JAIMIE VERNON – LINUS’ BLANKET OF ROCK

vernon_1997

This week at the No Frills Grocetorium and Blue Hair Distillery Shoppe I was in a personal struggle with myself on whether to invest in a diabetic stupor of Cap’n Sugar Crack or Grapenut Pine Tar & Thistles in the GMO Cereal aisle. It was here that I ran into fellow Memory LaneDBAWIS scribe Roxanne Tellier who was on a mission to find gluten-free catnip. After discussing various ailments, work related atrocities and the death of the Canadian middle class we got discussing our great love – music (oh, and our spouses indirectly). Roxanne lamented that her most recent DBAWIS blog – the one about old Canadian rock bands and their incestuous hold on groupiedom – was one of her more popular pieces. Not a bad thing if you’re a writer, but it underscored a similar problem I was having with my blogs in that people only read them if you take them by the hand and drag them down memory lane.

My-Parents-BasementEveryone wants to read about the glorious past. I’ve written about this phenomenon before (which in itself was one of my more popular blogs). I’ve noted how absolutely insular and boring the past can be. Sure, it’s warm and fuzzy but like that teenaged son living in his own filth in your basement it can’t pay the rent or buy you food in the here and now.

Sing for FoodRoxanne and I fall into the prime age bracket for nostalgia – the Boomer generation. But we’re also musicians so there’s a certain short circuit in the frontal lobe. We’re not satisfied going out to jam nights week after week with other unemployed musicians who gather together and genuflect on the good times while singing bittersweet songs of hope. We’re pushing forward. Writing new songs. Networking. Exploring other career opportunities – many not necessarily related to music at all.

The nostalgia train has about run out of Steam (“Na-na-na-na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye”). Certainly for Roxanne and I at least. And others are breaking ankles in an effort to jump off before the next, fatal, destination stop. Q107 – Toronto’s long reigning Classic Rock station with possibly one of the biggest radio audiences in Canada – switched formats two weeks ago. Their prime Bandwagondirective of hits from 1964 to 1994 has been widened (but not necessarily deepened) to include the last 20 years as well. They’re now ‘Toronto’s Rock’. That is to say they’re back to being ‘Toronto’s Rock’. Of their 37 years on the air only the last 14 have been dedicated to the Classic side of the fence. By reverting back to a near-contemporary format – with splashes of their old Classic playlist – they’ve attempted to repaint the VW Microbus and added a taste of Seattle.

Modern GothicListeners are crying fowl. They don’t want Grunge and Alternative Rock. They want black biker leather, tie-dyed shirts and patchouli oil. The pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Why? Because the Classic Rock audience is dropping like flies. They’re not the ones buying tech. They’re not the ones buying teen Acne-Syl Dry Erase Facial Napalm or Crotchtex Shover-Upper Tampons With The Toxic Shock Repellent Lemony Pledge Scent. They’re buying golf clubs, new family vans and Viagra. And the music has become flaccid. Interac is now using AC/DC’s “Back In Black” to promote itself. That’s right, kids. Mom and Dad’s music is now safe to listen to at the mall – while they buy you some pink hair baubles at Ardene’s. The rebellion of Rock is now the lullaby of Scotiabank Investment Plans. And radio can’t sell that soundtrack puttering from car windows on a Friday night when Mom’s picking the dog up from the kennel in her SUV.

eddievedderEddie Vedder can. And Eddie Vedder is recent history. It reminds the nostalgia mongers that shit happened after Journey broke up. It reminds them of those fucking kids with lumberjackets and Doc Martens. It reminds them that they had peaked professionally and, most likely, sexually. They’d settled. They bought into the dream – the house, the double garage, the 2.3 kids and the shaggy dog in the suburbs. It also reminds them of their Mid-Life Crisis. The hot secretary. The first divorce. The alimony. The child support. The last days of massive prosperity. Cause 1995 and beyond was a reflection of the unraveling world. When things were no longer black & white in terms of Good and Evil. Until then the tech industry had been booming. Wall Street was our friend. That RRSP was going to make it possible to retire rich and die with a raging hard-on. Then 9/11 happened and we retreated into the past. When the world didn’t hurt us. When music promised us good times. Classic Rock was branded when those towers came down. And the world has lived in a cushy yester-year bubble ever since.

