News
Lorrie's Blog

Thoughts on music and life and such

I look back on the fateful day I met Chris Dadge in Hotwax as the day my music life took a turn for the best. He was this shy, weird, nerdy/nervous kid who came up to the counter (if memory serves) with 3 records. Miles Davis, Bill Frisell and Mission of Burma. I was stunned, I couldn’t comprehend why this kid was buying this stuff. Where’s the Chili Peppers? Pearl Jam? Sum 41? (I discovered later he was a PJ fanatic, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Haha…)

I struck up a conversation about these records, and others, which led to talking about playing music, which led to us becoming friends and him becoming a regular at the store, then becoming an employee at the store, then he and I playing music together. It is the longest and most fruitful musical relationship I’ve ever had, I will be grateful for it until the day I’m dead.

Because of Dadge (as we call him) I met a group of young, smart, INCREDIBLY talented musicians whose friendship and musicality had a profound effect on me. I have absolutely no doubt that I would not be where I am in my artistic life today if it weren’t for Dadge, Scott Munro, Steve Fletcher, Jay Crocker and a host of other amazing people. These guys and their associates helped me make truly great records for other artists in my studio (making me look like the smart guy), and their acceptance of and belief in my own songs encouraged me to forge ahead, to try new things, and to keep learning – TO ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

When I fell in with these young Turks, I was in my 30′s, and they were products of the Mount Royal Jazz Diploma program, an education that nurtured their talents, encouraged them to be unafraid and to explore their muse. To always question tradition, but to respect it as well. Of course they were born with some innate abilities, but from the way they spoke of their music and of their education, and the way they PLAYED (and STILL play!), I knew their greatness flourished in no small part because of the school they went to.

These gents have an immeasurable impact on our city’s cultural scene, as do the many other graduates of the MRU Jazz program. I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine what the music here would be like without them and their fellow alumni.

Today we have the news that the Province is readying huge cuts to Arts programs at MRU. This is a sad, sad day. I encourage you to go to this Facebook page and lend your voice. 

Tomorrow I’m playing a show to celebrate the release of my new record, which I’m extremely excited about. But I know that, like the last record, and the one before that, if it weren’t for meeting those crazy kids fresh outta Mount Royal all those years ago, it would not exist, and, more importantly, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

 

The Night is for Sleepers

Finally, the new record is out! I’ve mostly kept it to myself for the last 8 or so months, save the few advance CDs I sold at last years Calgary Folk Fest. A lot has happened since then, mostly amazing things, as I continue to make some really amazing records with all kinds of great artists in my studio. It kinda plays havoc with my own stuff when I’m trying to help others get their records finished, but I can’t complain, as there’s some real magic happening in this little room.

I type this as I await the arrival of the band for rehearsal, some dear friends are going to help me celebrate the release of this thing on Thursday the 18th, over at the Ironwood, and I couldn’t be more happy with how it’s sounding. These guys and gal have gone beyond the call in learning the new record, and some of my faves from past releases. I hope you folks in Cowtown can come to the show, it starts at 8 pm sharp, like I already said, at the Ironwood, Thursday April 18. Big thanks to Emily Burrowes, Chris Dadge, John Hadley, Garth Kennedy and Ken Price for sounding so good.

I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the cover art for this record – I too think it is beautiful – and I want you to check out Ninalee Irani’s work. She is a great artist and I love the way the cover has turned out.

Mosey on over to the Bandcamp site where it’s streaming, and I’d love to send you an LP (who doesn’t like getting mail?), which you can order right there whilst listening to crappy 128 kbps mp3s. Higher-res digital files are also available there, or if iTunes is more your vibe, you can get it here.

Locally you can buy the record at these great stores, which you should support, regardless of what records you buy – Hot Wax, Sloth, Melodiya, The Inner Sleeve and Heritage Music.

That’s it for the sales pitch, I’m gonna go play some music now.

The Replacements – Valentine

It was 17 years ago this past week when I got into a gold 1980 Chevy Impala to go for a ride someplace with a girl I had just met a day or 2 previous. I had been in that car before (the night we met, actually), but on that trip I had nothing but her on my mind, it was dark, and we ended up spending the night talking (yup, just talking) parked on Nose Hill overlooking the city skyline. I was out of sorts to say the least when 7 AM rolled around and she drove me to work, and so did not get to the routine investigation of the cassette collection I would normally embark on upon entering someone’s car for the first time (esp. a cute girl’s car…). So, when, a couple days later, she had agreed to meet me me again (awesome) and to pick me up (how sweet!), I was presented with the opportunity to peruse her tapes. Very important early on in a relationship to establish what you are dealing with, music-wise, as it could mean the difference between a coffee date followed by a handshake (“seeya – have a nice life!”) and a the start of a full-blown love affair.

