Tag Archives: Canadian Music

Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 7

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The Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton, Ontario

Previously:

Smile and Wave

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire In The Head

Between the fifth and sixth grade I changed schools and entered a full time gifted program. Ostensibly, I did this because I was such a bloody genius and I needed more of a challenge than my local school and teachers could offer, but that was maybe one per cent of the reasoning behind my final decision. In reality, I was being viciously bullied and I needed to get the fuck out.

As a result of this, I adopted a scorched earth approach to everything that I thought might have made me a target in the past. I started wearing jeans because someone once made fun of my stirrup pants (oh, the early ‘90s) at the old school and I thought maybe that was part of the problem. And I completely turned my back on all things science fiction-related because my Dune and Star Trek love really hadn’t gone over well at all.

While I missed comfortable pants, I actually found it easy enough quit sci-fi cold turkey. Whatever enjoyment I’d received from the genre was too heavily weighted with baggage. Space and science just felt like victimization. I felt vaguely sick when I even tried to watch or read that shit. And I soon fell in love with indie rock and had no room for any other entertainment in my life, anyway, so it was a relatively painless break.

In grade eight, our teacher included a science fiction unit in our language arts studies. The majority of the class – male geeks who were allowed to stay in at recess to play D&D – were thrilled. The brilliant burnouts and academic overachievers were either apathetic or somewhat game.

I was mortified.

I was viciously disappointed in our naive teacher for even suggesting such a thing. Surely she could tell how vulnerable we were as a small class of gifties in a normal school. Why on earth would she bait all of those potential bullies by making us visibly read and engage with science fiction?

When it came time to write our own sci-fi stories I did the only thing in my power to protect myself: I sort of made it about indie rock. And, um, Hamilton, Ontario.

I was really, really, really, really into the Killjoys and the Sonic Unyon bands at the time and their hometown had taken on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I loved Hamilton beyond all rationality. Like, I used to tag along on my family’s (strangely frequent, in retrospect) road trips to the Lime Ridge Mall just so I could be in Hamilton.

Which is how I ended up writing a (not terrible?) science fiction short story about people with bright hair getting killed and committing suicide a lot set at the Lime Ridge Mall and named after the band Smoother to defend my coolness.

I showed them.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 6

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On the right: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Asshole

Previously:

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million DaysMillion Days

Birthday Boy

Fire in the Head

At some point in late 1997, I finally got over my wretched obsession with Joseph Conrad and ran straight into the equally dead white male arms of James Joyce. I spent the first half of 1998 reading Ulysses and screaming at Ulysses and going to the few parties I was invited to as a highly unpopular homeschooled teenager and talking about how much I both loved and hated Ulysses and when I finished it I declared that James Joyce was the greatest influence on my young life and that I would write the next Ulysses yes I said yes I will Yes.

This is not to say that I became a great modernist writer. Or even that I experimented with any modernist tendencies whatsoever. The thing I loved about James Joyce above all others was that he was a petty and vengeful writer. I read that he used to get drunk and sit in the corners of pubs, threatening to write everyone he knew into his books — and that the bumbling and awful character Private Carr in Ulysses was, in fact, based on some poor sod named Henry Carr who once had the temerity to argue with Joyce over a pair of pants — and realized that I had never admired or envied another human being more.

So when I stopped subconsciously working through my breakup with my best friend via stories about murder, death, and guilt on the shores of Lake Erie, I started consciously writing even worse thinly-veiled tripe about her and what I considered her “totally fake” personality. That is why this sad little story exists. Even the the musical inspiration was a shot at her, because “Smile and Wave,” from 1997’s Headstones album of the same name, was by her favourite band.

I don’t suppose Tom Stoppard will ever get around to writing a play inspired by this epic literary burn.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 5

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Previously:

Eating The Rich

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire in the Head

From the first day of kindergarten to the last day of grade nine, I had a best friend. It was an intense, all-consuming friendship — think Heavenly Creatures without the matricide – and it ended as suddenly and intensely and all-consumingly as it began. She befriended a girl who had bullied me so viciously that I had to change schools and I, possessing less than admirable social skills — probably at least partially as the result of being bullied so viciously that I had to change schools — didn’t handle it well. I cut all ties and spent my entire summer vacation sobbing and listening to Bob Mould’s most biting and bitter songs.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this, though. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the subsequent two solid years I spent writing songs about broken friendships, death, guilt, and revenge.

The Drowned is probably my favorite angst-ridden cottage-based psychodrama from that period. It’s inspired by “Water” a deep cut from singer/songwriter Holly McNarland’s gold-selling 1997 debut album, Stuff, in the sense that I listened to the track about 6,000 times and then decided to write a story with water in it. But “Water” is a deeply haunting song that still gets under my skin almost 20 years later and avery worthy follow-up to her groundbreaking debut single, the almost incomparable “Stormy.” And The Drowned is, well, whatever this is.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 4

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North 44 and the pooping tree as they stand today.

