Tag Archives: U2

Remember That Time?

Memories are fascinating. How do they work? In asking myself this question it became clear that I didn’t have the foggiest idea. I thought it was sort of like a hard drive where your brain would accept sensory input and then some sort of fancy synapse thing happened and, voila!, memory. Turns out that while this is a gross oversimplification it’s not actually that far off. There’s a lot that goes into encoding, storing, and retrieving a memory, and the science behind it will blow your mind (multiple times if you can remember it all). One thing the big foreheads in the science labs found out was that for the vast majority of people, their brain decides if it’s important enough to be worthy of remembering and if so it encodes and stores it for future reference.

For those in the memory game, they talk about building a Memory Palace; a visual story around what you want to remember, and the more absurd the better. Absurdity is memorable! This is likely also one of the reasons our memories are extremely fallible. Our brains don’t necessarily pick up on the details that are actually important. That said, there are some aspects of our day-to-day lives that are surefire memory triggers: songs, smells, and foods. I’d be willing to bet that these triggers factor more into whether or not you remember something than how “significant” the event is. Think about all the, “Where were you when…” moments that are supposed to be significant and then analyze what you actually remember about the event. I’m willing to bet that the other sensory details that were happening at the time are what’s driving the memory.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Songs, smells, and foods.

I know tonnes of people who have memories triggered by music and I am no exception to that. Here are just a few of the hundreds of songs that invoke a strong, specific memory for me:

  • Bootsauce, Everyone’s a Winner:
    • I spent eight hours on a bus with a bunch of teenagers travelling from Toronto to Killington, Vermont for an epic ski trip. This song was played more than any other.
  • Angels and Airwaves, The Adventure:
    • When my wife was pregnant with our second child I worked 45 minutes from home. When I got the call that she was in labour I put the pedal to the metal and hauled ass home. When I was a few minutes out this song started playing. The lyric “Life’s waiting to begin” hung in the air as I pulled into the driveway.
  • U2, any song off the Joshua Tree album:
    • I have lots of memories of this album but one, in particular, comes to mind when I hear any song off this album and that’s the craft hut at my old summer camp. I wandered in one day and the final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two stared I began to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the girls from Cabin 2 started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full-blown singalong. We spent the rest of the hour singing and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple of counsellors, and U2. Thirty years later I had the privilege of taking my daughter to see the band play the album in its entirety.

As someone with a boatload of seasonal allergies who is scent sensitive (you know, “scentsitive”. I’ll see myself out.) I find my olfactory system triggers memory more often than anything else. In fact, I can even think of an instance where someone once described something to me and associated the smell of instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal with it and now I can’t smell brown sugar without that visual coming to mind. A few other notable smellmories:

  • Lilacs
    • At some point in my childhood, my mom planted a lilac bush in the backyard and since we didn’t have air conditioning the windows were often open. In spite of my severe seasonal allergies I never really minded the smell. Lilacs remind me of home.
  • Fresh-baked tea biscuits
    • My father’s mother always struck me as being very proper. She never swore like my mum’s mum and she never let me win at cards or crokinole. Whenever we’d visit she’d make tea and biscuits and then she’d read my tea leaves.
  • Weed
    • My first experience with smelling the Devil’s Lettuce was at the Canadian university football championships, the Vanier Cup, which at the time was played at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. My dad and his friend took my friend and I and we were way up in the bleachers and all the university students around us were smoking it. Not long after I went to my first concert, The Rolling Stones at Skydome in 1989, and while I was not accompanied by any adults, all the adults around me were getting high!
https://static1.puretrend.com/articles/5/50/97/5/@/511189-le-festival-de-woodstock-en-1969-opengraph_1200-4.jpg

And then there are foods. These are often a combination of sight, taste, and smell for me, though if I had to divide it up I’d say that sight ranks lowest, followed by smell, with taste at the top. Maybe it’s because food incorporates so many of the senses (all of them, if you’re fortunate enough to experience them all to begin with), but for me, this one paints the most vivid picture. Off the top of my head:

  • Cilantro
    • This one is funny because it brings me back to the time when there was a salad made, I won’t say by who, and instead of whatever was supposed to be the base for the salad cilantro was used instead. After everyone had a bite it was determined that a grave mistake had been made and the salad was removed from the table.
  • Lasagna
    • I used to work as a busboy for this banquet hall / private club and once a month was Italian Night. Around 400 people would pack the large hall and a dozen old Italian ladies would take over the kitchen. Normally we’d have our own kitchen staff but not on Italian Night. The smell of the lasagnas cooking in the giant 3′ x 3′ metal pans was amazing. All the hall staff would get to eat once we’d served all the guests and it was absolutely scrumptious. Of course, all the busboys had to clean up so it wasn’t 100% enjoyable, but it was definitely worth it.
  • Grapefruit
    • I was going on my first plane ride, alone, to visit my grandparents in Florida and at the airport, I was nervous and nauseous. Back then you could get farther in without a boarding pass and my mum was with me and she went and bought me a grapefruit juice. She said it would calm me down and settle my stomach. Of course, she was just making that up and hoping that the placebo effect would kick in. It did, of course, and now every time I have a grapefruit juice (or an actual grapefruit) I remember that moment and feel a sense of calm.
By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41054604

What about you? What are some of your biggest memory triggers? Keep it positive, if you can, since the world needs more of those memories being shared these days.

More Music Mastery

Another one of those post-a-song-a-day things is circulating on Facebook and I thought I’d give it a go. This time the list of “challenges” looks like this:

I’ve tried to do a little write-up for each one but some days are better than others. Here are the first twelve days:

Day 1 – A song you like with a colour in the title
There are lots of songs with the colour red in them and I wanted something a little darker. Well, black is as dark as it gets! Plus, Led Zeppelin.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tlSx0jkuLM]


Day 2 – A song you like with a number in the title
21 Guns by Green Day – I like Green Day.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVaYkdG4k_I]


Day 3 – A song that reminds you of summertime
I considered this song for the upcoming Day 8 (A song about drugs or alcohol) but this song makes me think more about summer than it does about drugs. I’m not sure if it’s the imagery painted by Victoria’s lyrics or what, but this song makes me think about dry, dusty fields and hanging out on sweltering hot days with some friends

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpwupMVcLdk]


Day 4 – A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget 
I wrote a blog post (http://www.potatochipmath.com/2012/10/an-untitled-post-about-bullying.html) about some of the memories that got kicked up when I went a did a favour for an old high school acquaintance by playing a fighting street person for this video. Thankfully, I’m not a big follower of hip hop & rap (though do enjoy it on occasion) and I don’t come across this song too often

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV6QHXulcaY]


Day 5 – A song that needs to be played loud 
Oh my god, so many choices. I don’t know where to begin. Obviously, AC/DC came to mind, then Van Halen and Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses… and we have a winner. I cannot listen to Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses without having to crank the sound to eleven.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbm6GXllBiw]


Day 6 – A song that makes you want to dance
I am not known to be a dancer. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. That said, there’s one song that makes me groove every time (in as much as I am capable of grooving). The thing is, I hate the lyrics to the original and have little respect for the original artist as a musician or even a human. Fortunately for me, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody with much better lyrics but with the same musical groove. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic. Music by that dipshit Robin Thicke

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc]


Day 7 – A song to drive to
Are you kidding me?

“My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about. He says it used to be a farm, before the Motor Law.” 

This is a song about driving a well preserved red Barchetta sports car. It’s a fantastic song and perfect for driving fast on winding country roads.I love driving to this tune.

“Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware” 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eULGEKncHvI]

Day 8 – A song about drugs or alcohol 
Hmmm. Let’s see… which one of the 37 million songs about drugs or alcohol should I choose? I’m going to go with Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. Come on, this just comes right out and says it clear as day, 

“Everybody must get stoned.” 

