As I said in my "Best of 2017" post that I put up earlier this week, I've had the idea of a writing a post explaining why I think The Yunahon Mixtape by Oso Oso is so great for a while now. Actually, I've been kicking it around for almost a year, because said album came out on January 13th, 2017.
God, what a bad intro. But we're movin' on!
I discovered Oso Oso through seeing them open for The Hotelier in 2014. I wasn't familiar with them, but from a friend's description of "emo Third Eye Blind", I was pretty sure I would be into it. They put on an amazing set that night and I was instantly sold. After that I dug deep roots into their first full-length Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters (I truly hate typing out that title) and Oso Oso quickly established themselves as one of my favourite active bands.
They toured through the south of Canada in the fall of 2016 and I somehow found out about their Toronto date a day or two before, as it was at a small DIY venue with no bigger bands. An acoustic act opened, whose friends seemed to make up most of the audience, and a bad, albeit very new, American band was providing support. After that second band, there was a huge exodus of the crowd, as they weren't interested in sticking around for the only act on the bill with any sort of serious recorded output. The crowd for Oso Oso ended up being a couple, the promoter, and me.
The band, of course, put on an amazing set featuring an even mix of RSTPWKLLM's biggest jams and a few new songs that I would later come to recognize as being on The Yunahon Mixtape. Playing well as a unit live is so hard and competency is basically only established through touring a lot. One of the best parts of being a music fan is seeing a band when they are at the top of their game live. Even better is when you are watching a band you're all in on kill it and their set is the way you're introduced to a new song.
I was eager to hear what Oso Oso would do next and during the set they slipped in "the cool". I was over the moon because the new stuff sounded just as good, if not better than the old stuff, but also a little bummed because I had no idea when the album was coming out and would have to wait to hear it.
Then the band released it out of the blue on Saturday morning. Being a Bomb the Music Indsutry! stan, I've come to love surprise releases. I think there's something to be said for foregoing the hype machine and letting the songs speak for themselves. Very quickly I realized that I like the album just as much as the old one and found it growing on me more and more each listen, with it far surpassing their first one after not too long.
There are a couple of reasons that I think this album is so special, so I'll try my best to explain them now.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the title and its inclusion of the word "mixtape". While the album isn't a mixtape in the hip-hop sense of the word, it is one in the coming-of-age sense of the word. Yunahon is a concept album about a courtship and the life of the ensuing relationship, with each song representing a different stage and major event in the narrative. At the same time, the album is also supposed to be the mixtape that the protagonist gives to his romantic interest. I haven't run into many meta-albums like this in my life, but I love it.
The lyrics of each song set a specific scene, which makes the story feel lived-in. Especially songs like "shoes (the sneaker song)" and "the slope"; they put me right in the story and also make me immediately associate them with scenes from my own life.
Sidebar: Anything meta is my jam. I soak it up like sponge, baby. I started saying baby a lot. Is it ironic? Do I actually think it's cool? Who knows!
Making an album that is at once a story, the guide to that story, and an element of the story is a pretty big jump concept-wise for any band to make. Oso Oso also mirrored that by subtly changing their sound as well. I loved the lead-heavy emo rock riffing that made up True Stories, but I also must concede that the more nuanced approach the band took on Yunahon works a lot better. They manage to walk the tight rope of easing back and simplifying the chord progressions to make them catchier, while also layering in more guitar tracks to fill out the sound and doing more interesting bass and drum work to distinguish each song. If this was easy, every band would do it.
I saw a lot of reviews of this album that referred to it as a nostalgic throwback to the indie bands that were critical darlings in the early-to-mid 2000's, but I'm not much of an expert on that music, so any comments I could make would be moot. Still feel like I have to mention that though. I think Death Cab for Cutie was popular then? Fuck if I know, The OC sucked.
I generally have an album, podcast, or TV show on at all times while I'm doing things at home, so Rebecca is forced to put up with my tastes. This album got played (is still getting played) ad nauseum as soon as it came out and I kind of forced it upon them. The album quickly became the soundtrack to our home life and before long, every song was about different stages of my relationship with Becks and the feeling of falling in love and finding somebody who completely turns your heart upside down.The capper was seeing them this past fall together, when them ripping into "shoes (the sneaker song)" got me close to tears.
It's nice that The Yunahon Mixtape can remind me of nights in Guelph when Rebecca and I had just met and were going to see a friend's band play, but also remind me how in love I am at this moment. It's a big reason why this is one of my favourite records that I've ever heard.
A no-doubt slam dunk #1 album of the year. I eagerly waited for Oso Oso's follow-up to Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters and they rewarded me with something that was unexpected in the best way possible. I've been planning a separate post that mentions everything I love about this record because putting everything here would be too much, so I'll write that next week sometime. Not only is this my favourite thing that came out this year by a wide margin, but it's up there as one of my favouirte albums I've ever heard.
As with last year's Mosey, I figured that Daniel Romano had already produced his best solo effort. Yet again I was floored by a distinctive, intelligent, and fully-realized exercise in making a "genre" album. A master-stroke in 60's pop. This was an early favourite this year and I can't wait for his next one.
A common trend this year was albums surpassing my humble expectations. I deeply loved Pet Hounds, so I tried to be measured in my first listens of this one, but found it to be fresh and different from their first album, but still with plenty of hooks and riffs. Great bass playing on this one too!
Almost three years ago, I had the idea that I was going to make a print version of I, Musical Genius because after having the idea it seemed like it made too much sense to not follow through on it. I absolutely LOVE zines and thought that some of my longer entries on here would make great content to fill the pages with. I picked a few entries that I thought I had done a good job on and narrowed in on the vague theme of betterment through self-reflection that permeates my writing on here and started to comb through them for errors and syntax.
I dreamed big on the print version of I, Musical Genius right away. I was going to fill each page of the zine with hand-drawn stuff. I would have one issue on nostalgia, one on sports, one on music stories, etc. If I was finally going to turn this long-term project into a real, tangible thing, then I wanted to put in a lot of effort and make it really good. However, because of those lofty goals, the project really got away from me. I got caught up in small tasks with it and lost interest and never ended up finishing the thing.
When I decided that I was going devote my free time to writing last December (lol), I made finishing that zine part of the goal. Even though I hadn't touched it in ages, the idea definitely still thrilled me and I wanted to do it. While I kept working on songs consistently and short stories intermittently, the zine, again, went untouched for the entire year because I felt like the other goals were more important than printing out stuff that I had already written on the internet.
BUT, a couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a friend to help organize a punk/baseball trivia night at D-Beatstro in Toronto. While I was house-sitting for my parents, with Roy Halladay's death still fresh in my mind, it struck me that I had a lot of baseball writing sitting on here that I hadn't really done anything with and would make for a great zine. What pushed me over the edge was looking at my dad's drafting board and thinking about cutting the paper up. Finishing the zine in time to "launch" it at the trivia night seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.
I started planning it right away and made the initial versions of it that afternoon and then kept tweaking and tweaking until it looked the way I wanted.
I got a friend of mine, Octavio Contreras to draw the cover for me. He did better than I could have hoped.
The end result is this: I, Musical Genius: On Baseball, the first thing I've made of my creative writing. While three autobiographical short stories ain't much, I am very proud of what I've made.
So I guess the only thing left to do now is distribute this damn thing. If you are reading this and would like a copy of this, I would be more than happy to mail one to you. I guess I'm charging $5 for it, but you are welcome to pay whatever you would like. Get in touch with me on here, or on Twitter, and we can sort it out.
Something that I've been grappling with the entire year is the progression of "The Project", which is the name I gave to my goals that I set out for the 12-month period from December 1st, 2016 and December 1st 2017. The goals are as follows:
5 original short stories
5 songs, with lyrics and guitar and bass parts written
My planned I, Musical Genius zine finished.
