Suddenly All Growed Up

Do you remember when it happened to you? Those years when you suddenly stopped being a child? It’s hard to recognise it when it’s actually happening: you only see it when you’ve fully grown and start to feel somehow redeemed as an adult human. My moment – triggered by the responsibility of a ‘zine – would mark the beginning of the end of innocence: no more Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Street Cents (back when it was hosted by Jonathan Torrens) after school. Then I would retreat to my room to listen to Vauxhaull and I, The White Album or Dark Side of the Moon on headphones. I would draw in ink and markers, urging out my teenage frustrations onto paper.

So what? Do I even know what I’m talking about? That is, am I that “redeemed adult human” I claim to be? Probably not. I mean, I fill empty hours playing video games and visiting I contemplated us adults, the grupsters, if you will: in following coverage of the SXSW Interactive conference, I’ve realised how pervasive nerdiness is in our generation. We are attached by the hip to our gadgets and laptops, and we are suddenly crippled without WiFi or at least some kind of internet connection. I mean, during the last snowstorm here in Montreal, I considered the risk of a power outage, and that I’d might as well throw my iBook in the garbage should our wireless network go down. What am I going to do…organise my photos or edit a document? Actually, I wouldn’t be able to even do that since I started using Google Docs instead of shelling out for some bogus Microsoft software.

And the kids of today are just getting deeper into it. We joke about how Neptune will mock us when we mention cassette tapes: her music will just get downloaded directly into her brain or something like that. Preteens have mobile phones and have figured out BitTorrent. Neptune is surprisingly quick at learning how our gadgetry works: she can play games on my DS, un-hold and use the iPod, scroll through photos on my BlackBerry, put DVDs into and turn on the PS3, and click my laptop’s trackpad to start playback of funny cat videos on YouTube. And she’s only been here for 30 months.

This blog post doesn’t really have a thesis or point, so I will end my ramblings here. Maybe that’s what adulthood grants: long, rambling, roundabout thoughts in lieu of a youthful stroboscopic bombardment of media.

I Endorse Ringo Starr

This is kind of old news, but a few weeks back, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr was in the US doing some promo. When suddenly, his unexpected walk-out on a daytime talk show stirred the media. He was labelled a rockstar diva and people (who cared) started taking sides. The headline piqued my interest and I read further. The story is that the producers of the show asked him to cut two minutes out of the four-and-a-half minute song he was about the perform.

Who authorised the conceit of television? Why, suddenly, are the impulsive guidelines set by television shows made more important that artistry and craft? What’s the point of publicly performing a version of the song that was never meant to be? It’s maddening for a songwriter to have their creation belittled so thoughtlessly.

But it’s the undeniable role TV plays in defining our culture, the importance we put on it: publicists and managers will urge their artists to do anything to appease the powers that be. When we were asked to go on one US late night TV talk show, the producer told our publicist that we could only appear of we performed their favourite song. The show has a huge viewership and being invited to perform on it without selling a hundred thousand records was a real honour and opportunity for The Dears. But at what cost? They asked us to play a certain song in under two minutes. Now we have songs, including the singles, that would have fit easily into this slot. But they requested a five minute song that we had to re-rehearse, edit and basically butcher completely to get it under two minutes. I mean, I think we pulled it off but commodifying the parts of a song like that was an exhausting and soul-draining exercise.

So kudos to old Rings. If they had told us we had to cut our song right before we went on, there would have been some major, major freaking out. Performing on national TV is nerve-wracking enough. We don’t need the occasionally selfish and artless TV producer randomly adding to that. So a message to any band that writes a real, un-formulaic song over three minutes long: be warned. And Ringo Starr, you are my hero.

Your Life is a Contest

I am so into the Automotive X Prize. If you haven’t heard of it, the X-ers manage a foundation that awards multi-million dollar prizes to anyone who can successfully complete their challenges. The automotive prize goes to the first team to build a super efficient, clean and affordable car. The website lists an intriguing quote by Lester Brown: “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.”

Could a prize-based economy redefine the American Dream? The average person’s career is now likely to be a contest, and you have a better chance of winning something than hustling for it. Want to be a musician? Americna Idol. Want to dance? Dancing with the Stars. Interested in cooking? Top Chef. Be an astronaut? X Prize (or Richard Branson is your BFF). Own a restaurant? Hell’s Kitchen. Travel the world? Amazing Race. Learn how to manipulate your friends? Survivor. Learn how to manipulate yourself? Fear Factor. They are game shows gone awry…extending beyond a fantasic half-hour and defining our very existence.