It could not be more fitting that there’s a video of this song being sung by Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI-H_27NptM]

Day 9 – A song that makes you happy 
Say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but I love this song. I can’t help but turn it up and sing along and smile. I like the album version better overall but watching Ed do this one with just an acoustic guitar and a loop machine is pretty damn cool. Plus, seeing a bunch of kids sing this at the KW Glee boot camp this summer was awesome too 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DVLzHks8xs]

Day 10 – A song that makes you sad
There was a stretch where every time I found out about someone dying this song would play on the radio shortly thereafter. Plus, it’s a sad song. Even though it’s a song about hope and hanging on and knowing you’re not alone in your struggles, the fact is there are still so many struggling that there is, at best, one degree of separation between yourself and someone to whom this song applies. This song makes me sad, but I’ll be okay. If this song applies to you and you need someone to hold onto or just be present, give me a call. Send me a text or an email. 

“Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts.” 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlOeGeVih4]

Day 11 – A song you never get tired of
I don’t know what it is about this song that sticks with me, but something does. I think it’s probably my favourite U2 song out of their whole catalog, and for a band that’s probably one of my all-time favourties with as many songs as they have that I like that’s saying something. The fact they played it on their recent Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour this summer is even better. Like it or don’t like it, whatever your preference one thing you can say for sure it’s that it’s not a bad song #dadjoke #groan 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zIW8qDPhos]

Day 12 – A song from your preteen years 
In 1985 I was eleven years old. That qualifies as preteen, yes? Well holy shit, would you take a look at the number one songs from that year?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_1985

The list is insanely good. Easily a dozen of those songs popped into my head when I first read the category. How did I pick just one? Easy. I went with the love song from the movie that had Demi Moore in it, of course! I love the intro to this dong and even tried playing it at the piano at summer camp. I never did learn how to, but it’s a fun memory regardless. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgW9SqP3YJc]

The 30-Day Song Challenge – Days 18-24

June 20 – Day 18 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that I wish I heard on the radio

Back in 1991 I had some wicked seats for the Van Halen show in Toronto. Those were the Sammy Hagar days, but whatever. My friend Jon and I were something like ninth row center and it was at the then named Skydome (now the Rogers Centre). We got to the show early and settled into our seats and the opening act came on. It was Alice in Chains. By the end of the set the crowd was, shall we say, not exactly interested. The lead singer, Lane Stanley, was not pleased with the tepid reception his soon-to-be superstar alternative rock band had received and he yelled into the mic, “thank you Toronto for being the worst fucking crowd we’ve ever played to,” and he dropped the mic (not in a cool mic drop way like people do now) and they walked off stage, never to be heard from again. 

Well, not exactly. They ended up becoming a bit of a big deal and are the unofficial fourth band in the grunge axis of awesome along with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. Lane was a troubled soul and succumbed to his addition in 2002 but left behind a musical legacy that helped shape a generation. 

This is a song I don’t recall hearing on the radio but wish they would play. Don’t Follow, by Alice in Chains.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBB2OS4IoTs] 


June 21 – Day 19 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song from my favourite album

The opening track, “Where the Streets Have No Name” is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of U2’s movie Rattle and Hum based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.

I was lucky enough to see the album played live in its entirety this past Friday night with my fifteen-year-old daughter and it was everything I had hoped for and more. Hearing any song on that album invokes the best memories.


I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team back then and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes as mail out promos for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).


I also remember at summer camp there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.


Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It’s the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn’t happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.


One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn’t feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn’t exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn’t say a word.


The final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing-along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.


For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yzojvZwzQo]


June 22 – Day 20 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m angry

I, like many other young punks of the time, used to jump into the mosh pit when a Nine Inch Nails song came on and throw my body around with reckless abandon letting out some rage and aggression. Sometimes mosh pits would get a little bit rough and tumble and a good old fashioned donnybrook would break out, but most of my experiences with it were pretty tame. I break easily so I never really got right in the middle of it.

One day I was down at a club in Toronto with a friend of mine and we were wandering around and Head Like a Hole came on and he and I jumped into the pit. It didn’t take too long before bodies were being tossed left and right and limbs were flailing this way and that. There was this one particular dude who seemed to be having more of a seizure than he was moshing and, in a terrible sequence of events, he ended up accidentally elbowing me square in the face.


