Thursday, March 17, 2005


The OTHER 50 Tracks: Day Three

Wondering what all this is about? The List so Far: Round 1 Hockey: Jane Siberry (Mike) Helpless: Neil Young (FC: Keith) I Go Blind: 54-40 (Peter) Nothing at All: Maestro Fresh Wes (Aaron) Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Diodes (Carol) A Case of You: Joni Mitchell (Carl) Round 2: Have Not Been The Same: Slow (Mike) Hallelujah (Live): Leonard Cohen (Keith) Today: Geddy Lee, Alan (The Wig) Wigney and why sacred cows (and over-rated Kingston Bar Bands) make the best burgers. Or, as Jeff Probst would say "Tonight, someone will be eliminated" Carol: Back to what I said yesterday about Slow. A friend of mine in Ottawa has the Slow EP and reminded me that my memory does NOT serve; the band I saw at Oliver's was UIC NOT Slow. Peter you may know him better as Allan "the Wig" Wigney, a fellow CKCU alumni and all around Ottawa hipster. SMART guy who knows his stuff. Here's what he had to say: (FC's note: An unedited version of Wig's e-mail is down in the comments section) Wig: In my column, I called Slow the greatest rock and roll band of all time because they made one glorious album/EP and one great single, did one tour, then called it quits leaving a beautiful corpse. They also singlehandedly shut down a showcase for Vancouver bands at Expo 86 after singer Tony Anselmi devoted their set to hurling abuse at the crowd and disrobing. Best of all, they gave as their reason for splitting up, the fact that if being a band meant having to tour Eastern Canada again they'd just as soon not be a band. Like I said, the greatest rock and roll band ever. Mike: Back to Keith's Leonard Cohen pick. I'm thinking that out of the 50 artists on this list there will be no more than 5 vetoes (4 of which will involve the Hip) but there will be a minimum of 137 e-mails saying I agree with your choice of artist, but I'm not a fan of that song, that's not the song I'd pick, or A Case of You sucks. With that, let me offer up e-mail #8 of 137, and say: I agree with your choice of artist, but that's not the song I'd pick. I'd probably go more mainstream and nominate Famous Blue Raincoat or Chelsea Hotel. Halleluiah, or at least the great version by John Cale, makes me think Shrek. Keith: Goddamn Shrek! Pete! Do you want to start the fight (I mean discussion . . . DISCUSSION!) about the Hip? Pete: Okay, some people don’t like the Tragically Hip, and that’'s okay. But I don’'t believe it's fair to dismiss them as an over-hyped bar band. The Hip go from the hard rock of 50 Mission Cap to the esoterica of Poets to the surrealness of Locked in the Trunk of a Car to the prairie roots of Wheat Kings. When I hear people criticize the Hip for their Canadian-ness, I tell them to listen to Wheat Kings. (Listen to Wheat Kings) Sundown in the Paris of the prairie Wheat Kings have all treasures buried, All you hear are the rusty breezes, Pushin' around a weather vane Jesus And then it goes onto Milgaard . . . 20 years for nothing, well that's nothing new besides, noone’s interested in something you didn't do It has incredible Canadian colour . . . The walls are lined all yellow grey and sinister Hung with pictures of our parents' prime ministers And then it goes to justice delayed . . . Late breaking story on the CBC A nation whispers we always knew that he'd go free, Have you ever heard a buddy sing it around a fire on the shore? If you did, you'd never again say the Hip were a bar band. You may still not like them, but a bar band? Carol: I didn't criticize their "Canadian-ness". My experience of The Tragically Hip is limited to radio; the medium by which I've been introduced to most of the music I enjoy (see Nightlines, Brave New Waves, WFMU, NPR). If I don't like what I hear, I don't buy the record. And when I do hear the band on the radio (usually Q107) I hear the same sound (not same song) and to me it sounds like a bar band. I don't expect a die-hard fan to agree. And no, I haven't heard their songs strummed 'round a campfire on any shore whatsoever. And if I did, I would probably still think they were a bar band. Aztec Camera covered "Jump" and I still think Van Halen is a rock band. Carl: I've always thought Downie's lyrics ranged from okay to better-than-okay, and his voice is a better than average example of Canadian 1980s post-REM nasal nattering. What I can't stand is the music, formless rock that with rare exceptions has no melodies and no rhythm, just directionless chord changes to a beat. Except that actually makes the music sound more interesting than it is. Because I know such statements make no impact on people who like the Hip whatsoever, and because the Hip don't hurt anybody and have long ceased to even pose a threat of becoming Canada's ambassadors to the rest of the world - so at least they aren't yet another cause for international shame like Celine and the Barenaked Ladies - I won't say anything more. My general policy is to pretend they don't exist. I'm not sure if that means I should veto it or just delete this post and go back to work. Could we have a show of hands? If the majority of us hate the Hip and we've just got a couple of supporters, let's not put it on the list. If the numbers are the reverse, then I'll let it pass. What I can't let pass is this idea of using the live rather than the album version of Hallelujah. This issue is important enough for the veto. The Casio is essential. More on that in a little while. Keith: Ahhhhhh, Carl, I knew you'd show up to stir up the pot! And how Canadian of you to ask for a show of hands on whether you use your veto. (Cummon, bring out your inner Dubbyah . . . be unilateral, we're either for the Hip or we're aggin' em) For the record, I am not a Hip Hater (what's that Sloan