Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.

I thought I’d heard just about the worst modern music had to offer. I was pretty positive “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO was officially the most pathetic piece of shit ever to call itself a song, single-handedly lowering the collective IQ of the universe just by existing.

Then I heard “The Bitch Came Back” by Theory of a Nickelback.

It goes beyond misogyny, beyond stupidity, and beyond musical mediocrity. Truly it shatters all boundaries. Check it out on YouTube at your own peril. A piece of my soul and a small part of my brain died when I listened to it.

A VJ on MuchMusic was talking about how much he was looking forward to a new movie because it featured one of his favourite actors. He expressed how excited he was when he learned said actor was “on the helm for this”.

I’d like to know how anyone can ever be on the helm for anything. It was my understanding that you’re either AT the helm OF something, or you’re not. No on’s or for’s about it.

It seems I was wrong. I was also wrong in my assumption that you need to have at least a tenuous grasp of the English language and how to speak it properly in order to get meaningful work as a television personality.

Non-defective copies of the Laughing Stock vinyl reissue still haven’t appeared. The eponymous Mark Hollis album arrived, and while it isn’t similarly defective, it’s disappointing how noisy the pressing is for such quiet and delicately-recorded music.

To give you a bit of perspective, the new Tom Waits album was pressed on 180 gram vinyl. It’s whisper-quiet, it sounds fantastic, and it comes with a huge booklet of lyrics and pictures along with a copy of the album on CD. It cost about $18 before tax.

Mark Hollis was pressed on standard-issue 140 gram vinyl, there’s no booklet (the lyrics are provided on the sleeve that houses the record), and it sounds pretty good beneath all the pops and crackles, but I’ve bought decades-old $3 records that are quieter. This one cost $24 before tax.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying any more vinyl from the label responsible for these Talk Talk/Mark Hollis reissues.

But enough complaining about stupid crap. Let me tell you about the Joshua Jesty show you missed on Friday.

It was one of those performances where the lack of a good turnout somehow gets twisted into an asset and makes for a better show. Everyone became a part of it, and the whole thing turned into something of a dialogue between performer and audience, with a lot of laughing. I ran up to sing unplanned, unrehearsed harmony on a song I’ve always felt close to, because I knew I would regret not doing it. Didn’t matter that there weren’t many people there to hear the harmonizing. It was something I felt a need to do for myself. Josh later dedicated a song to me called “Never Date Crazy” (wise words worth heeding) and sang a tune about Frank Sinatra’s ability to mentally slap people.

It was a lot of fun, and if you weren’t there you missed out. Now go stand in a corner and spank yourself with a limp piece of asparagus until you weep with shame, because if you’re reading this, you probably weren’t there.

It’s a little surreal meeting someone in the flesh when you’ve been friends for a good few years but have never…you know…met in the flesh. It’s surreal for me, anyway. I’d give you my metaphorical explanation, but you’d probably just laugh and say, “It’s not like that at all. You’re weird.” And then I’d take my socks off and ask you to dance with me.

That’s just how I operate.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how I went twenty-eight years without ever hearing After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. I’ve been a fan of Neil for at least half of my life, and I admire the way he continues to try new things, refusing to keep force-feeding fans the same music over and over again (even if his restlessness can sometimes lead to albums that are…uh…less than stellar).

Maybe I never got around to giving Gold Rush a listen because it was consistently held up as one of the best Neil Young albums, much like Harvest. And to be honest, I’ve never thought Harvest was all that great. There are some good songs there, but on the whole it just never grabbed me like On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, and Sleeps with Angels (which can sit at the table with any of the great albums from the ’70s as far as I’m concerned). It seemed too staid to me. There was no bite. no edge. Some of my favourite Neil Young songs are the ballads like “Pardon My Heart” and “Ambulance Blues”, but those songs feel like they have a ragged, imperfect heart pumping blood through them. With Harvest, at least for me, it’s tough to find the pulse.