Based on the epic first conversation we had in her Impala, I had already sussed out that she was smart (waaay smarter than me) and funny, and the fact that she had agreed to hang out with me again proved that she was patient and kind, too. Pretty good, so far.

I opened up her box of cassettes, and the first title I lay eyes on is The Replacements’ “Pleased to Meet Me”. Incredulous, and fully expecting her to answer, “Oh, some guy left that in here 6 months ago – I should throw it out.”, I still asked (or maybe exclaimed, I can’t remember)- “You’re into the Replacements?” (alternatively, “You’re into the Replacements!!”).

“I LOVE THAT BAND!” she said aloud.

“AND I LOVE YOU!” I said in my head.

I dunno where we were going or what we were doing, but where/whatever it was, the time was spent talking mostly about the ‘Mats in general, and “Pleased to Meet Me” specifically. One thing I have noticed about girls (for the most part) is that they pay far more attention to the words than guys do, and so we spent hours dissecting the lyrics of the record. All the shit Westerberg said that made me laugh, made her laugh (I Don’t Know). The songs that made me curious (“Who is Alex Chilton?”) made her curious. All the deep/dark/poignant stuff (The Ledge, Skyway) affected her the same as me. We talked about how he could be funny/deep/dark/poignant in the same song (Can’t Hardly Wait) and how he was a master of turning a phrase -

“Absolution is out of the question
It makes no sense to apologize
The words… I thought… I brought… I left… behiiiiiiiind
So, never mind”

- and making it sound like life was in the balance when he sang it.

Her favorite line on the whole record was “If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will/And I’d knock you back with something sweet and strong”… Pretty much exactly what was going through my brain as I watched this beautiful girl animatedly proclaim her affection for the greatest band of all time.

Seven years later, give or take a few days, we got married.

Ten years after that, give or take a few days, I recorded this version of “Valentine” by the Replacements, for my valentine, Jennifer.

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Steve Earle – Someday

1986 was a weird year for me. I had left home and was trying to figure out what being out alone in the world meant, and basically had no idea. About anything. I was NOT a country music fan – there was lots of that where I grew up, and it was usually some kinda twang that was blasting out of the pickup truck I was laying face down on the ground behind after a coupla good ol’ boys finished teaching me a lesson about having funny hair and weird clothes.

An avid reader of SPIN magazine, I almost flipped right by an article about some hat guy named Dwight Yoakam, until the words “Violent Femmes” caught my eye. Turns out this guy was as down on Nashville as I was, and played “real” country music, which couldn’t buy him a cup of coffee in the Music City (why is it called Music City, anyway? Shouldn’t it be called Cookie Cutterville, or something?). Instead of quitting, or worse, changing his music to make it more “palatable”, he went to LA and started playing rock clubs with bands like the Violent Femmes and X, and made a name for himself with the underground kids. I was intrigued, so I went out and got his “Guitars and Cadillacs” record. Not bad, I thought, after a few listens, but most definitely not life-changing.

One night, I was watching MuchMusic (who are we kidding? That was every night…) – they still played music on MuchMusic back then (ohhh… Erica, I loved you) – and a video came on by Steve Earle, a name mentioned in passing that I recognized from the Yoakam article. “This is strange”, I thought. “Why are they playing this country dude on Much? ” By the end of the song, I was sold. If the music video was an advertisement for a record, then this one totally worked. I went up to A&A Records in Deerfoot Mall and bought “Guitar Town” on cassette. Looking at the cover, there were two things I noticed straightaway – 1) No hat. 2) A black guitar. Who was this guy?

I got the record home and I knew who he was. He was who I wanted to be (straight talk, no B.S., tell-it-how-you-see-it-even-if-you-don’t-know-exactly-what-it-is-you’re-looking-at, lyrically smart, musically tough-but-thoughtful) – but hadn’t figured out how to do it yet. He was not ashamed of where he came from (Tennessee and/or Texas – small-town stuff), but did not speak or sing or act like a yokel, and didn’t put on airs to hide his humble roots. The real deal.

I wore that album out, and I realize now that Guitar Town was the impetus for my diving headlong into country music 5 or 6 years later (I used to think it was all Uncle Tupelo‘s fault, but I now know it was Steve’s), and “Someday” was my favorite song – a song I wish I had written, a song that summed up my feelings about my hometown, exactly.