It feels shitty to admit it, but this is not and will not be finished. I realized about halfway through the year that this project was not going to get finished, but I held out hope that I would have a burst of creative energy near the deadline and get everything done. Being at the end of November now, I can say with absolute certainty that this goal is not possible, but that's okay.
Let's take stock of what I have accomplished:
5 short stories begun. 1 finished. 1 half-done. 3 planned out, but unwritten.
5 guitar and bass parts written. Two sets of lyrics finished. Others in various states of disarray.
I, Musical Genius zine untouched.
This is not as bad as it looks though. I do wish I had done more work on the short stories, but I also put a lot posts up on here that I'm proud of and certainly drew upon the same thoughts and energy that a short story does. Guess what? Writing fiction is much harder than you think. So much harder.
I found writing the guitar parts easy, but I fiddle with my acoustic so much. I actually ended up spitting out the initial versions of more than 8 songs. Bass is easy for me because I played bass in bands already. The lyrics have been very slow coming and I find it hard to say what I want to say.
In both cases, I know that the way to navigate the issues I'm having is to just write more and work through them that way. I just need to force myself to do that.
The zine, I am not so worried about, because I ditched my original idea of assembling my "best" piece of writing on here and instead shifted to the idea of making a zine of my favourite baseball things I'm written. Keep an eye out for that.
It was hard to write this year because it felt like every time that I built myself up to do something, work got in the way. I was incredibly busy from the beginning of September to end of October and that was definitely the nail in my writing coffin. I would get home from work really tired and burnt out and it felt like even watching TV took too much energy and free time.
At this moment though, I'm back in the University of Guelph's library for the first time in ages, I have a week off of work and have time to actually do things I like. We'll see how much I can finish by next Tuesday and I will do my damnedest to make something that matters.
The following night never actually happened, but also happened many times.
At 3:30 PM, I finished high school for the day. I left my classroom and walked down to my locker to change for track practice. I went to an all-boys school, so we all just changed in the hallways instead of the changeroom. I was much smaller and skinnier than the other boys my age and felt awkward about how different my body looked. I knew there was a 50% chance that someone would make fun of the way I looked. On this day, luckily, nobody did.
After track practice, I returned to my locker and changed back into my uniform to go home. The subway ride from my high school to my parents’ house in Scarborough was a little more than an hour. The ride was always taken by myself because nobody else at my high school lived in Scarborough. I listened to whatever CD I had chosen for the day in my Walkman two or three times, depending on the length of the trip. On this day, the CD was Three Cheers for Disappointment by the Arrogant Sons of Bitches. I was lonely and pensive on the subway.
I got home just as my mom and sister were preparing to leave the house. I was tired and felt a little defeated, which was common at the end of every day in high school. My sister was a high-level competitive diver and to maintain her fitness and skill, went to practice on the other side of the city every weeknight. Being an athlete of that caliber requires significant contributions from those around you in addition to your own efforts, so my mom was the one to drive my sister to practice each day. As a result, my dad and I were left together at the house for almost every weeknight during my time in high school.
On this night, my dad and I were going to see the Blue Jays play a night game against the New York Yankees. My family had split Season Tickets for the Blue Jays for close to two decades at this point. While in the past the games had been divvied up somewhat evenly between the members of the family (In our youth, my sister and I each got to stay up and go to one night game per season. It was our most coveted and exotic night of the summer.), my dad and I were now left with the lion’s share of the tickets. The Blue Jays were awful at this point, so going to games was not a high-demand night out. What had once seemed like a rare treat was now an almost bi-weekly affair for my dad and me.
Though I wouldn’t say that I was bored of going to see baseball, by this point it had become a sort of routine for me. The current team did not seem as exciting as the one I had grown up watching. I used to get a thrill out of Shawn Green walking up to the plate just because it was happening and I was there. Now I kept wondering why the team was always so close to mattering, but still far enough away to remove any doubt of that happening. This was a new experience in sports. It wasn’t the bewilderment and exhilaration that overtook me when I was child. It was anxiety and anger and annoyance, with brief flashes of pure love, that was in many ways a lot like my adolescent life.
After a hastily eaten meal, the two of us drove downtown via Kingston Road and the Gardiner. We pulled into an alley near Front and Simcoe and were greeted by the same parking attendant we had seen each time here for more than a decade. He’s an thin elderly man in a worn out 2000’s-era Blue Jays cap. My dad hands him a 10-dollar bill. He knows us and tells us to enjoy the night.
On this night, Roy Halladay was pitching for the Blue Jays and that was exciting. Even though he had already won the American League’s Cy Young award and been an all-star multiple times, he felt like he was Toronto’s secret baseball treat. He was so good and somehow didn’t receive much attention in the American sports media. He quietly went about his dominance and Canadians liked that. My dad and I both mentioned multiple times how special we think Roy Halladay is.
In the 1st inning, Roy retired the side, striking out two. He only threw nine pitches. My dad ordered a draught of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, as he always did. I did not get to drink beer because I was still underage. In the bottom half of the inning, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with two out. There was a couple behind us talking loudly and one of them asked if it would be “6 points” if the Blue Jays were to hit a home run. My dad and I chuckled to each other.
The SkyDome was mostly empty that night and my dad and I estimated how many people are in attendance. Maybe 5 or 6000? I told my dad about an article I read in Sports Illustrated that week. He told me a story about going to see the Yankees in New York in the 70’s. I was captivated.
In the 4th inning, Doc Halladay faced his toughest challenge of the night. Having thrown only 45 pitches, he gave up an opposite field single to Derek Jeter. The next batter, an overpaid free agent power hitter, who I resented for being rich and playing for the Yankees, hit the only mistake pitch that Roy threw all night into the right field 100-level seats. The Yankees now led the game 2-0. While the player rounded the bases, my gaze was fixed on Roy Halladay, who gestured to the catcher for a new ball and re-took his place on the mound. Stone-faced, he got the next batter to roll over on a cutter to end the inning. After the first basemen received the throw, my dad did a small fist pump in combination with a nod that he did any time a player does something “right”. Roy Halladay seemed to do things “right” almost always.
On that night, the roof of the SkyDome was open, so a cold breeze was coming in off Lake Ontario. Once the sun went down, I started to shiver because I had only worn a t-shirt. My dad gave me his sweater to wear, which I felt awkward putting on because it was much too big for me. Now being warm again, I was free to once again focus on Roy Halladay, who after one hiccup, had continued his dominance for the rest of the game. While the Blue Jays leave much to be desired while they hit, Roy Halladay demands my attention while he is on the mound. He occupied all my focus while he is pitching, and I didn’t pay much attention to how sad I felt earlier in the day.
In the top of the 9th inning, Roy came out once more, having thrown 96 pitches for the night. The Yankees hitters are still helplessly swinging at his masterfully placed corner sinkers and they are retired in order. Even though the Yankees were winning this game, I still felt like it was all about Roy Halladay. He had thrown yet another complete game, which was becoming more and more rare as a feat, but seemed like an everyday accomplishment for him. My dad and I both make comments about how “nobody does that anymore” and note that Halladay’s ability to completely take over baseball games is yet another symbol of him being a special player and the best pitcher in the game.
In the bottom of the inning, the Blue Jays put two runners on, but ultimately come up with nothing. They lose the game, despite Roy Halladay pitching all nine innings. We are used to defeat, so we weren’t so upset about the outcome. We walked out onto the bridge and down Front Street to where we parked the truck.
On the drive home, we listened to JaysTalk on the Fan590 radio station. Many callers phoned in to give their advice about how to improve the team, like trading for Adam Dunn. Nobody mentioned Roy Halladay, because everyone was used to him being the very best.
