Posts Tagged ‘The Rheostatics’
I used an iPhone to have a chat with Nick Smash, author of the new(ish) Toronto post-punk memorandum Alone and Gone.
Crammed with photos and accounts of GTA musical weirdness from 1979-1983, this book gives a seldom-seen peek at what New Wave and post-punk looked like for Toronto concert goers three decades ago. Don Pyle’s book covering 1976-1980 is also great BTW.
Here are some words…
Cam: First question: when did you have the initial idea to write this book? What were the seeds?
Nick: The story started when my brother put on the Toronto Calling exhibition here in Toronto in 2010. I started writing some thoughts about those days and it just kind of organically snowballed.
Cam: What kind of crowds did those exhibits attract? Assume a mix of people from the original scene and “curious newcomers”?
Nick: There were great cross section of familiar faces, many I hadn’t seen in 30 years and quite a few ‘youngsters’. it was great to see an interest spanning the generations. I think Rick Winkle from the Vital Sines was at there, Dave Howard from the Dave Howard Singers was there plus the lead singer from the Curse was there.
Cam: I know the collection starts in 1978. Was that when you and your brudda Simon starting going to show or rather, when you started taking your camera to shows?
Nick: The Clash at the Rex Danforth Theatre here in Toronto that we really started taking photos. Before that, I was working at Music World on Yonge Street and was enjoying all the free tickets to gigs at Maple Leaf Gardens. Simon was still in school then. He ‘borrowed’ my ID to see the Ramones at the El Mocambo in February 1979 and that changed his life. Not sure if working at music world changed mine all that much!
Cam: Did venues have a “no cameras” policy in those days? If so, how did you sneak your camera in? What were you shooting with?
Nick: As as “no cameras” are concerned, we would just show up with the camera at the door, look a bit pathetic, sad and broke.. and hey presto! Some of the photos in the early days, we would have to sit there for two or three hours so we didn’t lose that fantastic angle. The camera itself was our father’s bashed-up old Canon. Manual focus exposure. A nightmare to use.
Cam: How may shots did you have from that initial Clash show? Assume the room couldn’t have been that large?
Nick: Actually, it was probably 2000 capacity. The Rex was an old cinema. We have the better part of 36 exposures I think from that show. The best ones are in the book. As you might imagine, it was chaos down the front so taking photos was a challenging concept.
Cam: How quickly did you get the photos developed after the show? For “the youths”, the idea of having to be choosy with your snapshots would be completely foreign. What did you initially do with the photos once you got them developed?
Nick: We processed and printed everything in the basement at home a day or two after each gig. Because film and chemicals were expensive, we would jam sometimes two or three gigs on one roll of 36 exposure film. Sometimes, we knew in advance that a band had a great live show so we would stock up with a couple of rolls of film. Once we had prints some would go into my fanzine, Smash It Up. Some we would sell at The Record Peddler. Eventually, some we nailed up on the walls of The Edge.
Cam: Who were your allies in the scene? Assume you were friendly with the Garys if you’re nailing stuff to their walls? Did you ever get special access or credentials to take photos?
Nick: All the staff at The Edge were really helpful and supportive. We never had any special passes or credentials as they weren’t needed at this point. i think the Garys and the bands were just grateful somebody was there showing an interest and wanting to take photos.
Cam: What were some of the more interesting rooms you shot at? Locations that people mightn’t even know as concert venues these days?
Nick: There is a shortlist of venues which only lasted a short while. The Exile On Main Street, 100 Bond Street, The Dash Bhagat Temple, The Beverley Tavern, The Cabana Room, Larry’s Hideaway…all gone now. they were all good places to shoot bands as the audience was always right up close to the stage. The bigger venues like The Concert Hall, The Music Hall were always really full of course and made it more of a challenge to get some good images. Sometimes you struck gold and were allowed by the Promoters (usually the Garys) complete access to the stage and the band.
Cam: Switching gears to local bands, who were some of your favourite Toronto outfits of that era? Artists we may have heard of and artists, we may have not.
Nick: I loved Tyranna, Drastic Measures, the Points. I did like Teenage Head but thought they had become more of an established rock band by this time. You can only do so many gigs at the Knob Hill Hotel before you become tired and boring. Oooh controversy!!! The Secrets album, I thought was one of the best from this time. The, of course, there was a whole new generation of bands from 1980: Diners Club, Vital Sines, Breeding Ground, Rent Boys, Youth Youth Youth, Fifth Column; all incredibly exciting and FUN!
Cam: Breeding Ground were kinda dark, gloomy, goth-y when they started out, no? one band there’s very little on the Internet about, from what i can see.