lyric? "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans.") I like the Hip fine and, probably like a lot of people, have pretty much forgotten about them since ohhh, about Phantom Power. I just don't think I'd have much in my record collection that synchs up with that of the average Hip fan. As you've said, they haven't hurt anybody which often makes me wonder if the hate that many informed music fans have for them is proportionate to their (admittedly moderate, almost exclusively Canadian) success. Is it the fact that you CAN'T pretend that they don't exist a major contributor to why you don't like them? Is it that you find their success (such as it is) disproportionate to the quality of their music? At any rate, I find it hard to believe that you actually think the music is as bad as Celine and BNL. And if you do, you're entitled to that opinion. I just don't agree with you (how's THAT for Canadian?). As for your Leonard Cohen Casio defence . . . bring it! (I actually kinda hoped my nomination - as convoluted as it was - would bring about some discussion). You might be able to defend the casio-ed Hallelujah (and if it came down to it, the songwriting is good enough to RE-nominate the studio version after the live version got gonged), but I defy ANYONE to tell me that some of Len's most recent work (hellllloooooo 10 New Songs, I'm talking to you!) wasn't irreparably harmed by using what amounted to demo mixes and canned string sections. Bleh! K (who wonders if Carl is actually going to spend not one, but two vetoes this evening) Pete: Well, I raise my hand for the Hip, obviously. And while I appreciate your comments, Carl, I must note that your arguments about the simplicity of their music can be applied to an awful lot of great rock n roll musicians - i.e., any of Bob Dylan's classic tracks (I could play Masters of War, sort of, six minutes after I bought a guitar - and what of Dead Flowers? Working Class Hero? Everything by the Ramones?). Wheat Kings is based on the same old guitar chords - G, C, D - that make up precisely 87.6 per cent of all rock songs written to date, but does that make every one of those songs unworthy? You acknowledge some respect for Downie's lyrics, and it's in those lyrics - and their idiosyncratic delivery - that the true appeal of the Hip lives. I truly admire the band for sticking to a sincere Canadian identity that in all likelihood is the real reason for their comparative lack of success in the U.S. But more than that, I simply love to hear straightforward rock riffs behind stubbornly Canadian lyrical visions - "Jacques Cartier, right this way, I'll put your coat up on the bed/ hey man, you got a real bum's eye for clothes" (Looking for a Place to Happen); "That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors/ riding on horseback and keeping order restored/ til The Men They Couldn't Hang/ stepped to the mic and sang/ and their voices rang with that Aryan twang" (Bobcaygeon); "The last goal he ever scored/ in overtime/ won the Leafs the Cup" (50 Mission Cap), and so on. I intended to make 50 Mission Cap my pick, but I gambled that Wheat Kings, being relatively more articulate and certainly less suited to a bar band, would carry more weight with the unconvinced. It's a simple and beautiful song. As for Cohen, I confess that I don't have the live version of Cohen's oft-covered classic, so I'll abstain on that veto vote. Personally, I prefer the John Cale version. But if I was picking a Cohen song, I'd go all sentimental and pick the old one that was part of our wedding, Dance Me To the End of Love. (I'll email a tissue to anybody who needs one.) Carl: >I must note that your arguments about the simplicity of their music can be applied to an awful lot of great rock n roll musicians - Did I say simplicity? I never said simplicity. In fact they're often not simple enough. I said formlessness. And since I'm not actually against loose forms per se, I should amend that to vagueness and flatness - and not just flatness but *overdone* flatness. A very bad combination. I agree w/ you that Downie's lyrics are appealing, but the "idiosyncratic delivery" sounds practically the same in every song, and yet in every song is overexaggerated. It's this lack of specificity in the music that jars with the specificity of the lyrics. The music is just a series of riffs. Pick a riff, any riff. And there are usually too many of them in any given Hip song. (I can't summon up Wheat Kings in my head, so maybe it's one of the more crafted and restrained ones, which I know pop up now and then amid the overdone stuff.) I always think the Hip's fans are mostly Canadian rock fans who've never heard anything else. Like the Hip sound pretty fresh if all you compare it with is Bryan Adams and Rush and Sarah McLachlan and maybe Pink Floyd's The Wall. But as soon as you have heard anything really great in post-punk art rock, all the Hip have left going for them is their Canadianness. Which is, you know, nice, but I wouldn't like a band from France just because they mentioned a lot of French landmarks and cultural figures either. I join the rest of the world in not caring. Pete: Carl, point taken: you didn't say simplistic. However, substituting your precise words would require no changes in my defence summation. I'm beginning to think I'm not going to convince you on the Hip. Oh well, the first veto, like the first scratch on a new car, has to come sometime. And though I don't agree with your analysis, it's clear you've given it real thought, so I won't feel TOO bad when the veto axe falls. May my sacrifice save Cohen from the scaffold. Tis a better thing I do than. . . Okay, I'll stop now. Mike: When I was a kid, I couldn't understand why anyone cared about BTO. Who were