When we got home, I went to bed. I had to wake up at 6:30 AM the next day to get ready for another day of school, but instead of thinking about that, or how I was lonely, or how I felt isolated from my actual friends at school, or how mad I was at myself for being stupid and awkward, I just thought about Roy Halladay.
Thanks for everything Doc, you were one in a million,
Author’s note: This was written while wearing a faded, black Roy Halladay t-shirt.
Sometimes, I find that a low-effort post is the first step towards more output. Working lots of overtime and being preoccupied with writing PhD grants for next year has neutered my drive to write, so I offer this post as a step towards something with a little more substance.
As part of The Project, I've been working on a couple of songs throughout the year, with the hope that they will eventually turn into a demo. This part has actually going reasonably well, as I've found that writing guitar parts takes much less mental labour than writing short stories and lyrics. Here is a collection of songs that I think define the type of sound that I am going for with these songs:
In a recent post, I said "Celebrate the things your friends care about and champion the things they make", so I figured that I should make good on my promise. I have many talented friends who are all pursuing the things they are passionate about and excelling, so I'd like to highlight a few of them below. It's so great to take a moment to think about how many wonderful things you're friends are doing and what they're capable of doing.
THE OFFICIAL I, MUSICAL GENIUS "BACKED HARD" LIST
I've never been shy about my disdain for the boom in craft brewing. To me, it reeks of pretension and consumerism and I find that almost everything the industry produces is terrible. Give me a 50 or a Miller Lite instead. That being said, one of my oldest and very best friends Pat brews for a local company in Toronto called Blood Brothers. I've been drinking Pat's beers since he started brewing in our shitty rented university house and it's been great watching him get better and better. His mindset in the industry is refreshing and down-to-earth and I like knowing that there some non-jabronis out there. And hey, even a guy who spent 10 years drinking PBR almost exclusively likes their beer to boot. You should visit their home base to try some stuff and listen to classic rock. Pat is very good at brewing beer.
While I was in university, another one of my best friends dropped out of his English degree to start cooking at a local Indian restaurant. Matt then enrolled in George Brown's cooking school and has been on a steady trajectory upwards since then. He's already cooked in a variety of Toronto's upper-echelon restaurants, but settled into Actinolite this past year, which he's described to me as his dream job. Just like Pat, I find Matt's approach to cooking very unpretentious and level-headed, which seems rare to me in food. You should eat there if you can.
Duff, another one of my best friends, who I played in Beat Noir with for five years, currently plays in two wonderful bands. One is Wayfarer, who are absolutely on the shortlist of "Best Ever Ontario Bands", and the other is School Shooter, a super fast/super heavy D-Beat project. Both are absolutely worth your time.
I am fortunate that a lot of my friends play in great bands. Nick, yet another of one of my best friends, plays in the band Dog Cops. I saw some clips of them recording this past weekend, so make sure to give that release a listen when it drops.
While I was doing my Master's at Guelph, my PIC Vanja and I had offices connected to each other and both commuted from Kitchener, which basically meant that we spent most of our time awake together. A quick thing we bonded over was a love of good coffee, though knew way more about it than I from being a barista on the side. After we finished our degrees, Vanja kept pursuing coffee and eventually got into the roasting game, leading to his current gig at Propeller Coffee in Toronto. They make fabulous coffee and I recommend grabbing a bag. My favourite coffee I've had in the last little while!
My friend Tyler builds acoustic guitars with robots at Taylor. Consider buying an acoustic from Taylor because Tyler is so so great!
Two of my former colleagues at the gallery, Maddie and Katie, have a new show on at Y+ Contemporary in Scarborough. Good on them for this show! It even has a partner exhibition in friggin' Iceland! Go see this show to support good artists from Toronto. If you read this before the 14th, you can even go to the opening.
One of the best parts of my year for the last two years has been working at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival as a Head Volunteer. The team is super dedicated and hard-working and bring in such awesome programming for the weekend that I feel a little embarrassed by what I do in my job. Great stuff. Great welcoming atmosphere. A wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds represented. A vital queer voice in a realm that can be dominated by lame-os with a rolled up Image issue up their ass. The festival is friggin' free every year! Support it!
My other PIC from my Master's, Coni, is currently doing her PhD at Cornell in Post-Human Art History. She's a fucking research machine and clear and concise writer, but don't let her complicated and difficult theories distract you from the fact that she's a hilarious and warm person as well. She mops the floor with me in pretty much every facet of being an academic. I'm happy to see her do well!
I decided to take a break from social media this week, mostly Twitter, because I felt like I was spending too much time on it and it was adversely affecting my mood (did my last post give you a hint?). A great side effect of this is that small thoughts I would have maybe turned into a tweet are now turning into a slightly bigger IMU post. This makes me think that social media breaks are an extremely good thing that I should do more, because it makes me write more and that's way better than wasting time reading things that I don't even find interesting.
I can't believe that humanity spends most of its time doing that now! It's actually really Mest up when you think about it!
I put on an old favourite, the album Good For Me by The Swellers, and it immediately took me back to the place I was at in my life while I was super into it in 2011. The album came at exactly the right time and hit me in exactly the right spot and I listened to it constantly in the summer of 2011. I even put it on my End of Year List that year. I had kind written the band off after not enjoying their previous effort, but then they blind-sided me with this mother fucker and I was in love all over again. It somehow walks the tightrope of mixing skate punk, pop-punk, and alt rock and then sticks the landing masterfully. The songs all go to exactly right place songwriting-wise and then all of a sudden you're on the last song before you even realize it. The band should be really proud of creating a super tight and interesting album.
Even though music is always the first place I turn, it's important to remember that when you feel crummy, revisiting an old friend like this can be comforting and exactly what you need.
I have a day off of work today, which feels great after two long weeks of overtime at the gallery. Days off in the middle of the week always feel so much nicer and more relaxing than a regular weekend. It feels like you're conning the world because almost everyone else is stuck at work and running through their regular routine while you get to stay home and lay on the couch with the dog and watch and bunch of skateboarding videos on your TV.
Whenever I have a day off like this, I usually try to make it productive because work has turned free time into a precious commodity in my life and I find that I need to make the most of it or else I feel like shit and the apartment gets really dirty and I feel unfulfilled because I have written anything or played guitar and all of a sudden it's 5 PM and there's been a dull ringing in the back of my head telling me I'm disgusting and lazy.
I say this because this feeling is creeping up on me now after I somehow managed to lose my passport in my own apartment and can't do what I planned today, which was go to the office to renew it. It's a small defeat, but definitely the type of situation that eats away at you and turns into "a thing" while you're trying to deal with it. On top of that, any problem is always intensified when Service Canada has to get thrown into the mix, as they are gold medalists in making you wait in line and fill out forms that seem useless.
Any time that I have a day off, I usually try to make putting a post up on here a priority as well. I was half-assedly thinking of topics to write about and settled on some sort of comparison between the reggae album Two Sevens Clash by Culture and something else, but didn't write that idea down and ended forgetting it right away. I guess all I can say on it is that I listened to this album while I was doing the dishes.
I certainly do love me some reggae. Right after that Culture album I put on some Steel Pulse, who I think are the apex of the genre. It's funny to me how many white people my age rip on the genre because all that they know of it is Bob Marley's Legend and Sublime's singles. Why judge a whole genre on the watered-down singles you hear on Q107? That's dumb.
(Marley is good, but to be honest I think that The Wailers' early output and his album deep-cuts lap his singles in quality.)
