Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wax Fang - Dawn Of The Dead Of The Night Of The Hunter




It is the nature of progressive rock to be very experimental. It is also only natural to be highly psychedelic. Musicians have been creating what we consider progressive rock for over a half century now which raises the question, how do bands continue to be “progressive” in rock and roll. The best advise I could give would be, embrace the strange.

Wax Fang is a strange band. I have been listening to them a lot for the past several years and somehow, they continue to surprise me. They are a perfect blend of experimental, psychedelic and strange.

Effectively a two man group, Wax Fang hail from Kentucky, Scott Carney performs lead vocals, guitar, keyboard, piano and others instruments, meanwhile Jacob Heustis plays the bass and keyboards and also provides the backing vocals. They used to have a drummer named Kevin Ratterman. Wax Fang have been making music since 2005 but their popularity surged significantly when they had a successful tour with fellow Kentuckians My Morning Jacket, followed by a very interesting appearance on American Dad.

I would like to tell you that I liked Wax Fang before they were cool, but I would be lying, I discovered Wax Fang through American Dad. I do not watch American Dad regularly but my favorite episode is the strange space rock opera that was “Lost in Space,” where… well it was strange. There is a scene where the aliens probe Jeff’s mind to see his memories of Hailey, and what we see is a not true love, and it is done as a sort of music video for Wax Fang’s song “Majestic.”

Majestic on American Dad:

I had thought about doing a review on “Majestic” but I failed to strike while the iron was hot. That episode of American Dad aired four years ago (2013), also “La La Land” the album that houses the song “Majestic” came out ten years ago (2007). No mater how I view it, I am late to this party. “Majestic” is a great song, and I think a lot of people know that without me writing anything about it. However, despite their recent surge in notoriety, Wax Fang remains a cult band, most of their work is unknown, and they have songs other than “Majestic.”

With a title like “Dawn Of The Dead Of The Night Of The Hunter” it is only natural I would be take notice. “Dawn Of The Dead Of The Night Of The Hunter” is a long title for a song, but I knew immediately the references at hand, Wax Fang had combined the title of two famous movies, “Dawn of The Dead” and “The Night of the Hunter.” “Dawn of The Dead” 1978 is George A. Romero’s second installment in his zombie movies, and in my opinion the best one. “The Night of The Hunter” 1955 is a classic film about a religious conman terrorizing a poor family after serving time with the condemned father who confessed to hiding ten thousand stolen dollars. The music video contains clips from both movies as well cuts from 1974’s “Deathdream,” which is about family wishing their son home from Vietnam after he has been killed, and he shows up as a vampire, or something, it is not entirely clear, the movie is pretty ambiguous.

The visuals created by the combination of these three movies are rather memorizing, and the video attached I found to be very enjoyable, regardless if you have seen any of the films in question or not. There are a lot of fan made videos online, a stupid quantity really, so I naturally assumed that is exactly what the video attached in this blogpost for “Dawn Of The Dead Of The Night Of The Hunter.” To my surprise that is the official music video. I knew George A. Romero never copyrighted any of this works, which made him significantly less wealthy and also kind of a hero, and I guess the other two films are also in the public domain. I would say it was clever to do such a thing, Wax Fang using clips from, presumably movies they really enjoy, to make a music video that are not protected properties, but it actually speaks to another side of the band, they are a humble bunch. I have no idea what Heustis and Ratterman look like, they are perfectly content to let their music to the talking for them, and instead of a focus on the two musicians we get an interesting art piece combing a great song and three films.

I went and watch “Deathdream” because of this video, and had I not seen the other two films before I surely would have been inspired to seek them out too.

Wax Fang does not follow convention when it comes to song writing. Their lyrics are choppy and pacing is deliberately erratic, there is a blend of short and long sentences making up the content, and yet it works. It is intentionally jarring, the shorter sentences have a deeper impact by the longer presence they hold.

There is an added element of strangeness in Wax Fang songs, for they are very experimental in all things.

“Come to get you,
They’re crawling out of mirrors, into your rooms,
They walk out of the shadows,
Nothing you can do,
Don’t bother trying to hide ‘cause, they’re gonna find you.
It’s just a matter of when.

And when they do, they’ll take you by the arms and tear you in two,
Your spirit from your body,
They’ll make you choose, which one you get to keep and which one you lose,
'Fore you make your decision, listen here.”

I am unsure if the lyrics are meant to be literal and describing some sort of demons ripping the souls out of people, or if it is entirely metaphorical about society forcing to choose to artistic or productive. Will you give up your creative soul or your needed body? There is a lot to take in. The first few listens is was expecting some talk of zombies or conmen, but I suspect the name is more tribute than anything else. Given the lack of identifiable connection between the three films and the song’s lyrical content, and also the vast possibilities for interpretation of those said lyrics, it could be believed that “Dawn Of The Dead Of The Night Of The Hunter” is an embrace of the nonsensical, but I do not believe that. I have not pieced together exactly what this song is about, or what the title has to do with anything, but I think something very deep is being sung about here, and I look forward to figuring it out, or someone commenting below.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Thermals - Here's Your Future



The Thermals are a hip trendy band out of Portland Oregon. I have heard them described as an indie rock band and also a punk rock band, those two styles are very different from one another, and yet weirdly The Thermals could be argued as either one. When I first heard them, I thought the Thermals were best described as a modern punk rock band, one of those soft pop punk bands, you know the type, but I must admit there is an indie influence present. Whatever, all these subgenres are getting hard to keep up with anyway, I guess The Thermals are an indie punk band, and no, I am not sure how they pulled that off.