But not that it’s a bad thing at all, since classic corporate structure is broken completely. Reseach and development has barely any meaning. A scientist can’t be an artist because most research is privately funded with marketing goals and target audiences in mind (especially in medicine….its sickitating). The major label music industry is run by deaf dinosaurs, so an artist can barely be an artist for the same reasons. And then you hear about the notion that US car companies have had the patents for the electric car for decades but squashed them because they would devalue the US market’s dependence on oil. Conspiracy? Maybe not so much…

It’s a little mind blowing how elite ecological living is. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but you have to be rich to live “off the grid.” It’s the old adage: “You have to spend money to make money,” well apparently you also have to spend money to save money (and the world, incedentally). I would love to line our roof with solar panels, and ditch the regular car for a hybrid, but that shit is expensive, yo!

And holy frig do Americans have A LOT of disposable income (that they generally spend on themselves, not their fellow man because that’s the American way). The disparity is amazing: there are so many really poor people in the US, working for minimun wage and basically keeping the country’s infrastructure running, while there’s also a really big population of people who literally have money to burn. I was watching one of these shows where they follow some American family’s home renovations, and this one family — who were not, like, really rich but just kind of rich — must have spent $50,000 redoing their basement into a bar/rec room. And it was ugly and selfish when it was done. So bring this idea back to the X Prize, and how easy it would be to raise a 10 million dollar purse, and the potential it lends to the future?

I guess we just have to hope that the humanity the X-Prize trustees are working towards helping isn’t an exclusive humanity. Yes, that’s right, that’s how much faith I have in my fellow man. I suppose if I could believe for a second that other people lived selflessly and for the greater good then I wouldn’t be such a cynic. Sadly my life has intersected with many people who clearly loved money most of all, and who had forgotten about Love itself.

Satisfied by Failure

I always am amazed by our obsession with the failure of others. I thought it was “just a Montreal thing,” where we all go to bars, read the papers, read the blogs, get depressed and revel in trash-talking others, and their going-down (in flames or otherwise) after reaching any kind of high. But really, it’s universal. Have you ever just scanned the news headlines? They tend to focus on the bad news, the mistakes, the accidents. For example, this WestJet one is absolutely classic: here’s a very successful company that is basically doing everything right. And it’s killing someone out there (CEO of Air Canada?), the idea that they’ve been so competitive and forward-thinking. It’s as if the media were just waiting for them to screw up, waiting for a reason for their stock prices to fall. If you didn’t hear about it:

WestJet Plane Involved in Close Call at LAX. So basically the byline should be: “Nothing happened, due to a common human error.” But the media (in Canada) is going nuts on it. Like the way the paparazzi flock to Britney, because it’s so easy to get some dirt on her. The headlines: “She’s totally not perfect! In fact, she’s just like most of you losers!” I guess this mentality is why The Onion and The Daily Show are so popular: news making fun of the news is more entertaining, because the real news can be totally absurd.

Another clash of reality and, well, fake reality, that’s been creeping me out is this: Eleven Injured on Cruise Film Set. I mean, can you get that photo of Tom with his eye patch and Third Reich outfit out of your head? You know, I kind of like Tom Cruise; at least I’ve got a soft spot for him, and think he’s had a bum rap. He’s done dozens of huge, blockbuster movies, most of which most of us have seen, yet he’s never won an Oscar. I mean, since when did awards justify a career: they’re more like acknowledgements rather than reasons for being. I was at Sam’s place yesterday and I noticed his Juno collection, shelved subtly in a glass cabinet in the corner of a room; not in your face, but still a nice reminder. That said, I’ve also seen other people’s Junos being used as a doorstop, so…

Anyway, can’t we all just get along? Can’t we be happy for each other? Here are two more things I’m fascinated by: fake death and dying having real-life implications, and grupster weddings (actually this kind of reminds me of when I heard Matt Good invited his A&R and the president of his label to his wedding…do these people send out press releases or something? Personally, I think publicity about home life a little dark, but I guess I should feel “refreshed” that at least there’s some “good news” out there.) Once Murray and I were invited to do an interview on eTalk Daily. We thought it was to talk about the album, but then they asked us if we would do the interview in a toy store, shopping for toys with Neptune. When we declined to include Neptune in the interview, but would still go toy shopping with them (really, do you bring your kids to work? Do you flaunt them around hoping to get a raise or a bonus?), they cancelled the whole thing. It was so dark. I guess Murray and I, and our music, just weren’t cute enough.