Me writing some things on reggae here did drum up thoughts I've been ruminating on for a while. I'm sure that you are familiar with the concept of "Throwback Thursday", a fun trend on social media. Among my punk friends, it's popular to post pictures of yourself playing in an old band to point out how trends in punk music and fashion have changed in the last decade or so. For most of my friends, this means posting a picture of you playing in an old hardcore band.
I was then thinking that if I were to post a "#TBT" picture, it would probably be me playing in The Pragmatics and how most of my friends would think that my band was lame because they all hate ska. Fuck that. I know that defending my interest in ska is kind of my signature scent, but Jesus, it's only that way because of how much ska gets brought up to me.
I think about the effect that growing up in Toronto's ska scene and then moving into punk from there had on me a lot. I also think about how my experience differs from my friends who grew up in hardcore scenes. As much as hardcore music is really great and the scenes can accomplish great things, there's also so many super shitty parts to it.
The biggest is that almost every hardcore fan I met has an inherent sense of elitism and give off a vibe of "If you don't listen to 'X' band or were at 'X' show" then you suck, whether they mean to do that or not. There's a wild amount of posturing. On the flip side, I always felt welcomed at ska shows and found it to be an extremely inclusive community, not to mention that I saw far more bands featuring women and people of colour at ska shows, as opposed to hardcore shows which are white guy city.
I've grown really tired of elitism recently and really wish it a swift death. If you don't like something, just don't like and don't care about it and leave it. I'm sick of social media being a constant parade of people giving their hot takes and unpopular opinions just for the sake of stirring people' anger. Let's not build up pedestals by shitting on everyone else. Let's ignore the people who are focused what shirt to wear to the show instead of playing it. Celebrate the things your friends care about and champion the things they make.
With that said, I offer two throwbacks on a Tuesday:
The first is from a Pragmatics show at Sneaky Dee's. I had a lot of fun playing in this band and thought it was cool, challenging, and fulfilling to play bass in a mostly instrumental ska band. The show this photo was taken at was 19+, but they had to let me in as a 17-year-old because I was in the band. That felt cool.
The second is from when I saw the Suicide Machines play at Pouzza Fest in 2012. That's me in the Hawaiian shirt. When I was younger, a lot of people told me that "Everyone goes through a ska phase in high school." and that my interest in it would fade with age. I grew to love a lot of different music, to be sure, and definitely broadened my horizons, but my undying love for the music that first inspired when I was an impressionable teenager never died. The joke is on everyone else for doubting my convictions and I still love that band to this day.
This past weekend, my work co-produced a huge conference about the intersection of art and social justice. I worked on the project for more than a year, so it felt really good to see it finally come to life. It was also affirming (and a little harrowing) to see people from around the world come a give impassioned, left-wing talks about important issues that the world is facing.
Something I tried and ultimately failed to do was work some punk into the programming of the conference, which is something I almost always do when starting my planning. The day was divided into four sections; Land, Love, Labour, and Liberty; so when each section started I couldn't help but think about which four songs I would use to frame those four sections if I had my way. I'm sure you get where I'm going by now, so here you go:
A few important lessons that I learned while watching Ted Leo & the Pharmacists play a set at Lee's Palace last night:
As much as people have been preaching that rock music is dead for the last ten years, Ted Leo, with his new album The Hanged Man, is here to prove that the rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. I firmly believe that any time a critic emerges to once again harp of rock falling out of the record chart, Ted Leo will pop and piss in that person's face. As part of my year-long "5 Songs and 5 Stories" plan, I've been thinking about if me writing guitar-based punks songs is really urgent at all. Ted Leo grabbed me by the shoulders, slapped my face and said "Write some friggin' riffs you jamoke."
With how many terrible things are happening the world-over and how stupid mainstream media discourse about those things has gotten, I sometimes feel isolated because I think most people I meet don't feel the same way as me. It seems like most people aren't critical of what they read at all and mindless regurgitation of Facebook has now taken the place of being informed. Ted Leo, that beautiful leftist power-pop messenger, reminded me that I'm not alone out here.
Life can be shitty sometimes. More often than not, it's work that gets me down because I feel like I'm too burnt out to do that the things that I enjoy and find fulfilling. Surprise, surprise, after I spend two weeks seeing bands that I love and doing things that I like, I find it easier to write and I feel more inspired. Enjoying your life isn't about blindly ignoring bad things to keep a positive attitude. It's crucial to remember all the shitty fucking things in the world to get the full picture. But we also have to appreciate the perfect things we get to experience, like Ted Leo playing for an hour and forty five minutes, and revel in them because they make it worth it to bear all the terrible things.
It is no small secret that I deeply love the seminal classic rock band Thin Lizzy. While they, like many of their contemporaries, have had their careers mostly diluted to one or two singles, they also have a run of great albums in the 70's that still hold up today. Recently, my jam has been "For Those Who Love to Live" off of their wonderful album Fighting, for reasons I will explain below.
Thin Lizzy wrote this song about George Best, who was a popular Northern Irish soccer player for Manchester United in the 1970's. Best was extremely skilled, but also fit into the playboy athlete archetype who coupled his innate athletic ability with a thirst for partying and womanizing. These types of figures are always charismatic and can so easily capture the hearts of the sports fan who watch them play, because they show you that sports is part of life as whole and doesn't just exist in a self-contained stadium. Thin Lizzy does a great job of conveying that feeling in the song.
I've been thinking about this song a lot as an accompaniment to Jose Bautista's swan song as a Toronto Blue Jay. I've loved Jose's time as a Jay, loved his many accomplishments, and loved the style he played the game with, but I think that I'll save a true farewell to him until his goodbye actually happens. Instead, I'll give you this song as a hearty salute to Jose's time with the team and the cult of personality that surrounds him.
Jose Bautista is certainly not the man-about-town that George Best was, but I think that his magnetic personality still drew people in in the same way. He was the best power hitter in the game for a few years and the best Right Fielder of this decade. Jose many, many revenge home runs were the type of thing you fantasized about doing while playing Little League. He made other teams stomping mad and then would hit towering home runs to rub it in afterwards. As much attention as he got for "The Batflip", a lot of people didn't realize that he had been doing that for his entire time in Toronto.
Quoting myself verbatim, I've said a lot of times that "Nothing lights me up like Jose home runs." I know that it's a corny thing to say, but there is a jump in my chest every time that Jose pulls one down the right field line because it's something I've seen so many times before. It's familiar and it feels like home and it only feels like home for Toronto Blue Jays fans. It's our thing that we get to have. Everybody got a little bit of a glimpse into during the 2015 playoffs, but they'll never know the joy that we all got to have from 2008-2017.
So no, "You've got to have a little love for those who love to live" doesn't mean that Jose succeeded on the field in spite of his vices, it means that while he played baseball, he managed the squeeze the most fun and drama and excitement out of the sport that he could.
Next weekend will most likely be Jose's last home games as a Blue Jay. I will be there on Sunday and I look forward to getting up on my feet near the end of the game to give him the true hero's farewell that he deserves.
Today, September 15th, 2017, is the first day of this year's edition of Riot Fest, which has now firmly unseated The Fest as North America's most popular punk music festival. This year's edition of the festival has been notable because it is being headlined by the incredible and influential 90's emo/punk band Jawbreaker. While my non-punk friends will yawn at this, this is the biggest deal to punk fans because for the last twenty years, since breaking up shortly after their 1995 album Dear You was released, a Jawbreaker reunion has been labelled as one of those things "that will just never happen".