With a quick listen, The Thermals would not necessarily seem like the sort of band I would get into, what with their somewhat nerdy, somewhat hipster ways, but here we are now, talking about them.

The Thermals
The Thermals is a three-piece band, fronted by Hutch Harris on lead guitar and lead vocals, and his now wife, Kathy Foster who plays bass and does the backing vocals; these two are effectively The Thermals, as they have gone through a few drummers at this point. I like Hutch and Kathy, while I am still learning about who and what they are, they seem really nice, and also, I like their music.

I first discovered The Thermals in November of 2012. I remember the date because I published a Music In Review called “27 Songs about the End of the World” which included The Thermals’ “Here’s Your Future.” You can read that review here: http://colinkellymusicinreview.blogspot.ca/2012/11/27-songs-about-end-of-world.html

At the time, I had never heard of The Thermals before, but I really like “Here’s Your Future” it had great energy, and I liked the prophetic doom of the chorus “here’s your future.”

Since that time, youtube.com has consistently recommended The Thermals to me, surely because I have listened to “Here’s Your Future” so many times on that platform. In that time, I have grown to be very fond of other Thermals’ songs like “Returning to the Fold” and “Never Listen to Me.” I have listened to many of their albums and live performances but my enjoyment seems to be primarily linked to their 2006 album “The Body, the Blood, the Machine.” Despite everything I have heard and learned to love by The Thermals, nothing compares to that first love, nothing is quite as great as “Here’s Your Future.”

As part of “27 Songs about the End of the World,” “Here’s Your Future” is indeed about the world’s end, specifically it is about biblical Armageddon.

“God reached his hand down from the sky,
He flooded the land then he set it on fire.
He said, ‘Fear me again. Know I'm your father.
Remember that no one can breathe underwater.’
So bend your knees and bow your heads.
Save your babies, here's your future.”


This interpretation of god is pretty damn brutal, and thus fairly accurate to the old testament. Rarely we see god presented in such open harshness, not only is he threatening his audience, but he is threatening their children, even more than that he is promising an eternity of abuse, “here’s your future.”

From that dramatic opening verse, we break into Noah’s flood:

“God reached his hand down from the sky,
God asked Noah if he wanted to die,
He said ‘No sir,
Oh, no, sir.’
God said, ‘Here's your future.
It's going rain.’

So, we're packing our things,
We're building a boat.
We're going create the new master race,
Cause we're so pure.
Oh, Lord, we're so pure.
So here's your future.”


Then we discuss Jesus:

“God told his son, ‘It's time to come home,
I promise you won't have to die all alone.
I need you to pay for the sins I create.’
His son said, ‘I will, but Dad, I'm afraid.’"


There is a rather obvious message in this song that is critical of the Christian god. It is very difficult, even for the staunchest apologists, to ignore the cruel and destructive nature of god’s actions in the original white light faith text. Those stories took place in savage times, full of violence and death, so we should expect no less from a god representing spirituality and morality of that era. Still, few, present god in such a linearly frightful way as The Thermals have here. The menace is not only extreme and immediate, but immortal, the shouting of “here’s your future” is of severe significance because it implies that this nightmare is continuous, forever, and given that god is the one enforcing this never-ending tragedy, we are powerless to stop it.

Other songs by The Thermals come across almost positive towards Christianity, and this seemed to somewhat conflict with the content of “Here’s Your Future,” but I come to believe the more upbeat and encouraging religious moments in The Thermals repertoire are mostly sarcastic, but also reflective of a rather neutral perspective on the topic. I do not believe Hutch and Kathy hate religion or Christianity, I suspect they have a passing fondness for it, but are ultimately critical agonistics, and that is why songs like “Here’s Your Future” and “Returning to the Fold” can both exist on the same album.

I thoroughly enjoy a good critical bashing of religion, but agnostic subtexts had nothing to do with my initial love for The Thermals or “Here’s Your Future.” As I said, the energy and pace of “Here’s You Future” is fantastic, the dread of a fearful future shouted at us by Harris with such unrelenting aggression makes for a very intense and powerful song of doom, and the end of the world.

Back in 2012 I knew one day I would be writing this review and promoting this song. “Here’s Your Future” got it’s hooks deep into me all those years ago and never let go. It is probably one of the best songs of this decade that I have discovered.

- King of Braves

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nobuo Uematsu - Terra & Aeirth's Themes


Terra's Theme

Aeirth's Theme

Nobuo Uematsu has lived a rather interesting life.