Previously:

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire in the Head

When I wasn’t writing miserable small town psycho dramas set in poor Wainfleet, Ontario, I briefly flirted with the idea of writing a loosely connected short story collection set in Toronto. This week’s story, “Eating the Rich,” inspired by the Lowest of the Low song of the same name, is one of four stories that I actually got around to writing in 1997 before I promptly abandoned the idea and returned to writing Wainfleet psycho dramas (and that’s exactly where this series will return next week).

Of all of the bands that influenced these stories, pioneering Canadian indie rock heroes the Low are probably the most universally beloved and unimpeachable. They’re also my personal favourites of the bunch. I love them as much today as I did when I tried to make them my muse and I feel absolutely no shame for it.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t exactly do their talent, vision, and legacy justice. It’s just a ridiculous almost-romp that shares little in common with its inspiration beyond a name and some vague proletarian leanings. I think it’s supposed to be funny and impassioned. It is neither.

Although this story technically inspired by “Eating the Rich,” there are some other things that clearly had a greater influence on the story and likely deserve far more of the blame for whatever the hell is going on in these 7,000+ words. Here’s a list of some of the most important and embarrassing ones:

  • I thought that the key to writing comedy was to create a bunch of weirdo characters, throw them into a weirdo situation, and then just let things fall apart. Hilariously.
  • I had developed a completely inexplicable fascination with North 44, a fancy restaurant up the street from my grandparents’ apartment in the Yonge and Eglinton area. It had, somehow, managed to become both a symbol of aspiration and burgeoning class consciousness in my life and I responded to this heady ambivalence by… trying to write songs and stories about it?
  • My mother saw a man shit on the tree in front of North 44.
  • I had developed a completely and utterly healthy fondness for a spy show from the ’60s called The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (This might come as a shock because I have never once discussed my fandom in the following two decades.)

Shockingly, the results of this unique alchemy aren’t great.

(North 44 is still open, by the way. It has not, to my knowledge, ever been the scene of an aborted class war. I still haven’t eaten there.)

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 3

Stormy waters

Stormy over the water

Previously:
Birthday Boy
Fire In The Head

My grandparents purchased a modest but charming cottage on Lake Erie in the 1960s. To this day, the rest of my family enjoy the property by staying there, sunning themselves on the beach, splashing around in the water, and having bonfires. At some point in my adolescence, I started enjoying it by staying up late, listening to creepy music, and writing stories about murder and guilt that were set at our charming little family cottage.

I was — and I remain — mesmerized by Lake Erie, the runt of the great lake litter whose unpredictability rivals that of its musically celebrated sister, Gitchigumi. It’s shallow and fickle. It can look absolutely stunning on a sunny day and like hell on a windy winter one. And the chunk of it that belongs to Wainfleet, Ontario, where our cottage is located, is so isolated from and forgotten by the rest of the world that I became convinced that all sorts of sinister things could go down there.

To the best of my knowledge, nothing like that has happened on the Wainfleet shore in the two decades I’ve been writing these ghastly stories. People have, tragically, drowned in Erie’s fatally deceiving undertow in nearby towns. Neighbours have come and gone, occasionally before their time. The carcass of what could have been a testicle-biting monster fish may or may not have washed up next door a couple years ago. But not once has anyone caused the death of a sibling or best friend and then engaged in untold amounts of psychodrama in and around the property.

But I have never let that stop me. To this day, I continue to write twisted stories about weird shit happening in Wainfleet, and I continue to insist that it can be the eeriest (sorry) place on Earth. If you let it.

“Million Days,” a story that I wrote curled up on the top bunk of what we creatively call “The Bunk Room” at the cottage, while I was listening to “Million Days In May” from The Headstone’s sophomore album, Teeth and Tissue, and reading even more Joseph Fucking Conrad, is the piece that started it all. I have no idea how I got this plot out of those lyrics. Or how I came up with it at all. Or how no one ever thought to take me to a therapist when I continued to write things like this.

I was so completely enthralled with my own talent and vision that I later adapted the story into a feature length screenplay. Which I then submitted in a screenwriting contest run by the Canadian Film Centre. I was so shocked and heartbroken when it didn’t win that I sobbed for a week straight.

I re-read the script a few years ago. The loss now makes perfect sense.

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Bluegrass Situation’s Contemporary Canadiana Primer

Some cool Canadiana

Some cool Canadiana

The Bluegrass Situation, a dandy roots-Americana-trad website from the U.S. of A., has decided to start taking a look at what’s cooking in Canada.