Jawbreaker along with Operation Ivy, the Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, Hüsker Dü (A hearty RIP to Grant Hart, who passed away this week, for contributing to one of punk's all-time greats), and The Replacements were seen as perfect bands whose role in important punk scenes and influence on later bands reached legendary status after their dissolution. Each band's break-up was also fraught with interpersonal tension (except Operation Ivy), which meant that any chance of the bands getting back together for later fans to see them would be unlikely. Speaking from my own perspective, this only made them even more appealing to me when I was discovering them much later. I discovered Jawbreaker through hearing other bands cite them as an integral influence on their own music, and the fact that I was living my Jawbreaker experience through somebody else's seem exciting and important.
I also thought it was really cool that there were bands out there who were "too punk too reunite". I still enjoyed it when The Ergs and Descendents came back to give me a chance to experience them again, but the fact that some bands valued their own convictions more than the pay they would receive further cemented my own values. It feels good to know that there are other true believers out there.
A brief aside: I also experience this type of feeling when the golden god Roy Halladay signed a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays to retire at the age of 36, saying that he would rather retire then than continue to play later into life when he wouldn't be able to pitch as well and not live up to his own expectations in competition. Roy Halladay: More punk than Jawbreaker?
The "never-reuniting" myth was pretty much personified by Jawbreaker, as there were rumours that the band had turned down a $2,000,000 offer to get back together, and when asked about it, frontman Blake Schwarzenbach consistently said "No Way." There was even a band tongue-in-cheekly named "Jawbreaker Reunion" for fuck sakes.
A few years ago, Riot Fest started making "Holy Shit!" bands reunions their gimmick. This happened first when The Replacements played their first show in 22 years at the 2013 editions of the festival and then when they somehow got the friggin' Misfits to play a set at the 2016 version of the fest. The Misfits reunion was especially a significant moment, as nobody thought that Gelnn Danzig could possibly hold his chill for long enough to perform with the band.
This was all just an appetiser for this year's announcement of the Jawbreaker reunion, which was so significant that all of my punk friends immediately contacted each other about it. Takes were abound. It seemed like I could feel Riot Fest's self-satisfied "Yeah, we just did this" grin from through my computer screen. It was something I really believed I would never see.
I guess I wrote this whole thing to a prelude to my own thoughts on the reunion, but they're hard to state because I'm still not sure exactly where I stand on everything.
One hand, I hate big festivals, as I find them impersonal and overcrowded, they always have bad sound, and always end up underwhelming. Riot Fest, in particular, was a pretty shitty time the last time I went. I definitely don't like the idea of a payday being the main reason of a band ending a lengthy hiatus. I can't shake the "I don't agree with this" feeling that I get when thinking about big reunions and the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to define.
On the other hand, why should a band not get theirs when they can? I mean, one of the main reasons a band tours , aside from the joy of playing and having fun with your friends and showing people your art (all more important in my book), is to make money. As much as I would like to divorce finance from art, it's impossible. I think there's also something to be said for being in attendance for the reunion and getting to take in a significant punk moment. Much like I felt when first discovering the band, I'm sure that seeing everyone react when Jawbreaker walks out onstage on Sunday will feel important.
I guess I'll close by saying that a lot people are losing it about this, in both ways. Some people are ecstatic that they are finally seeing their favourite band and some people are very mad (I wouldn't characterize myself as "mad" but I suppose that I fall into this category rather than the other). People weren't as polarized when the Misfits reunited last year, but now any uproar about it happening seems so distant in the past. Realistically, I think that in a year or so, the Jawbreaker reunion will be a thing that happened and nobody will really think about it. This reunion doesn't do anything to the quality of their records, which is what really matters.
And when that day comes, I suppose that I can go back to holding up Jesse Michaels and Jello Biafra for sticking to their values, even though I try to have no heroes.
An integral part of being a baseball fan is recognizing that you're in for a long journey. The season is longer than any of the other major North American professional sports and for the most part, players' careers are longer too. If you're along for the ride, this can be so rewarding, like when you get to watch Roy Halladay develop into one of the game's premier pitchers over the course of a decade. When you've been there for the entire process, it makes the benefits that much more special when they happen and it feels like you've played a role in what happened. It can also be frustrating, like watching a player who once dazzled you struggle to compete with other major league players.
A current example of the former is Jose Bautista's 2017 season. Jose was the most exciting Blue Jay for a long time, starting with hitting 10 home runs in September 2009 and culminating in "The Bat Flip". Jose signed a one-year contract with options to play for the Blue Jays in 2017 and most of the fanbase, including me, lauded the deal and were eagerly "Angry Jose"'s exploits, but instead Jose started to swing through fastballs he used to put in the second deck and his return quickly turned into what feels a lot like a retirement tour. I will always love Jose Bautista and him strapping the Jays to his back and carrying them towards contention was amazing, but now I have to think about how weird it will be to see somebody else play Right Field next season and find myself muttering "I still love you Jose" every time he bats. It's like I'm already nostalgic for Jose's time on the team before it's even ended.
I like Pillar's game a lot and found myself thinking "Oh, that's getting caught" every time a ball went near him. But then he started missing a lot of swings and I started to get ulcers watching his back foot come forward out of the box as he swung at terrible pitches. He seemed to be turning his batting approach around, but then got into a well-publicized spat with the Atlanta Braves. It was already a stupid argument to get into, but Pillar did himself no favours by calling the pitcher in question a homophobic slur. As a lifer Jays fan, I will go to bat for our players in almost any situation, but there is a breaking point and this was it for Pillar. In what could be considered poetic justice (I would always argue anything bad happening to the Boys is NOT POETIC), Pillar's season then started to fall apart. He's looked completely lost at the plate and hasn't been getting to nearly as many fly balls as he used to. In 2015, Pillar was the second-most valuable player on the team, but now it looks like he could be easily usurped at the team's starting centrefielder if the right player comes along.
And hey, that sucks. I like the guy and pulled for him; part of me still pulls for him, but it seems like his time in the Toronto sports limelight is probably done.
That's the way baseball works. It's a long journey as a fan and though it might be easy to pack the team's history into neat little "periods" in hindsight, the reality is that every story starts before the one it follows ends and then bleeds into the next one. The next "Kevin Pillar" might be on the team right now, just like how Pillar was kicking around while Colby Rasmus ended his time here. Sometimes a fan just needs to sit back and let the narrative unfold, but that's easier said than done, because all you want to do is rush over and unfold it yourself.
That ain't the way it works though; not in baseball and not in art history and not in music and not in love.
Not much to say except that when I am sitting at work and am so angry that I want to punch a hole in my monitor and scream at people until the stupidity leaks out of their ears, Incendiary's excellent 2017 full-length Thousand Mile Stare is my preferred soundtrack.
Gotta say, beatdown hardcore with socially conscious lyrics is right up my alley. I could use a lot more of this.
Become so anxious about not having written something that you begin to think about it periodically throughout the day. The fear of underachievement must get to a point where it affects you daily before acting.
Begin to brainstorm ideas for a post even though you are uninspired because of a lengthy period of artistic inactivity. Grasp at straws while trying to think of ideas that made sense and seemed interesting at one time.
Start a draft of a post about one of your old ideas.
Start and stop working on the draft several times and get distracted by things that are less important.
Become overwhelmed by the effort of balancing work and personal pursuits. Allow this to further affect your ability to write.
Set aside a brief period of time on your day off to write. Do not allow yourself away from your computer during this time.
Struggle to remember the original idea which inspired the post you are working on.
Force out an opening paragraph. Re-write the opening sentence at least three times. Think of a big word to say and use semi-colons to make sure people think you’re smart!
Start writing a second paragraph which barely connects to the first ideologically. Follow this second idea as the main idea of your post.
Remember to mention that this is a post that you are “working through” for the sake of “getting back on the horse”.
Try to make jokes.
Remember that your conclusion should relate to the way you began the post. Write a Hail Mary sentence that does a bad job of connecting all the things you talked about.
Avow that you will write another thing this week or at least work on a short story.