these geezers? Why were they playing Grey Cup half-time shows (it should have been the Payola$ dammit). They were a band who's music didn't come to me from MuchMusic, New Music, mixed tapes or magazines - it came as the soundtrack to countless commercials (Office Depot, Yellow Pages, Ford, Toyota, Burger King, West Point, Matrix Hair Care and MANY MORE) This is what the Hip are to me - a BTO equivalent. A curiosity from the past, playing CFL half-time shows, and more likely to be noticed in a commercial for Corner Gas than for anything to do with their music. Would I veto it? No - and here's why. If I were to burn a cd that was representative of Canadian music for a friend from the US or the UK I'd likely throw one song on by the Hip out of some weird sense of obligation...and as far as Hip songs go, Wheat Kings is a pretty neutral choice. Pete: Oh man, my defenders are motivated by a weird sense of obligation. My pick really is sunk. Carol: Carl and Michael have articulated better how I feel because they've spent more time listening than I care to waste. As I wrote last night, my exposure to them is radio. A friend put them on a CD and as soon as I heard the whine, I hit skip. I've tried, but if I hate the sound of the music, I should have to go deep for the lyrics. It's a pairing. I shan't defend my position any more. Cohen, I like. Not everything, but he's got the voice, the music, the lyrics. He's got staying power and he's influenced beyond borders. He's Canadian AFTER everything else. Would I use a veto? Possibly because I'd like to look beyond the ordinary, past the "they're soooo Canadian" label, if that makes sense. That's why I picked the Diodes too. They're not an easy pick. Tragially Hip are automatic. And I could safely and confidently make a mixed CD of Canadian rock and NOT include them no more than I'd include BNL. There's plenty of music outside of the Q107 playlist. Keith: Was that a veto, Carol? Carol: Veto. :) Pete: Splft. That's the sound of the bullet entering my heart. If only I could have found a Hip song about stubbies. Keith: How about a song about a Sibbie? Carl: Ah, thank you, Carol. So I can keep my bullets in their chamber for the moment, reserving one to force the removal of the reactionary stipulation of the "live version" proviso with Hallelujah. Keith: Aaaaaaaargh! Noooooooo! Can we work out a compromise? A vote? Mediation? No? Ok, Carol, you're up. Carol: CBC picked Tom Sawyer, but while it's hummable and a hit, Subdivisions just resonates even now…, especially now. (Listen to Subdivisions) It darkly portrays how I experienced life in north Scarborough. And didn't fit in at all. The lyrics are a bit clichéd, but the ominous refrain of Subdivisions, rings with such doom that if you recall any subdivision especially during the 70s when the forests and farms were mowed down before my eyes and more and more boring homes and strip malls erected. Yet there was nowhere to go. Nothing to do. And if you didn't conform, you were socially cast out to this cold, treeless, nothingness. If you don't escape to the lights, your soul is sucked so early you won't miss it. I recall a conversation with former highschool classmates upon my return from university in '86. I announced that I planned to move downtown after graduation. They were shocked! How could I ? Toronto was scary. Maybe for a year, but surely not for good. Too dangerous! My head swam. And on the drive home I realized how happy I was for having been cast out. Rush truly hit it on the head. I think “Subdivisions” was passed over by the Mother Corp cronies purely because it's dark, unforgiving, and doom-ridden. The Canada Getty Lee envisioned was too real for them. Keith: Aiiiiiiieeeeee!!!! It's Geddy Leeeee! Carl: Holy crap. Shooting down the Hip and then coming up with the Rush. That's chutzpah. Keith: Yeah, it takes some stones. I don't have time to do it tonight but I think there may be another veto in the offing. Besides, Tom Sawyer's not only humable, but it's REALLY air-drummable. Then again, I can always follow Pete's plan and hold them till near the end of the voting and sell them. Mike: Our staff Christmas party was held at a swanky restaurant and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson just happened to be at a neighboring table. One of my colleagues, who was unable to attend the luncheon, has a major-league crush on Geddy (don't ask). At the end of lunch, a senior-vp went over and asked Geddy for his autograph for our absent cow-orker (he signed the napkin). Both Alex and Geddy were very gracious about the whole thing, which was especially surpassing given the Senior VP thought they were The Cars. Subdivsions also reminds me of Scarborough, especially all the developments in the north end. It's frightening how effectively they have carved out every inch of green space for in-fill housing in that part of the city. You can buy The Tragically Hip's Fully Completely here. You can buy Rush's Signals here. Don't stop here! Check out DAY FOUR!
The last god-damn thing I needed to see on a day where I'm as hung-over as this is Geddy Lee's nipple. Thanks a bunch, jerks.
I do indeed own the Against the Glass EP and in fact recently wrote to CBC Radio to tell them that their '50 Songs' list is not complete with the Slow classic, "Have Not Been the Same." I once wrote a column in the form of an open letter to Zulu Records urging them to reiussue the
EP with the single ("I Broke the Circle") and the one other Slow recording I know of, a version of "Merry Christmas Baby" from a Zulu flexidisc. In my column I called Slow the greatest rock and roll band of all time because they made one glorious album/EP and one great single, did one tour, then called it quits leaving a beautiful corpse.

