Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Innocent" Ears

You said you'd always love me
You said you'd be my friend
You had your fingers crossed
You stuck it to me in the end

Innocence ... it's all you'll ever plead

Ah, Harlequin ... rescuing the pride of Winnipeg rockers in the 80s!

Burton Cummings was flying solo; The Guess Who were done; BTO was on the verge of paying the principal on the "Overdrive" ... what were the odds a Winnipeg band would ever pull us back into the arena for a rockin' good time?

The guitar-based, synth-friendly Harlequin accomplished that very stunt with mullet-coiffed élan.

Last night I was walkin'
And I, I saw you with my friend again
And you weren't both talking
Least I don't try to pretend

Yesterday as I wheezed to the melody it occurred to me that "innocence" was pretty much required from the listener for this song to work its magic. When I was 15 this was just the song to get me roller-skating: at the time, the odds of witnessing the object of my desire holding hands with any one of my friends were actually pretty good -- better, in fact, than my own. Now, almost 30 years later, this sort of song with its stilted lyrics would prompt me to switch stations.

In fact, it didn't take 30 years for my taste in music to change. The next track chosen by the randomizer was "Dirty Pool" by Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble. Same subject matter, better execution and only three short years' difference between 'em.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Post-Q Thoughts

CBC Radio One is an example of our tax-dollars being put to the best possible use in a given medium, and Q, as hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, is the cream of the crop. It may be "lighter" in content than Ideas, but it is every bit as thought-provocative. Consider the Nov 27 show (pod) which features back-to-back interviews with Gene Simmons and David Foster. Simmons has taken it upon himself to save the Canadian record industry; Foster took off for LA to become the hit-maker of the 80s and 90s.

Two impressions from the show:

(1) I don't know how this happens, but despite the fact that Simmons should be the dreariest (if not loathsome) personality on the planet, I end up (as ever) quite charmed by his performance. I'm not sure what he's likely to accomplish in his latest gambit, but I suppose we owe him at least some credit for the longevity of RUSH: Geddy Lee has said that opening for KISS in the 70s was all the education RUSH needed to survive. Lee & Co. saw firsthand that while the other KISS members were partying and packing their faces with drugs, Simmons was mostly sober and fastidiously working the business (when he wasn't, erm, "working" the groupies).

(2) In the musical component of the Foster interview, Foster off-handedly says he had to "do the math" before approaching the piano -- a statement that spoke volumes to me. I was a disaster at math all through my primary education. For reasons that still elude me, that all changed in my 30s. And music, at least as it is appreciated in the West, is chiefly a mathematical exercise: it can be basic math like Hank Williams and KISS, or it can be the more complex stuff like late Coltrane, or Branford Marsalis. Either way, the performer abandons rigor and structure at his (or her) own peril.

Addendum: There is a subtext to these conversations that I think is worth making explicit. Ghomeshi was, in a former life, one of the front-men for Moxy Früvous (w). I was loitering in the Toronto music scene back in the day when Ghomeshi's band was sharing the stage with The Barenaked Ladies. At the time I was sure Moxy Früvous would soar to much greater heights than the Ladies: when they both participated in public workshops, MF would improvise songs that were catchier, cleverer and funnier than TBL. MF eventually cultivated a respectable "college" crowd. As for the Ladies, well ....

Anyway, when Ghomeshi challenges Simmons on his notion of how Canadian musicians need to change the challenge arises from his history as a performer. I'm sure he has some trenchant thoughts re: the desirability and nature of fame and fortune. I'd love to hear him expound, but this show is not his platform -- he is only its able host.