I spent Sunday pottering around Cardiff and the day seemed to develop a specific theme. First off I went to see ‘Anvil – The Story of Anvil’ then later I went to see the last ever gig by Stray Borders.
‘Anvil!’ is a documentary about a once promising canadian heavy metal band who ended up being mostly forgotten. However the two main members of the band have been beavering away tirelessly for 30 years, releasing records, touring, working in school canteens…
It’s kind of a character study in the main. Their frontman ‘Lips’ is in love with the Rock ‘n Roll dream. It’s very poignant in parts as you see how much the guy’s given up, not least the ability to make any money, in pursuit of his dream. His wide-eyed childish dedication to his craft is infectious and you can’t help but root for him. Personally I think heavy metal’s silly rubbish but I admire the devotion it seems to inspire.
Then the final gig by a band I’ve never heard before – Stray Borders. Apparently they’re finding it impossible to get together and practice because of work committments and the like so whilst they don’t want to stop playing they’ve no choice.
They are (I should say ‘were’) a post-rock band in the shimmering, reverb-drenched ‘mogwai fear satan’ tradition, and a pretty good one at that. Even though mogwai-ish stuff isn’t something I listen to any more – it really does all sound the same – I did enjoy the gig.
The crowd was full of friends and fans determined to give them a good send-off, and the emotion was contagious. At one point their singer said “This is probably the last time we’ll do this for a while… so forgive us if we break into a smile now and then”, and their bassist announced that she nearly cried during their penultimate song.
At the end they stood in a row with their arms around each other’s shoulders and took a little bow. At which point I think I got a speck of dust in my eye, which quickly developed into a lump in my throat. So I bought their cd – a lovingly presented EP with consumately post-rock over-long song titles.
[After that the headline act (who I won’t name but I’m sure you can google the information somehow) carried all the emotional subtlety of a newfound lover ejaculating on your face then dancing around in their pants and applauding, but that’s another story…]
So that was twice in one day I found myself getting emotional over the plight of a band I’d never heard and wouldn’t normally care about. Am I turning into an old softy?
I posted a video last week for ‘Stop Traveller! Stop and Read!’ which is quite an old song. I don’t often dwell on my lyrics once they’re written. So when I had lots of comments saying ‘keep chasing your dream, Andy!’ and other nice things, I had a sort of ‘oh yeah’ moment as I remembered what the song was actually about.
The idea that having to have a job might one day get in the way of making music is hugely depressing to me, and I felt sad to see Stray Borders coming to an end for that reason. ‘Stop Traveller!’ isn’t quite about that, but all those comments coming the same day as Anvil etc struck a chord. Renewed my focus…
Why is it that music can mean so much to someone, like ‘Lips’ from Anvil, that they can put the entire rest of their life on hold for it? It’s a balancing act which I’ve struggled with for years (and I won’t bore you with it).
Kurt Vonnegut once said that music was the only evidence he needed that there was a God. As a fellow atheist I can see what he means. I’ve said before that I’m inclined to believe the theory that we evolved the ability to sing before we could speak. How many times have you heard some terrible lyrics transformed into transcendental poetry by a really amazing singer?
I was once doing a crappy telesales job, and they taught us that when you talk to a ‘customer’ the actual words you use only account for 14% of their attention, the rest is all about tone – so you should sound confident and they’ll be confident in you. Which is clearly horlicks from a scientific point of view. 14%!? – how the hell do you measure something like that? BUT the point remains that words alone don’t really cut it emotionally.
Music bypasses the part of your brain that over-thinks things (which for me is about 99%). It gets straight to the ineffable mystery of what it is to be human. It says it all without explaining anything. It can help you understand what it feels like to be in love, when you’re too young to have ever been in love.
What is this stuff? I can’t explain it. And anyone who thinks they can is an idiot. But I can understand why it’s so hard to give it up. Especially for something as banal as real life.