Not ever musician gets to live the dream of being a famous composer or rock star, many of them play small gigs and burn out or must find a day job. Many others end up working for movies and television, or worse, advertising. Some, end up working in video games.

Uematsu started his career with Square in 1985, and while he has worked on many, many, video game soundtracks he is best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series. Despite the restrictions of 8-bit games allowing only a handful of different sounds and therefore notes to be available, Uematsu was able to create many very catchy and impressive short tunes that would naturally be repeated over and over during game play. It is a unique challenge that most musicians never face, creating a short, maybe thirty second instrumental song, with a maximum of eight notes, that needs to be enjoyable to hear in repetition a multitude of times. In the modern era, many would know and agree that this is a talent worthy of respect, but it took decades for Uematsu, and the uncanny music industry he was involved in, to be recognized.

As video games advanced, Uematsu was able to produce more and more elaborate songs for the soundtrack of Square’s games, and this perhaps best heard by the natural changes to the “Crystal Theme” or “Prelude,” this jingle is included as the opening song to every Final Fantasy game and has become something of a tradition for the series, and with every incarnation Uematsu modifies it just a little, added a little bit here and there. Thankfully someone has compiled them all into one video:

All Crystal Themes:

You can really tell when a new game system is introduced, Final Fantasy Four was the first in the series on the Super Nintendo and it is the first version to have a melody. Final Fantasy Seven was first of the series to be on the PlayStation and it’s “Crystal Theme” is the first one to be a full and complete song within itself. The seventh one is my ringtone.

It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to pinpoint the moment when Uematsu had broken through. At what point did the soundtracks of Final Fantasy, or perhaps another game, connect with people in a powerful enough of a way to earn Uematsu and the entire profession of video game musician credence? Final Fantasy Seven was the most popular in the series and was the first to have fully orchestrated songs, so that seems like a logical point, but a lot of Seven’s popularity stemmed from the unprecedent success and popularity of Final Fantasy Six, arguably the best game on the entire Super Nintendo Entertainment system, and partially because of a famous opera scene when a very nearly opera song was created with the limitation of 16-bit computer programming. The game’s prior has amazingly popular songs as well, but Final Fantasy Ten was the first in the series, on the PlayStation 2, and the first that felt like a full fledged interactive movie, and its soundtrack was absurdly popular. What was the breaking point for recognition from the fans of the games and what was the breaking point the generally music listening audience?

We may never know.

But what we do know is that it happened.

In 2002 Uematsu decided he would take his popular video game songs from the Final Fantasy series on the road, as a mother fucking rock band, appropriately called The Black Mages. It was a logical next step for his musical career. The Black Mages would release four studio albums and eventually transform into the Earthbound Papas which tours like The Black Mages did, but have not released any albums to date.

In 2011, at least I think it was 2011, the impossible happened, multiple Final Fantasy songs were entered into the Classic FM Hall of Fame. The popularity of Uematsu and his video game music had become so mainstream that his songs were now considered among the greatest pieces of modern classical music, which is great, because there are.

This is where the story reaches the final arch of Uematsu adventure. I do not know if Uematsu dreamed of being a great composer or rock star and had to settle for writing music for video games, or if his ambitious in life were more mundane and temperate in his youth, nonetheless he accomplished everything a musician could hope to accomplish. He had a successful career doing something different with his talents, but from there he was able to become a rock star, as well as a world renowned classical composer. Uematsu is the Beethoven of video game music.

All of this, and the song of the hour has had no mention. For me, the music of Uematsu, and Final Fantasy, have a similar appreciation, popularity and power to the games from which they stem. Every Final Fantasy game is different and everyone has a different favorite, but the debate about which game in the series is greatest often comes down to two by die hard fans, Six and Seven.

As stated before Final Fantasy Seven is to this day the most popular, whether or not it sold the most copies, most everyone will agree it is the most popular; but that does not make it necessarily the best. Final Fantasy Six was lightning, it pushed the Super Nintendo to it’s limits and was revolutionary in every aspect of RPGs. Fourteen playable characters, all with unique abilities, personalities and back stories. Sixteen-bit spirits that had multiple stances and movements that enabled them to emote every possible emotion. A story that was highly interesting, an unforgettable villain, great game play, and yes, an excellent soundtrack. It is highly possible the only reason Final Fantasy Seven was so successful was do to the excellence of Final Fantasy Six. By riding the popularity of it’s predecessor and receiving a huge marketing campaign that was fueled entirely from Six’s successes, Final Fantasy Seven became the most popular of all time in the series.

As you can tell, I am firmly in the Final Fantasy Six camp. Perhaps I am biased, the time in my life when I had the most time to play video games was the heyday of the Super Nintendo, so I may always be more in love with that system and its games than anything else.

Cloud and Aeirth -
by Yoshitaka Amano
“A love that will never be, and a hatred, that always will.”

That was how they advertised Final Fantasy Seven. It was a powerful single sentence that revealed to insightful a lot of what to expect in Final Fantasy Seven. The love interest would be lost, and the villain would never be forgiven.