It was a knockout blow if there ever was one and down I started to go. That was, until my friend reached out and grabbed me by the front of my baggy flannel shirt, yanked me to my feet, moved me out of the pit, and held me up until my eyes uncrossed and my head stopped spinning.


That was the second time this particular friend saved my ass (or my head, as it were) from a mosh pit/crowd surfing debacle (I think I bought him a round but if I didn’t then I owe you one, Kirb).


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao-Sahfy7Hg]


June 23 – Day 21 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m happy

There are a few songs that are impossible to not be happy when hearing them and Spirit of the West has a few in this category. Born from the West Coast Canadian music scene, this band has a distinctly East Coast sound with lots of fiddle, foot stomping, and that hand drum thingy you whack with a small stick as you twist your wrist to and fro really quickly.

The song that I’ll put on when I’m in a good mood is one that was the anthem of many a university dorm room, particularly “The Zoo” at the University of Western Ontario, which in its day had earned a five-star reputation for being the partyingest dorm in Canada. It’s also my go-to song for when my house is in such a state of disrepair that there doesn’t appear to be any hope of salvaging it.


“The furniture’s on fire, this house is a disgrace, someone change the locks before we trash this place! Save this house!”


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wHDFBZ9YKg]


June 24 – Day 22 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I listen to when I’m sad

There was a time in my life when I found out someone died or was sick or was seriously ill or just plain stricken with grief and the same song would come on the radio. For a two-year period in the early ‘90’s, without fail, this would happen. Every time I would hear it I would get this impending sense of doom and I would spend the next several hours flinching whenever the phone rang.

Thankfully, the disturbing trend didn’t continue, but if I’m feeling low sometimes I’ll throw this song on just let myself wallow for a bit, because everybody hurts, sometimes.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rOiW_xY-kc]


June 25 – Day 23 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I want to play at my wedding

Seeing as I was married in 1999 to my beautiful wife, Jodi, there should be songs from our wedding. We didn’t have a “typical” reception, though, and there was no dancing. We had an early dinner at a restaurant and then went back to a friend’s house for some drinks and socializing. We did, however, have some music being played for the processional, recessional, and during the signing of the registry.

When Jodi and I met the organist she sat down and played some snippets of songs asking us if whatever she was playing were the types of thing we were looking for. When she started into “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles her operatic voice and emphatic mashing of the piano had both Jodi and me stifling laughter and anytime we hear that song we both do a reasonable impression.


We ended up not using that song, or maybe it was in with the other songs while we were signing the registry, I can’t quite remember what we used in there. Instead, we went for something a little more traditional with Pachelbel’s Canon in D as our processional and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for the recessional. I love both those songs and decided that for our fifth anniversary I would secretly learn to play it on the piano and surprise Jodi with a performance.


For this, I also needed to learn how to play the piano.


So off I went and I sort of learned to play it and sort of performed for her on our anniversary. I ended up only being able to play just the right hand and not even all the way through, but it was a fun experience nonetheless.


For our 10th anniversary, I ended up getting the first few bars of it tattooed on my right arm (the right-hand part only, of course), which later became the base for a pretty wicked tree tattoo.


Here’s a fantastic 80’s rock/metal cover of the classic Bach tune:


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF2pO7mRYHM]


June 26 – Day 24 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that I want played at my funeral

I haven’t really put much thought into my funeral, to be honest. I’ll be dead so there’s little I can say about it and I guess what happens after I cease to live is out of my control. I think I’d like a low-key service with my family and some close friends. I don’t want any big long-winded speeches where the officiant drones on and on about loss and grieving, and I certainly don’t want there to be any religion. Ideally, people would convene at the beach beside a small fire and everyone would have a beverage of their choosing in hand and everyone would get a chance to share a story about a time when I made them laugh. Around the circle, I want them to go, remembering one thing that made them chuckle or otherwise brought a smile to their face.