Wait at least three weeks before starting the process again.
I'm in a weird spot where I need to write something, but also feel like I have nothing to say. My stomach is tied up in knots and I feel uneasy; it feels like an intense pressure building under my diaphragm or a blister that needs to be popped. From my own experience, the best way to relieve this pressure is put pen to page or fingertips to keys and work something out, but my mind is all over the place and I'm not sure where to start or what I even want to say.
When I haven't written a story, blog post, or song in a while, I get uneasy and anxious. For better or for worse, I think that the concern of "not writing enough" is constant in the back of my mind. On good days it inspires me to work through something; on bad days it makes me uncomfortable and nervous. Writing something, let alone something good, is much harder in the second scenario, so you get something misguided and full of semi-colons like this.
I also feel very uneasy because of how disappointed in the world I am, which has been a consistent downward spiral over the last five or so years. Like clockwork, something happens every three weeks that reminds how stupid and fucked up almost all of the world is. So stupid and fucked up that I'm very sceptical about how fixable any of it is.
The events in Charlottesville were awful and I don't really know how to broach the topic. When things like this happen, the absolute last thing that anybody needs to hear is another thinkpiece by a cis-white male. Any opinion I would give wouldn't be anywhere nearly as important as those given by people of colour, the left involved in protests, or those who live in the community. So even though I'm livid and frustrated and my anger doesn't seem to have a place to go, I believe that it's better for me to limit my takes, because all they would really do is pile more dirt onto more important opinions. For the sake of brevity, I will leave it to this:
If you think that violence against the far right will only provoke them further, I am interested as to what you think further than marching with torches, running over people with cars, and gang-beatings is.
If you even try to play devil's advocate on this issue at all, you are incredibly stupid. As much as political issues can be painted gray by the media, this one is cut and dry. One side is wrong, stupid and bad.
While I don't go out of my way to discuss my politics, I also don't make any big effort to hide them. Regardless, this still does leave my thoughts up in the air sometimes, as I'm aware that I can be pretty quiet. Just to put it out in the open, as socialist as you think I may be, I assure you that it's even further in actuality.
Being depressed about the state of the world and anxious about my much more minor personal feelings was a weird negative combination and it was making get really angry at almost everything. As much as it isn't mentally healthy to be in a constant state of ire, I think it's also important to really sit in your anger sometimes and work through what's pissing you off. You can't just shove anger away when very bad things are happening. Fascism and disgusting bigotry doesn't get solved by looking on the bright side.
In the eye of this anger storm, I was reminded of a few things I love: Rebecca, Pierre and Florence, my friends, pro wrestling (yes), and socially-conscious punk music. Jesse Michaels has been a constant source of inspiration and strength to me through my life and I was very pleased to find that his second band Common Rider put out an EP I didn't know about that was even better than all of their other stellar output. On top of that, the lyrics hit me in the exact right spot after the events last week.
While reading a (albeit very positive) review of the lyrics, someone described the lyrics as "overly ideal" and I thought that was so stupid. If advocating for resiliency in the face of oppression is stupid to you, you never really got what punk was about in the first place pal.
Always grow and learn, but never forget what made you mad to begin with. Stay pissed because the second you give up that, they'll fucking march all over you.
Something unique to my generation, the first that grew up with the internet, is that we are the first to experience all of life's "milestones" in their open, digital form. It's strange to be the first generation of people that has its entire existence documented in a form that is more or less permanent.
One way that I am often reminded of this is when someone who I've completely lost touch with pops up on my Facebook feed. I guess the fact that we are still friends on Facebook sort of implies that we haven't completely lost touch. The world is weird. Whereas before you would maybe have some pictures of an old flame or roommate kicking around and would actually need to phone them or something to contact them, now you can just sort of creepily keep tabs on people and stay somewhat up-to-date on their life even though you never speak.
The person (really two people, they're a couple) who came up was someone who I went to art school with. I hung out with them pretty regularly during the last year of my undergrad and we got along pretty well, though we didn't have tonnes in common.
The last time that I saw this person was a chance encounter at a bar in Guelph while I was there with other friends. We were both happy to see each other and made the cursory small talk about our lives. She was there with her boyfriend, who she had started dating during our last year of school. She then told me that a house show the two of them had attended at my place had been their first date, which I didn't know. That made me happy. I thought that the show had been amazing to begin with, but was happy to realize that other people had important memories tied to the evening as well. And important enough that it was one of the things she told me within 5 minutes of speaking to me.
"That's what I was really trying to do. It's not about the music, it's about the love." I joked.
As I said, the couple came up in my Facebook feed today and they mentioned that they are only a few months out from getting married. It's crazy to think that I, who neither have spoken to in a few years now, played a role in their partnership, albeit a very, very small one.
It's also crazy to think about how many other times this has happened and we don't even know about.
It feels dumb to end this post with such an open-ended and vague statement, so I'll say that I saw Big Nothing at D-Beatstro this week and loved their set. I urge you to support both the band and the space they played at.
I thought of the nugget at the centre of this post a few weeks ago and have been kicking it around since. Bear with me as I try to dig through my brain to find the idea that spurred this by writing through it, as is my custom.
I find that one of the most frustrating things in life is when things change and you have no control over it. Something that was once ~important~ and then, through no effort on your behalf, it becomes the opposite. Human beings are kind of obsessed with controlling things and classifying things. People get terrified and irate when something happens to them and there's nothing they can do about it. They get equally mad when something is easy to pin down as "this, this, and this". Saves the Day has to be "emo" and "pop-punk" and you have to mention that they were sort of a hardcore before discussing any of their current music which doesn't resemble any of those things.
This desire to classify things is a weird quirk of humanity and I think about it a lot. I'm fully aware of it and I still try to stick things into their proper place more than almost everyone else. Maybe it's due to how we're educated in public school systems? That is a meandering thought for another time.
Back to writing about the amorphous topic of "things changing".
The thing that spurred me to write about is the current fad of young teenagers wearing Thrasher Magazine merchandise. You may scoff at this being what inspired this, but I really do think it's an excellent example of it.
I've been very familiar with Thrasher for most of my life because skateboarding and punk are basically the first two things I got into while I was shaping my identity in the crucial pre-teen, pre-high school years. The tie between those two subcultures is almost as old as either of them are and makes perfect sense. Skateboarders have been into punk forever and nothing exemplifies this relationship better than Thrasher Magazine. I was drawn to Thrasher magazine because the style of skating they featured in the mag was punk. Even if it wasn't a punk guy skating, the ethos was there. It was anti-corporate and praised just skating over everything else. As simple as that sounds, it's fucking huge.
This is why I was so proud to wear my Thrasher shirt and hoodie while I was out and, especially, while I was skating.
Over the last year or so, Thrasher shirts (especially the "Flame Logo") have BLOWN up as popular clothing choices for hip teens, which was, to me, very surprising. It's to the point now where most people think of Thrasher as a streetwear brand like Supreme or Crooks and Castles, which kind of sucks. Are the shirts not made to express your endorsement of the mag and its ethos?
There was one day I was coming home from work and there was a group of freshmen university students on the streetcar near me. All of them were very excited because their OSAP student loans had all just gone through and they had just spent the surplus on some new Thrasher shirts, despite non of them being skateboarders. It was sad to see. That is pretty silly to say, but IMU only exists for me to be frank, so I'm not going pretend I wasn't bummed out by this to save face.
I've thought about whether it's dumb and shitty for Thrasher gear to have gotten so popular a lot for the last little while and I think I've mostly settled on what I think about.
