Music is awesome: a love letter

(NOTE: What you’re about to read is long, rambling and completely self-indulgent. While basically everything I’ve written on this blog is to help promote east coast Canadian bands, this one is purely me writing about me and my love for music — the good, the bad and the ugly. I originally wrote this last summer, fueled by a few beers, simply to throw on Facebook for some friends to read. But I still think it’s the best thing I’ve written in a long time, and that’s kind of sad considering I write stuff for a living. Here it is, unedited except for changing “my fiancée” to “my wife.” Some of you may get it, some may not – but if you love music right down to the core of your being, I think you’ll understand my inner crazy. Feel free to drop me a line at – Cheers, Eric.)

Music is awesome. I don’t know how else to describe it.

I thought of the ‘power of music’ last week when I was at the gym, doing chin-ups. Now, you should know, I suck at chin-ups. If I do a few sets of a half-dozen, I’m having a great day. So, AC/DC’s ‘Girl’s Got Rhythm’ comes on the radio, and I come to life. I have a burst of energy listening to the band’s driving little tune from ‘79, and pull out a good set of chin-ups, which felt great.

The next song comes on – I forget what it was, but it was wholly underwhelming – and drains the life from me. Have I mentioned that I suck at chin-ups?

I move on, probably just to think about anything but crappy chin-ups, and I think about how music is such an incredible force. A song can lift you up, drop you fast, give you energy and slow you down. It can bring back memories, those you wish to remember and those you don’t, and it can provide a backdrop for new ones to be created. It can even make you speed, if you don’t watch yourself.

When I was in high school, I could hardly tie my shoes in the morning without a song playing.

While in college, I walked to work all the time, and it was a fair hike. My Sony Discman (probably my third or fourth by this point) was my companion, and it finally died on me one day. I left work for 20 minutes and walked across the street to the only electronics store in town and plunked down a solid $200 I didn’t have on a new Discman. Beer, food and coffee be damned – I wasn’t going without music. (Truthfully, I don’t think I quit drinking beer for any length of time … maybe the length of my shift …)

Today, music still follows me wherever I go. I listen at work when I can, I’m constantly rotating CDs (yes, CDs) in the car, and if I’m washing dishes, working out or just sitting around, music is there.

My wife sometimes asks how the hell I can go from listening to the earliest, thrashiest Metallica to the honky tonk of Dwight Yoakam to the new wavish pop of The Sounds to the lush beauty of Sarah Slean, all in one sitting. Then, I’ll put on the dumbest horror rock you’ve never heard in Wednesday 13 (who offers such classics as Elect Death for President, Till Death Do Us Party and I Love To Say F*ck) . Truthfully, I have no idea how it all works, but I love it anyway. No one ever said it had to make sense.

Music started for me way early in life. There’s an old VHS my parents have from my brother and sister’s first birthday party. I can be spotted in this, dancing to Steve Earle’s ‘Sweet Little ’66.’ I grew up with a love for my father’s country music, mostly Alabama and Earle (who I’ve returned to in recent years and think is the greatest songwriter out there).

Somewhere along the way, I got hold of my uncle’s collection of 45s and discovered the hair metal of Poison and Def Leppard. Not only did this stuff rock, but it had the added bonus of occasionally featuring “bitch” or “ass” in the lyrics. That’s cool when you’re eight, dude. Hell, it’s still cool.

After purging myself of ‘90s radio country (thanks, self!), I started finding my ‘own’ music that started with ‘90s pop-rock acts like The Rembrandts (thanks, Friends!) and Hootie & The Blowfish (who, I don’t give a shit, are a GREAT band. Don’t argue it, just accept and move on.). I caught Lisa Loeb playing ‘I Do’ on Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee and fell in love. She’s still awesome, despite not releasing an album in forever. Speaking of Live, they’re the only band that grew (sort of) out of grunge that I like … to this day. Honest. I pretty much hated the ’90s for music. Crappy boy bands and depressed rock stars; I hope to figure it out someday.

I stumbled onto KISS when I first saw a picture of Gene Simmons from the ’96-’97 reunion tour. Gene was sporting his ‘demon’ makeup and pointing to the crowd, his Punisher bass slung over his shoulder. I was mesmerized and started exploring Dad’s old record collection. He was a huge KISS fan in his day, and never tires of reminding me that he saw them (twice) at their peak.