When we examine the list of the most popular songs by Uematsu, many from Final Fantasy Seven take the front stage, notably the antagonist, Sephiroth’s theme “One Winged Angle” or the tragic love interest, Aerith’s theme appropriately called “Aerith’s Theme.” The hatred that would always be and the love that could never. A lot of people cried when Aeirth died.

Terra - by Yoshitaka Amano
Aerith’s theme is possibly the greatest song Uematsu has ever written, but I am very partial to Final Fantasy Six, and I am very partial to it’s primary protagonist, Terra, and also her theme.

I never thought of Terra’s theme as exclusively hers. It first plays when you reach the overworld map, so I always thought of it as Final Fantasy Six’s “Overworld Theme,” but apparently it is Terra’s. This is possibly my favorite my favorite song from Final Fantasy Six, and in turn is possibly my favorite Final Fantasy song.

To be honest, a heavier reimaging of Terra’s theme is what really makes me love it so much. I have had a very difficult time tracking down the create of this remix, but I believe now to be someone called Ailsean, and it is called “Terra in Black.”

Terra in Black:

There is a fun parallel here. The two magical women of the two most renowned Final Fantasy games have themes that have stood out, at least to me, as the two best songs by Uematsu. The more spoken game of the two having the more known sorceress and theme, but an undying and endearing fan favorite keeps the other preposterously popular. In the end I cannot really choose between the two, so let us have both, Terra and Aeirth the mystical women of the two most important Final Fantasies, and their beautiful themes given to us by man living the music dream.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Miracle of Sound - Sovngarde Song



I wrote a post about Miracle of Sound in June 2013. Miracle of Sound is a one-man band created by Gavin Dunne, and under this banner he had created this beautiful song about the video game “Bioshock Infinite” and I was forced to realize that some nerd making a song about a video game could result is an amazing piece of art. To me it was a sign that the whole world was changing, and music production could now be seized by anyone thanks to the internet and we could hope and dream of such things that previously sounded absurd; it was going to be awesome, and it is.

Gavin is many ways is a perfect sort of musician for what I like to write about. A talented, largely unknown entity, with a very interesting concept and story, and most importantly good songs. I suspect there is literally no one in my social life who listens to Miracle of Sound, except the one friend who discovered his music with me, and probably my roommate. There is nothing I want to do more than share music with people they have never listened to before, and I hope they enjoy it at least as half as much as I do. Miracle of Sound is a perfect Music in Review band.

Now the to point.

I have been facing some financial difficulties lately so I decided I needed to do something to keep myself out of trouble. I needed some cheap means of entertaining myself, so when the July Steam sale happened I bought Skyrim.

I had played Skyrim before at a friend insistence, he was right to push it on me, it was an insanely fun game with a huge fantasy world to explore and I really enjoyed it. When I do the math, at this point, Skyrim has effectively cost me $0.15/hr of game play; a very affordable means of entertainment. I have successfully stayed out of trouble.

Now back to Gavin Dunne and Miracle of Sound.

Gavin has written multiple songs about Skyrim. I mentioned in my “Dream of the Sky” review that a friend and I got drunk on mead one New Year’s in honour of “Nord Mead” a rock and roll drinking song:

Nord Mead:


Another comical song is “Khajit Like to Sneak,” which is my least favorite of this set, but he does a pretty good job of making his singing voice sound like a Khajit:

Khajit Like to Sneak:

Gavin has also written an instrumental called “Winter Still” inspired by the themes and score of the game which I find very enjoyable:

Winter Still:

One of my favorites is Gavin’s duet with Malukah “Legends of the Frost” which is very beautiful and sounds like it really belongs in the game:

Legends of the Frost:


When I started writing this I forgot how many songs about Skyrim Gavin had written, but with all of that chronicled we must now discuss the best Skyrim inspired song by Gavin “Sovngarde Song.”

For those unfamiliar with Elder Scrolls lore I will have some quick information by methaphor that should assist in making deeper sense of the song’s content. Skyrim is a province in the continent of Tamriel, it is effectively Scandinavia and its inhabitants, the Nords, are effectively Vikings. Lastly Sovngarde is Valhalla.

This is a mystical song, calling us into Skyrim, and the mythos of the Elder Scrolls using relatable Scandinavian and Viking like imagery that is fitting of both the real culture and fictional setting. But there is something unique about the customizable protagonist in Skyrim, the Dragonborn, as they are titled, is born with the soul of a dragon and thus has the Thune, or voice, of a dragon and can use it to great affect to unleash great force sending their enemies flying backward or stunned sternly in their place. Which gives us this perfect line:

“And my voice is my violence.”

Bravo Gavin. This is the best possible sentence anyone could have ever hoped to have included in a song about the Dragonborn. It could be taken as symbolic, that the words of this warrior are of war and rage, or it could be taken as musical, as this song is about battle and bloodlust, but this line must be taken literally, the voice of the Dragonborn is aptly described as violence.