A big part of this was listening to an episode of the excellent skateboarding podcast The Bunt on which Thrasher Editor-in-Cheif Jake Phelps was a guest. The hosts asked Phelps about the phenomenon and how he felt about Thrasher shirts somehow becoming a fashion trend. Phelps, who is well-known in skateboarding as its foremost cantankerous gatekeeper, said that he didn't care at all about celebrities like Bieber and Rihanna wearing the brand because all it did was drive up sales and give the magazine more money, which in turn allowed them to send even more skaters on more skate trips and put out even more videos. I thought that was a great way to look at this trend.
I still think it's pretty silly to buy and wear a shirt that says "Thrasher Magazine" when you don't read or care about the mag though.
I know that this is going to be a short-lived thing and I'm sure that those damn teens will have moved on to something else clothes-wise next year, but part of me is still a little sour that something that I really love got picked up to be a trend so divorced from what it means. There was one day where I skateboarded to work in my Thrasher hoodie and when my co-workers (who are all insular studio art kids) saw me they said "Oh aren't you just the broiest bro!" because they clearly understood Thrasher as "Thing That "Hip Teens" Wear" and not "Skateboarding Magazine".
I think my obsessive on this is mostly due to the fact that now when I wear my Thrasher t-shirt, people will think "that is a popular brand" and not "he loves to skateboard". I liked it better when a Thrasher shirt was a signifier for somebody who fucking loves to skate. I love skateboarding and I hate brands. I hate that this small thing that was important to me changed drastically and there was nothing I could do about it. I also hate that I care so much about what people think about t-shirts.
I guess that from now on, I'll just have to make sure to be skateboarding whenever I wear my hoodie to remove all doubt and that's not the worst thing in the world because any excuse to get outside and skate is a good one.
I am no stranger to waxing poetic about ethereal connection between the game of baseball and those who watch it. There's a lot of different ways that one person trying to hit a ball thrown by another person into spots where eight other people aren't standing manages to seize hold of my emotions every year and there's an equal mix of emotions that come along with that.
The one emotion that is absolutely crucial to baseball and that fans must never forget about, no matter how "out of it" things may seem is hope. Even when you're at your most sour and can only think about having to return to yet another season of sub-.500 baseball, baseball will pick you up by the hips and toss you in the air to remind exactly how fun all of this is. The greatest quote in all of sports, former Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver, summed it up better than I ever could:
"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all."
With this all being said, I would like to proffer a piece by Stacey May Fowles, who is a phenomenal author from Toronto. She does the whole "my emotional state is dictated by baseball" thing much better than I do and is way better at explaining the weird emotional bond you make with men you don't know while they play baseball in Toronto than I as well.
I spent a decent chunk of the spring of 2016 listen to Oliver Houston's EP The Dork Ages.I discovered the band through hearing their name on a podcast I liked and then found them to be one of the better "Emo Revival" bands I had heard in a while.
Once bands like The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and Into It. Over It. started to gain a little bit of mainstream musical traction, the label "Emo Revival" got thrown around a lot and it seemed like a new band with a pedal board a meter wide formed every day. Suddenly American Football was the inspiration for every band? I'm not complaining, but I found it pretty surprising. With that rise in emo bands though, I felt like some of the minor things that made the genre cool got a little lost in translation, which is bound to happen when that many similar bands form.
That being said, I think that Oliver Houston is a cut above almost every other "twinkly" emo band right now, especially with You Blew It!'s last album being pretty boring. There's a load of cool rhythms and grooves on the album and I really appreciate that the guitar work is built around riffs instead of excessive open-tuning shredding, which is pretty common place now. Not everyone can be Algernon.
I somehow missed that Oliver Houston put out a full-length in 2017 until yesterday. It's excellent and, with The Dork Ages, makes for a very impressive start to a discography.
It’s extremely strange when a day you knew would occur in the future finally arrives. Sometimes it’s an odd mix of anxiety and disbelief, like when you’re a young child and your birthday finally comes. Sometimes it’s open-faced awe because it arrives unexpectedly.
Today, June 22nd, 2017, is the day that Jack Chandler the Border Collie died. I knew that Jack would die when we picked him up, but I didn’t think about it because I was too filled with love to consider it. I didn’t have to consider it for a long time, because he was so active and healthy late into his life.
The countdown to Jack’s death began in earnest when some tumours on his leg ruptured and he hemorrhaged blood while laying on the kitchen floor. He had surgery and recovered, but now he had a clock on his life, ticking down his remaining hours. He was no longer just “Jack”; he was now “Jack, the old, sick dog.” Every time I spoke about Jack, I now had to mention how he was doing.
Now, I don’t get to talk about how he’s doing anymore.
Death brings out a complex and surprising mix of feelings. It’s kind of nice in a way, because it makes it easier to understand what those around you are going through. It’s suddenly enough to just give someone a hug to empathize with them. That’s so rare.
It makes me so angry too. I don’t know what I’m angry about. I want someone to make fun of me for crying in public so that I can hit them with my skateboard. I want to relieve the tension I feel in my chest and I want to do it in a dumb way.
I just want the anger to go somewhere because I don’t know why it exists.
While waiting for the train to my parents’ house, I saw a high school student wearing a shirt that just said “Courage,” and it immediately struck me how stupid it was to mass-produce a product like that. I hate the world.
I called my mom at work. That was when I found out. I had a meeting with my department after. They complained about the usual things. It felt silly and stupid to listen to them. Not a single thing was said that mattered. I had a thousand-mile stare at the bookcase.
When I got home, my mom came to hug my brother and I and then I saw Jack’s dead body on the couch.
He was so dead.
We had periods of on and off sadness throughout the whole day. 20 minutes of extreme sadness followed by 40 of jovial conversation.
My dad was hit the hardest. At one point when I was the only other person home, he faced Jack’s body and said, “Wake up Jack.”
It killed me.
It makes me wonder about whether I’ll divide my life into “Before Jack” and “After Jack”. Maybe I’ll only think that way today.
Walking through my home and I pick out all the small places that I used to know.
Gave my Dad a hug to comfort him. It didn’t do shit for either of us. Jack’s still dead on the couch.
Kathleen took a bus back from Ottawa right away. She immediately broke down when she got through the door. We all gathered around him to have a final moment with his body. We laid him on the patio table and wrapped him in the blanket from the couch in our kitchen. When my dad picked Jack up, his tail hung out of the side of the wrapping. It really made him look like a dead animal and I didn’t like that.
Everyone else was a lot more outward in their emotions. I got mad at myself because I didn’t feel like I was crying enough. Got mad at myself for thinking about that in the first place. Wish I could act the way everyone expects you to. Don’t be so fucking cold to the people you love, asshole.
Jack’s in the ground now, under a big groundstone in our backyard. In the afternoon, my brother, dad, and I dug a small hole for Jack to go in. We waited for my sister to arrive. We put him there.
All of us cried. Trixie wondered what was going on. She circled the hole with Jack at the bottom a few times. My dad and I covered him with dirt. I will never think of the word “buried” in the same way again.
It started raining during dinner. I mostly thought about the rain seeping down through the dirt and making Jack wet.
My dad said that when he used to leave for work in the morning with Jack, he would turn to his dog and say, “You and me against the world.”
At first, I thought that the dumbest I would see on the trip was the teenager on the boat tour who lifted up her fidget spinner in front of the Eiffel Tower for a picture. It was quite stupid, but it pales in comparison to meeting one the biggest blowhards in the world at our hostel the next night.
His greeting, "Hey, you guys speak English?... Great. Finally some nice people." should have been a dead giveaway. At first, I was ready to engage him on an informal level, but that dissipated quickly. He was obviously very stupid, evidenced by him asking us about, in order, Drake, Justin Bieber, and cold weather. He must developed an ulcer holding in questions about maple syrup.
He said that he liked the city, but found the people rude.
