Give verse a chance

Ryan Merkley [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

After Gord Downie, is there hope for lyrics in mainstream Canadian music?

This article originally appeared in Eighteen Bridges, a Canadian magazine of narrative journalism.

A LOT OF WHAT I SAW ON MUCHMUSIC in the 1990s has stayed with me. Perhaps it’s because I entered the formative years of my adolescence during the channel’s heyday that so much of my memory bank has been signed over to VJ Erica Ehm, Big Shiny Tunes playlists and Dan Gallagher handing out two-slice toasters on his gameshow, Test Pattern.

But some useful things stuck, too, like a report from the network that aired on September 24, 1994. That day marked the release of Day for Night, an album that galvanized (in platinum, six times) the Tragically Hip’s reputation as atypical but accessible CanCon.

Toronto record stores stayed open until midnight to move copies, and MuchMusic cameras captured an scene that still strikes me as anomalous. A frenzied teenage boy tears plastic from the CD to free the liner notes. “There’s lyrics!” he shouts. Weirdly, he’s not alone. His frenzied friends join the chorus, high-fiving as if Bill Barilko or Paul Henderson or whichever hockey hero that Downie deified in verse had just pocketed a winner. I’d never seen anyone lose their mind over the words a modern, popular Canadian singer set to music. But MuchMusic took note, so I did too. Frenzied Teenage Boy and I became kindred spirits, acolytes of the people’s poetry of Gord Downie.

Continue reading Give verse a chance

Why I returned to heavy metal in middle age

An unexpected reaction to Heavy Metal Parking Lot, 30 years later

heavy metal parking lot documentary
I hope filmmakers John Heyn and Jeffrey Krulik don’t mind me using this still from Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

Revisiting Heavy Metal Parking Lot when it turned 30 in 2016 was a shock.

At first, watching the cult classic documentary – which explored the inebriated human condition outside a Judas Priest concert in Maryland – was fun. It was a window onto the cringeworthy awkwardness of youth.

Or, was it a window onto myself?

And not my young self. Maybe my middle-aged self of the here and now. I wondered: Should I be worried? In an effort to figure that out, I wrote a short essay.

I hope you’ll enjoy it at eighteenbridges.ca. Rock on.