The chorus is equal parts Viking and Nord and could and probably should be song on appropriate occasions for celebrating either:

“And we stand tall,
Sons of the snow,
We will not fall,
Under these blows,
For our hearts they are hardy,
Our spirits are strong,
And our voices are lifted into,
This Sovngarde song.”


As satisfying as the chorus is, I would be remiss if I did not point to the highest energy part of the song where tempo picks up and the volume rises, and this great battle lyrics come roaring out of Gavin:

“Conquer the anger and ravenous rage!
Make it a part of your power.
Pummeling down let your bloodlust engage!
Under your force they will cower.”


Just badass is what that is.

And like any great song, the tempo slows and returns to the same mellow melody that brought us in, and ends with a feeling of mythic wonder, in a frozen land.

It need not be said, but I really enjoy “Sovngarde Song,” but more so I really enjoy Gavin’s 2016 remastering of it:

Sovngarde Song 2016:

Everything is just a little more rock and roll in the this version, which in turn makes everything a little more battle strong which is not only more appropriate but likely necessary to properly capture the spirit of Skyrim.

In summary, Vikings are awesome, Skyrim is great source of entertainment, and Miracle of Sound is a highly unique and enjoyable musical creation in whatever subgenre of music we can classify it as.

- King of Braves

Monday, July 31, 2017

David Bowie - Heroes



As you all recall 2016 was a pretty rough year for celebrity deaths. We lost a lot of great musicians that year, like Lemmy, Prince and Keith Emerson. I typically have a pretty level head about death, everyone must die eventually and if you can be a rock god before you go I feel like you lived a pretty good life and your death should be more of a celebration of a great life then a grieving of loss. Having said that, the death of David Bowie was kind of a bid deal.

It was not that long ago that everyone was saying how remarkably well Bowie was aging. In 2007 Bowie turned sixty and he looked no older than forty, and a handsome forty at that. One of the most impressive things about Bowie was his ability to stay relevant as time went on. It would have been easy, at least in the short run, to remain as Ziggy Stardust with the gigantic success of those albums, but instead he took a big risk and became Halloween Jack, and then the Thin White Duke, and then whatever the hell he was supposed to be in “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.” The man had an almost unnatural ability to adapt to any style or challenge he embraced. He was even an accomplished actor. Bowie was unstoppable.

Than he finally died, and rather early in life compared to expectation. Death is always tragic, but losing Bowie was something a little more. He was truly one of kind, a artistic chameleon, able to reach audiences of all walks of life, seemingly immortal, and now no more.

It was a great loss and everyone is hurt by it.

I have a slightly different perspective however.  While Bowie's death is a big deal, I still hold the opinion that it is better to celebrate life.

Death is nothing to be surprised by; everyone is going someday, and we are only fighting for the chance to be last. I may feel the pain of the loss of a great hero like Bowie, but I more so reflect on the life he lived then the death that ended it.

“Forget death, seek life.” – The Epic of Gilgamesh

There is no way of pretending David Bowie’s life was anything short as magical. A man who dreamed of being a global rock star who smashed that dream’s highest possible hope and became a multi-generational rock god, also, he stared in movies, and married a super model; pulling off any one of these things would be impressive, but he did it all. Also, his first son grew up to be a pretty damn good movie director (watch “Moon.”), he made friends everywhere he went, aged remarkably well, and just lived an almost impossibly amazing life. So while I am sad to see Bowie go, I am not filled with too many regretful concerns about what he did with his time. It is a life well worth celebrating.

What I am trying to say is that David Bowie is a god damn hero, and that is my cheesiest segue to date.

I have been listening to David Bowie for a long time and I have been listening to a lot of his music, so it is slightly difficult to remember my earliest memories of him. I believe the first two songs by Bowie that I was familiar with in my youth must have been “Space Oddity” and “Heroes.” In many ways “Heroes” is an ideal radio song for Bowie, it has an amazing intro, easy to remember lyrics, so everyone can sing along, and is very catchy. Now that I am older and I have listened to “Heroes” probably a thousand times or more, the song has lost some of it’s magic, and what makes it unique has blended into the background of my thoughts, yet it remains, without question, a top-quality song in my casual thinking. I always enjoy hearing it, every time, and it still holds meaning, not just for it’s message of possible heroism, or perhaps adventure, but for it's cultural significance, and the symbol of comfort and familiarity it has become to me.

“Heroes” the song, but also the entire album, was recorded in Berlin and marked that era of David, when he was hanging out with Iggy Pop in Germany reinventing himself for the… forth time was it? “Heroes” was part of the trilogy of albums produced which also included “Low” and “Lodger.” Of the three albums “Heroes” has remained the most popular and well known, and that has a lot to do with the strength of the title track. Despite the dozens of hit songs Bowie produced, impressively “Heroes” stands out not just from the Berlin Trilogy but amongst Bowie’s entire song list.

When it comes to the arts David Bowie has become one of the most influence and important people ever; furthermore he is inarguably one of the greatest song writers of all time. He was not just a hero in music, but in life. He made some of the greatest music ever, but he also lived the best life I have ever heard of.  Far from a hero for a single day, Bowie will be remember forever for all the reasons mentioned just now and countless other reasons.