They also singlehandedly shut down a showcase for Vancouver bands at Expo 86 after singer Tony Anselmi devoted their set to hurling abuse at the crowd and disrobing. Best of all, they gave as their reason for splitting up, the fact that if being a band meant having to tour Eastern Canada again they'd just as soon not be a band.

I was at their lone Ottawa show, fourth on the bill at a 5 Arlington
punk show. They so offended the other bands playing that night that
after one of their amps blew no one would lend them another and they
were forced to pack up after three songs.

Like I said, the greatest rock and roll band ever.

Enjoying the blog, by the way.

so many things to say, but first off so glad yr doing this.

re: blue. carl is spot on. it's sad that joni's voice is a hang-up for people, but that entire record has offered me solace (not sarah mclachlan) on countless occasions, but never more so than when i'm traveling, for a variety of reasons that are obvious to anyone who's ever fallen in love to blue. i could write a defence of blue even longer than carl's of leonard cohen. (more on that later).

re: subdivisions. unless i'm mistaken about carol's gender, i cannot express enough shock to discover that a woman is admitting to liking rush, never mind nominating them to a list like this. i thought rush appreciation discussions were purely sausage parties. but kudos to her, because this is a great song and would be (perhaps even more so) if it were removed from its rush-ness. maybe it's because i too grew up in scarborough, but the lyrics are bang-on and, sad to say, the aesthetic of the whole piece sums up a good part of my high school surroundings (morningside and the 401, to be explicit).

re: wheat kings. i totally understand the motivations of the hip-haters, and i think carl is completely correct in his assessment as it applies to their worst songs... of which there have been many in the last ten years. but i'd argue that early hip were just as visceral as Slow with all the poetry of joni. but did carl and carol actually listen to "wheat kings"? pretty much all of fully completely is total crap with production that sounds like poor man's concrete blonde, but that song is exquisite, both lyrically and melodically.

re: cohen. i was the guy who was actually on the cbc's 50 tracks and brought in "tower of song," and i'll have to confess here that i did it deliberately so that we wouldn't have to live with the various positions version of "hallelujah," which makes me spew chunks every time i hear it, to hear the great master butcher his greatest work. if you gave anyone--the shaggs, our lady peace, i don't care who-- the sheet music for that song it would be infinitely better than the cohen original.
i haven't read carl's book on the subject yet so i won't respond directly and this post is way too long anyway for someone who's already taken up enough public discussion space on these topics.

respectfully yrs,
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