One of the first stories they did was a “Canadiana” primer, by me, featuring 20 of the best hoser acts going right now.

To see who got picked and to check out the rest of the Bluegrass Situation site, go here.

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Meligrove Band, ‘Bones Of Things’: Not Like Sloan

Meligrove Band

Meligrove Band

It’s time to separate the “Sloan” from The Meligrove Band.

Meligrove Band bassist Mike Small says comparisons between the two veteran Can-indie bands are no longer relevant.

“I don’t think we really sound much like them,” Small explains during an interview about the Meligroves’ fifth and newest album, Bones Of Things. “There was a point where we kinda did [sound alike] because we were copying the same ’60s bands that they had previously copied, but, like, when it comes up I want to say, ‘Which Sloan album?'”

Brian O’Reilly, the Meligrove Band guitarist who replaced the band’s former guitarist Andrew Scott in 2009 — an Andrew Scott who’s different from the Andrew Scott in Sloan — attempts to answer Small’s rhetorical question.

“The Sloan album that sounds like KISS or the Sloan album that sounds like The Beatles?” says O’Reilly. “Grunge Sloan?”

“The hardcore seven-inch Sloan?” Small continues. “As a lifelong Sloan fan I can say that Sloan changed so much.”

“Sloan don’t even sound like Sloan anymore,” O’Reilly adds. “And I don’t know if you’ve sounded like Sloan since, like, 2001.”

There certainly are similarities between The Meligrove Band and Sloan. Both are four-pieces and both have multiple songwriters. Both have mastered the art of high-spirited jangle rock and both are survivors (17 and 23 years, respectively) of a Canadian music scene that’s ruthlessly unforgiving to those whose names aren’t The Tragically Hip, Nickelback or Blue Rodeo.

That said, Small has a point.

The Meligrove Band aren’t like Sloan. They’re their own band. And Bones Of Things ably continues the distinct sonic path Small, O’Reilly as well as band members Jason Nunes and Darcy Rego have created for themselves over the years.

The 10 songs on Bones Of Things sound far more like logical progressions — lineal descendants — of a sound and vibe established with the band’s now-classic 2006 adventure-rock album, Planets Conspire.

A large part of that probably has something to do with having By Divine Right’s Jose Contreras involved in the mixing, recording and production of Bones Of Things, Planets Conspire and 2010’s Shimmering Lights album.

Indeed, buzzy new song “Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye” could easily be the flipside to By Divine Right’s “The Slap.”

“It’s possible,” concedes Small. “We’ve worked with him [Jose] so much and we started working with him because he was a big influence on us.

“It’s super-comfortable him and us having worked together for awhile now,” O’Reilly adds.

A big part of Bones Of Things sound can be attributed to an instrument neither Sloan or By Divine Right have really ever utilized — the mandolin. The small member of the lute family features prominently on multiple Bones Of Things songs. The genesis of the mandolin rock was simple, says O’Reilly.

“Darcy got a mandolin,” he says. “Darcy’s full of songs…”

“He was saying, ‘I did the demos on the mandolin, but obviously when we do this I’ll do them on guitar,'” says Small. “And we were all like, ‘No way man, these sound cool.'”

If anything, it’s given an Out Of Time-era R.E.M. feel to the new Meligrove record.

“‘Disappointed Mothers’ sounds a lot like ‘Losing My Religion,'” says Small. “I hadn’t thought of this before. It sounds like a guitar player picking up a mandolin and singing.”

Another song, “Woof,” is a peculiar bit of fiction-become-reality inspired by the band’s “Really Want It” music video from 2011.

“We made this music video with a lot of fake merch and there was this guy doing an unboxing video,” starts Small. “It was this stalker-y ultra-fan who had all of our merch. And the guys who made the video made all this fake stuff, too.

“Shampoo… all of these fake products … all-surface cleaner, all the weirdest merch you could think of. Anyway, there was one point where he’s like, ‘I have their entire discography’ and it showed all our real albums, but then the pile of CDs kept going with all these things, one of them was Spritz Something with a hand holding spray paint. One of them was called Woof, the word ‘woof’ in dripping bloody letters and a German shepherd’s mouth wide open. And I think Jay got this idea, ‘What if we write a song called “Woof”?’ If a seven-inch ended up happening we could do this thing where fiction becomes truth.”

So they made the song… a uniquely Meligrove Band song. Because they’re their own band.

The Meligrove Band will perform as part of the What’s In The Box? holiday concert series on Saturday, Dec. 27 at the The Drake Hotel. Also on the bill are Lay These Knight, Seas and International Zombies of Love.

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