the cultural significance of the day. This year, it being the 20th Rex Manning Day, we have needed to discuss how Rex Manning Day has or has not shaped us as people. We are overly nostalgic like that.

I’m guessing this all means very little to you unless you were born between 1979 and 1986. In this scenario, you’re probably also a woman, North American, suburban, and more than likely you’re white. You remember VCRs and those halcyon days when you bought music and movies from physical shops. One Friday night sometime between 1995 and 1999, you or one of your friends picked up a VHS copy of Empire Records from the comedy section of the video store. It would be at that point you first became aware of Rex Manning Day, because the entirety of the film takes place on April 8: Rex Manning Day.

You might not have been obsessed with the film yourself, but at least one of your friends was. And she would say, “Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.” She would say it all the time, and it might annoy you. She’d make you watch the film at every sleepover or party, and there would be an argument between her and your other friend, who had the same obsessive feelings about the film Newsies that she had about Empire Records.

It was probably around then that you took up smoking, because you just couldn’t take it anymore.

I digress. The point is, it was 20 years ago now that Empire Records was released. It was supposed to be a youthful movie with a generation X flavour to it, taking place at an independent record store in suburban Delaware on the day a fading teen idol, Rex Manning, comes to do a signing at the shop (hence, “Rex Manning Day”). The film, made by one of the larger production companies, was anti-corporate, sarcastic, and full of one-liners that are either profound or pretentious, depending on your politics or the age you were when you first watched the film: “Shock me shock me shock me with that deviant behaviour,” and “What’s with you, today?”/ “What’s with today, today?” and “If you guys ever wonder if it was nice to know you, I tell you now that it was.”

By all accounts, it wasn’t the film that the writer or director wanted to make. The original script and director’s cut were lost to executives’ desires to capture a teen audience. The plot was simplified, the weird existential tangents were cut, and the risqué parts about sex, drugs, and swearing were toned down for a PG-13 rating. For example, the lyrics to Coyote Shivers’ Sugar High, the song played at the climax of the film, are markedly different in the film than they are on the soundtrack. The film’s version is about boredom and possibly self-loathing. The soundtrack’s version is about dirty sex.

And so, the film flopped horribly at the box office. The trouble with trying to appeal to an anti-corporate audience is that you can’t be a corporation. Empire Records was trying to be a Richard Linklater film and came off as the angry version of Clueless. The legions of grunge fans who were still mourning Kurt Cobain’s suicide weren’t going to get suckered by a corporate film that was imperfectly pandering to their subculture.

My generation, however, was. We’re a little bit younger than generation X, so we weren’t quite as cynical. The film wasn’t really marketed to us, so we found it on our own, and slowly Empire Records developed a virulent afterlife as a cult classic among those of us born between 1979 and 1986.

There are a lot of reasons that a film can become a cult classic, and I know there are a fair number of articles analyzing why Empire Records did, so I won’t expound upon it here. If you hadn’t worked it out, I was personally not a huge Empire Records fan as a teenager. I watched the extended director’s cut on Rex Manning Day, though. Twenty years on from its release, it’s interesting to see how much it encapsulated a moment — a moment that’s largely gone. Most record stores (corporate or not) have closed, and the anti-corporate agenda has been, well . . . lost, on a broad scale. Combat boots with kilts aren’t really a thing, going to art school is not something people do so much these days, young ’uns tend not to define themselves by the music they listen to quite so intensely, and I haven’t met a 21 year old with self-proclaimed existential angst in a very long time (a lot of them still have it, mind you).

The passing of most of these things is neither bad nor good, despite what some people will tell you. I’ve yet to meet a generation that does not bemoan its successors for not being like them in some key way. The Greatest Generation bemoaned the baby boomers’ lack of respect for authority. Baby boomers bemoaned generation X’s apathy and nihilism. Generation X bemoans millennials’ sense of entitlement and materialism.

What doesn’t change, of course, is how seriously we take ourselves as teenagers, how badly we feel the need to be different from our predecessors, and how often we define our younger selves by cultural moments and cult classics, even if we didn’t like them much at the time. I was kind of indifferent to the film as a teenager, but on Rex Manning Day I definitely said, “Damn the Man. Save the Empire.” And I said it a lot.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at