LinusBlanketNow that bubble has burst. Or, rather, it was poked deliberately with a pin. It’s a wake up call. Time to drink the real-time Kool Aid again. School’s out and what we’ve learned is that shit sucks exponentially the more we rocket toward our uncertain futures. Classic Rock is Linus’ blanket. We need it wherever we go or our world will unravel. Instead, Classic Rock fans now have Lucy yanking the football out from under Charlie Brown…and laughing her ass off.

Lucy Charlie Football

brokenradioSo what are you going to do? Will you really abandon the radio station like many have threatened to do? Have you really listened to the new format? They’re still playing Neil Young, Dylan, Springsteen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Eagles, Boston, Kim Mitchell and Journey. They’re just not playing everything in those artists catalogues. You have that shit on your computer at home (er, turnable, er 8-track, cassette player?) anyway. So why do you need to hear it in your car too? Or at work?  There’s other great related music out there.

You’d be surprised to know that there’s still Classic Rock artists making new music – Terry Draper (who just released ‘When the terry draperWorld Was Young’) and Dee Long of Klaatu, Frank Zirone of Zero One/Hanover, Peter Foldy (of “Bondi Junction” fame), The Cooper Brothers and on and on. Try some of that on for size. It would be a small step in weaning you off the hard stuff. Maybe you could then add some new artists that play old style Rock to your menu – Vintage Trouble, The Trews, The Sheepdogs, Monster Truck, Rival Sons, etc. I swear to you that you will not die without Classic Rock. You won’t even have nicotine or caffeine DT’s. I promise. Burn the blanket. Find freedom from Classic Rock addiction.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

2 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – LINUS’ BLANKET OF ROCK”

  1. Glen Bourgeois Says:

    I must be the anomaly then. Even before I was old enough to be considered a “preteen”, I was rummaging through cousins, aunts and uncles’ old LP and cassette collections, as well as local public libraries, on a quest to find music I’d like. Oftentimes, I succeeded, but the music was more often than not already 10 to 20 years old (and we’re talking 1985 here, say, or even 1980, before I started going to school… of course, the further back we go, the more the music I was discovering through these avenues was current, and even on the charts).

    Simultaneously, I was keeping an ear to the charts and trying to find music which spoke to me. While I did get hooked on several current songs at the time, more often than not it was recent singles by classic acts who would retain my interest more: Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, Steve Winwood. Why don’t I spin my Tiffany 45’s that often anymore, or my Exposé 12″ remixes? Because my interest in those songs pretty much disappeared once the “new car smell” was gone. And so I’d keep returning to the albums I’d learnt I really loved, and kept ordering “hidden” cassette equivalents of every classic rock CD in Columbia House which didn’t begin with a “7” (which very often meant they still had stocks of cassettes from past years). I was discovering old bands I’d never listened to, and which were completely absent from the other sources I mentioned at the beginning of this response… and in some cases (Morning, Space Opera, Kensington Market) bands where I had to go digging through the Internet to find any info regarding themselves, as no one I knew in real life had even heard about them! I wondered why bands and artists of today (today being the early ’90s at the time) weren’t making that type of music anymore. It took me an interview with Howard Jones (available on YouTube, a video re: his keyboard of choice, the Jupiter8) to understand that he, too, loved the music of the ’60s and ’70s, but felt the artists of that era had taken it as far as it could go: amongst synths, he was now looking for a new sound.

    Slowly, as the years grew on, other people my age (or younger) started tuning into the music I’d been listening to in closed quarters, away from the teen dances, the skating parties, or the classroom. Classic rock radio exposed me to previously unknown songs which blew me away, by artists such as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“Blinded by the Light”), Prism (“Spaceship Superstar”, and Ram Jam (the original rock version of their Leadbelly cover of “Black Betty”, before it was transmogrified into a super dope, Eraserhead-haircut, dayglo-sweater ’80s dance version). I remember I was absolutely bowled over when I had my first taste of a classic rock radio station: Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” (pre-Glossettes snack ad and duo reunion) playing from an art student’s portable radio in a workshop, while I was visiting my future university of choice on a school trip. Nowadays, I’m more surprised if someone _hasn’t_ heard of Steely Dan.

