Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Fudge Pleasure

I admit it: today I sat on a bike that goes nowhere for thirty minutes on the 'random' program which most closely simulates cycling in the real world. In order to pass the time in some state just a shade above pitiable boredom, I did three things: I watched the swimmers who, like me, had chosen to spend a portion of their afternoon going nowhere in a state of locomotion, I blasted music directly into my ear holes, and I thought.

I thought about this band I used to know (made up) from Montreal - called Fudge Pleasure. They were a bunch of mostly white dudes from the suburbs of Toronto who smoked too much weed, had an inexplicable obsession with James Brown and thought French-Canadian girls were alien creatures of wonder and sin. With that stuffed in their pipes, they took to the sexier climes of Montreal with its promise of equal opportunity to everyone from eighteen year old girls who wished they were redheads to bongo hippies who just want to get righteous and move to the original beat. Check ça! C'est tout fucké, hein?

Lead singer and tambourine 'player', Games Butty, originated from a family of total weirdos (who named him Games expecting people to pronounce it James) and legendary Canadian golfers. With his baffling afro and strange body shape, he was an easy target for ridicule. This wasn't helped by his propensity to dance with zero inhibition, which might not have mattered that much if Fudge Pleasure played any style of music other than their only-in-Montreal brand of funk/punk, scream/soul. 'Gay Buddy' (as detractors and fans alike took to calling him) became well known on the local circuit for doing things on stage that would have left any other human with broken arms and legs, disjointed by idiocy.

The only other musician in the band worth mentioning is the drummer - a Ojibwa native who grew up on an island in Lake Huron. No one really knew is real name. They assumed that Shitting Stan wasn't it. It had to be a nickname really because if you ever had the chance to see them play, it was painfully obvious. He was what has been called a 'retard drummer' - that is, a drummer whose musical prowess is inextricably linked to his library of ridiculously mangled on-stage faces. Stan's collection of face moves were very much uniquely his own. Enough said on that topic.
Sadly, the band came to an untimely end when Shitting Stan, challenged to "act like a kindergarten kid," by what might have been a fan, lit the carpet of the band's van on fire and perished. Fudge Pleasure and specifically Games decided that the band could not continue after a loss so awesome.

Though their non-existent ambitions allowed them to go nowhere and do nothing save for a dozen or so live shows, they will always be remembered for taking a terrible idea and making it something interesting. How many of us can say the same?

In a way that is just as similar as it is different, Elliott Brood took a wicked idea and made it totally wicked. They took three cosmopolitan Torontonians in sharkskin-esque suits (themselves), gave one a banjo and the voice of a banshee, another an acoustic guitar with no fear of plugging it in and cranking the distortion and the third a drum kit with an old leather suitcase for a kick drum. Then, the three of them boarded a train called "The Elliott Brood Sound Experience" and headed straight for the end of the road.

The train metaphor is pretty perfect actually. Take into consideration the tune "Fingers and Tongues" from their latest effort called Mountain Meadow.

This song gives you exactly what you need to feel like you're going somewhere - even when you're sat going nowhere. It almost feels like boarding a train headed for where the sun sets, just off the face of the Earth. You can feel the engine power up and gain speed as it passes the city limits. You can feel the promise. I know they say Johnny Cash played like a steam locomotive, but this is 2009 and we've got the prairies to cross.

There's a strong sense of importance too. One that keeps the coal in the engine. It's like a long-haul rush to drive off a cliff in order to make some great and unforgettable statement. And as the train comes up out of the final valley and heads the flat-lands opening up the throttle for the real commitment, singer Mark Sasso belts it out like a woeful but empowered raving lunatic. Just the kind of guy I want at the helm of my run-away train.

Even the end of the song, with its chunky stammering summation, has me imagining the cars of the train buckling over the edge and crashing off the cliff face in destructively triumphant stutters.