Hillside Festival: Some Thoughts

I am the worst blogger ever. Well maybe not the worst but I have some pretty half assed moments. Like I’m in the car driving back from Hillside, writing this blog on my Blackberry, and looking through my pics for something to post. All I have from Saturday is a movie clip of Neptune playing with a whirly rainbow thing. Cute but not suitable.

Hillside is like Canada’s Glastonbury but one thirtieth the size. Literally, if Glasto is 150,000 then Hillside is 5,000. But each have a similar vibe: nature, camping, hippies, hipsters, gruppies, grupsters, etc. They are all there. Murray guest guitared with Jade, which made Neptune want to rush the stage a few times. She was saying: “Jade…singing?” all afternoon. Then we hung about, ate vegetarian catering, saw a bunch of people, chased Neptune around, drank beer and sat in the sun.

Our show was, as many of our last few shows have been, a bit weird. We haven’t rehearsed and I’m losing the songs a little. Saturday before the gig I had so much nervous energy it was troubling. I couldn’t shake it, so I drank a bunch of wine which kind of got me through it. Not my greatest show ever, but overall it was fine. I was so much just in my own bubble trying to keep it together that I have no idea what went on up there. Anyway, you will be able to relive my insular keyboardmanship on CBC Radio 3 who were there and recorded the whole darn thing (check out my trance-like expression in that pic!). They also spoke with Murray whilst he was receiving a reiki massage backstage. Yup, that’s our lives when we’re cruelly torn away from the Food Network.

Ottawa, Beer, Canada Day!

Last night we played this gig in Ottawa. It seems every time we roll into that city, it is raining. Yesterday was no exception. Canada Day shows are inevitably lucrative, but lacking in so many ways. Namely, soul. Ths gig was a beer-spnosored event, with contests and games, and oh yeah some novelty bands playing on the side. After the show a fan (Dave, if I recall correctly) asked me what I thought of these kinds of gigs, and I really had no comment. I’d just rather not say. Anyhow, there were a handful of Dears fans in the front row who knew the songs, some middle-aged couples dancing in the back, and lots of semi-interested baseball-capped others. The show was fine, despite the fact we haven’t rehearsed in about two months. I guess we’ve played the songs so many times that they are ingrained in our brains. I guess I had fun, but the real highlight was getting our gear off the stage, and Mr. Lahey from Trailer Park Boys helped me carry my keyboards down the steps. Randy and Mr. Lahey were in character and MC-ing the event. George was so excited, and it was kind of surreal, since we’ve spent whole tours watching season after season of the show. So all in all I suppose it was a true Canadian experience.


Weekend in Toronto, ON (The ‘Ront)

1) We listened to DNTO on the drive down to Toronto. It was timed perfectly: Neptune fell asleep and Sook-Yin took us all the way to Kingston. At any rate, the CBC loves to play it’s Canadian indie-folk-rock, and I realised just how much musicians from Ontario love their banjo. Its a staple, part of Ontario’s identity, I suppose. Listen for it…

2) Because we are obsessed, we did a mini Restaurant Makeover tour. Basically anytime I saw a place in Toronto that’s been on the show I would point it out to Murray and we would get all excited, as if we’d just seen some big celebrity. It was pretty pathetic, really. We only saw two (Grappa and Saigon Flower), and the designers kind of homogonise/sterilise the look of the restaurants anyway. But it is 100% entertaining, so I call that a success.

3) It is confirmed, the world is crumbling and its not just us. I was reading a Toronto Star review of the Monterey Pop 40 year anniversary CD (which I can’t find online…sorry!). While the review of the tracks was moderately favourable, the writer touched on an interesting idea. He drew parallels between the socio-cultural climate then (1967) and now (2007): a war nobody cares about (Vietnam/Iraq), general malaise about the human condition, the crumbling environment, uncertainy about the future, and a shift in the recording industry (vinyls replaced by tapes or 8-tracks & our digital downloading era). Also the writer touched on the calibre of music created in uncertain times: is this a human reflex, to connect with better music when our society is fractured? How does a society reconcile these things that are bigger than us, things that are overwhelming for any individual to take on? Sometimes my heart is so heavy with the terrible and idiotic state of the world. Canadians, North Americans are all confused, lost and misguided in their own way. But we are slowly realising that it is time to take control of our lives, to walk the fine line between a money-driven life and one driven by Love. But its not just us: friends in different cities and of varying ages, are feeling the same and sensing the pressure it puts on their daily lives, on getting their shit together, on realising who they are. It was strange to randomly have similar conversations with different people: Maggie, Amanda, Kevin B., all saying the same thing about their lives. Amanda described the crossover as “rhizomal.” She also had the idea totally conceptualised, which would be a whole other thing to get into.