Nick Breeding Ground were very Bauhaus in the early days which yes, might have been a bit forced and self conscious. They matured really quickly though and evolved into a band that would have fit nicely between U2 and Love And Rockets…in 1985. The Canadian music business just kind of ignored them hoping they would go away. They should have come from somewhere else.
Cam: What were some of your early memories of Fifth Column? Certainly a band whose influence is still playing out today, directly or indirectly.
Nick: Fifth Column were a sparkling jab and a shot of brave boldness. I remember they threw everybody off the scent. They were punk but they weren’t; they were different and odd. Their off-kilter beats and wayward way of playing their instruments really inspired a lot of us to try different things and bring a different attitude to what we were trying to do. Their presence was huge. Caroline Azar and GB Jones’ Hide tapes sounded good then and sound even better now.
Cam: For the era you covered in the book, did bands like Teenage Head and the Diodes already seem like a different generation… that first wave of punk?
Nick: Those bands seemed to be over really as far as we were concerned. They got caught up in the major label machinery and were chewed up. We, of course, thought differently and thought we could do better.
Cam: Who was the most surprising “big band” you got access to?
Nick: Probably the Stranglers.
Cam: What kind of access did you have to the Stranglers? they seemed kinda… surly.
Nick: The Stranglers had a scary reputation and I had managed to get myself on the stage lurking behind Jet Black‘s drum kit. I was petrified that JJ would see me and beat the shit out of me. But I’m still here and the results of that night you can see in the book.
Cam: So between 1983 and the 2010 photo exhibit, what happened to these photos? Where were they stored, displayed, etc?
Nick: The photos sat around and gathered lots of dust for 30 years. Simon’s son Rudy thought they would look great as huge posters in a gallery. The result was again, our Toronto Calling show at Steam Whistle Brewery in 2010.
Cam: Did you guys continue taking photos post-1983? And do you still to go shows today? What are you listening to these days?
Nick: We both continued to take photos just not of a lot of bands. All through the 1980s and 1990s, I went to loads of gigs and ended up working for Island records in the UK. I listen to everything as it’s my job (I run my own PR company in London) but I find it’s really tough to stay loyal to any one band as the competition for my attention is overwhelming. My fave current bands? Nadine Shah, Warpaint, Godspeed You Black Emperor…and I’m sure there’s loads of other really good things but there’s just not enough time in the day.
Visit the Alone and Gone website to make arrangements to get your own copy of the book.
I talk to my high school pal Adam about Blue Rodeo, Neil Young dying (again), Oasis (a few times), everything and nothing.
Cam: Morbid question: of any active living musician, who will you be the most upset for when they die?
Adam: Funny you ask, as I was commenting to a buddy that Van Morrison feels like the guy to go now that Joe Cocker is gone. That’ll be sad. I love Van and fell in love to Astral Weeks. Paul, without question. Dylan, Simon, Bobby and Phil. Springsteen will outlive us all. It’s hard to imagine the legends of rock passing. It’s interesting for us to have grown up during the baby boomers 40s. We saw their second acts and revered their first. The 1960s, the British Invasion, the Summer of Love and then 1972. All these things were within the same recent memory as August and Everything After (or Nevermind) is to us now. So rock had always been around. George dying devastated me. So did Jerry dying.
C: Astral Weeks is fantastic. Consistently one of my Top 10 faves. Yeah, Van is pretty enigmatic, at least in terms of his public persona. Which he barely has if he’s not touring. Neil Young dying is going to be brutal. That seems like it could be very personal to Canadians in our demo: an artist that we loved, our parents loved, a Canadian, somebody who was equally at home jamming with Booker T and the MGs, the Band or Sonic Youth. A total legend: both “Neil Young: the performer” and “Neil Young: the concept”. It’s crazy Jerry was only 53 when he died. Considering McCartney, Brian Wilson, etc. are now in their 70s.
C: Ya, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and I guess Modest Mouse but nothing grabs me. it’s a very contemporary line-up so I kinda give them credit for not copping out and having AC/DC headline, a la Coachella. i think we discussed it before… i find these massive outdoor concerts are more akin to “camping” than “music event”…. the bands seem almost secondary to the experience. Do you like Blue Rodeo?
