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Saturday, January 28, 2012

'When we're killed or cured/And barely heard'

I discovered my favourite musician totally by chance.

It wasn't at a concert, nor from a glowing recommendation from a friend. Natalie Portman didn't hand me a pair of headphones in a waiting room and tell me this song will change my life.

Nope, I first heard him in a commercial. For the Volkswagen Touareg. During the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Every summer for the past 10 years or so, my family has rented a cottage on Red Rock Lake for a couple weeks. Aside from being just down the road from a bible camp, the cottage is in a quiet, secluded spot on a pretty little lake. It's a small, rustic cottage - though not too rustic. It comes fully equipped with a modern washroom, washer and dryer, and big-screen TV, complete with 200+ channels.

The lake.

My family scoffs at this TV every summer. "What's the point?" "We're in the middle of nature, we don't need television to entertain us!" "Etc etc etc"

This one summer, eight years ago, my parents took off on a hike one early evening and left me to my own devices at the cottage. My plan had been to indulge in writing some of the angstier poetry of my teenage career, but I remember thinking I'm all alone... Why not watch some TV? No one needs to know...

So, I clicked it on, surfed the channels for awhile, and finally settled on taking in some sort of sporting event. Maybe I was feeling isolated out in the woods and wanted to feel part of a larger consciousness by watching something I knew millions of other people were watching at the same time. Or maybe there was just nothing else on.

I was half-paying attention, kind of tuning in and out, when this one commercial came on. It featured a young, hip-looking couple, driving their VW Touareg through picturesque, sunny scenery. A pretty standard commercial, but for one thing: the song playing in the background.

Cue the melodrama:

My young ears had never heard such poignant, raw, heartbreaking music. Or if they had, it had never registered quite like this before. It was a man's voice, deep and pained, accompanied only by a sparse acoustic guitar. It was at once hopeful and lost. It was beautiful.

Who was this guy?

This was before the days of instant technology, so I couldn't just whip out my iPhone, type in "Touareg commercial song" and have the answer. So I waited out the rest of our stay at the lake, feeling slightly antsy, until we got home and I rushed to the computer to look it up. After a couple days of searching, I found him:

Richard Buckner.


I'd never heard of him. But I promptly borrowed my mom's credit card and ordered his album, Since, off the Internet. I waited eagerly for it to arrive, and when it did, I was so pleased that the rest of the album was as good as the song from the commercial. So I bought the rest of his albums. And they were even better.

It's funny to think that at the height of my music snobbery, I turned my nose up at bands who lent their music to commercials. Sell outs, I dismissed. It's not about the money, maaaan, and all that.

But if Richard Buckner hadn't 'sold out', I never would have heard of him. And having his song in that commercial probably meant that he was able to, I don't know, eat. And pay rent. And make more music. Which is all pretty darn important.

 Ariel Ramirez. The song from the commercial.


I got the thrill of my life this past summer when I saw Richard Buckner play in San Francisco. The concert was the night we arrived and I remember feeling exhausted, gross from the flight, and slightly ill, but it didn't matter when Richard took the stage.

He seemed about seven feet tall, and was wearing faded, baggy pink pants and a stained grey t-shirt. His matted black hair was chest-length, and his face looked tired.

For a man who exuded misery, he was surprisingly upbeat between songs. He apologized for playing mostly new songs, and when an audience member shouted "The new album rules!" he replied, "Well, thank you so much! You are so nice." And he was genuine about it.

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.

After the show, I stood in line to buy the new record. There, at the merch table, was Richard himself. He was talking and laughing with a fan, and I thought, Hey, I could talk to him. He's right there! I should just tell him thanks, and that he's changed my life.

But I didn't. It didn't feel right, and I don't regret it. Instead I took that record back to my hotel room, clutched it on my lap on the plane ride home a week later, and played it as soon as I got safely back to West Broadway.

And I guess that's that.

Friday, January 20, 2012

'Except Rap and Country'

I know this is a really lame thing to say, especially for someone who writes a music blog, but 
I hate when people ask me what kind of music I listen to.

I know! I'm a jerk.

I think it just feels like such a personal question to me. And I can never seem to come up with suitable answers to personal questions on the spot.

Also, I don't even really know what kind of music I like. I can name specific bands or artists, or albums, or songs. Even then - I may like one album from a certain band, but think the rest of their work stinks. So even calling myself a fan of that band wouldn't be true.

But narrowing it down to one genre? Can't do it.

Maybe I'm just over-analysing things.

Anyway, when I'm feeling particularly pressed, I'll just spout off the standard line that's featured on so many Facebook profiles:

"I like everything... Except rap and country."

But even that's not true! While I've never voluntarily listened to commercial country radio, some of my favourite music-makers fall comfortably into the country genre.

Just this week, my treks to and from school have been scored by Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans.

It doesn't get much more country than this guy.

Just try to be in a bad mood while you listen to this song:

So there you have it. My love of country is out there. I must admit my knowledge of rap is lacking, though this video does help to bridge the gap:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

A few years ago, I fell in love. It was an unconventional relationship from the start, as my mate of choice was actually comprised of five different people. These five people alternately loved and hated each other, but while all them emotions were flying high, they created some of the greatest pop music of the 20th century.

I'm talking, of course, about Fleetwood Mac.

Aren't they adorable?

For me, Fleetwood Mac can be filed under '"music I used to think was my lame because my parents liked it, but I grew to like it too once I wisened up."

I even passed on my love of Fleetwood Mac to some friends of mine - friends who generally thought my musical tastes were too "out there" to be any good. We used to cruise down Pembina in my parents' sweet-ass station wagon, blasting Rumours and thinking we were the coolest folks in town.

We spent one summer weekend at my friend's cottage near Victoria Beach. No parents, no boys, just the three best girlfriends that anyone could have. Naturally, Fleetwood Mac was the soundtrack to our debauchery.

One evening, my friend's aunt (whose cottage was just down the road) stopped by to say hello. "Go Your Own Way" was playing on the boom box. We were having a wild time.

"What's wrong with you guys?" said the aunt. "This is old person music. This is my music. You're not supposed to like this!"

How could we not?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You

This is how I feel about school right now.

Like many of my favourite bands, I first discovered the Silver Jews at work, a few years ago. I was putting some CDs away and the Tanglewood Numbers caught my eye. I'd heard of the Silver Jews before, and some quick research revealed lead-Jew David Berman was in cahoots with some of my other favourite music dudes (Will Oldham and Stephen Malkmus). I had to give them a listen.

Though Tanglewood Numbers isn't their most critically acclaimed album, it's the one I like best. David Berman dishes out depressive, downer alt-country-rock like no other. And he does it with a smile.

This album is perfect for any pity party. I give it a spin whenever I'm feeling glum, and it reminds me that it's best to deal with life's small sorrows as cheerily as possible. If David Berman can sing "Now my ex-wife's living in the suburbs with her guru and her mom," and still sound somewhat upbeat, then I can surely deal with whatever stresses life throws my way.