Musings —05.24.2016 06:44 AM—
The news about the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie will affect many people, today. It will likely see them thinking about the connections between their lives and the songs that the band performed over thirty-odd years. (Like the performance above, their historic – for Canadians, anyway – appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1995.)
Music does that, I think, more than a painting or a poem or a movie or a dance or a sculpture or a play. All of things those can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life, of course. But music, because it is so ubiquitous and because it is so indelibly associated with events in a person’s life, surfaces feelings – and recalls feelings – in a way that other art cannot achieve. The sheer volume of it testifies to this: more music will be created this morning than you will be able to listen to in your lifetime.
As an (aspiring/lousy) musician, I can attest to the fact that music has that effect, and more, on the person trying to produce it, too. I’ve written about music, played it, composed it, organized it, you name it. And I’ve therefore seen, close up, the way in which it is important to people. So, last month, my teenage punk band, the Hot Nasties, reformed in Calgary after 35 years. I heard from many people who were happy about that. That day in Calgary brought us a bit of joy, as well. Politics never brought me the kind of joy music did.
I was never huge Hip fan – they were always a little bit too much rock ‘n’ roll for me – but I do not doubt the power of their music, or what their many fans are feeling today. So, too the deaths of Bowie, Prince and others – so many of them, this year, that Dan Rather is doing a special about it.
Take it from a geriatric punk rocker who recently has been busying himself, for variety of reasons, to making peace with a bunch of people (except two Trudeau people, that is, who refused to even write back, sigh): our time here is fleeting. It goes by, too quickly. But music can help slow it down, bit. Like Bowie said: “That’s the shock: All cliches are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is.”
It is, it is. So, to all you (many) Tragically Hip fans out there, I offer you the very end of the only book I ever wrote that had any value, Fury’s Hour. It seems to fit, today.
Okay, listen: imagine that you’re sixteen again (just like the Buzzcocks song), and you’re getting beaten up by jocks at school, because you look a little different, or you talk differently, or you’re gay, or you wear funny clothes, or you aren’t very athletic. Or you’re being hassled by your teachers, because you’re not like the other kids, and you’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak. Or you’re being pushed around by some kids because you don’t want to try drugs, or because you like to read books.
Or imagine that your Dad left all of you a long time ago, or that someone at home is pushing you around when they get drunk, or – in the night, when they think no one is looking – someone who is supposed to love you is running their hands all over you. And that you are only sixteen years old.
Or imagine that, like a lot of sixteen year olds, you have yet to develop the capacity to be unaffected, or uncaring, about television footage of thousands of children literally starving to death. Or that you still pay attention, and you still cry, when you hear about someone who is weak and alone being hurt by someone who is rich and powerful. Or that you have a rage – a wordless, black rage – building up inside of you about all of this and none of this, and that you cannot imagine that life could ever have any meaning anywhere, anytime. Or imagine that you cannot conceive that God can exist in a world that is so fucking cruel and bleak and evil.
Just listen, and just imagine living through any of that. Because, for a lot of sixteen year olds, they don’t have to bother imagining a life like that. It’s their life already. That’s why punk was invented, and why it will never die. Punk takes a young person’s anger, and makes them do something, and feel something, and be someone. It makes a kid feel that he or she actually can shape the future – and, sometimes, it helps them to actually do it. It makes those unlivable parts livable again. It gives hope. It sings.
Close your eyes, and slip into that dark, crowded, sweaty, noisy little nightclub and listen to the punk sound, the three-chord sound of fury’s hour. And, as you stand against the wall at the back – or as you dance the bad stuff away, right down in the front – know that this is the sound that punk makes, now and tomorrow and forever: