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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.

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