A: “Lost Together” was our wedding song, and I saw them at the big Simon & Garfunkel l show at the SkyDome back in…94? Also saw them once at the Gardens, I think. 5 Days in June was a tremendous album to hit for us at that age. It was everywhere at camp, and “5 Days in May” had a fantastic video that felt a lot like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. That is my favorite Toronto 1990s thing ever, my favorite BNL song, one of the greatest covers of all-time, and a video about youthful love. Holding hands and running away from the camera in black and white still makes me feel 18. “Diamond Mine” is also a great song too. They hit such a creative peak back then that they got to coast on being Blue Rodeo after that. Everything sounds the same, but I’ve got no gripe with them, just not any interest for anything past their greatest hits, which I like a lot. Sometimes, I love it.
C: Ya, from 1988-1993, they were in a rare place: massively popular/stadium worthy but making music that was pretty innovative and seemed very contemporary even though in other ways, it was very old. At that time, comparisons to the Band seemed farfetched but maybe not that far off? Again, it’s crazy that a song like “5 Days in May” was something that little kids listened to and enjoyed and watched the video for on MuchMusic. For anybody who loved them in that 1988-1993, they still seem like superstars even if they’ve been on commercial autopilot for the last 20 years (assumedly… I haven’t really been paying attention although I saw them at the Amphitheatre 2-3 times during that stretch). It seems they could’ve been marketed differently and been a positioned in the Wilco/Son Volt/Whiskeytown ilk or gone ina slightly different direction and been in the Widespread Panic/String Cheese conversation? Instead, they were kind of just a notch below the Tragically Hip commercially.
A: Heard some stuff off their last album that was good. Or was that Cuddy? Have been rewatching The Last Waltz on the topic of the Band. Wondered about best or biggest bands with multiple singers. Ricky, Richard, Levon. How cool it is when the song goes to the guy who sings it best?
C: I guess the Beatles introduced the “multiple singers” model? Hate to say… I automatically think of the Eagles and afro-era Don Henley behind the kit. In more recent times, I think Sloan really nailed this model. Maybe part of the reason they’re now a quarter century in. Another band where I haven’t paid attention to the last 4-5 albums but I have little doubt of their continued quality.
A: I thought about it with the Eagles too as I was reading the Simmons eagles history recap in the Grantland quarterly. Obviously the Beatles. I met the bass player from Sloan, the one I recognize, and asked him about the baseline on “Money City Maniacs” being the same chord trough the entire verse until the chorus. Like “Tomorrow Never Knows”! He was appreciative. We were with our kids at Centreville on the island.
C: Good call. I still get a bit starstruck when I see musicians in public. It’s very humanizing. Some recent sightings: Damian from Fucked Up with his kids at the ROM, Ron Sexsmith walking down College, Stephen from Lowest on the Low on the subway a bunch of times. The thing that I find funny about the Eagles in retrospect: they were essentially devoid of any humour or fun. That was a VERY serious band.
A: Very serious band. I liked the Eagles. At least their greatest hits. Just learned “Hotel California” on the ukulele. So much fun to play and sing/scat the dueling guitar solo.
C: I like the Eagles too. I think the “seriousness” was a 1970s thing. It’s when whoever decided that rock music wasn’t just for kids anymore. It was OK for 45 year-olds to listen to the Eagles, James Taylor et all. These were seriously artists who (apparently) had something to say. I like the Carly Simon song “Anticipation”. Here’s a good question: who are the most tense bands of all-times? Artists where the acrimony on-stage was really obvious. I’d say (at times) the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Pixies all belonged in the top three. I feel like I’ve seen some Van Morrison performance where he seems like he’d rather be anywhere else than on-stage.
A: Carly was great. And the cover of that album? Man. That is a good question. Knee jerk answers. In no particular order: the Beatles in that picture with Yoko there. The Beatles in that scene filming Let It Be when George says (do your best George), “Tell me what you want me to play and I’ll play it”. Oasis. The Eagles. The Wonders, from that Tom Hanks movie.
C: Oasis. Yes, good one! I think the Kinks used to brawl on-stage too. So there’s that…. I could be imagining it but I feel like the last 3-4 years, there’s been a certain demo that is yearning for Oasis and they truly are cementing themselves as one of the most beloved bands of the last 25 years. I think people took them for granted a bit. I was in Scotland last summer and this really hit home when I saw a rowdy bunch of 20-somethings collectively slurring their way through a karaoke version of “Wonderwall”. I don’t think it’s even that great a song but it somehow has infiltrated multiple generations. People LOVE it. Although maybe just in that setting, since it does lend itself well to karaoke (not many lyrics, fairly short, everybody has heard it 10,000 times).