    During that time, I still heard and loved some new stuff: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Deee-Lite, Brownstone, TLC, and a lot of dance music from overseas. But nowadays, apart from Nirvana or Deee-Lite, most of _that_ music only comes up during flights of nostalgia for the ’90s. (Sloan and the Flashing Lights are as strong exceptions as Nirvana: most of these three bands’ output still sounds current to me, and I love 99% of it.) But I still saw myself buying and enjoying just as much “old” music, if not more. And which albums stayed in my player all these years?

    Fast-forward to today, and we have a very strange situation that has been in place for, I would say, at least 10 years if not since the turn of the century: what I call the Post-Modern Music Industry. Ever since I read a definition of a Post-Modern society of situation (paraphrased: there is no longer any concept of “new” or “old”, everything is current and interchangeable, with one variation coming to the forefront at regular intervals in order to keep everything “fresh”) that I realized this applies, without fail, not only to today’s music-related radio and print media, but also to today’s artists: rare is the band or solo act on radio today which doesn’t sound like yesterday’s hits, be it from blatant copying (One Direction’s appropriating of intros from classic songs such as the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”), rediscovery of musical styles and instruments (Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, Chromeo’s “Jealous”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”), or appropriation of musical genres into the pop idiom which never previously happened in _North_ _America_, but to which the rest of the world has been hip for a while (Raï being the obvious current flavour, with Massari and Jason Derulo releasing radio singles which can readily be identified as sounding “Arabian”). The only stuff that sounds like little else is the overcompressed, brickwalled, cinematically “bombastic” rock and pop music, or with super-dramatic drums and synths alongside chanted vocals by a slightly off-key group of “everyday people” of a size similar to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Bands like Imagine Dragons sound more like they’re writing soundtrack music for blockbuster action movies than they’re concerned about advancing songwriting “craft”. However, this I could consider “new”, if not for the fact that it sounds more or less like anything recorded in that fashion since 1999.

    The indie route is rarely any more innovative, often delving into aimless electronica or shoegazing folk: rare is the current artist in either genre who writes a truly memorable _song_: if anything, people seem to rave more about a concert or a show than an artist’s album. As I’ve said in virtually every preceding paragraph, I’m happy to say there are exceptions, but at times I wonder if those exceptions exist because I know those indie artists personally and can identify with them, before I even consider their music.

    Still, I try to hear new stuff, and even write and record new stuff. While my aim as a songwriter and musician is to try and better any previous song in the genre (I hear this band called the Beatles used to employ this practice all the time), sadly I can’t say the same about many other groups and artists I hear: it seems as soon as they find a familiar groove or chord progression they can mine, they stop right there and take it to the stage and studio. I have a copy of the first Sheepdogs’ full-length. What I remember on that one are the _styles_, not the songs. Twenty people showed up when they first played in our town. Less than a year later they returned, fresh from being crowned by Rolling Stone magazine, and people were fighting to get into the bar. Still, their songs sounded the same to me. Sometimes, some bands “Get Lucky” (as Daft Punk were able to capitalize on the sound of Chic by, would you believe it, essentially bringing Chic into the studio with them!), but rare is the song of today which transcends the song of yesterday: today is more often than not a poor-quality “selfie” version of a classic masterpiece.

    And that’s what I find leads me to return to the classic rock of yesteryear: not necessarily nostalgia, nor a refusal to face the uncertainty of today, but the honest realization that what passes as songwriting today seems to be feeble attempts at copping the hits (or sound) of yesterday, with the rare gem coming through. Am I going to sift through piles of dirt to find a gem (even if I wish people would do the same to eventually get to hear my music), or is it easier to go back to the shelf and appreciate 30-odd years’ worth of gems I’ve already unearthed?

  2. Great column. I guess it is time to explore some new stuff.

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