GUEST BLOG: Much like a Boomerang – by Laura
Laura writes a fantastic guest blog for Get Barenaked describing her experiences of BNL’s music…
My family is the kind that rarely plays CDs or records around the house, despite our decent sized collection. The extent of our music-listening largely comes from the radio, which is often on in the car or in the background while making and eating dinner, but the station is usually one of those that plays whatever’s current, with the odd “classic” (meaning mid or late 90s) mixed in. So if you asked me how I ended up possessing a copy of Maroon and Are Me when I was a kid, I’d tell you that I have absolutely no idea. But one day they were (and still are) there in my room, and I listened to them, not understanding the meanings behind most of the lyrics or who the strange and different voices who were singing “Vanishing” and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas” belonged to. I didn’t know of Ed, Steve, Jim, Tyler, and Kevin; I just danced along to the upbeat tunes I heard. At some point I started watching random episodes of “Ed’s Up” on weekend mornings, completely unaware that it was the same Ed Robertson (despite the fact that he mentions the band’s name in the opening sequence). Beyond those two albums, and “One Week” and “If I Had a Million Dollars” which of course occasionally played on the radio, I knew nothing of the band. I never bothered to think that there was anything more to their music beyond those two CDs.
As I went from elementary to middle and high school, BNL fizzled out of my life – or at least as much as they could, considering how little they seemed to be present beforehand. I had transferred the two albums alongside my other miscellaneous CDs onto my MP3 player – and I remember being super surprised to find Kevin’s “Hidden Sun” at the end of “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” on Maroon, although at the time it was just another odd song belonging to an unfamiliar voice – but they were rarely listened to in comparison to the radio and the other few albums I owned. Channels on our TV provider changed and I lost the channel number I watched “Ed’s Up” on, and it never crossed my mind to hunt down where else I could watch it. I was completely oblivious to the media drama caused by Steve leaving the band.
But little did I know that this band, who mysteriously snuck into my childhood but whose presence was barely felt, would later return to leave a more permanent imprint on my music playlist… It kind of reminds me of part of the chorus to “Boomerang”, now that I think about it:
But I’ll come on back
‘Cause I know
Though you meant to let me go
I could always be your boomerang
I guess you can say that, without any real intentions to do so, several years later I caught that boomerang after absent-mindedly throwing it away. In 2013 or 2014 (aka 12th Grade, to give some perspective), I stumbled across Grinning Streak. I’m not entirely sure how I found out about the album, but it was definitely through Rooster Teeth since I had recently gotten into their YouTube channel thanks to some friends, so it was probably either from the music videos they did for “Odds Are” and “Did I Say That Out Loud?” or finding out that Ed was Captain Dynamic. No matter how it happened, my love for the sound of BNL was quickly rekindled. I bought the album on iTunes alongside Gordon and then I slowly worked my way backwards through their musical history. I learned about Steve’s departure and even though it was bittersweet, I was glad that the band was in a happier state and still making music. I learned about Kevin’s fights with cancer, and his strength and optimism which shines through the majority of his songs mixed in with his sense of humour and voice soon made him my favourite of the Ladies. I came to realize that the voice behind the previously weird sounding song of “Peterborough and the Kawarthas” was Jim and that the beautiful yet somewhat sad “Vanishing” was by Kevin. My iPod came to include Silverball when it was released and I listened to it on loop, and I rediscovered Maroon and Are Me still sitting in my room. Slowly but surely, I’m building my collection of albums. Now more mature and far more invested, I feel like I can better understand their lyrics and have a stronger appreciation for their work than I did when I was a kid.
When 2015 rolled around, I had no idea how amazing things were going to get for me in the second half of the year when it came to BNL. For one thing, Kevin’s song “Passcode” on Silverball was what led me to fall in love with his songs and discover his solo and Thin Buckle work. I purchased what little of it is available on iTunes and held out for Christmas that year to gain a physical copy of Days in Frames (and I’m glad I did; it’s an absolutely beautiful album). But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
It was early or mid summer of 2015 when I had already learned that another Canadian band I love, Walk Off the Earth, was performing at a music festival in my city in September, which I was beyond excited for. But one evening I was half-watching The Marilyn Denis Show and BNL appeared as the guest performer, advertising their late fall Canadian tour. I automatically searched online to see if they had a date in my city and there it was, the very last stop: November 21st! I found a friend who was interested in going with me and we bought our tickets. It wasn’t any fancy VIP ticket, though; heck, it was actually around the second row from the back on the topmost level of the theatre, but the excitement was still there. I was going to see Barenaked Ladies live!
When November rolled around, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I saw BNL. I knew what to expect from all of the fan-recorded concert videos I had started binge-watching to help keep my excitement levels high; I knew that their shows are never a disappointment. But I’ll admit that despite my excitement, I was still a bit self-conscious when arriving to the theatre. There I was with my friend, two 19-year-olds, waiting to see a band that’s been around for almost 30 years, surrounded by people who for the most part have probably been fans for almost just as long as the band’s existence and have also probably gone to a countless number of their shows, while this was my first time ever seeing them live. So you might be able to imagine how out of place I felt in that crowd, but thankfully gushing about the band to my friend helped turn those nerves into more excitement. Alan Doyle was the opening performer, and Ed joined him on stage at one point to rap in his song “1, 2, 3, 4” and pretended to play the accordion. Then there was an intermission, and then it was show time!
And despite all of the videos I had watched, despite knowing their setup and style, seeing BNL in person was… I don’t think there are any words to do it justice, really. Somehow the experience was still new and unique, but more importantly it was mine. I got to see Barenaked Ladies live. Ed told a story about getting caught behind the school bus at the end of the Santa Claus parade while biking his way to play pinball in my city, at a bar I’ve actually seen with my own eyes. Ty cracked a joke about Santas-in-training taking notes in the bus on Santa’s candy cane-throwing techniques. I heard both “Narrow Streets” and “Passcode” performed, probably my two favourite songs from Silverball! I own now a poster that looks like a pinball table and a metal key-chain shaped like a pinball flipper with “Silverball” engraved into it. But more importantly to me, I own blurry photos and videos to remind me that it did actually happen, that these four men are real and genuine people and I saw them live. I could not stop smiling the whole show or the ride back home, and every time I think about it now I still can’t help but grin like a fool. It may not have been anywhere near a front row seat or a meet-and-greet, but I really wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
I’d say that my luck stopped there, but that would be another lie. November turned into December, and with December came the online BNL pinball contest, where the top five or ten winners (I don’t remember exactly) won a prize pack of a copy of Barenaked for the Holidays on CD and Silverball on vinyl. And of course I played it. You could’ve probably called me obsessed with the game, but I was determined to be one of those winners. In the end, somehow I landed in the top five; somehow, out of probably hundreds or thousands of players, I did it. When December became January 2016, I got the email confirming that I was one of the winners, but the coordinator for the contest was based in the United States, which immediately made me extremely concerned; I was starting to think that maybe my luck had begun to run out. But after some email exchanges, they told me that they’d be able to ship it to Canada without any problem, and later in the month I came home from school to the package welcoming me on our kitchen island.
But my luck somehow still didn’t stop there. Also in January, Rooster Teeth’s movie Lazer Team came out, which Ed has a cameo in (which was a really nice surprise when I saw it) and that the band also wrote a song for as part of its soundtrack. He and the rest of the band were going to be the special guests at a Toronto screening, and somehow I managed to convince a friend who was in Toronto (and should be mentioned not really into either BNL or Rooster Teeth) to go see it, half-joking to get me some pictures. But she one-upped my request and got me a video message from Ed himself instead! I was completely speechless; I was honestly just expecting a recap of the Q&A or at most some photos, but instead I received the amazing surprise gift of what could be the closest I might ever get to Ed directly talking to me. And he mentioned that they’d be stopping in my city again in the future!
February marked the start of a stream of BNL fan art, since as an artist by hobby it’s too tempting to capture their antics and the imagery of their songs in drawings. The first one I completed was based off of Kevin’s song “Grey Garden”, from his solo album Cloud Maintenance, and after slight hesitation I posted it publicly on Facebook, linking Kevin and hoping that he’d see it. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting much to happen; I figured that it would just slip past his radar and that he wouldn’t see it at all. But lo and behold, a day or so later, I checked and he had liked the photo! Kevin Hearn had acknowledged my art!
During my debate to post the drawing on Facebook, I ended up forming a friendship with someone on Tumblr from the fact that we both deeply love Barenaked Ladies. Up to that point, I never realized how great it is to have someone to mutually gush to about a band. I always feel a little bit alienated with my music tastes: most of the other fans are too old for me to feel comfortable to even consider interacting with them and the majority of my friends listen to more current alternative/indie music, although some of them have listened to me ramble about my love for BNL (except not without sometimes first hearing a surprised “Wait, they still exist?” from some of them when I first mention the band). But it’s not the same as talking to someone who actually listens to the band too, who 100% gets what I’m talking about and responds with such equally pure enthusiasm. I’m so glad I have that now and it has let me continue fully feeling the excitement and love for BNL and all of their antics that built up before the concert way back in November. In fact, it’s probably made me love the band even more.
Needless to say, for the fairly short period that I’ve been a solid fan of the band, I’ve had an extremely lucky couple of months. I have no idea what the future has in store for me when it comes to BNL: maybe Kevin will do a solo show in my city (since his shows in Toronto are so close yet also sadly too far from me to afford travelling and accommodation), or maybe I’ll be able to afford a VIP ticket the next time BNL’s in town. Or maybe some other exciting opportunities will pop up. What’s absolutely certain, though, is that my love for this band isn’t going to die down any time soon. But if for some odd reason it does, I’m sure it’ll come swinging back with full force, much like a boomerang.
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