"You have to ask for the cheque four times."
He revealed his final douchebag form when he asked if we minded if he played some guitar. He pulled an acoustic guitar out from under a bed, told his friend that he had "written another verse" that day, and performed some "Dave"-esque bro-folk nonsense that didn't seem to be about anything in particular. He asked Rebecca and I what our favourite songs are so that he could play them, but we didn't give him an answer.
"Do you like The Strokes?"
"Do you like The Shins?"
"Do you like Vampire Weekend?"
"Oh, you don't haven't heard of them?"
(For the record, I like The Strokes)
He tried to play another song, but did a really bad job.
"I apologize, I'm a little drunk."
He was hoping that we would say "No, you're great." We didn't.
He complemented Rebecca's leg tattoo and he had one of his own.
"It's the word 'five', but we won't get into that now."
No, we won't.
His friend thought him having a tattoo was really cool. We figured that he only got it because he was 20 years old and away from his parents.
His friend could also play the song that was too hard for him to play.
"Do you like the Toronto Raptors?"
I said I did, but that I'm more of a Blue Jays fan. He said he liked hockey and it was a big part of his family.
I asked if he liked the Los Angeles Kings and he didn't know how they were. He thought the Jays were a hockey team. "They're baseball", his friend corrected him. The Maple Leafs are our hockey team, I said.
He started to talk at his friend about their band, Five Points. They were going to "take the next step" with it.
"What's your favourite Five Points song?"
"I don't know. It's hard to choose."
"Just pick your top three."
His friend to noodle while finger-picking. He told his friend that it would be good for a verse maybe.
"You always gotta put in a hook. I always put in a hook."
"I'm going to top the Billboard 100 one day."
We said that we were going to bed.
"No problem. We'll be up another 10, 20 minutes."
"I'm pretty blitzed. Just enough to sleep."
Becks and I got into one of the bunks and tried to make two people fitting into a single be work.
He started telling his friend about "his plan", about how they were about to take the next step with their band.
They were going to move to Los Angles to make it with their band. Them and Van. If they followed his plan, they would have no problem.
He knew they were bros for life. They would be the best man at each other's wedding . That's why he got his words tatted on his chest.
He had to know if his friend wanted to be the face of the band.
"Are you going to be the face or the songwriter?"
In the long run, he knew that he would be the face and would carry them to success.
With Five Points, he wanted to start a movement. They would headline festivals and people would know them.
"Can you imagine us walking out to a crowd of 10000 people?"
He started razzing his friend about his fashion sense, asking if, when they got famous, he would walk the red carpet in a baseball hat and hoodie.
"Like Odd Future and Tyler the Creator, say what you want, but they had a look."
I don't think that he knew that Odd Future all wore baseball caps and hoodies.
He wanted to give the band a logo and symbols, so that at festivals everyone would know them already.
They were both breaking up with their girlfriends to move to Los Angeles. It sounded like his friend did not want to break up with his, but was letting his friend force him to.
He kept bringing up that he would always speak his mind to his friend, even if he didn't like it. He wanted him to know that he still loved, but he would be honest about their music. He mostly meant that he would shit on his friend's ideas.
"You always have to have a plan. Like when we made a plan, we went on a wine tour and saw Notre Dame. When we didn't, we did nothing."
In their conversation, it came out that had not yet jammed together as a band. I found it funny that they were moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world with no jobs to make it as a band, not to mention the tattoo.
He spoke at his friend for about an hour after we went to bed. Eventually, his friend got up and said he was going to bed, but he actually just went next store and we could hear him on the next balcony talking to his roommates.
For the last three years or so, I've carried around a small notebook that I use to journal and jot down stray thoughts. About month ago, I wrote, in the journal, that I thought it would be a good idea to start journaling on I, Musical Genius as a way to spur myself into a better spell of writing. It's been a long time since I've tried any sort of daily journaling, so I thought that this would be a cool new exercise for me to try out.
My plan was to force an entry out of myself every day, while also not worrying about forming a full post. If I started with short entries that were mostly a few thoughts connected by string, pieces that were more filled-out would surely follow. Coincidentally, I also got this idea about a month before the date that Becks and I will be leaving for a two-week trip to Europe, which could make for an interesting theme to the posts. I didn't want to make it a sort of "travel blog", which I've seen pop a lot among friends on social media, because I find those pretty tired and cliche. Instead, I hope that our upcoming trip, my first real international trip, would inform the subject matter indirectly and make it interesting. But a few days slipping by turned into a week and that turned into another week and I think it would be silly to start that sort of exercise just a week before I leave.
Even worse was when my laziness and writer's block took hold and this post, which was started on June 17th, was only re-visited today, on July 12th.
Bad. Very bad.
I didn't even end writing very much in Europe. Only a few things here and there. A short, choppy story, a daily journal, and a few ideas for other stories.
Things have been percolating long enough now. I've finished one story, have parts of two others, and have plans for a few more. Planning is over and I think the only thing left to do is nail my hands to the keyboard and actually make something.
I need to remember that I have the skills to do this and convince myself that "this guy fucks".
Full disclosure: I actually started writing this post a week and a half ago, after thinking about writing it for a week, before promptly leaving in my "drafts" (pulling back the curtain for you a little there). Anways, I badly need to write something and finishing this seems like the best way to accomplish that. Here you go:
Something that really, for real, happens to me is that after I’ve put up a bunch of longer posts in a row, I begin to think that every post has to be that way. I convince myself that only long posts are worthwhile and that if I’m not making some profound examinations about life, then it’s not worth doing any writing at all.
The reality, of course, is that I can write whatever I want, about whatever I want and put it up here because I am the “auteur”.
I was thinking about all of this on my lunch today because I was having trouble coming up a topic that would be suitably "big" to explore for a log post. The reality is that I can really talk about any topic I want. Putting a healthy amount of pressure on myself to write things "long" and "big" is good, because that I will write better things more often and it keeps my critical thinking active, but I also need to be wary of killing my writing drive by placing my expectations too high. It's a delicate balance.
After realizing that I am in fact the author of this blog, I decided to focus on a simple topic and write about music.
Every year, for the first six months of the year, I am convinced that I am not checking out enough new music and am so behind on what's going on in punk. I worry that I am losing touch and am in the process of losing my interest in music. Do I spend too much time listening to podcasts? Is that curtailing my music intake? AM I LOSING MY IDENTITY!?
But then, every single year, a whole tonne of new music comes out in the summer and it clicks with me really well and the problem is averted.
I loved Pet Houndsby Pet Symmetry so much; it was one of my favourite releases of 2015; so I was eager to see how the band would follow it up. Pet Hounds was a tight and compact power-pop album that was just banger after banger. Vision changes that up by adding some more experimental elements (keyboards, noise, a lot of different effects), a few longer, softer, and slower songs, a hardcore-ish number, and a WAY different and more distorted bass tone. This may just be me speculating, but I feel like Evan Weiss wrote this album on bass, as it figures a lot more into the backbone of the songs, whereas I feel like that last album was written on guitar. Cool stuff.
I am a pretty big Daniel Romano homer. I LOVE Attack in Black. His country albums range from "I like this" to "I listen to this with the lights off while I'm sad". Mosey was a wonderful departure in his style and sound and it made me wonder what type of 60's music he was going to pastiche next. Modern Pressure follows Mosey and is, somehow, even better. Romano moves into a mix of roots rock, country, and folk that, to me, sounds a lot like Music From Big Pink filtered through Romano's musical past. The bass playing is insane, the lyrics are wonderful, and the arrangements are sublime. Also, the various artworks are wonderful. Though I don't know if anything will touch Yunahon, this is making a pretty serious run at it. Amazing album.