A few days ago I played a 45 on my turntable, only to be reminded that this belt-driven Thorens doesn’t much like 45s. It’ll play the record just fine, and then, when you decide you want to play a regular old 33 1/3 rpm record, nothing happens, because somewhere in the space between the 45 ceasing to spin and leaving the turntable to return to its sleeve the belt has come loose. When this happened before, I readjusted the belt and all was well. This time, after fixing the belt I could tell something was wrong. Every record I played sounded just a bit off. The pitch was a hair too high.

Now I had a turntable that was running too fast. It was driving me nuts, and no amount of fiddling with the belt seemed to get me back to the land of proper pitch. In a last ditch effort, I thought I’d try a repeat of what caused the problem in the first place.

I played a 45. As expected, the belt came loose after it was finished. I readjusted it again. Everything started playing at the right pitch again. Hallelujah.

To celebrate, I’ve been pulling out some records over the past few days after a period of mostly neglecting my vinyl collection. I came across a copy of After the Gold Rush I forgot I had. I thought I’d throw it on while I was brushing my teeth and getting dressed, just for the hell of it. And I found myself thinking, “Now that’s a Neil Young album.”

It’s kind of like what I always felt Harvest could/should have been. There are some really pretty, folky, laid-back songs, and there are also some ragged rockers (“When You Dance I Can Really Love” sounds like a promiscuous cousin to “Cinnamon Girl”, in a good way). There are some really cool short songs that are almost fragments — something you don’t hear too often on a Neil Young album. And it all works together really well. There isn’t a bad song in the batch.

Even better, it’s all new to me, because the only track on the album I’ve ever heard on the radio is “Southern Man”. It’s a great-sounding record, too — one of the more expensive used records I’ve bought outside the realm of jazz, and worth every penny, given how quiet and pristine the vinyl is.

Score yet another point for happy surprises. And hey, maybe someday I’ll give Harvest another listen and it’ll magically grow some teeth. You never know.

6 comments

  1. a Harvest bitch slap?….ouch…valid point though……however, Neil’s latest release from his archives, ‘A Treasure’ offers a skoal-stained toothy version of “are you ready for the country” which sounds pretty sweet…..when i saw him live a couple of years ago, he opened with “when you dance you can really love”, and that version made me re-visit ‘After The Goldrush’ to soak in its brilliance…..just a sidenote: in my younger years, i thought Neil was walking around with an old lady backpack on the cover of that album.

    1. to be fair, i haven’t listened to “harvest” in a long, long time…i just might eat my words if i pulled it out again, and realize that i wasn’t able to appreciate how great it was before. i think it boils down to my personal preference falling on the side of “angry”, more rough-around-the-edges neil…some people can’t stand “tonight’s the night” for the same reasons i think it’s a great album. i still need to check out that archives stuff; i was always particularly interested in the “live at the fillmore” album and keep forgetting to pick it up.

  2. Hey Johnny, funny you mentioned the whole “surreal meeting someone in the flesh when you’ve been friends for a good few years” thing. I’ve had a few weird dreams of dropping in on you guys in Canada, for a birthday party or something. And I always feel awkward and shy like a school girl and hardly even talk to you. Damn subconscious!

    1. make the dream a reality! come on down!

      or you could send me an epic email filling me in on all things lucas. i can’t remember if i sent you the most recent album in the mail or not…or if i might have emailed you preemptive mp3s…

  3. Sorry and with all due respect, I just dont follow you as a Neil Young fan “for at least half your life” this without hearing “After The gold Rush”? and wow because it was consistently held up as one of the best Neil Young albums? my gosh so you live in kind of the “bizarre” world buying the not so good and passing on the superb, is cool, to each it’s own, but you just missed on one of the best albums ever from a that wonderful Decade, no biggie either.
    All best

    1. i just don’t like to do things according to conventional wisdom. i’d rather experience something in a more organic way and decide whether or not it speaks to me based on its own merits, instead of picking something up because it’s touted as being universally great. kind of like going to see a movie without really knowing what it’s about, instead of letting a review tell me what i should and shouldn’t like. also, i have thousands of albums in my collection, i make a ridiculous amount of music myself, and i have lists i wrote fourteen years ago of music i meant to check out that i never got around to investigating. sometimes it’s just hard to keep up with it all. knowing that, i’d rather reach for something more obscure before something that’s easy to find at any time. but that’s just me.

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