- King of Braves

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Tragically Hip - Nautical Disaster



A friend asked me, “do you think any other country has a relationship with a band the way Canada does with the Tragically Hip.” I mumbled something about New Zealand’s The Feelers, and conceited that I was not sure. I was forced to conclude to myself the major reason I was so unsure if any country has their own Tragically Hip was because I have never lived in any other country. Our best kept secret is ours for a reason, no one else is paying attention. So, if any other unique relationship like this exists it has likely escaped my notice entirely, probably because I was not paying attention.

Unless I am correct about The Feelers and New Zealand.

Exactly four years ago I did a Music In Review about the Tragically Hip discussing how they were the most Canadian band ever: http://colinkellymusicinreview.blogspot.com/2013/07/tragically-hip-canadas-most-canadian.html

I have always been very happy with that review, there were typically two reactions that review garnered, fellow Canadians wondering why I was stating the obvious and everyone else asking “who?”

To state that the Tragically Hip were popular in Canada would be a over simplification. Sure, the Hip are popular here, and almost exclusively here, but they are much more than that. There is a constant familiarity every Canadian has with the Hip, we all know their songs, and it pretty much an unanimously agreed that the Hip are fantastic.

While I believe I did a fair job of elaborating all the many reasons the Hip were Canada’s most Canadian band, I never really discussed the unique relationship they share with us, all of us, all of Canada. Imagine your local band that you know personally and you really enjoy. They mean a lot to you because they are your friends, and their music, well good, is wildly underappreciated, and this forgotten gem, this wayward band means so much more to you, because you know your love for them is deeper and truer than nearly anyone else. Now imagine an entire country feels that way about a band, and strangely the shared national love does not drown out the personal unique pleasure anyone person beholds for them. That is sort of what the Tragically Hip are to Canada. We all kind of know them personally, and we all love them more than anybody else, and this is only possible because of their total lack of fame outside of our borders. It is only possible because Canada is a proud, yet humble, influential, yet lesser important, nation.

The Tragically Hip are a national treasure to us Canadians, and their songs are as much part of Canada as our national anthem. The fact no one else cares about them endears them to us even more. Who outside of Canada knows all the words to “O Canada?” Who outside of Canada knows all the words to “Wheat Kings?”

There was a time when the Tragically Hip were nearly known in the United States. I remember the Hip playing Saturday Night Live with “Nautical Disaster,” which is surreal looking back on it, not only because the Hip were on SNL but also because Gord Downie still had hair back then.

Speaking of “Nautical Disaster.”

1994’s “Day for Night” would be the first Hip album to reach number one in the charts in Canada, though this had a lot to do with the strength and popularity of their previous album “Fully Completely” it also had something to do with the album being pretty damn decent, and it’s third single “Nautical Disaster” certainly helped.

During live performances of “New Orleans is Sinking” the band would improvise sometimes during the bridge, and as these impromptu sessions became more and more elaborate a unique song began to emerge, “Nautical Disaster.” This is perhaps why both songs share an aquatic theme.

I have read so many books of classical literature about seafaring and aquatic exploration, maybe there is an allure to the ocean for a foothills man like me, but my mind is often flooded, pun not intended, with memories of “Moby Dick,” Robinson Crusoe,” “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” and others when I listen to songs like “Nautical Disaster. Recall the ending to Jules Vern’s “2,000 Leagues Under the Sea” where Captain Nemo sends the Nautilus into a maelstrom, and just imagine what sort of a disaster that would have been if the science fiction submarine were to be rip asunder, that would be a true nautical disaster.

The natural reaction for most is that “Nautical Disaster” is in fact about a very real disaster in the water. The Hip being the most Canadian band ever, most people speculated the tragedy in question would be the Dieppe disaster. In second world war an allied raid, off the coast of France, was made by five thousand soldiers from the Calgary Regiment and a thousand British troops. The raid was a complete disaster nearly four thousand men died.

So it is understandable that we all think Gord is speaking of Dieppe with lines like:

“One afternoon, four thousand men died in the, water here,
And five hundred more were thrashing madly,
As parasites might, in your blood.”


Also, “thrashing madly as parasite might in your blood;” wow, what a line.

However, Gord Downie has confirmed “Nautical Disaster” is not about Dieppe, and most people seem convinced now that it is all metaphorical to an ending relationship.

But that’s boring.

It all seems to specific to be a simple metaphor; “a lighthouse on some rocky socket, off the coast of France;” “four thousand men died in the water here;” and “I was in a lifeboat, designed for ten, and ten only.” All these words are so detailed like an actual event. For example, in The Hip’s “It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken” the line “the forget your skates dream” was so oddly specific I knew that song had to be about a story, and it was, it was a Canadian graphic novel of the same name, but of course it was the Hip are the most Canadian band ever. I still believe that “Nautical Disaster” must be about a story about a shipwreck off the coast of France, whether it be historical or fictional is irrelevant. As a metaphor for an ended relationship “Nautical Disaster” is boring, as an account of post traumatic drama of a survivor of shipwreck “Nautical Disaster” is gripping, haunting and beautiful.

