I have many, many vivid musical memories from my life, times that stand out amongst the millions of songs I’ve listened to in my life, amongst the dozens of live shows I’ve seen.
The very first music video I remember seeing was “Heaven” by the Psychedelic Furs. This would have been circa 1983, because it was before I moved to Toronto, when we still lived in Ottawa. I remember the video pretty vividly: the band playing, standing in the rain, getting absolutely soaked. I would have been four year old. I remember the red shag carpet in the basement at the old house, and the stucco ceiling and walls. It’s an incredibly clear memory in my mind.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the music I listened to was pretty much whatever my parents or my older sister were listening to. I remember listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” record (records, vinyl, yes). That and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, also on vinyl.
I don’t think I developed my own musical tastes until I was 10 or 11, when two albums came out that started my life-long obsession with music (and don’t laugh, if you’re the same age as I am, you loved this shit too): Maestro Fresh-Wes’ “Symphony in Effect” and Vanilla Ice’s “To the Extreme”. Man, that stuff was intense to the 10-year-old me. Especially Vanilla Ice. Here was the white guy and he was rapping. I hadn’t heard of the Beastie Boys yet, so this was mind-blowing that this guy was doing this. It made me want to be a white rapper. Some of the first stuff I wrote was really, really awful raps. I basically took two words that rhymed and shoe-horned them into a couple lines of verse. God, it was awful stuff. But I even knew what my rap name was going to be: E-Equals. Because I’d have a rap partner called MC Square. Get it? Fuck, I was clever at that age.
I was lucky enough to grow up musically in the 1990s. Still, in my opinion, the best decade for music. The stuff that came out then was, for me, life-changing. I got the cassette of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” for my birthday the year I turned 12. I’d already heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio, but the other songs on that album…man, it really opened my eyes to what was possible, musically. My favorite songs on that album are still “On a Plain” and “Drain You”. I’ll still listen to those songs today.
But for my money, the 90s didn’t get any better than Soundgarden. Everyone I knew had their own favorite 90s band – and that was the best part of the 90s, there was so much music, so much good music, to choose from. I sometimes feel bad for my kids, growing up with the vapid and vacant music they hear these days. That’s why I strive to make sure I play them music with quality and substance. I’m never prouder than when I play a song and they can pick out if it’s Tom Waits, or the Clash, or the Ramones.
But I digress: Soundgarden. I still remember hearing the opening call-and-respond notes of “Rusty Cage” for the first time, and then hearing that solid, intricate drumming kick in behind it, and the wailing vocals (which at the time, I didn’t realize were a hold-over of the shitty 80s style glam rock the band moved away from, I just loved Chris Cornell’s voice, it was unlike anything I’d heard until then.) My sister, the year I turned 15 or 16, I don’t remember which, gave me a bunch of dubbed tapes for Christmas one year. “Badmotorfinger” Nirvana’s “In Utero” among others. I played the shit out of those tapes. For a long time, I wasn’t familiar with the latter half of Badmotorfinger, because I would listen to the first 5-6 songs, rewind the tape, and listen to them again.
Fast forward some more, and I remember when I bought my very first Compact Disk. I actually bought two at the same time: “Smeared” by Sloan and “Mondo Bizzaro” by the Ramones. I still have the same Sloan disk, 18 or so years later.
I went through a lot of phases, musically, in my mid-to-late teens and early 20s. There was a time I was in to a ton of lo-fi indie music. Eric’s Trip, Thrush Hermit, the Super Friendz, the Hardship Post (and most of them were Canadian bands too). Then I moved onto a phase where I listened almost exclusively to electronic music like Underworld, the Prodigy, Daft Punk, and the Chemical Brothers. I moved briefly into drum’n’bass after that, listening to stuff like Goldie and Roni Size and Photek.
When I started college, I carpooled with a high school buddy named Matt. Matt was a big metalhead. He eventually went on to be the vocalist in the grindcore band Starring Janet Leigh (check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQIHn8UpRxI). That’s Matt with the beard and the screaming. Matt introduced me to a lot of awesome metal bands: Fear Factory, Machine Head, Sepultura, bands I’d heard of but never listened to. That all changed then, and I immersed myself in that style of music. I was on a quest to find the next heaviest band I could find. I listened to a lot of metal, and went to a lot of metal shows. I saw bands like Fear Factory, Slipknot, Korn, HedPE, Machine Head. Lost a good chunk of my hearing during those shows. I always felt kind of out-of-place at the metal shows. I didn’t have long hair or tattoos.
I eventually fell out of the metal scene as I got older. Things kind of came full circle for me as I entered my late 20s, early 30s, and really started to appreciate singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, and my then-new favorite (and still favorite) singer, Tom Waits. I got into Nick Cave. I re-found the Clash, and moved onto the solo Joe Strummer stuff.
My MP3 player is a pretty eclectic mix of stuff right now. You can find Tom Waits next to Soundgarden next to Converge next to Ghostface Killah next to Ween next to Beth Orton next to the Dillinger Escape Plan.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my high school band. When I was 14, I desperately wanted a guitar. I wanted to rock the fuck out like Kurt Cobain. My dad eventually took me to a pawn shop and I bought this old Hondo electric guitar (which I still have). I saved up for an amplifier, and was all set. Part of the agreement with me getting the guitar was that I took lessons. So I did. And I was horrible at it. I took guitar lessons once a week for three months and learned the opening riff to Metallica’s “One”, and the opening riff to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. That was it. I didn’t have the finger dexterity nor the patience to play guitar. I wanted to be writing brilliant songs after two weeks. But, I kept with it for a while, even though I was frustrated I wasn’t awesome at it right away. Around this time, my best friend since kindergarten Martin also got a guitar. We had met our other best friends Brandon and Jeremy in tenth grade, and the four of us had a lot of similar musical tastes, and when we found out that Jeremy had a set of drums in the basement of his house, we decided to start a band.
I remember that first “jam session”. We got to Jeremy’s house, and started to set up in the basement, plugging in amps and tuning guitars, and I saw the drums and sat down behind them and instantly fell in love, and never touched the guitar again. Drumming came way easier for me. It was primal. I got to hammer on shit. I taught myself how to play the drums by listening to Nevermind. Dave Grohl’s drum beats were solid but not overly complex or challenging and they were perfect to learn to. I never took a lesson in my life, but I eventually became a really good drummer. The four of us rocked out, wrote a few songs, learned a ton of covers, and had a great time. My hands got callused from the drumsticks. We played a few “shows” for our friends. Mostly we jammed and drank beer before anyone’s parents got home. Brandon, who played bass, and I would tool our way through every Nirvana song we could while Martin and Jeremy spent years tuning their guitars and getting themselves sorted out. It was great.
We went through a number of band names. We were originally Fuckface. Then we moved on to Shatter. Then Alien Hand. Then Rube. We eventually settled on Emphatic, and that name stuck the longest. The last time we ever played, we were the Nunchucks. I once played a show with a friend’s band with a broken wrist, and my arm in a cast. I was hardcore, I tell you. Brandon and I formed a side project that was just bass and drums, very cleverly called Side Project. We were determined to be the second coming of the Inbreds (another lo-fi Canadian indie band we loved). We wrote a total of one song, called “Theme From Decoy”, about a friend of my brother’s who we had nicknamed Decoy. I used to create these elaborate band logos and tape them to the front of the bass drum. God, I loved that time, it was all experimenting with sounds and writing music and pretending we knew what the fuck we were doing. I need to convince the boys that a reunion is in order. I haven’t played the drums in probably ten years, but I play the drums every day in my head, play the air drums every day. I’d like to sit behind a drumkit again and get some of that magic back.
I’ve had a life-long love affair with music that I hope never goes away. I don’t want to turn into one of those people who, when you ask what kind of music they like, say “a little bit of everything”, because in my opinion, that means they don’t like any music at all. Everyone should have a favorite style of music, a favorite band, a favorite singer. I’m a music snob, I admit it. I know what I like and what I don’t like.
That’s my rambling for today. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Grace” by Jeff Buckley.