Discovering KISS literally changed who I was as an impressionable 12-year-old. Not only did I find confidence in this foursome of clowns, but it lead me to seeking out more ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock that still serves as the backbone of my musical mind. Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi (1994-2002), Black Sabbath, Deep Purple (their latter-day material is underrated), Cinderella, Slaughter (alright, Slaughter kinda sucks …), Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses (a band I love, but hate), Aerosmith …

Then I dug deeper, past Led Zeppelin, and found Small Faces and The Yardbirds. That’s great shit, folks. Early, early Elvis? Amazing.

Through rediscovering Steve Earle later in life, I started looking for more ‘real’ country and found Lucinda Williams, Marty Stuart, Hayes Carll, Hank III, Shooter Jennings and more … then I sought more true ‘songwriters’ and found Bruce Springsteen, John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton and Tom Cochrane (screw off, he’s great despite the constant radio play … and he’s a damn nice guy too!). I’m now getting into rootsier stuff – Blue Rodeo, Delbert McClinton, Justin Townes Earle … and some great other alt-rock like Brandi Carlile (amazing) and KT Tunstall.

At the same time, Sweden’s The Sounds have turned me on to pop music that rules. If I could hug a band, I’d hug The Sounds.

On the east coast, I first found The Monoxides, who taught me that real bands could live next door and hang out at my grandparents’ house (seriously). Then there was Chris Colepaugh, The Divorcees, Mardeen, Sloan, David Myles, Jill Barber, The Nuclear, Joel Plaskett, Iron Giant, Yellow, Jessica Rhaye, Les Paiens, Earth AD, Melanie Keith, Jon Epworth, The Motorleague (I want to be The Motorleague when I grow up), Matt Mays, Jay Smith … the list goes on and on, and I’m forgetting a ton of you who I love. Seriously, we have some great stuff down here, folks.

Some random thoughts: I love Rob Zombie, but don’t care much for White Zombie … Oasis’s latter-day material was much better than any critic will ever give it credit for … I miss Jason Newsted, but wish he’d stolen Kirk Hammett’s wah pedal on the way out … Marco Rocca’s two records should be heard by everyone … Whatever happened to Jon Bon Jovi’s voice? … Why can’t radio stations realize Thin Lizzy had waaay better shit than The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak? … I keep running into the Black Keys and seriously think I’ll dig them, but still haven’t checked them out … I don’t love Sloan’s Twice Removed like everyone else, but I think Never Hear The End Of It is brilliant … I’m still not sure Arcade Fire is for me … and what will the E-Street Band do without ‘Big Man’?

To this day, I haven’t really bought into the Stones or the Beatles. Dylan or Young. I think I’ve heard three Leonard Cohen songs. I recognize the greatness, I’m just not there yet (though McCartney’s Halifax concert in 2009 is still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen).

The cool thing is that I know someday I’ll probably love Dylan, Young, the Stones and the Beatles – four iconic, can’t-miss acts of greatness that I still haven’t bought into yet. The musical journey never ends; that’s the beauty.

I hated The Whites Stripes until I heard the opening three tracks of their last album and realized these guys — guy and gal — totally rocked. Almost immediately, I bought every album. Did a complete 180° turn. (As an aside, Jack White’s first ‘other’ band, The Raconteurs, released an absolute must-hear second album. If you dig rock n’ roll, you’ll love ‘Consolers of the Lonely.’ That album and the Parlor Mob’s first album came out in 2008 and showed me that rock can still rule in the Nickelband era.)

It was only in the last three years that I discovered that Ronnie James Dio was amazing and that Bruce Springsteen truly is THE BOSS. So give me time. Someday I’ll hear that magical Dylan number that’ll allow me to suddenly “get it.” That’ll be the start of a new journey (and someone else’s back catalogue to pick up).

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. I may have more to say on this later. If you’ve made it this far in reading my ramblings, “Joe bless you.” And if you get that reference, you just became infinitely cooler.



(Written on Thursday, July 28, 2011)

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