Et Tu Brute? -or- If You Don’t Play Nicely With the Other Kids, You’ll Never Have Any Friends
Truth be told, I hang out with musicians for the inside information and free beer. One of the few problems, however, of hanging out with bands (my current idea for a tombstone inscription reads: Here Lies Baron – He Should Have Stopped Hanging Out With Musicians”) is that it is really hard not to like them. Granted there are a couple o’ few people whose presence tends to send me towards the door, but, on the whole, they’re a pretty good crowd. This is why I can’t understand why certain bands/band members continue to slam other bands.
Right now, I am sitting on a BC Ferry, thumbing through a well-worn Lester Bangs “reader”, and trying not to get too many errant cigarette ashes on the pages of my notebook. I am also listening to The Green Hour Band (Though I quite like the album, right now I am listening to it out of spite for reasons to be explained below).
I am taking a break from music this weekend. It is strange, however, that even though I am not at a live show in Vancouver right now (I should have seen The Smokes play last night but feared I would miss my 6:20am boat if I had) I still find myself thinking about them. For the most part, the bands in Vancouver are incredible to see live. There is, I concede, the odd band I’ve caught on stage that are better off in the studio and some bands are just downright terrible but they are by far the minority. With all the great music being played in this wonderful city, I don’t quite grasp why it is that they, the bands, can’t all get along.
The last inside info / free beer moment I had was in the parking lot outside The Biltmore. A band was preparing for a cross-Canada tour and discussing their plans with a bass player from another band who’d definitely been around the block a couple times and across the country a couple times more than that.
“Did you talk to X?” he asks. The bands’ faces go blank. “Because if you want any shows east of Toronto you have to talk to X.”
“We don’t know X,” the lead singer admits, somewhat embarrassed. “Can I get his number?”
“Fuck yeah! I’ll send him an email and tell him you guys are cool.”
The conversation continues for a few minutes with the bass playing tour sage passing along booking info to a captive audience. Then he said it. And the moment the words left his lips, my mind screamed my own “Fuck yeah!” in quiet jubilation.
“If bands don’t compare notes there will never be a scene.”
Anyone who knows anything about Scottish history beyond sitting through Mel Gibson’s epic tribute to anachronistic, historical fallacy (otherwise known as Braveheart) knows that the Scots had to stop fighting themselves before they could stick it to the English. Strength in numbers is the oldest strategy known to any soldier (or Block Watch group for that matter). The easiest way to defeat any army is to find a way for them to scuttle their own efforts by self-imploding.
Yesterday, I was directed to a review of The Green Hour Band’s latest effort. Were it not for the inherent damage to any coherent musical movement in Vancouver that it represented, I would have had a good chuckle at bad writing and left it at that. When I looked into the author of the piece and discovered that he was a member of a local band of a slightly similar ilk, I was ready to spit nails. When an opening band blows the closers off stage, it should be done out of sheer musical talent with a total absence of malice. Using editorial clout to badmouth another band and then ridicule them for describing the Vancouver scene as “competitive” is so blatantly hypocritical that I feel the need to give money to Oral Roberts as the lesser of two evils.
If the author of the review thinks The Green Hour Band is really as terrible as he erroneously suggests, maybe a gig together should be arranged and we can let the audience decide. According to precedent and music legend, critics, myself included, are supposed to be failed musicians with an axe to grind. If the particular critic of whom I speak has decided to start early, that cannot bode well for his future in the scene. Besides, bad reviews are painfully easy to write, which is why they are almost always written by hack half-wits who find the only way to sound smart is to act like a smartass.
Everyone may have the right to their own opinion but some opinions are better than others (Apartheid, homophobia, the existence of WMDs anyone?). Opinions should be based on available fact and, therefore, subject to updates. An opinion that is stubbornly written in stone is not an opinion but a belief and about as useful to intelligent discourse as a Village Idiot missing the pin to his favourite hand grenade. Likewise, an opinion that is held or expressed solely for the purpose of promoting one’s self over the greater good is not an opinion but an agenda. And though I firmly side with the Good Doctor in believing that “objective journalism [….] is a pompous contradiction in terms,” an agenda should never be passed off as a valid opinion in the context of a record review.
As far as agendas are concerned, we’re all supposed to be on the same team here. When it comes to music scenes, what is good for one is good for all. Perhaps an odd example, but how many bands found their listenership trebled after Kurt Cobain mentioned them as an influence (hell, mentioned them at all)?
Some nights, it does seem as though there is a small and finite number of music fans in Vancouver. I have attended a couple of shows that I’d call “Crimes against Culture” in that, amazing sets by incredible bands were witnessed by only a small, lucky few. Some of this can be laid on the bands themselves, unfortunately. If you play every weekend, eventually only your friends will be coming out to the shows and then only for a while. It would seem that absence makes the ears grow fonder as well. Of course, none of this is helped in the least by reviews that are nothing more than thinly veiled competition hiding under the guise of journalism.
I try to go to at least one show a week. Doing the Review often forces me out to more but within personal limits; like many bands, I too am forced to “pay to play.” I have recorded and posted, at the time of writing this, twenty-eight reviews, covering over one hundred bands. I’ve seen a few more than that that didn’t make it onto the reviews because, well… I didn’t like them. But rather than give them grief by panning them, I stayed silent.
Because I won’t do bad reviews, I have been accused by some (well, one person at the Railway Club actually) of creating “puff” pieces, thereby negating any credibility I might have as a professional, music journalist. Charges such as this are quite easy to defend against: I am not, nor have I ever publically claimed to be, a music journalist in any serious matter. Likewise, I am not a music promoter but I do promote music. It’s really quite simple: bands play good music and then I show an international audience local bands’ music via the Internet and say nice things about it. Some of my similes, descriptions, and analogies may be inherently strange but everything I say or write is completely genuine and I would never say something I didn’t honestly mean just to say something nice. Besides, if you ever come across a band you, honestly, cannot concede a single good thing about, the band probably won’t last long and you’d be wasting your efforts in promoting their inevitable disappearance. If they do last, chances are it is you, not the band, who is out of the loop.
As for the members of other bands, if you really believe that your band is that much better than someone else’s, prove it. Talk, as always, is cheap. Lead by example and practice your craft. Cut your teeth on stage rather than running your mouth off stage. Bands that don’t communicate in a positive manner will never “compare notes” and any hopes of building another vibrant and rewarding scene in Vancouver will die on the blocks, your band along with it.
Baron S. Cameron
August 9-14, 2008