After everyone has a turn I’d like to have this song played, because if not for the presence of all those people in my life, I would never have been able to enjoy mine as much as I have, and that deserves a thank you.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88dQn_-5hIM]


~ Andrew

x

The Sound of Music – Ranking Revealed

Over the last while, in an homage to High Fidelity I’ve been writing about my Top 5 Albums of All Time. I used some basic criteria to make the list:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)

Truthfully, though, I went with my gut. I tried to pretend someone asked me, “What’s your favourite album of all time?” and then answered as quickly as possible. Lather, rinse, repeat four more times. I spat them out in five blog posts with some detailed explanations and stories behind each one. What I didn’t do was put them in order. This post is designed to remedy that.

The first one was easy. The next four? Not so much.

Number 5: Shakespeare My Butt – Lowest of the Low
This is a really fun album with some really happy memories attached to it. If you haven’t listened to this one (and a lot of people won’t have) you should add it to your collection.

Number 4: Ten – Pearl Jam
I saw these guys play shows twenty years apart and the songs they played off this album still held up. This album will never grow old. 

Number 3: Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Turn out the lights, close your eyes, maybe have a sandwich, and play this album start to finish. Best destresser ever. 

Number 2: In The Trees – The Watchmen
Another Canadian gem. Such great lyrics and the vocals are truly a gift to your ears.

Number 1: The Joshua Tree – U2
I could listen to this album every day and not tire of it. It’s the reason it’s #1 and my always answer to the question, “If you were stranded on a desert island and only had one album, which one would you want it to be?”

Of course, no Top X list wold be complete without some honourable mentions! Give these a look-see. I know you won’t be disappointed. I’ll add more as I get around to it. For now, these will do the trick.

  • The Watchmen – McLaren Furnace Room
  • RUSH – Moving Pictures
  • Led Zeppelin – IV
  • The Beatles – The White Album
  • Nirvana – Nevermind
  • Pink Floyd – The Wall
  • The Tragically Hip – Road Apples

Happy listening!

~Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 5

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the Sound of Music – My Top Five Albums Of All Time. 
 

My “deserted island” list of albums I’d want to have with me if I were stranded is almost complete. Thus far I’ve presented the following (in no particular order): 

As a reminder, I present my main decision-making criteria:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (how does listening to it make me feel?)

Today, we complete the list with an album that literally helped define a generation. By many, it is not viewed in the same regard as, say, Nevermind by Nirvana, but in my opinion, this album was more complex, richer experience that touched a much broader audience.

Without further ado, I present …
Source: Wikipedia
Released 1991
Track Listing:
  1. “Once”  (9/10)
  2. “Even Flow” (9/10)
  3. “Alive” (10/10)
  4. “Why Go” (9/10)
  5. “Black” (9/10)
  6. “Jeremy”  (10/10)
  7. “Oceans”  (8/10)
  8. “Porch” (8/10)
  9. “Garden”  (8/10)
  10. “Deep” (9/10)
  11. “Release” (10/10)

I like every song on this album. In fact, I’ve liked every song on this album since the moment it was released. If I were to rank each song from one to eleven the songs at the bottom, Oceans, Porch, and Garden end up bouncing around in my head for hours after hearing them.

I completely understand why the producer decided to open with the song “Once”. It’s a powerful song and within the first minute of the song the lyrics, “Once upon a time, I could control myself / Once upon a time I could lose myself” tell us that we’re about to embark on a fairytale journey like none other. Followed by “Even Flow” these two tracks make you feel like all you’ve been doing is climbing, then, without warning like the first big drop on a roller coaster we hear “Alive”, a song just as powerful as any of the others but slightly downtempo. Not to have us get lulled into a false sense of security the album hits back with a 1-2 punch with “Why Go” and then “Black” only to follow up with probably the most iconic opening bass line in the band’s catalogue on “Jeremy”. The album continues with songs that alternate between laying low a little and jumping right up in your face until we get to the last song on the track. As far as album endings go “Release” is a formidable choice for the end of this wild ride, though I have to admit that it’s just as fitting to have it as a live show opener. All in all, the songs on Ten are perfectly arranged and are a pleasure to listen to on their own, in order as they are on the album, or randomized on an iPod with a thousand other songs.