In the spring of ’87, my friend Ed was graduating high school and I headed back home for the party. I was feeling slightly nostalgic on the 9 hour drive – I lived in the big city now, but this is where I grew up – and was looking forward to seeing some old familiar faces. The first thing I did when I got to the farm was to borrow my parents’ car and head into town. I couldn’t stay long, ‘cuz supper was gonna be on the table, but I just wanted to get to town and drive down Railway, bang a right on Main, go the 8 blocks or so and do a U-turn, go back down Main and up Railway (what we used to call ‘driving around’ in high school – sounds pretty much as exciting as you would imagine – Steve nailed it in the opening lines of “Someday”) a few times for old times’ sake.

On my way back home for supper, I stopped in at the Mohawk gas station and after filling up Mom and Dad’s car, I saw an old friend in the coin-operated car wash bay, back to the street, hosing down his truck. This was not just some passing acquaintance. This guy was there for most of my adolescent rites of passage – first cigarette, first beer, first joint, first snowmobile accident, car accident,  double date at the drive-in, etc. We went to school and played hockey together for a long time, until he went off to play Junior in North Battleford when we were 16.

I was so happy to see him! I jumped out of the car and yelled over the noise of the car wash. “Mike! Mike!” he turned around a looked at me for a second, and then, uninterested, turned back to washing his truck. I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Mike! It’s me, Lorrie!”

He let go of the trigger on the spray wand and faced me. “I know who you are. What the fuck do you want?”

Stunned, I just looked at him and said, “Umm… nothing. Just wanted to say hi…”

“Well, hi, then. You said it. I’m busy.”

I turned back to the car as I realized what was on the dash of his truck – the cassette case for Guitar Town. I hope he took Steve’s advice – hard to say, since that was the last time I ever saw him.

Steve Earle’s “Someday

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Big Star – The Ballad of El Goodo

I can’t put into words what Alex Chilton and Big Star have meant to me over the years, what kind of influence his music has had on me – by osmosis at first, through the Replacements, Posies, Teenage Fanclub, etc. – and then directly, from the albums #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers.

By now, you may well know that he passed away yesterday at the age of 59, and it is a sad day here at LMHQ. Although he was a brilliant lyricist, songwriter and guitar player, he never got his due. People always say that the Velvet Underground was the most influential rock band post Beatles, but I think there is a strong argument for Big Star. Everyone who heard VU may have started a band, but everyone who heard Big Star learned how to write songs – big difference. Just ‘cuz you start a band doesn’t mean you’re gonna have good songs to play, and for my money, Chilton’s were among the best, and the ones who cite him as a major influence are no slouches, either.

While fame and fortune eluded him, Alex Chilton never gave up – he made a ton of records with Big Star and under his own name, and while they were of varying degrees of brilliance over the course of his lifetime, the fact that he kept pushing himself without the fanfare of the media to hold him up says something about the man as an artist. He tried hard against unbelievable odds, no question.

My pal Brooker is one of my favorite people – a great guitar player and all-around awesome friend, and his knowledge of rock music is staggering. This is what he posted on the ol’ Facebook last night about 5 minutes after I found out about Alex Chilton’s death-

Alex Chilton, you were one of my favorite songwriters, singers and guitar players all rolled up into one genius of a man. The world just lost a little light. You were one of the El Goodos.

Amen, Hammer. Amen.

Alex Chilton, RIP

Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Prince – Starfish and Coffee

When I was a young pup, I was a dancin’ fool. Yup. You heard it right – me. A dancin’ fool. Every chance I got, I would bust a move, anytime, anywhere. I was even a member of a breakdance troupe for a while, called the Pop-Lock Breakers (well, a troupe would be stretching it – it was me and and another guy named Kevin). I especially loved gettin’ down to Prince tunes – Little Red Corvette and 1999 were my early faves – which didn’t do me any favors at school, as the dudes considered Prince to be “chick” music, and even most of the chicks thought him to be a little, umm… feminine, thus making my penchant for the lil’ man from Minneapolis a touch, umm… strange.

I didn’t care – what did those people know about music outside of AC/DC (amazing), Iron Maiden (awesome) and Willie Nelson (a legend, even in 1982)? Nothing. Things changed, of course when Purple Rain came out (for the chicks, at least- I finally had some people in my corner)- it was undeniable, and in ’84/’85 Prince was everywhere. I had this major thing for a girl named Marnie Gunther in the next town over from Meadow Lake (Loon Lake), and I went to a school dance there armed with a cassette copy of Purple Rain, cued up to “Let’s Go Crazy” in case the DJ didn’t have the extended guitar solo album version (the radio edit was lame). My plan was to get him to play it and I would wow Marnie by cutting a rug while Prince was laying down that immense solo. It kinda worked – I think I made out with her for a few minutes later that night, but in the end, what I really remember about that night was the awesome power of Prince when it was blasting, loud.

In the fall of my grade 12 year, this weird dude moved to town and started attending Carpenter High, and because he was weird, I was immediately drawn to striking up a conversation with him at the smoking doors. He had a cool t-shirt on, and funny hair, and Chuck Taylors, like the Ramones wore. His name was Ed Van Vliet (yeah – Van Vliet, like Captain Beefheart), and we soon discovered a mutual interest in music that was far beyond anyone else’s in school. We became fast friends and spent hours listening to records at his place. His fave? Prince. He had all the records, and all the offshoot records, too. Morris Day and the Time (Jungle Love? Are you kidding?), Vanity 6, Wendy and Lisa, Sheila E., you name it, Ed had it. It was dirty stuff, all those love jams and sexfunk, and we loved it. It seemed to help with our luck with the girls, too (although he was far more successful than I) – there was something about being a Prince fan that made you more confident with the ladies. I was soon writing “U” instead of “you” in my love notes, “4″ instead of “for”, “2″ instead of “too” or “to”, and wearing really bizarre pants.

Because I had a comrade-in-weird, I kinda put to the back of my mind the ridiculousness of it all (I was slightly ashamed of my Prince fascination, what with the Christian guilt that hung like an existential yoke around my neck), and when I finished high school and moved away from my pal Ed to Calgary in the fall of ’86, I kept it to myself.

It was hard making friends in the new city. I was searching for someone who had the same need for musical stimulation and adventure as I did, and the closest I came in those first couple years was this dude named Rhys – a really good guy, but I blame him for doing some serious damage to my psyche and musical development and stunting the growth of my knowledge. See, he had gone to the Berklee College of Music in Boston – a far-off, exotic school – and I took every word out of his mouth as gospel, since he was a far more experienced and learned scholar, a sage and wise music guru… who was really into Toto. And Steely Dan. Because of him, I thought “jazz” was Pat Metheny‘s mid-80′s recorded output and Dianne Schurr, that Coltrane and Parker and Mingus were hacks (even though I had never really listened to them), that Miles Davis’ best record was *cough* “Tutu“, and that Marcus Miller was a genius (a whammy bar on a 6-string bass? Seriously? I now know that a whammy bar is generally a bad idea on ANY guitar – unless your name is Neil Young – and any bass with more than 4 strings isn’t a bass, it’s a weapon of wank). I began to have the opinion that the Band were hacks who couldn’t play or sing or write a decent song, and that Keith Richards was a moron. I was totally brainwashed, and yes, I drank the Berklee Kool-Aid.

I spent a goodly amount of time walking around dazed and confused about what was “good” about music – I played Rhys a song I had written and he told me it was ‘wrong’ (Looking back on that, I think, “Wrong? How can it be wrong? It might be bad, but a song cannot be wrong”) – was everything that had moved me up until that point total garbage? Stricken with guilt about my plebian taste and wracked with insecurity, I found myself at Rhys’ place for a party one night.

“Have you heard this?”, he asked, holding up a vinyl copy of “Sign O’ The Times” by, you guessed it, Prince.

“Umm… No.”, I responded. I thought it was some kind of trick question, a ploy to set me up for ridicule and embarrassment in front of everyone at the party. I was aware of the new record, but was so unsure as to whether or not I should like it based on the opinions of my guru, was afraid to buy it.

“Oh man, you gotta hear it. Unbelievable!”

He dropped the needle, and for the next four sides, I was in heaven. I mean, ‘Purple Rain’ and ’1999′ and ‘Dirty Mind’ and ‘Around the World in a Day’ were great, but this… this was masterpiece. Hard, dirty, funk next to beautiful, ornate pop songs beside warm, inviting R&B; and gospel tunes. This thing was unlike any record I’d ever heard, and to this day, remains one of my favorite albums.

I’ve been playing “Starfish and Coffee” from “Sign O’ The Times” live for a long time now, mostly because it feels good. I mean, gooooooooood. And, it is always nice to give the audience a bit of a reprieve from the sad bastard, wrist-slitting effect of most of my material. You cannot be in a bad mood after hearing or singing this song. Is it the best song on the record (one where there are no bad songs)? No, but I would say it’s my favorite.

Funny. After all my teenage worry and concern over my provincial taste, it was the guy who made me insecure about it who validated it just by putting on a Prince record. I now appreciate Steely Dan’s music, and can understand why some folks would be into Dianne Schurr (even though I’m not). However, I’d rather listen to paint dry than Pat Metheny, and as for Toto… I’ll just say this – Rhys, if you’re reading this, thanks for exposing me to all the music, and no disrespect 2 U.

Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Chris Page – Hello, Danger Bay

Wow. What a week (and a half). I feel so incredibly guilty about being late with this – it’s like calling in sick to work to go race go-karts with yr buddies, or something. Except that I don’t have a job to call in sick to, and I have never set ass in a go-kart.

What’s more fun than go-karting could possibly be? Well, for me it is hanging out and playing shows with my good pal from Ottawa, Chris Page. He flew out last Thursday with his roadie/tambourine player/left-winger Johnny and we had a great weekend, gigging here in Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton, with another great friend, Mark Davis.

I always learn a valuable life lesson from Page every time I hang out with him (we average a couple visits a year – not enough, in my book), and this past weekend’s words of wisdom were these: When the whiskey shows up, the tambourine disappears.

An inside joke? Yes. But think about that sentence for a while – it’s like some ancient Chinese proverb or something. The more I think about it, the more profound it is. Seriously.

Anyway, we aren’t 18 anymore, and although we tried our best to keep the energy levels up (no time for sleep when you are rocking w/ the Ottawa contingent, lemme tellya), we crashed and burned hard on Sunday – my day for recording covers, which Page was gonna help me out with on this installment. We wound up going to the Blackfoot diner for dinner and then watching Tom Petty and Talking Heads live DVDs, which was pretty awesome, and hitting the sack around 10 PM so we could be up for me to get him to his flight at 6 AM Monday.

Work and life got in the way, and now it is Wednesday, and I had to get back on track with this thing, so this morning I sat down to record the tune Chris and I had planned to do. All I could think about, however, was what a great time we had, and what a great time I have every time I see him. I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have friends like him. Where would I be? I dunno, but it would be an awful place, comparatively. Funny – he sings “No-one thinks to save your back/ Or leave the window open just a crack until the hurt becomes fresh air”, which is not true, ‘cuz I know he does.

Sooo… I decided to do one of his songs, instead. I heard him do it 3 or 4 times over the weekend, and it has been running through my brain when I’ve woken up since Friday. It is a great song, from a great album, by the greatest dude. Buy it. You’ll thank me.

For those of you who have driven the #2 highway from the south heading into Calgary (I think it’s around High River), you have probably seen the “More Alberta, Less Ottawa” billboard, put up by these guys. Now, I am not an apologist for our government (they are idiots, most of ‘em, no matter what party they belong to) but it could be a lot worse. Not to mention that some of the worst offenders in our nation’s capital are from our (my) own backyard. Like this guy. Or this schmuck. Or this arrogant bonehead (nice Hitler ‘do, BTW).

Anyhoo… (ooofff. Now I’m mad, all of the sudden) all I know is this – if we had more people like, oh, I dunno – every single person I’ve ever met from Ottawa move here, it would be a much, much, MUCH better place. More Ottawa! Same amount of Alberta…

Chris Page’s “Hello Danger Bay

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Paul Westerberg – It’s A Wonderful Lie

Wow. 8 weeks in. My friend Dave was impressed when I did it 2 weeks in a row, so he must be ecstatic now ( his mood on this night will have nothing to do with the amazing OT win this aft, this is all about ME).

For those of you who have written me, thanks a lot for listening/reading – I’m sorry I haven’t replied to each one of you separately, but typing is not my forte (it takes longer to write this stuff than it does to do the tunes, most times – shoulda paid attention in grade 10 Typing class, I guess).

Funny how this thing is working – I’ve been getting a ton of requests! I’m not sure how I’m gonna deal with them yet – it was my intention to make this a personal journey of some kind and to share it with whomever would take the time to bother, so I’m overwhelmed to say the least, and flattered that those of you who put forth ideas for covers care enough to do so.

The song this week was actually requested a while ago, and to be honest, I would have done it anyway. Not that the other requests aren’t good songs or interesting choices, it’s just that this song has been a staple of my live show for a really long time. In fact, I probably open about 95% of my sets with it. I can’t really explain how/why, but it calms me down and helps me settle in to a show – I still get anxious beforehand, even after hundreds of gigs – and if I’m really antsy, I’ll play Lee Shedden’s “Bordersong” right after and I’m good to go. Works every time, and not because they are both in the same key, although it helps that I don’t have to switch harmonicas…

Why this song? I’m not sure. Westerberg is one of my heroes, there is no doubt – just ask anyone who knows me – and he has written a ton of songs that have slain me, melodically, musically, and most of all, lyrically. Although this one is from one of his least-praised records, it is the one that over the years has become my all-time favorite of his. I will never get sick of the line “you can dress to the eights, you can dress to maim/make you feel great, this fortune and fame/wearing too much makeup, not near enough clothes”. In fact, I have to stop myself from chuckling every 3rd or 4th time I sing that line. It is so sad, and so hilarious, all at once.

Before I was able to call Mike Plume my friend, my band was opening for his one night, and at their soundcheck they played “It’s A Wonderful Lie”. I was put out and amazed – I thought I was the only guy that would dare do the tune, and now here’s this dude stealing my thunder. At the same time, I was tickled that someone else thought enough of the song to bother covering it. That night we bonded over the ‘Mats and Westerberg’s songs, and spent a good deal of time discussing the lyric quoted above. I wonder sometimes if he hadn’t played it at the soundcheck if we’d ever have gotten on as well as we have, and maybe I never would have gotten to make records and play a few gigs with him or even just hang around with the guy, which have been some of the best times I’ve had, ever. I can say without exaggeration that I would be at least one friend (and possibly my girl) short today if it wasn’t for the songs of Paul Westerberg.

All you need is 3 chords and the truth, someone once said. Well, they have to be the right 3 chords, and Westerberg has the ability to tell you truths that you didn’t even know existed, even if he says they are wonderful lies. Funny… and sadly beautiful.

Paul Westerberg’s “It’s A Wonderful Lie

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

The Seventy Sevens – The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life

As a kid, I was crazy about rock and roll. Not unlike most of you, I would imagine, but most definitely unlike most of you, my dad was a farmer 6 days a week and a Church of Christ minister 7 days a week. Old school, too. No drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no playing cards on Sundays. Once, in the dead of winter, waaaay too cold to go outside, we were hanging around in the house, trying to amuse ourselves. Mom was at the kitchen table, working on a quilt or some knitting or something, and it wasn’t going too well. Completely frustrated, she threw her hands in the air and screamed, “Heck! Heck! Heck!!” My dad, who was passing through the kitchen, stopped and gave her a reproachful look. “Mother – stop your swearing! In front of the kids, even!”

I never once heard a curse word pass my father’s lips – the closest he ever came (when I was in earshot, at least) happened when I was 9 or so, and he was fixing the combine – head, shoulders and arms inside the maze of belts and turbines and pistons under the hood. I was fooling around in the cab, pretending I was driving, when I accidentally started it up. I never heard such an unholy noise – it was my dad, screaming. I jumped down to see what had happened, thinking I’d killed him. Visibly shaken, he glared at me with a mix of terror and intense anger in his eyes. “Daaaa- aaaaah- AAAAHHH!”

I got the message. He didn’t need to put the “mn” on the end for me to know that was the worst thing I’d done in my young life. It still freaks me out thinking about it, and to this day, if I’m getting an oil change and I’m sitting in the car while someone is under the hood, keys out of ignition – end of story.

It was tough trying to get my fill of rock music, though. He once humiliated me immensely while I was standing in line at the Zellers checkout, waiting to pay for a Steve Miller Band record. He walked up and asked “WHAT are you BUYING?”

“It’s the new Steve Miller,” I said, meekly. “It’s on sale.”

He snatched it out of my hand and strode back to the record racks. “Yup, it is, but not for you.” Chuckles ensued in the queue, me, red-faced…

He must have heard the “black panties with an angel’s face” line somewhere and decided that no son of his was gonna own that record. It was no small victory when he told me a few years later that he actually liked “King of Pain” by the Police. I thought the tide had turned and we were gonna start hanging out in my room listening to records together, but for some reason, that never happened, probably because I tried to extol the virtues of Zeppelin IV to him, and that was the end of that.

I gotta hand it to my parents, though – they saw they were losing the battle with rock and roll, and so they decided to join the dark side and buy me some Christian rock tapes. Selection in my hometown was limited, so they just went into the Christian bookstore and asked for the most popular titles – Whiteheart, Petra, Rez Band, Amy *cough* Grant, etc.

Thing is, I’d heard all that stuff and dismissed it. They were sheep in wolves’ clothing (Stryper, anyone?). I had been subjected to soooo many Johnny Bible-Thumpers trying to “reach the youth” by attempting to be “relevant” to us (me), that I was not buying the shuck-and-jive acts with their rock and roll hair and loud guitars – they were still just preaching at me, and I figured that I got enough preaching in church on Sunday, whether I liked it or not. Why would I choose to listen to some bonehead in tight pants telling me that Jesus died for my sins, when I was willing to die to see Van Halen live?

“Runnin’ with the devilllll”

When I left home and came to Calgary, it was to attend bible college. To say that I went there with a purpose would be stretching it, and I felt like a fish out of water there (well, anywhere, really). I didn’t understand what the big deal was when I performed a Prince song in chapel service one Thursday night. “It’s about God!! Whatsamatter?!?!?”

I was one mixed-up kid, and often the only thing that made any sense to me was my record collection. I put on a brave face and acted the part of the good young Christian, but really, I had no idea what was real or true, or what I believed. About anything. Anything except rock and roll. A cliche? Yes (I hear a Springteen song playing somewhere), but for me it was real, and it was true. My tastes had gotten more sophisticated as I neared the end of my teens (Steve Miller and Van Halen long disappeared from my stax o’ wax), and I furiously devoured all radio, TV and print that had even the most remote chance of turning me on to something new to listen to.

There were a couple cool guys at the college who seemed kind of “into” music, and one day, one of them shoved a tape into my hand. “You gotta listen to this. You’re gonna love it.”

“I’m not into Christian rock”, I said, flatly.

“This is different. They’re on Island.”

Whoa. A Christian rock band on Island Records, home of U2 (who were vaguely Christian enough to be deemed acceptable by the Church… ummm… tastemakers… ?) and Nick Drake and the Slits? I had to check it out.

To say that the 77′s self-titled Island debut knocked my socks off on first listen would be a lie, but there was one song that stood out. The title at first put me off, as I recognized it from many hours spent at Bible Study. I reached for my NAS and looked the phrase up. Yup, I was right – 1 John 2:16. Oooofff. Not a good sign. Let’s start the sermon, shall we?

“Well I feel like I have to feel something good all of the time
With most of life I cannot deal but a good feeling I can feel
Even though it may not be real”

Whoa (again). Here’s a guy – a Christian guy – singing about how he feels? No proselytizing, no “Yay God!”, no by-the-book-Jesus-style-nursery-rhyme dreck? What’s going on? And, to boot, the band is good! It’s a good song!

(I admit, I like the sad-bastard tunes – they get me through rough times. The record really grew on me and is now a favorite, and has gotten me through many dark days, and given me great joy…)

Obviously, I was young and naive, and was just beginning to discover that there were thoughtful and passionate artists out there who just happened to believe in God. The difference with the 77′s was that they didn’t play ‘Christian Rock’, they were Christians who played rock music. Of course, their lifestyle and beliefs would color their music (just like Marilyn Manson’s are reflected in his, um, songs), but I got (and still have)
the feeling that these were regular dudes who liked being in a band, and their singer, Mike Roe, was a pretty smart dude and had some interesting things to say.

Now, I’m not gonna delve into some religious discussion here – that would take far too long to get through, and besides, there would be no hope of resolution, and the word ‘religion’ makes my skin crawl. Suffice to say that in regard to the God question, I’m still as screwed up as the 18-year-old that came to the city to go to Bible college. I’ll admit that for a long time (in my Angry Young Man phase) I viewed Christianity with a healthy amount of disdain, choosing to judge the book by its Jerry Falwell/PTL/Pat Robertson cover. I would put on the 77′s and think they were the exception to the rule back then, but now I just think there’s no rule. Say what you wanna say, do what you wanna do, believe what you wanna believe, and if you’re an idiot, you’re an idiot. Listen – I’m a male, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. You could paint me with a pretty ugly brush…

I was in a coffee shop one time when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation at the next table. This mohawked vegan punk rocker who had just kicked the bass player out of his hardcore band for eating a piece of cheese (it was a long, loud and very entertaining conversation) was complaining about and ridiculing Christians for being “so fucking dogmatic” – his exact words – and I thought to myself (amongst other things), “This guy needs to hear the 77′s”.

Too bad I didn’t have a tape to press into his hand…

“The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life”
by the Seventy Sevens

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Teenage Fanclub – About You

I’ve always been a sucker for a pop song. I think it’s because I found solace in my early years in AM Top 40 radio (see last week’s post). I’m not ashamed to admit that when ‘Uptown Girl’ comes on in the Safeway, I’m singing along in the produce section. Now, my head says it’s garbage, and my heart and gut, too, but somewhere there’s a piece of me that loves that stuff. Ask my thoughts on Billy Joel, and depending on my mood, you will get “He sucks” or “I hate that crap”, or, if I’m in a particularly foul mood, a rant that will seem endless and will only end when you look at your watch and say, “Jeez, Lorrie – been good chatting, but I gotta go… ummm… clean my hamster cage… right now…”

Hypocritical? Yup. A contradiction? Absolutely.

What can I say? You cannot define how or why a song will affect you, or what that means. Sometimes a sunny melody and a great hook are all I need. A great song does not need a deep, intellectual lyric that explores the depths of the human condition and/or a million chord changes you’d need a Master’s degree to figure out how to play in order to move me. We’re not talking desert island stuff here, but really – who among us is gonna wind up on a desert island (is there even any desert islands left?), and if we do, will we remember to pack a solar-powered stereo and our 10 favorite records? Besides, who could possibly have only 10 favorite records?

