I was driving to visit my mom this past weekend and over the course of the two hours on the highway, I tuned into SiriusXM's "Pop2K" station. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were doing a countdown of the top 30 songs for this week in 2001. As I listened, I was instantly transported back to August 2001, just as my seventh grade school year was starting. Just like the Toa, I was about to enter a strange, new world filled with challenges and potential new friends.
Music has always been an essential part of BIONICLE, from the ambient, techno-tribal sounds of the island of Mata Nui to the pop rock infused chords of the "Ignition" Saga. But even outside of BIONICLE media, other music played a strong role in my associations with the time periods in which BIONICLE was extant. No other time period is perhaps so poignant now, looking back, than in August 2001. Remember, at this point, BIONICLE was in wide release. In the USA, store shelves were filled with Toa canisters, Turaga boxes, mask packs, and assorted Rahi sets. In a few weeks, the McDonald's Tohunga give-away with Happy Meals was to begin. And of course, the BIONICLE storyline was in high gear with new updates in the MNOG and the recent July comic, "Deep Into Darkness".
Back to the music, the summer of 2001 was revelatory for me. I grew up in a household where my parents had so far dominated the musical tastes of the family. At home, we either listened to classical music on the radio or, when just my mom was home, Spanish music which I understood little of at the time. On road trips to visit grandmother or longer vacation adventures, my dad would play the oldies' station (hits of the 50s, 60s, and 70s) or, when we had a car with a CD player, his own collection of Beatles' songs. That was pretty much all I knew music to be. Current pop music was relegated to furtive, almost risque, encounters through friends at school. An illicit listen to "M.en In Black" by Will Smith on the bus ride home from school. A friend bringing the new "Astro Lounge" CD to class on Friday for free time. I was never allowed to hear such music on my own at home or with family. There was a weird separation there, enforced by my parents. However, it couldn't last long.
By the summer of 2001, I was twelve years old and adolescence was upon me. Instead of the usual mom-administered enrichment activities, my intention to learn HTML coding for the "Build Your Own BIONICLE Website" contest proved to my parents I had undertaken a worthy, educational project of my own, and I was mostly left to my own devices that summer for the first time. Indeed, most of that time was spent reading the HTML textbook and trying out new things with my developing "Tales of the Turaga" website. However, I allowed myself ample free time, particularly in the evenings, to indulge in my other hobby, drawing.
I'm not sure when I decided to start listening to music while I drew. Perhaps I did it to softly drown out the noise of my parents watching something boring (but loud) in the living room. It seemed easier to draw when I didn't have TV distractions. But music, especially songs, seemed to bolster my abilities. In my room, I had a small AM/FM radio with cassette player that I started tuning to some of the radio stations besides the oldies'. Although some of the stuff I heard was unremarkable to my ears, other songs stuck out. Songs that reminded of what I heard on my sister's "NOW 5" and "NOW 6" CDs (she, somehow, was allowed to explore music more broadly, and even had a bigger radio, WITH a CD player!) that I knew I enjoyed. Invariably, these songs accompanied some of my first BIONICLE drawings, and when I think about BIONICLE or look back at those crude depictions, I remember the songs I heard back then. Here are some if you want to make a playlist to travel back in time to when BIONICLE was brand new (no Vahi required!).
- Eve 6 - Here's to the Night
- Train - Drops of Jupiter
- Lifehouse - Hanging by a Moment
- Mary J. Blige - Family Affair
- Incubus - Drive
- Michelle Branch - Everywhere
- Staind - It's Been Awhile
- Janet Jackson - Someone to Call My Lover
- Uncle Kracker - Follow Me
- Sugar Ray - When It's Over
Obviously, that's not an all-inclusive list. Mixed in were songs that actually came out the year before (like Matchbox 20's "Mad Season", which is still a favorite of mine), but I don't remember everything I heard, and it is likely I conflate some songs that I actually heard once school started but not during the summer nights that preceded it. Regardless, the music I was discovering and BIONICLE "officially" beginning in the USA all went into a benevolent maelstrom that also included the premiere of "Samurai Jack", the announcement of "Attack of the Clones", the first LEGO Legend re-release (10000 Guarded Inn!), and my first taste of true independence (walking alone to and from school). By this week in August 2001, all signs pointed to a momentous school year ahead.
Indeed, as September 2001 proved, it would be momentous, but for the whole nation, and not in a good way. But again, like the Toa isolated on the island of Mata Nui, thinking it was their whole world, me and my friends were united in facing the challenges of seventh grade, and that was plenty momentous enough!
Attached: "Lewa", pencil on copy paper, August 8th, 2001.