I think I was 13 on the fateful night when Ian Blurton announced, during the course of an interview on CFNY’s Live In Toronto, that Change Of Heart were going to break up. Even by 13-year-old music nerd standards, my reaction was irrational. I almost vomited. I broke into hysterical tears. Then I turned on my poor mother.
If she’d taken me to go see them in St. Catharines earlier that month – like I’d begged her to – then I at least would have had the chance to see them before they broke up. So what if it was a school night and there was no room in the budget for tickets? School and food were important and all, but they’d still be there tomorrow. COH wouldn’t be. And god, if we hadn’t stopped for pizza on our way back from the second stage at Edgefest ’95 that summer, then we totally would have seen them, even with the scheduling mix up, instead of being stuck with that bullshit Steve Miller Band cover set and I hated Thrush Hermit and I hated her.
Before that night, I had assumed that the scene in Apollo 13 which Tom Hanks’ daughter locked herself in her room over the demise of The Beatles had been a crude caricature of a flighty teenage girl. But now I realized that her response had been pathetic, that she was nothing more than a dilettante. Then again, she had only lost The Beatles. I was losing Change Of Heart.
And so when I found out that Change Of Heart were making an eponymous decision about their breakup thanks to a late night update on Dave Bookman’s Indie Hour radio show, I was elated. I was an apostle on the third day.
For some reason, I got it into my head that I absolutely needed to write to the band about it. I pulled a white sheet of paper out of the printer, scoured my pencil case for my favourite pen and sat down at my kitchen table to write, in blisteringly neon orange ink, the most important letter that I could imagine.
I tried to play it cool at first. “So nice to hear you guys are sticking around,” I remember writing, trying to sound casual even though my heart was thundering faster than one of the band’s bass lines. I’m pretty sure that things quickly devolved into fannish drivel after that. I remember asking for the lyrics to “Trigger.” And I remember saying that, if they kept at it, I couldn’t imagine them ending up anywhere but the top of the charts.
It seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to say back then. I was so young and naive to the whole Canadian indie scene, having only discovered it after the release of Sloan’s Twice Removed in late 1994. Music had hit me like a force of nature, sweeping me away from my lonely and staid small town life and hurtling me into a thrilling new world of all ages shows, seven inches, songs that understood me like nobody else could and the monthly appearance of a Chart magazine in my mailbox.
I was still new enough to believe that the music industry was a meritocracy, that if you were good enough and you worked hard enough, you would be rewarded with the success that you deserved. And, as an indie rock lover, I truly believed that I had discovered the farm team. I was convinced that everyone would soon be listening to my favourite artists and telling me I was right all along.
What I didn’t – and couldn’t – know then was that music really is a force of nature, in all of the good and bad that it entails. Yes, it’s beautiful and exhilarating, and capable of sweeping you away. But it’s also cold and indifferent. It doesn’t care how hard you work, how good you are or how much you love it. It’s equally capable of saving you or savaging you with little or no rhyme or reason.
I can only imagine how ridiculous my letter must have sounded to a veteran like Ian Blurton, who had already put 13 years into COH at that point. But not only did he read my ridiculous note, he wrote me back.
Not long after I sent my very important missive, an envelope appeared in my mailbox. I recognized the handwriting immediately – it was the exact same font that graced the cover of Tummysuckle and the liner notes of Smile.
Inside was a sheet torn from a notebook. Under the lyrics to “Trigger,” dutifully printed out in full in the same script, was a short note:
There you go. Please excuse any spelling as it was a bit of a rush job. Thank you for the encouraging words. They are a healthy medicine for these somewhat crappy times. We are still trying out bass players and it is starting to feel like that is what I do for a living. The best thing about the time off tho is just hanging out doin’ nothing and going to shows. Saw Sonic Youth last night. Very good. It’s nice to see bands that can remain true to themselves even after all they’ve been through
What bands from Welland do you like? Is there anywhere good to play in town? Is there an all ages venue or hall? If you ever write back it would be swell if you answered these questions. Again, thanks for the support.
Mr. Change of Heart
P.S. New 7 inch out in 2 weeks. Bug your local indie record store for it if you are interested.
After reading it over a few thousand times, and obsessively bragging about it to the one person I knew who also loved COH (Ever the copycat, she then wrote to Blurton and asked for the lyrics to “Herstory.” She never heard back.) I lovingly placed it in a drawer of collectibles I was amassing in my dresser. Nestled amongst the Headstones autographs, limited edition Murderrecords singles, treble charger fan club swag, Sonic Unyon newsletters and Chart magazine flexi discs, it became the prize possession in my shrine to a scene that was beginning to mean the world to me.
It stayed there until June of this year, when Aaron and I were down in the Niagara region for the latest edition of the heartwarming and soul-renewing S.C.E.N.E. festival. It came up in conversation for some reason that I can’t remember now, and I showed it to him. Aaron said that I should bring it back to Toronto with us because it would make a great story for CHARTattack.
For obvious reasons, that story was never written, but I’m glad that the letter was sitting in my sock drawer here in Toronto during the dying days of Chart.
A lot has changed in the 16 years since I wrote that neon orange letter. I switched to legible and professional-looking black ink. I had the chance to see Change Of Heart two times before they broke up for good in the late-’90s (once again, I cried). I scored a high school co-op at Chart and stumbled into a “career” as a music journalist, becoming a tiny part of the scene that I’d been dreaming about for so long. I even had the chance to cover COH’s reunion show at North By Northeast in 2009, writing a review filled with fannish drivel not that far evolved from the stuff I’d sent to Blurton in 1995. And I started to pay the price for dedicating such a large portion of my life to music.
The letter is part of a different collection now, part of a laundry list of memories and memorabilia that I can list like the lyrics to a Weakerthans song: the excitement of hearing a brilliant new band for the first time, the frustration of watching an artist you genuinely believe in struggle to gain even half of the recognition they deserve, a collection of media passes, giggles shared on the back of tour buses, the people I’ve befriended along the way, the debt, the lack of future prospects, the jealousy of watching peers with real jobs move forward with their lives, the ear-ringing, life-changing live shows… and a letter from Ian Blurton.
I’m now the jaded veteran reevaluating my place in the music world, and that letter is my healthy medicine for these somewhat crappy times. Blurton and C’Mon are now my Sonic Youth, and now I genuinely understand just how nice it is to see bands that can remain true to themselves even after all they’ve been through.
In the words of The Stranger, I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuating itself. The people who make music, the people who write about it, and the people who love it inspire each other, infuriate each other, and we pull each other through.
Music itself might be indifferent, but at least we never are.