“Then the dream ends when the phone rings,
‘You doing all right?’
He said, ‘It's out there most days and nights.
But only a fool would complain.’
Anyway, Susan, if you like,
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory,
As those fingernails scratching on my hull.”

Again, weirdly specific, who is Susan? The ex, or maybe his therapist? Or maybe the wife of one of the drowned men? Cause it is still out there, all those dead bodies and that sunken ship, and while it haunts our narrative’s dreams, he is still alive unlike the four thousand lost, so only a fool would complain. Do you know what this theoretical scene reminds me of? The end of “A Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, where the narrator must lie to the wife of Dr. Livingstone, for he is afraid to utter the reality of the doctor’s dark demise and the horror of the truths he discovered, for it is still out there, the horror, the horror.

I read a lot.

Anyway, that is why I love “Nautical Disaster” it brings my brain to so many different stories and ideas.

For me the Tragically Hip are like the Rocky Mountains, I take it both for granted. You see in live in Calgary, Alberta, and whenever I look west the beautiful Rocky Mountains are right there, okay I might have to drive a half hour out of town or take a run up centre street, but the point is there are right there and I never look at them. Hell, I have never been to Jasper and I’ve only ever been to Banff once. Meanwhile on the radio, thanks to Canadian content laws and their enormous popularity, the Tragically Hip were constantly being played, they were always there, yet I only owned a handful of their albums, I only went to see them live once.

Gord Downie, weirdo and
Canadian music god.
Now, after thirty-four years of producing Canadian rock and roll the Hip are presumably soon to be no more. Most bands do not retain the original line up of all five members for thirty plus years, but we, us Canadians, must come to terms that soon we will lose our beloved weirdo Gord Downie. I will explain to my majority readers who are not Canadian, front man and lead singer of the Hip Gord Downie has brain cancer, and ah… that is really bad; he is probably going to die soon. Like the good damn hero he is Gord went on a final farewell tour of Canada ending in their home town of Kingston Ontario which was broadcast live on the CBC, because of course it was. The Prime Minister was there and everything. It was in part, sort of like a morbid early funeral, because… Gord is probably going to die soon, but more than that, it was a celebration. It was the celebration of a life well lived, a band most beloved, and a nation connected. It might have been the most Canadian moment in Canadian history.

When it finally happens, when Gord Downie finally leaves us, I suspect I will be sad, most naturally so, but I will be filled with a sense of wonderment as well. He lived a good life, and he along with the rest of the Hip became something no one could possibly have imagined back in 1983. They have contributed to the Canadian music scene is such a profound way as to never be replicated.

- King of Braves

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pink Floyd - In The Flesh(?) and The Trial



“The Wall” is about many things.

In many ways “The Wall” is a sensation, dramatization of Roger Waters life. Many of the struggles facing the narrative character Pink Floyd are real struggles that Waters faced himself. The loss of a father due to war, an over bearing mother, soul crushing educational experiences, failed marriage, drug addiction, and mixed feelings about a successful music career. How some of these I do not know if they happened to Water’s personally, like I do not know what his mother or early schooling was like, but some of these things do fit, like the untimely death of his father and his multiple divorces.

In many ways, the character Pink Floyd in “The Wall” is a personification of all the members of Pink Floyd. The drug abuse of Syd Barret, and the general unhappiness of the musician’s life from all. It is only fitting that Waters’ has the most in common with this fictional manifestation, since he was the driving force of creativity in the band.

If there is one thing “The Wall” is about, it must be madness.

For many years I have pondered the true overarching theme of the story within “The Wall” and this is the conclusion I must draw, insanity is the deepest message of Roger Water’s Magnum Opus. All the suffering discussed in the last two reviews, that is the driving force, the plot, but not the point, the end result is the madness.

Like any good musical there is a continuity in “The Wall,” a return there to, with similar styles and sounds. If “The Wall” has an overture it must be “In The Flesh(?)”

The first track on “The Wall” is “In The Flesh?” Initially the song may appear to be little more than a meta introduction to the album. A singer is addressing an audience, provoking them with assumptions and questions. To the uninitiated this introduction could be a little jarring. In the movie edition, Bob Geldof portraying Pink is dressed an awful lot like a Nazi as he greets a crowd of spectators. It is a very short song, and quickly the short unnerving speech ends with a dark invitation:

“If you want to find our what’s behind these cold eyes,
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”


How could we refuse? We must see past the disguise and learn more about Pink Floyd, both the band and the fictional avatar representing them. What we learn is summarized in the two earlier reviews, we see a man tortured by loss, disappointment and isolation. The climax of the album hits with “Comfortably Numb” and what follows is madness.

In the movie “The Wall” the dual elements of drugs abuse and disillusionment ruin and wreck the protagonist to the point where the other within begins to emerge. This is visuall represented with Geldof’s Pink’s skin melting and the character frantically tearing away at his own flesh until he rips the flesh open and is revealed underneath to be the fascist we saw in the opening track.

We are then greeted with a return to continuity, and “In The Flesh” plays. There is no longer a question mark, as the mystery is solved, we now see what was behind those cold eyes, a tortured man, now a ruined soul, a Nazi allegory. 

In The Flesh:

During the second version of “In The Flesh,” Pink exposes his more disgusting intentions and feelings and unleashes segregation and racism upon his audience:

“I've got some bad news for you, sunshine,
Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel,
And they sent us along as a surrogate band,
We're going to find out where you fans really stand.

Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get 'em up against the wall,
Now, there's one in the spotlight,
He don't look right to me,
Then get him up against the wall (get them)

Now, that one looks Jewish,
And that one's a coon,
Who let all this riffraff into the room?
There's one smoking a joint,
And another with spots.


If I had my way, I'd have all of them shot.”

This, combined with the use of Nazi imagery in “The Wall” caused a lot of concern for some. Simple minded fools with no appreciation for context jumped to the ridiculous conclusion that Pink Floyd were supportive of Nazism. The first fundamental flaw in this thinking is failing to see that this dark transformation is used as a metaphor for insanity. After years of abuse the Pink Floyd character devolves into an evil tyrant, and possibly only a tyrant within his own mind, since the primary theme of “The Wall” is madness, and madness is a prerequisite for acceptance of something as vile as Nazism. The second enormous flaw is this simple-minded interpretation is the rather obvious fact that the visuals are brutality is equally influenced by Stalin’s Soviet Union. The marching hammers is one of the most memorable visuals in “The Wall” and this is clearly a direct refence to the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. However, missing the first point is poetically disastrous.

The entire Wall album is about losing one’s self. Note the line “Pink isn’t well he stayed back at the hotel,” suggesting that the character who once was, is no longer present. Another mind has taken over and with it segregation and possibly genocide. This works symbolically for two major reasons, one it shows the duality of man, good and evil. The truth is, there are no monsters, just other humans. It is easy to label horrible people as monsters because it is a simple explanation that requires no depth of thought, also it is more comfortable because it aids in the separation of the reality that we share a lot in common with our fellow humans, including the one’s who disgust and horrify us. Secondly, insanity is the theme, and Pink Floyd, the character has lost his mind and become the worst thing imaginable, a Communist/Nazi allegory, the modern day demons and boogiemen of the world.

This made perfect sense to me when I was young. It takes something complicated and horrible for someone to become quantifiably evil, and insanity and losing control, the worst outcome would be to become that very evil thing.

All that is left is a rampage and a lamentation.

Then after much beautiful musical ugliness we reach the end, we reach “The Trial.”

The Trial:

The events of Nazi rampage in “The Wall” can still be interpreted as taking place within the mind of the narrative character. In his mind he has become so self hating that he sees himself equivalent as the great evil of modern history. It is also unclear if “The Trial” is taking place is reality or the mind. All the demons of Pink’s past come together to torture him one last time, bombarding him with harsh judgements most of which seem incredibly unfair. Pink reaffirms his insanity by stating:

“Crazy,
Toys in the attic, I am crazy,
Truly gone fishing.
They must have taken my marbles away.
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.”


And then:

“Crazy,
Over the rainbow, I am crazy,
Bars in the window.
There must have been a door there in the wall,
When I came in.
Crazy, over the rainbow, he is crazy.”


And these two versions of “The Trial’s” chorus sum up the end nicely. Pink has lost his mind and been trapped within the wall for so long he has lost himself.

It is a powerful ending. It haunted my dreams for years. What if I lost my mind and all my deepest fears were revealed? Would my peers be sympathetic or would they castigate me, banish me behind a wall, separating me from everyone else, leaving me as some mad bugger beating heart against the wall? It is a natural concern, not the hyperbolic doom that is the conclusion of “The Wall” but the feelings of isolation, distrust and even fear of those around you, and having it stem entirely from self-doubt and self-loathing. Everyone, in theory can marginally at least relate to this, but “The Wall” is a such a extreme showcase of such emotions that it can frighten and intimidate and even confuse many listeners. It is an ugly truth, that underneath melting skin something ugly lays in wait, and it is inside all of us. All of us are a composition of positives and negatives, and it is a combination of strength and condition that keeps us from slipping into madness, but everyone is capable of falling into it.

There is a lot to ponder, but of course there is, there is so much emotion and phycology captured within “The Wall.” “The Wall” is all in all a very sad album, but that is par for the course with Pink Floyd. The saddest thing is the greatest rock album ever needed to be so sad. Pink Floyd, all of them, had so much sadness within them, yet they took that and made something so beautiful. That was the great inspiration for me when listening to “The Wall” so much when I was young, taking something negative and making it a positive. So much so, that when I listen to “The Wall” now, I rarely feel sad, all I feel, is inspired. Maybe that is why I consider it to be the greatest album of all time.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly