CJAM’s annual pledge drive is in full swing right now. Here’s a little song about it.
Aside from the tongue-in-cheek-and-hand-down-pants “Durex Sheik Condom Song” (which can be found on the OUT-TAKES, MISFITS & OTHER THINGS compilation), this is just about the only time I’ve ever recorded a proper “jingle” for something that really exists.
At first I thought I would do some sort of bizarre spoken piece, utilizing different voices and archaic impressions — “Bill Clinton and Barney the Dinosaur support CJAM”, or something along those lines. Then I wrote a song in about five minutes and thought I’d make it completely ridiculous, building it around a cheesy dated electric piano sound. Sort of an intentionally bad “We Are the World”-inspired thing. And then, I picked up a tenor banjo, a riff fell under my thumb, and instead of absurd cheese I ended up with something like a Johnny West song that just happens to be about the pledge drive.
It’s probably better that it worked out this way. The song is still silly, but not so cheesy, and there isn’t a single corny fake instrument in sight. Maybe you’ll hear it at some point on the radio if you’re tuning in. Hopefully it’ll make some people laugh at the same time it inspires them to donate what they can to the cause. I tried to keep the lyrics general enough so the song could be reused for future pledge drive action too.
Oddly enough, it sounds like the closest thing I’ve done to a CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN-style song in quite some time, minus the triple-tracked lead vocal sound that’s all over that album. The electric guitar is even that funky old Teisco again. I’ve been dusting that thing off lately, and it’s reminding me all over again what a cool little axe it is.
You can hear me sneezing just before the drums come in. I was going to get rid of that, but it cracked me up a little. So it got to stay.
I wouldn’t normally write a jingle for any reason unless I wanted to make fun of someone or something. This is a bit different. I try to donate generously every year during pledge drive time, because it’s a way for me to give back a little and show my appreciation for all the mind-boggling support everyone at CJAM has given me, and contributing a silly little song seems to be another way to do that. It’s also nice to get an extra T-shirt or two. My favourite is still the blue one from last year’s pledge drive with the prominent headphone design (it’s one of those “so comfortable you almost forget you’re wearing anything” kind of shirts), though the hoodies this year are awfully nice.
I guess my relationship with the station goes back to the summer of 2002. I’d known about CJAM for a good few years by that time, and I listened once in a while, but as far as I could tell radio was this mysterious, almost mythical organization I would never be allowed to be a part of.
Then one day a friend popped in on Chris Hewer’s show Actual Air, played him a song of mine, got an invitation to bring me into the studio, and a week later there I was in the basement of the university’s student center, clutching a guitar and a few CDs. Just like that. For a good hour or so I talked about what I did, played a few songs live (both of which eventually saw the light of day on that MISFITS compilation), played some songs off of various solo and Guys with Dicks CDs that were fresh at the time, and sat there in awe of the fact that I was on the air and surely someone was sitting in their basement at that very moment, listening, smoking a joint, and thinking, “This dude is messed up.”
Chris gave me a standing invitation to drop in on his show anytime. I took him up on it a few times. And for a while that was pretty much the only airplay anyone gave me.
Things changed in a big way in 2004, when the deafening indifference I was encountering everywhere in the local music scene led me to stop giving a shit about ever trying to get anyone to care about what I was doing. I thought I might as well drop some CDs in the mail slots of a few random CJAM DJs anyway, just for the fun of it, since I’d never tried doing that before. I figured maybe I’d get lucky and some curious person would give me a chance.
Angela Desjardins got a copy of NUDGE YOU ALIVE and started playing a lot of it on her show Braille Radio (which recently morphed into Night Vision). She was the first person to start giving my music some serious, consistent airplay, before anyone else had much interest in who I was or what I was up to, and her enthusiasm for what I was doing was worth all the “I’m too cool for you” nose-thumbing I got from just about everyone else.
Of course, some of those same people would turn around and talk about me like I was the greatest thing since invisible contraceptives once I began to be considered somewhat “cool” and worthy of attention. Funny how that works, isn’t it? When you’re not so well-established, no one wants to give you the time of day. Once there’s some buzz built up around you, everyone wants to say they got there first, and they pull the old revisionist history trick to make it seem like they supported you all along.
Adam Fox was the music director by then, soon to become station manager, and he also became an important supporter, encouraging people in and out of the station to give my music attention. Suddenly I had three different CDs all hovering within CJAM’s top thirty at the same time. I don’t think I’ve put out an album that hasn’t charted since then, and it still feels surreal every time I see my name on the charts or hear one of my songs the radio, even after all this time.
Of course, CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN came along two years ago, and then everything exploded in a whole new way. But a lot of people at CJAM were supporting my music long before it was considered the hip thing to do, giving quite a bit of airplay to BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS in particular. It meant a lot, especially during those days when I found myself wondering why I even bothered making music at all, since it seemed like I couldn’t get anyone to listen to one of my albums if my life depended on it.
How things change, huh?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there’s no way I would have anything even close to the audience I have now if it wasn’t for the support of CJAM. I couldn’t even hope to list all the people who have supported — and continue to support — me and my music. Off the top of my head, aside from Angela, Adam Fox, and Adam Peltier, I can think of Murad, Kyle Lebel, Max, Cristina Naccarato, Josh Kolm, Jan Blondin, Cassandra Caverhill, Cassandra Brait, Vern Smith, the Scaledown Radio guys, Theresa Leslie, Mary Popovich, Nicole Markham, Jon Nehmetallah, Steph and Chris, Eric Arner, Mike Whaley, Dave Konstantino, Dale Jacobs, Randi Irving, Adam Hawkes…and I could keep going.
Though some of those people are gone now (a handful of them moved to Toronto or elsewhere, I assume because of better downtown parking opportunities), I think CJAM keeps getting better, and there are a lot of great people who keep it running. There’s no elitism there, and the support given to any and all local music is pretty incredible. It doesn’t matter if your music is folk-rock that sounds like it was recorded at a multi-million-dollar studio or lo-fi French shoegaze that sounds like it was recorded inside of a shoebox. Someone will give it a chance, whatever genre it inhabits. And the programming is so diverse, there’s something there for everyone.
I’m not just being nice when I say it’s the only radio station I bother listening to anymore. In my not so humble opinion, commercial radio is absolute garbage. It’s locked into a grid of mediocrity, devoid of anything even resembling soul, and there are no new or interesting sounds to be found there anymore. Kind of like the aural equivalent of the Hollywood movie industry, with the abysmal remakes just wearing different clothing. The only reason I turn on the radio at all anymore is to hear what’s happening on CJAM from time to time.
And hey, if you turn on your radio between 10:30 and noon on Wednesday (that’s tomorrow), maybe you’ll hear me on CJAM talking about random pledge drive-related things while I hang out with Cass and Sarah on This Is So Cool, It Hurts.
I first typed that as, “This Is Cool, It Hurts,” which sounded kind of masochistic.
(Thanks to Owen Wolter for letting me use one of his pictures at the top of this post.)