This album makes me feel like jumping around and yelling. Occasionally, a song will come on that’s one of the slower ones and instead of jumping around and yelling it will just magnify whatever feeling I am having in that moment. The themes of the album are dark and uncomfortable and complex, and the feelings it invokes are the same. But most of all, it makes me feel like jumping around and yelling.

There are too many memories involving this album to list them all here. I remember one of my longest-standing childhood friends driving us to a party and saying, “I’m feeling kind of grunge tonight” and putting PJ on in the car. I remember countless days and nights “studying” with Riaz; half-written physics equations haphazardly scribbled on scrap paper and Riaz with his guitar in hand and Pearl Jam on the CD player. They are the go-to concert for another friend of mine and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them a couple of times with him. I should have seen PJ in New Orleans with him back in 1995 but this girl I worked with wouldn’t switch shifts with me (which was a total jerk move, if you ask me).

Probably the coolest memory I have involves the pop/ska band The English Beat. I was in Ottawa, Ontario, standing a few rows from the stage with my Pearl Jam tour buddy and Pearl Jam launched into their hit song “Betterman”. They extended the ending and out of nowhere started singing the English Beat’s “Save It For Later”. Fast forward five years and I’m in Waterloo, Ontario (a solid six-hour drive from Ottawa) and I’m in a small club watching the English Beat with my wife when right in the middle of their song “Save It For Later” they start playing a few bars of Pearl Jam’s “Betterman”. I figure I was the only person there who had that experience and every time either of those songs come on my iPod I think of those two concert moments. Also, if you’ve never experienced the crowd participation at a Pearl Jam concert, you are truly missing out. I only need to speak two words on this topic: Baba O’Riley. Look it up on YouTube.

So there you have it, my top five albums of all time. Next time, I’ll put the songs in order and give you a list of great albums that didn’t quite make the top five cut but are worth checking out nonetheless.

~ Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 1

More than five years ago I did a quick little “Top 5” post in homage to the film High Fidelity. The post was a simple 45-word paragraph (including the subheader) that listed my top 5 albums of all time. Well, I’ve decided to update the list and while much of it is the same, there are a couple of changes. You might be wondering what’s happened in the last five years that has led me to change my mind. If you think about it, that list should remain fairly static (I mean, seriously, could an album released in the last five years actually qualify as one of the “best ever”?)

Music is a big part of my family, not that any of us are particularly musically inclined (the kids tried to learn guitar at one point and I have taken voice lessons, but that’s about it). We do listen to it frequently though and everyone has a strong appreciation for it. After my last concussion, I found myself feeling quite thankful for any memory that I was able to recall, and as it turns out, music happens to provide a great “jog” for the ole memory keeper (my long term memory is actually pretty good, but my working memory is complete shite). For me, so many factors go into what makes an album The Best of All Time, and one of those factors is the memories that are invoked when a song from the album comes on the radio or through my iPod when I’m in the car.

Andrew singing as part of the band Speed of Light Lab with Jason Cassidy on guitar,
Joshua Hofstetter on drums, Jason Dykstra on bass, and Robb Farago on cello/harmonica.

Other factors include:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
I’ll list the albums in the proper Top 5 order when I’m done but for now let’s take a more detailed look at one of them in the list. I’ll do this for the next five weeks and end the last post with the ordered list. For now, in no particular order, let’s take a look at one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time:
 
 
Released March 9, 1987
Track Listing:
  1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (8/10)
  2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (8/10)  
  3. “With or Without You” (7/10)
  4. “Bullet the Blue Sky” (6/10)
  5. “Running to Stand Still” (8/10)
  6. “Red Hill Mining Town” (7/10)
  7. “In God’s Country” (7/10)
  8. “Trip Through Your Wires” (6/10)  
  9. “One Tree Hill” (8/10)
  10. “Exit” (6/10)
  11. “Mothers of the Disappeared” (8/10)

I’ve ranked the songs (in parenthesis) so you can see how it stacks up in terms of the “number of songs I like on the album” criteria. Only two of the eleven tracks would rank low on my list and even then I don’t not like them, I just don’t find them as good as the rest of the tracks on the album.