A: I think “Wonderwall” is one of the greatest pop songs of all-time. Certainly of the decade. I had this experience last summer when I was five weeks into working seven days a week and I was burning out. I was walking, exhausted through a Loblaws in the west end. “Wonderwall” comes on. I start singing to myself. It gets to the chorus and after singing, “You gonna be the one that saves me”. I burst into tears and say aloud, “That’s not a good sign”. The point I turn to as a mild breakdown last summer. I love that song. “1979” came out at the same time. Great song, too. The sound on the Morning Glory album is bollocks. What would Liam say? I also love watching Noel sing “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. Perfect song for his voice. At the time, I thought some of their stuff was totally and completely derivative of the Beatles (see “All Around the World”, “… Anger” opening chords, every Beatles reference etc). Noel just gave an interview that Alan Cross linked to. I still do Oasis binges through seven songs. I was way too into the Dead’s Mars Hotel (and DMB) at the time to be into Oasis.
C: “1979” is indeed great and a really strange, unique single. Nothing really like it and certainly very dissimilar to anything in the Pumpkins discography. It’s probably hard to quantify but why do you like “Wonderwall” so much? What is the broad appeal? I think it’s totally fine but a bit boring and the vocals are slightly nasally, even by Oasis standards. I do like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. Just the huge production values and drama of it. Very out of step with 1995 or whenever that came out. I always admired Oasis’ ambition, even when the quality of songs didn’t really match up. Plus Noel is probably Top 3 best musician interviews ever. I could listen to that guy talk for hours. Zero filter when he’s in the right mood.
A: I like the chords. I like the guitar intro. I kinda like it nasally on that one. I love the way the drums come in after “back beat the word is on the street”. I love the baseline. I love the stings beefing up the baseline in the chorus. love the chorus. Maybe the right time of my life at 18. Probably feels like a Beatles song. A piece of magic. It’s also one of those songs perfect to sing alone to. Words you’ll just know by heart. Oh, also I love “Live Forever”. Learned how to play it on the uke. Great fun.
C: Yup, fucking love that song too! Never acknowledged your BNL “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” comment but seriously, that might be my favourite cover version of all-time. As a 14-year old kid growing up on the Toronto city limits, that video perfectly captured the banality, boredom and humour of suburban Toronto perfectly. Such a tasteful, pitch-perfect performance for a band that was really young and unestablished at the time. I think too many people write them off as a joke band but at their finest, there was a lot to like with BNL. I really like the song “Jane” as well from their “difficult” second album.
A: I remember hearing million dollars in the big A&A on Yonge Street with Marc and us laughing about the real green dress that’s cruel. The era of that tape. Good call on why the video is so pitch perfect. The apartment looks just like my late grandmothers at York Mills and Leslie, but wasn’t. And the power lines reminded me of the ones down by Finch. Which they were just in Scarborough. It definitely captured suburban Toronto. Though their neighborhood was postwar bungalows. I saw Paige in withrow once.
C: His coke bust is still likely in my Top 5 pieces of most shocking pieces of “music news” that I’ve ever heard. I don’t really know anything about those guys personally but that ordeal no doubt blindsided a lot of casual fans. In summary, drugs are horrible. It is telling that while Nirvana and Pearl Jam were blowing up stateside, Canada’s hottest new “modern rock” bands were the Barenaked Ladies and the Crash Test Dummies. The Odds were really solid as well. Supposedly there was a piece on CNN around that time that suggested that Canadian was in the midst of a “silly rock” revolution during that era, throwing names like Corky and the Juice Pigs and (for some reason) the Rheostatics into the mix.I could totally be imagining that last part but I think I read that somewhere.
A: Interesting. And that (Steven Page’s) life blew up and the band broke up. That still doesn’t register for me.
C: I love the song “Try” by Blue Rodeo so much. Such an incredibly self-assured song from a debut album. Not an easy feat to pull off.
A: Oh man. Yes.
The latest chapter in my on-going dialogue with @dradam. We use a Rolling Stone article about Bob Dylan in the 1980s as basis for a discussion of what happens when artists reach middle age. Also discussed: Geddy Lee driving around North York and Thornhill.
Adam: Reading now
Adam: Interesting. there are a few highlight songs for sure, but it’s the Wilburys and Oh Mercy where he starts “amazingness” again.
Cam: It seemed like Neil Young and Elvis Costello (and maybe Tom Petty?) had a similar trajectory. Kinda hit-or-miss for the decade before ending the 1980s strong with Freedom, Spike and Full Moon Fever, respectively. At least from a dual critical/commercial sense. Although Spike may be a piece of (junk) in hindsight. Never heard it.
