One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had creating Code 45 caught me almost completely by surprise.
By the time I began writing the second issue, I knew that I wanted to leverage music from the era our main character, Vanessa, grew up in to provide additional connective tissue between the reader and the period and setting of the book. That meant looking at 1990s Québécois pop culture to find the words and tunes that would elevate certain aspects of our storytelling, while also providing an emotional hook both for me and for readers familiar with Montreal during that decade.
As I worked through the concept of how I wanted to incorporate this into Code 45, I narrowed down my search to the early part of the decade. There were some obvious choices—’C’est Zero’ by Julie Masse was a huge hit at that time—but I realized that popularity wasn’t what I was after. The song I selected to incorporate into the Code 45 universe had to be one that held significance to me. Otherwise, how could I translate that feeling into the work?
Once I had that realization, the answer became clear: Daniel Bélanger.
It’s impossible to understate how important Bélanger’s first album, ‘Les Insomniaques s’amusent,’ (roughly translated, ‘The Insomniacs Have Fun’) was to me as a teenager growing up in the 90s. I grew up watching Musiqueplus, which was a French-language music television channel. Because I lived in a more rural part of Quebec, there were no English-language options, as neither MTV nor Ontario’s MuchMusic were available on our cable provide. As a result, my entire musical upbringing was filtered through the lens of franco-Québécois culture, with a heavy dose of French-from-France artists thrown in to boot (the first hip-hop track I can remember hearing was ‘Nouveau Western’ by MC Solaar, for example).
‘Les Insomniaques s’amusent’ came out in 1992, but I probably didn’t hear it for the first time until a year later when I encountered the video for ‘Ensorcelée.’ From there it was a short step to ‘La folie en quatre,’ ‘Le bonheur,’ and the song that would end up in the pages of Code 45, ‘Sèche tes pleurs.’ Bélanger’s music opened the door wide for me to explore the world of Québécois pop, and through him I discovered so many of the artists and songs that would form the fabric of my musical education as a young man.
‘Sèche tes pleurs’ (‘Dry your tears’) is a beautiful song about the emotional fallout of a breakup. It explores the deep troughs of pain, despair, uncertainty, and anger that can result when two people are torn apart, regardless of the circumstances. It’s harrowing, it’s at times hopeful, and it still strikes a chord deep inside of me nearly 30 years after hearing it for the first time. It was also a big part of the bridge that carried me to Bélanger’s subsequent work, which only grew more emotionally intricate and impactful with time.
The words were a perfect match for what we were trying to achieve on the page, but I’d never before licensed lyrics for use in any of my writing. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to locate Bélanger’s publisher through SOCAN. Once I reached out to them they were open to the idea. After asking for pages to review, they let me know that not only were they happy to give us permission, but both the publisher and Bélanger himself (who had personally approved the project) were excited about the book and looked forward to seeing it in its entirety once it was completed.
If you had told 13 year old me that an artist I respected as much as Daniel Bélanger would one day not only give me permission to use his lyrics, but also be enthusiastic about a book I was writing, I would not have believed a single word. For weeks afterwards, I was floating on a cloud.
I’m deeply honored to be able to present Bélanger’s work to our readers, who hail from all corners of the globe, as being representative of what was a special time for music in Quebec, as well as an important one for me, personally. My hope is that Code 45 will convince at least some of our audience to reach out and begin their own exploration of his work as one of this province’s most gifted talents.