As for the composition of the album, I think producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois struck a good balance with the tracks. It has a great flow, with some ups and downs, while still keeping the overall tone of the album constant. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of the band’s movie Rattle and Hum movie based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.

How does the album make me feel? Nostalgic and wistful. Contemplative and concerned. Listening to this album, and most of the individual songs on it makes me feel like I’ve lived a great life but still have great things ahead of me.

As for the memories invoked by listening to this album, well, there are many. I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).

I remember in the summer of 1987 I was at summer camp and there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.

Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It’s the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn’t happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.

One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn’t feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn’t exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn’t say a word.

The final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.

For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.

~ Andrew

Recipe for Disaster

It starts with the idea that anyone with an internet connection can go and find instructions on how to make a bomb with a common kitchen appliance. Sadly, this idea isn’t new. The information has existed for decades, but the technological age in which we live makes this information all too easy to obtain. You would be right to think that there must be violent motivations behind the desire to create such a device and put it to use, but that’s not always the case. 

There’s a company in the U.S. currently publishing blueprints that you can simply plug into a 3D printer and then print yourself restricted parts for firearms, like the lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle. When asked about what his thoughts were on the fact that this was one step closer to anyone being able to manufacture a gun that could pass freely thought a metal detector the co-owner of the company, Cody Wilson, replied:

I think there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing in a moral sense. We’re pursuing what we think is a step toward liberty…”

The first time I was exposed to the question of social responsibility when it came to published material was in high school. There was a rumour floating around that someone in the school had acquired a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and people were freaking out! Well the adults were, but the students, they just wanted to see something blow up. Several years after publication the author of the book had a change of heart and wrote the publisher requesting it be taken out of print. Due to the manner in which the copyright was assigned (to the publisher, not the author) the author was told that that wasn’t going to happen. William Powell, says of his infamous book:

The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”

While I applaud William Powell’s change of heart, the content is still readily available and it continues to promote violence. You can’t un-ring a bell. But this isn’t a post about gun control or anti-terrorism (though I happen to feel that both of those things are generally a good idea). All of the above are examples of content that’s driven by an agenda (terrorism, civil liberties, political protest). But what about when the agenda is simply to entertain? What happens when a work of fiction becomes the Anarchist Cookbook for the sociopath living next door? 

This is a question that recently popped into my head when I was driving to work and listening to Metallica’s Nothing else Matters. For whatever reason, a spectacularly disturbing scene popped in my head as the song played. I imagined it as a soundtrack playing over the events as they unfolded, the main character singing along as he committed heinous acts of evil and atrocity. If I think about it, there’s nothing unique about what I envisioned – I’m sure several movies, televisions shows, or books have captured the essence of this scene several hundred times over – but when the song ended I paused my music and drove the rest of the way in silence thinking to myself, What is this crazy serial killer’s motivation? What would drive this individual to commit such unspeakable acts of violence?


Before long, I had established a back story for my antagonist, the motivations behind his actions, and a suitable ending that, depending on which way I want the story to go, could either please readers or make them scream in frustration (i.e. getting caught or getting away with it). Once I had these ideas in place, and after a day’s worth of work of thinking about something else, I was left to ponder, What if any of this were to be used by someone in real life? 

Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous to worry that a work of fiction would end up driving someone to act on it, but it happens all the time. It’s not in the same as distributing bomb making instructions or blueprints for restricted gun parts but is the fact that the book is labelled as fiction enough? I would like to think so, but at the same time I still feel somewhat responsible of making sure that it’s crystal clear I’m talking bullshit for your enjoyment and that it’s not a how-to manual or some demented personal wish list. I suspect a lot of artists struggle with this, but I’m not really sure.

Anyway, at the end of the day I can always get Bono to step in and make things right.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUZf-_adUTo?rel=0]

~ Andrew