Adam: I’ve often thought about certain artist’s awkward years between their zenith or creative peak, and the time when they hopefully get to tour into perpetuity milking their catalogue, playing classic albums in their entirety, and letting their fans pass them onto the next generation of fans. But while Springsteen appears to be the golden god (or “Boss”, to be more accurate) at this point, he too went through a kind of awkward phase in the early 1990s when he disbanded the E Street Band, released two albums at once (when one would really have sufficed) and floated around with a moustache and goatee. He was doing songs for Jerry Mcgwaire (sic) and teasing the would be E Street Reunion with “Murder Incorporated”. But whenever I see any footage from Springsteen plugged, I can’t help but cringe (not just because he’s got a non-Clarence on the horn). Tunnel of Love followed BITUSA and was already Bruce trying to move away from what everyone seemed to want him to be. While at the time Tunnel was unfairly maligned for not eclipsing the incredible success and six singles from the previous album. The thing here is that Bruce was in control. he needed the break and took it. Then, cue the reunion tour and suddenly sparks are flying on E Street again. Elton John seemed to avoid this awkwardness though I’d argue there was a weird patch in the very late 1980s/early 1990s. While his star power and The Lion King vaulted him again, his album The One always seemed to me to be the ugly duckling (read: it sucked). It wasn’t ’til Songs from the West Coast that he put out an album again that was worth listening to, and that one certainly was. As one of those icons, his quality never really fell off completely despite the mountains of coke he was doing and most of Too Low for Zero. Yet his flat hat phase produced “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” and “I’m Still Standing” (though he apparently has no recollection of filming the latter video). Billy Joel didn’t hit his awkward gap till after River of Dreams I guess, and then just stopped creating new music. But he first hit in the 1970s, so the 1980s were still his latter wheelhouse. Same with Bruce. and Elton too. But look at the Band. they were THE Band. The biggest thing around, cresting, arguably with The Last Waltz. Then, Robbie broke up the Band (guess you only get one chance in life to play a song that goes like…but I digress), and they limped along through the 1980s doing non-Robbie tours, and dealing with their own demons (Rickie and Richard specifically, who didn’t make it out). I thought a lot about that during Levon’s victory lap at the end of his life. You go from superstar, to no longer hip enough for the kids you were playing to who got married and had kids and didn’t have time to devote themselves to your music anymore. If you were versatile, you bided your time to your next album. If you were a “one trick pony”, not so much. For some of the rock icons, their dry spell was short. Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones was his first commercial flop. Then, he hit his jackpot with Graceland. Important to remember that these guys did not all start out at the same time. Bob, then Simon & Garfunkel came up in the folk boom of the early-to-mid 1960s. Paul Simon hit his solo success during the 1970s, had one bust, then had the huge comeback of Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. Dylan had his first comeback in the 1970s with Blood on the Tracks, I believe. He’d already long changed his early image and after his bike accident, he became reclusive. Then, he hit big again with Blood and Desire and then toured with the Band. So Dylan’s 1980s, which started in 1979 with Slow Train and then Infidels, was a transition time for Bob. He also lost his direction, I think, and (maybe) was into drugs in the early 1980s, as most were. The problem with those albums is that they feel lazy. There’s not much on Empire Burlesque or Shot of Love or Knocked Out Loaded that I can even recall. Then, he gets with Lanois and makes his comeback on Oh Mercy before shitting out Under the Red Sky and Good As I Been to You. Both forgettable. That takes him to the early 1990s. He has his pericarditis scare and comes back for his encore with Time Out of Mind and his whole new career begins again. It’s quite amazing really. I think we all need to wander in the wilderness at some point and I can’t imagine it’s different with artists. Back to Levon: it made me sad to think that while he got to do those rambles and be everyone’s loveable musician grandfather, Richard Manuel and Ricky Danko couldn’t have toughed it out. They went from rock gods to playing in clubs. That must be hard to deal with. The 1980s sucked until the people who grew up in the 1980s hit their 30s and then felt nostalgic. Same with the 1990s and beyond. “Golden oldies” referred to the initial rock-and-roll pioneers by the 1960s. Nobody cared for a while until you see all these reunion videos from the early 1980s. The Everly Brothers at Royal Albert Hall for one. 1983 seemed like that awkward phase for the Grateful Dead. Not 1977-1980 anymore, not yet the big comeback of the “stadium Dead” and the “Touch of Grey” momentum or Jerry’s coma. Also, that’s when Jerry was sliding down the Persian heroin dragon slide and the music isn’t what it was from the height of a few years earlier. In short, different acts hit that awkward phase for different reasons. Nobody can be amazing all the time and your fans are fickle. Just ask U2 how long it took them to get back the fans after Pop.
