Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Fiddy shot yah!

Everything I write lately seems to relate to the idea of trying to become fluent in French. I'm obsessed with concepts of "linguistic colour" and "intent." I'm trying desperately - with varying degrees of success - to move beyond the basic requirements of life and on to the meaning, and the nuance; all the while trying to keep the grammatical mangling to a minimum. The learning is, needless to say, kinda hard. There's a so much ground to cover between what we say and what we really mean. So many ways to move from the way we speak to the way we want to be perceived. In fact, I'm blown away that the Great Canadian Novel (tm) hasn't been written around the concept of a tĂȘte carrĂ© going through the experience of trying to learn to express himself all over again. The process requires more than simple pedagogy, it demands a sea change in the way you think. If you're like me and you haven't been graded in a classroom since the first Clinton administration, it also requires a sincere change in the way you work. So what has any of that got to do with Ottawa's best country band? Bear with me, because I think there's a parallel. Country music is like a language. Unfortunately, in some ways it's like Latin: dead. The base of everything, but truly spoken by almost no one. Just like the Oddessy, tropes like "the killin' song," "the drinkin' song" and the "somebody done somebody wrong song" have morphed into almost everything we know as rock and roll. As such, the concepts have boundless depth, but it's hard to believe that the best blood hasn't already been wrung out. (As Jay Farrar once wrote: "D'yah think Hank woulda done it this way?") This difficulty of trying to make new soup with old bones is compounded when city slickers use rural imagery and sound to try to add grit, meaning or authenticity to their song writing. The lack of veracity inherent in the urban cowboy means much alternative country loses something in the translation. The twang can force you back into debates about sincerity like those I've been having with myself for awhile. So, what's a talented band like the Fiftymen to do when they're faced with their (and everyone else's, for that matter) inherent inability to be better than Hank, or Willie or Johnny or Merle? Comment est-ce q'on dit: "If you can't beat em, join em?" Listen to Try to Hide Listen to Sick of Being Tired (Go! Buy the Rekkid!) The Fiftymen may call themselves an alt-country band, but I think the extra syllable does them some manner of disservice. Balances + Sums is a country record like they USED to make country records. Rather than trying to use the dead language of twang to try and write a post-modern novel, Balances + Sums uses the old language to pen simple oral histories; dark, foreboding and memorable. Balances + Sums is a living testiment to the strength of the old school. It's a retro record in the best sense, resonating with the spirit of a band that recognises its strengths and doesn't try to make excuses for its weaknesses. Try to Hide allows vocalist J.J. Hardill to channel the spirit of Howlin Wolf. Sick of Being Tired presents a dance hall reel that Bill Monroe would have been proud to teach Lester Flatt along with the occasional wry lyric ("This union," Hardill's narrator says of his marriage "sure makes you pay your dues") and the hidden track (a cover of an old Recoilers song recorded in a living room around a single mic) manages to turn indie rock into a camp fire singalong. Country, in short, aint dead. It's just that there are only a few young people left who speak the language. If you want to learn, gather up close. The Fiftymen are giving lessons. You can get a copy of Balances and Sums at the Fiftymen's CD Release Party at Barrymore's on Friday. If you're not in Ottawa contact the band by e-mail. Pregnant Pause Ok, I've been a little behind so you've probably read all of these: For the love of God, no. Next time you start beating up on yourself for making a mistake, take the time to repeat after me "Glad I'm not THAT guy." (Via ESPN.com) Podcast number two is on its way later this week. If you're interested, you can sign up for the RSS feed here.
So if no one has written the book, bra, why not you. You got the skillz, and now the experience. Plus some time. Start with a short story if you have to. You have a great idea, you just have to risk putting it out there..............Squeegeeboyu
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