(An aside – years ago, when Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity came out, I was all about that book. Couldn’t stop talking about it. After a stellar Westerberg show in Vancouver, a bunch of us went to a pub down the street from the Commodore Ballroom to hang out and recap the show. Of course, Hornby’s book came to mind, and I asked my friend Andrew – biggest Springsteen fan in the world, I think – if he’d read High Fidelity. He response was that he’d started it, but only got a few chapters in before putting it away. “WHAAAAT?!?! You didn’t like it?” I was stunned. He stared back at me over his pint with a look of grim determination – “Look…” Deep breath. ” I like my fiction… to be FICTION! I don’t need some smartass telling me my own life story!”)

And it works the other way, too. I am (to some of you, anyway) about to commit heresy here. Often, when getting into a real good knock-em-down-drag-it-out music discussion, people (regardless of how well they know me personally) will bring up Townes van Zandt in reverential tones, expecting that he is someone we can all agree on the genius of. Not me. I don’t get it. I’ve tried, a thousand times. His music does nothing for me. One of those guys songwriters “have” to like, and I don’t care one whit. If (to paraphrase my pal, the inimitable Joel Stewart) TvZ were playing in my backyard, I’d close the drapes.

Leonard Cohen, too. And any band Bill Bruford has ever been in. There. I said it. I’ll take ‘Hang on Sloopy’ every time over those dudes.

—————

I remember buying Teenage Fanclub’s “Bandwagonesque” at Sam’s Chinook in the winter of 1991. I had never heard the record and only had a vague recollection of hearing about the record. The cover was (still is) atrocious, so that can’t be why I bought it. I was, however, trembling with anticipation in the store, looking at the CD in my hands, and I have no idea why. Once I got it home, though, it didn’t leave the stereo for a good long time, and, once I read up on them a bit, it led me back to the Big Star records I got on account of that Replacements song – records I never really bothered listening to.

I was a fan. At least I thought I was, but when the Fanclub’s next record, “13″ came out, all it did was make me wanna put “Bandwagonesque” on again (I have since realized the error of my ways), and so, when “Grand Prix” came out in ’95, I did not jump at the chance to acquire it. Eventually, I got around to getting it, and the instant ‘About You’ came on with those ringing, chiming guitars… well, it was all over. Teenage Fanclub had won me back. One of my favorite memories from 1995 was when Fire Engine Red was out at the Halifax Pop Explosion in October of that year, and we went to see The Posies. Jon Auer (Posies’ guitar player/singer/pop genius) was onstage, setting up his gear when ‘Neil Jung’ from Grand Prix came over the P.A. Without missing a beat, he played along, note for note, the whole tune. I loved Jon Auer (and his band) before that, but after? I woulda walked across hot coals for him.

I can safely say that Grand Prix is one of my favorite records of all time. Top 10? This week, it is. Next week, maybe Top 100, who knows? Does the ranking really matter? Not to me…

This last week was a crazy week for me. I did a project for a band in my studio, and was hard up on a recording grant deadline for myself and a bunch of potential clients in my studio (writing grant proposals and doing recording budgets is most definitely not my forte). Add four shows in 5 nights at the Marquee Room, and I was a bit of a basket case all week.

On Wednesday, I got a call from the Calgary Herald, wanting my reaction to a recently released survey that states that most artists live close to the downtown core. I’m an artist, and I live close to downtown – what do I think of said survey? I answered a few questions patiently, thinking the whole time about all the work I had to get done, figuring it was a fluff piece to be buried in the back of the City section. Needless to say, I was taken aback when the reporter told me the paper was sending over a photographer. “Huh? Ummm… OK… I guess.”

Next day, I woke up groggy to a mess of email/text/phone messages. My photo was on the front cover. Man. Had I known that was gonna happen, I would have showered and put on a clean shirt. The lady at the 7-11 freaked out when I went in to grab a coffee, and I had to stop answering the phone in order to get some work done. Pretty surreal, I have to say.

One of the many ignored messages I listened to later that night was from a dear friend I don’t see nearly enough of, mostly because life and love and work and all that get in the way. He’s the kind of guy you could call at 3 AM and say, “I need 500 bucks and a ride to the border” and he’d be there, no questions asked, in a heartbeat – the kind of friend you never think you’re ever gonna have. Expecting it to be another good-natured poke from a buddy about my (supposed) newsworthiness, the message stopped me in my tracks and wiped out the stress and strain of the week:

“Hey pal. I’m just driving around, listening to Teenage Fanclub. Made me think of you. I miss you.”

Like I said – you cannot define how or why a song (or artist) will move you, or what that means, but it means a lot. Hey, Issa?

Teenage Fanclub’s “About You”

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)