No song has done that to me before.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Chapter 1: Self-Titled

I would start this whole thing off with "The other day I..." but it wouldn't be anywhere near accurate, and precision is something I'm very serious about. Instead, I'll officially start my blog with the following:

Almost every time I leave my house, I walk. There are a handful of things I always keep in the pockets of my jeans. My phone is one of those things. I would estimate that roughly 85 percent of the times that I am walking the sidewalks of this giant city, the following phenomenon strikes with maximum confusion following in its wake:

Powering along, weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic as if running a gnarly set of moguls, all the while building up a perilously high body temperature that will ensure a just-showered look as soon as I enter a building, I am most often completely oblivious to just about everything around me. That's the way I like it while walking the neighbourhoods I most often traverse in this city.

Wait! Something invades my banal glaze! Suddenly a vibration emanates from my left pocket. 'Tis some caller,' I mutter, 'buzzing at my pocket's core - Only this and nothing more.' I slow my upsettingly stormy gait in order to feed my hand to my pocket - something like forcing a triangle into a circle (no I don't wear girls jeans). Once inside, the activity turns to more of a dangle as I fish for my phone. I grasp it and obstetrically bare it to the bright gray of London. I feel it shudder.

But what's this? No caller, no text...not even a low battery! Sonofabitch! I've been Ghost Buzzed!

It must be some blend of psychotic power walk, construction activity, passing vehicles and the jarring pavement tactics of charity workers with terrifying and fake pot-of-coffee sized smiles. Either that, or it's a supernatural event unknowable to modern science and sadly commonplace to this young gentleman - Just a confusing though unremarkable mark on the timeline of his day.

Ghost Buzz was a short lived experiment in what was deemed the Alternative scene of the mid to late 1990s. Hailing from St Paul, Minnesota, they bridged the weird, undefinable and shitty musical gap between Sonic Youth and Hootie and the Blowfish but curiously managed to push the fashion envelope first opened by The Cure. For them, struggle was the watchword of their career but not because they were super hardcore or way before their time. Instead, it was due to constant derision by critics and fans alike who could never get on board with Ghost Buzz's bizarre alienesque mélange of 90s post punk and never appropriate but righteously hopeful jock-folk-rock. No one bought it, which didn't matter because lead singer (with lead charisma), Zap, funded the entire enterprise with his stepfather's fortune. The garbage just kept coming and coming somehow even regardless of label sabotage and numerous assassination attempts.

Finally, in 1998, the group disbanded amidst controversy that no one cared about and no one can remember now - Controversy can be strange that way. Like anything Courtney Love does.

Back in reality, it seems apropos to include in my first post a song that, while not currently responsible for the tinnitic buzz in my ears, is one I consider to be my favourite of all time. "Feel the Pain" by Dinosaur Jr. from their album Without a Sound

It may come as a surprise that Dinosaur Jr are the perpetrators of piece of recording I consider my all-time favourite. They aren't a band that I hold in particularly high esteem. I like some of their stuff - Probably a small percentage of their output. Still, their canon isn't what I'm interested in here. This song sums up so much of what I think is great about music and I suppose it's that talking to me when I hear it.

It's a simple tune - check. It's got an attitude problem - check. It laments both an acute awareness (doesn't really matter of what) and a sad numbness - check. It freaks out in spasms of choral frustration - check. J. Mascis can't sing to save his life but he does it anyway and the results are...awesome. He plays guitar like a video game freak who can get from A to B with gentle ease but who, when it comes to the Big Boss Man mashes the buttons and wins every time. The bass is perfectly distorted and every time the pick falls I confuse it for my heartbeat. In fact, I think that might be it. When I listen to this song, my heartbeat changes to its rhythm. You can't argue with that kind of effect.

My Friend Gordo (the Patron Saint of Patron Saints, as he's been called) after first hearing this song, said with a voice robbed of its characteristic timbre but flecked with a hushed respect, "this guy must be ugly as hell and fat as fuck." And he was right - Can't you hear it? Only the ugliest dudes make rock this willing to embrace sadness and toughness in one badly sung breath.

Plus, the song starts with the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle - Probably a garbage red that tastes a bit going down like it would coming back up. Come on...too good.