Cam: These… these are thoughts!
Cam: Bruce… Tunnel of Love was definitely maligned at the time. Ostensibly, it flopped. However, what could he have done to commercially to follow-up Born in the USA? There was really nowhere to go but down. It was his break-up album but I dunno…. “Brilliant Disguise” stands up pretty well, “Tunnel of Love” is a good song caked in 1980s production, “One Step Up” is still a bummer. Not a bad album by any stretch. I think his true WTF was “Streets of Philadelphia” which isn’t a bad song per se but also, it’s a clear attempt to stay current. Y’know, brooding over (ahem) “hip-hop beats”.
Cam: Elton… I think he kind of avoided (an awkward phase) because his descent (ascent?) into pure adult contempo was pretty gradual through the late 1970s. I think he kinda of got a pass because there weren’t huge expectations on him, even based on his prime 1970s output. He was glammy but he’d never be Bowie. He did the singer/songwriter thing but he wasn’t Lennon or even Paul Simon. He was just consistently massive and nobody really gave a (darn). At least amongst snobs? So he starts doing songs for Disney cartoons… nobody really cared. From what I can tell, Elton purists aren’t very vocal or defensive.
Cam: Billy Joel… Similar arch to Elton although I think he tried to convey the “serious artist” card more (i.e. lots of press shots where he looked sad or contemplative). Therefore, crap like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “River of Dreams” seem laughably corny in retrospect (and at the time). It was never cool to like Billy Joel but I think even non-Billy Joel fans held him to a higher standard (artistically) than Elton John. He never dressed up like Donald Duck and played Dodger Stadium in a sequent baseball uniform. But Billy did have massive cornball moments in the early 1980s (i.e. the video for “Uptown Girl”) that somehow seemed less disposable than Elton John’s efforts of that era, even though the songs were probably worse. Give me “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” any day. Chuck Klosterman wrote a good essay on Billy Joel that talks about his positioning in rock music lore (or lack thereof). Companion piece.
Cam: The Band… Do big fans even consider their 1980s albums “real” Band efforts? I know zero about these, aside from the fact there is (I think) an angry cartoon pig on one of the covers. As a pretty casual fan, I can’t really imagine Rick Danko even existing post-Waltz. I do remember Levon getting trotted out at Bonnaroo and elsewhere in his final years but sadly, in a “holy shit, that guy’s still alive” fashion. And all the while, Robbie tried to shoehorn himself into the video era. You do realize from maybe 1984 to 1988, Robbie Robertson and Lou Reed were kind of running parallel in their efforts to fit into the MTV era? And now both seem MASSIVELY dated output-wise in the process. All that stuff… I’m kinda just talking out of my ass because I really don’t have a full sense of how these guys were received by fans/non-fans at the time. I was a toddler while this was going down As the first CompletelyIgnored.com essay points out (and the entire MO for the blog really), unless you literally lived through this stuff, it’s tougher to piece together the true arch from an ascent/descent perspective and have it resonate in a truly authentic (and less theoretical) fashion. To your point, these cycle repeat and always will with any artist that has legs career-wise. A few more recent examples of the “awkward phase”… Sonic Youth (Dirty… which I maintain is still a really solid album), Dinosaur Jr (Where You Been…. very similar quality- and sonic-wise to the previous two… kind of a “three strikes, you’re out” jag for those who were still pining for another version of Bug), Mogwai (Rock Action… way shorter and less epic than previous efforts… Happy Music for Happy People might be my overall favourite but really, they just don’t make bad albums ever…. they’re never mind-blowingly amazing but they’re always good/very good)
Cam: I think the best modern parallel to the original “Dylan in the 1980s” theme is Beck. His first two widely-available albums (Mellow Gold and Odelay) were completely locked-in to a mid-1990s aesthetics, as much as Dylan was with his 1960s output (assumedly). Beck kinda retreated and messed around for a bit to close out the 1990s (Mutations) and then unloaded his real divisive moment (Midnight Vultures) maybe six years into his career. Everything since has been reasonably well-received and from the reviews I’ve read about his new album Morning Phase (which is great), they feel eerily similar to whatever was written about Neil’s Freedom or maybe Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. In short, if you can last deep into a career and keep a reasonable amount of acclaim, your latter day output will definitely be graded on a curve. And in fairness, if you can keep people’s interest 10 or 15 or 25 albums in, that is SERIOUSLY impressive. Here is a related question: is it even fathomable that a current artist could stay relevant for 50 years like Dylan, Neil, Leonard Cohen have? It’s almost like talking about another pitcher winning 300 games and how unlikely that seems. Clayton Kershaw is arguably the most impressive (stuff-wise) lefthanded pitcher since Randy Johnson. He just turned 26 and he ONLY has 77 wins. And yet two Cy Youngs! Beck seems like a candidate and he’s got a good pace going now 20 years in. But could he seriously keep making well received albums for the next 30 years?!? Until 2044?!? Again, I can’t even wrap my head around the possibility. In the pop realm, this is even more unlikely. Sadly, I just watched the video of Lady GaGa getting barfed on by a dancer at SXSW. This is one of the biggest pop stars in the world and she’s resorting to little stunts like this that are clearly geared towards the YouTube crowd. One would think (hope?) that Madonna or Michael Jackson would never have stooped to this level of attention grabbing… and they were/are massive ego-maniacs!
Adam: Where to begin. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” is one of my favorite songs of all-time. I love the song to death, I love the video, it makes me emotional that song. Must be something about the chord progression combined with tremendous lyrics (“…laughing like children / living like lovers / rolling like thunder / under the covers”) and “… I simply love you more than I love life itself”. In WWII era England? Kills me every time. Also on my short list are “Amoreena”, “Bad Side of the Moon (live from 10-11-70)” then wonderfully covered and made famous by April Wine. Talk about an under appreciated band! Most of Madman Across the Water kills. “Holiday Inn” is a great road song that should’ve been in Almost Famous. There’s also a great live version of “Daniel” with a nice pulsing piano and a really nice energy that is better live than the flute-y feel of the studio track. I’ve got a soft spot for “Nikita” too. Too much music! I forgot about “Streets of Philadelphia”. I heard that during the commercial break before the Oscars performance of that tune, someone called out “Rosalita”! I love Tunnel of Love. Same time as Nothing Like the Sun by Sting. I’d call Desert Rose his awkward phase but he weathered the storm. I love the sound of Tunnel of Love. Very 1980s in a good way. “One Step Up” had a great lyric: “… check the furnace / she wasn’t burnin'”. “Brilliant Disguise” is the song I’d hold a sign up for at a Springsteen show if I didn’t hate doing that. Held a “Jungleland” sign at the (Sky)Dome first row when he came by but he wasn’t playing it that night. The video for it is directed by Jonanthan Demme (I think) and is a live performance on a long, slow zoom in shot in black-and-white. “Tougher Than the Rest” has a kick-ass harp solo to finish it out. Kind of like the piano outro on “Racing in the Street”. I judge Bruce’s awkward years by his facial hair. You know what I mean?
Adam: Also, thought I’d mention that I introduced the kids to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” this week and they loved it. I actually remember hearing it for the first time on a Sunday night “new music” spot on CHUM-FM, I think. Grade 7. They played the verse that starts “… Buddy Holly / Ben Hur / space monkey mafia”. They also played a part from Jive Bunny and the Mastermixer’s “Swing the Mood”. I purchased cassette singles of both I believe, though I had the storefront CD I think. “Swing the Mood” is just essentially this: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Hooked On Classics Parts 1. Which although is nostalgic to hear, not nearly as perpetually listenable as this: Walter Murphy – A Fifth Of Beethoven [HQ]
Cam: Here we go… I totally forgot about “Tell Her About It”. A total craptastic piece of 1980s cheese and something that reminds me for 98.1 CHFI and accordingly, sitting in a dentist office. I hadn’t really thought about him trying to update doo wop (or thought about him much at all) but that totally is him trying to bring the Frankie Valli approach into the 1980s. I guess the modern equivalent might be…. parts of Bruno Mars? It does seem like a bit of a swerve considering he was positioned as “singer/songwriter” before and then shifted to a modified “song-and-dance man”. Amazingly in retrospect, he got his most early traction on “modern” MTV by aping a style of music that was more than 20 years old at the time. Having Christie Brinkley mincing about in there no doubt helped. I actually kind of like “Allentown” although it seems a bit too jovial for an “issues” song. Songs about labour that don’t sound like Pete Seeger or Billy Bragg are often weird/clunky but BJ pulls no punches considering how the song starts: “… well, we’re living here in Allentown / and they’re closing all the factories down”. I like the Wikipedia page talks about the then-mayor’s reaction to the tune. It seems a bit invasive considering he didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania but is more coherent (rightly or wrongly) than the Rheostatics’ “Horses” and more sympathetic (though less awesome) than Rush’s “Working Man”. “Allentown” totally sounds like BJ trying to write a Randy Newman song, right? File under “what would Randy Newman do”. Complete WTF on the video. Considering the song is supposedly about the plight of the working class, the clip is massively campy and really inconsistent with the tone of the song. I guess the TV show Fame was big in-and-around the time of that song? It’s like a musical theatre version of what working in a factory would be like with BJ dressed like a slightly more handsome Emmett Kelly.
Cam: “A Fifth of Beethoven” is a textbook novelty song but could it be argued that this was the first mash-up? Is Girl Talk an “evolutionary Walter Murphy” as our friend Bill Simmons would say? This perhaps rivals Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” as the most unlikely merging of the era that somehow works. I’d love for somebody to write a definitive piece (maybe they already have) on electronic music from, I dunno, 1974-1982 but not delineate between disco, Kraurock, early hip-hop, Top 40, Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, music for video games, etc. It’s sad hope deeply music gets segmented. I know next-to-nothing about disco but I think it’s always been unfairly pushed to the margins (in a critical sense) and never really given its just due on how much it impacted Top 40 in the 1980s and beyond. There is a really solid BBC documentary on Nile Rogers that is worth a look. He’s obviously not even an electronic artist per se but I think it does a really nice job of fixating on delving into the genesis of Chic and showing how his POV morphed through his work with David Bowie, Duran Duran, INXS, Madonna. Obviously, he’s getting a broad revisit/rediscovery because of his work with Daft Punk. I like his “it’s all just music; deal with it” approach. His set at Glastonbury 2013 is really awesome too–it’s almost like something you’d see on a cruise ship and completely unironic, sincere and celebratory. I’m curious that you put Eddie Vedder on your “built to last” list with Beck and Jeff Tweedy. I think Pearl Jam is completely fine but for yourself, for somebody who never “did” grunge”, was there a moment when you came around on PJ or EV specifically? I kinda feel like Snoop Dogg is going to be on that list too. Hip-hop is too young to even begin to speculate but “Big Snoop” has had incredible lasting power. I’ve always thought there are only two musicians who’d be equally at home on Sesame Street and in a pornographic film: Snoop and Gene Simmons. There’s gotta be some cache there.
Adam: We’re all in hyper-focused niches of consuming what we already like. I’m amused through-out these discussions about how you’ll start talking about vitally essential “alt-rock” artists and I’m thinking “Oh, I think I’ve heard that name once”. There is clearly a lot of crossover of mainstream stuff but our divergent tastes (and the obsessive way we get into those things) is cool. It’s why I like the Sam Dunn movies Global Metal and Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey despite not liking metal on any level and it sounding like noise. I dig that there are tribes who come together loving it, dress in their outfits (their black is my “carefully selected, just the right amount of cool” Dead shirt). and they’re as happy as they could be in their music, moving their bodies, along with 30,000 others. Just as Trading Places once taught us, there is a place for both nature AND nurture (I mean, look how quickly Valentine figured out the pork bellies market). Certain frequencies of music just sound good to me. Why? Definitely what I was raised on but I never liked the hard Pearl Jam or Blues Traveler stuff (and not for lack of exposure or trying). I like the part in the Rush movie where Trey Parker (or Matt- the curly haired one) is talking about how you pick who you like in high school: “Well, this is the smart band and I fancy myself a smart kid. This is what I’m about”. The hippie thing just felt right for me. It still does.
Cam: Did you see the The Story of Anvil? Both that and the Rush doc are great in that “you don’t even have to like the music” kind of way. More importantly, it’s pretty cool to see the roots of those bands in North York, very close to our beloved Thornhill. Those guys and their families really remind me of a lot of people I knew growing up. Plus it was pretty sweet to see Geddy Lee drive past that plaza where Newtonbrook Bowlerama is located in the back of a Lincoln.
Adam: I loved (the Rush doc). My fifth grade teacher was his first cousin. Everyone had a Geddy story. I sat behind him at a Leafs’ game once. His kids played ball at Bishop’s Cross. Jordan sat next to him once and kept talking about “Xanadu“, trying I get his attention. They were going into Pancer’s Deli in the movie. I had the good pleasure of bumping into Sam Dunn at the airport a few years back as I was listening to “Far Cry”, one of the few later-era Rush songs on my iPod because it was the song through the final credits of the doc. So I’m sitting listening to the song from the movie and this long-haired guy walks past me. I “nerded” out a little on him. Gushed over both movies and how cool I thought it was that I didn’t get the music but I got the experience of the music. He was very nice. Talked about on-going projects with Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper. Asked him how cool it just be to be working for your heros. He was in the affirmative.