Thursday, May 22, 2014

Speak Softly and Wail on a Big Guitar. Treadlightly into the Future

An old friend of mine, Andy, recently informed me that he had joined a band.  At first, knowing Andy, I had assumed that it was a euphemism either for going on yet another of his famous heroin binges, drinking the menstrual blood of a Bengal tigress, or getting a pop rock blowjob from a French Canadian drag queen.  Considering his propensity for strange code words, drugs, and bizarre sexual fetishes and the look of pure, unbridled ecstasy bursting from the depraved depths of his eye sockets, none of these would have surprised me.  It took some explaining on his part, but I was finally made to understand that in this particular instance "joining a band" actually meant "joining a band."

Andy had recently beat a bad rap and a long jail sentence by instead agreeing to direct his energies into an amateur musical endeavor as part of a Work Release Program for the Criminally Disenfranchised.  In yet another "misunderstanding" after a series of unfortunate circumstances in which Andy's propensity for going out in public wearing nothing but a bath robe and public urination coupled with his relative inattention to his geographical location--in this case, in front of an elementary school full of young, impressionable youth--served as that Perfect Storm of probable cause that whip police into a killing frenzy as they are all but guaranteed to arrest and/or beat the living shit out of various levels of miscreants and scoundrels.  Somehow, Andy had talked himself out of serious jail time in one of only two cases in recorded history where playing a bass solo in the courtroom was accepted as a closing argument for the defense.

In short order, Andy began stalking local musicians in a desperate bid to make good on his promise to the judge to "rock out with his (figurative) cock out," although nowhere near any school or daycare as stipulated in his probation.  Eventually, he found a burgeoning group of minstrels whose desperation for a bass player rivaled Andy's own desperation not to have his salad tossed daily in the shower of a federal penitentiary, and Treadlightly was born.

My initial reaction when Andy told me to listen to his band's "music" was probably the same initial reaction of most people when their friends inform them of their amateur musical endeavors: a mix of that dutifully patronizing optimism and faux excitement usually reserved for parents who are forced to reconcile the natural, nurturing urge to encourage their children with the (sometimes blatantly obvious) fact that their children actually suck at most of the stuff they are encouraging them to do.  It's natural for most socially normalized people to want their friends and loved ones to succeed; however, we also know deep down that they probably won't most of the time.

So I clicked on the link Andy forwarded me out of the reflexive obligation born of friendship and, in this particular case, the fear of eminent reprisal in the form of some manner of fecal matter arriving in the mail.  I needn't have worried, though, as Treadlightly turned out not to be shit.  In fact, they were surprisingly good, especially for a garage band from North Bay, an isolated city in northern Ontario serving as a way station in that vast expanse between the Edge of Somewhere and the Middle of Nowhere.  Treadlightly's debut album, Less is More, features the talents of four Wayward Sons of the North: Ben Guillemette as the lead singer/songwriter/guitar, Ron "Bakery Master" Venable on guitar, Andrew "Andy" Robinson on bass and handjob duty (and some pretty sweet mandolin on "See the Day," which is second in the realm of musical spices only to cowbell), and Brandon Andrew owning the drums.

We've only begun to explore the discernible
benefits of cowbell within the confines of
our current space-time continuum.
On their REVERBNATION info page, the band claims that they sound like Pearl Jam and Green Day, which, of course, is pure bullshit, and put there for the sake of genre-obsessed music hipsters whose enjoyment from music seems to come primarily from classifying it within increasingly obscure niches.  I won't try to pimp out Treadlightly's work as the greatest thing since Ralph Macchio helped save rock n' roll, but they are definitely ahead of the curve.  (Besides which, intentionally trying to sound like other bands is pretty much the antithesis of the rock n' roll mentality and of creativity and progress in general.  I believe the general goal is not just to reverse the flow of comparisons, but defy comparison altogether.)  I can't really speak as to the technical accuracy or technique employed by Treadlightly's members, but everything "felt" good.  I don't know enough about drumming to know if Andrew warrents "god-like" status as the band claims, but I will say that I'm not usually one to notice drumming when listening to a song, but for some reason, with Treadlightly it definitely stood out.  Guillemette's vocals are very solid for the most part, although it's obvious he's no Julie Andrews.  But I liked that it sounded as if--at times--he really had to push himself to hit some of those notes because I could tell he was singing his ass off.  Though "professionally recorded," all of the tracks on Less is More still sound raw and slightly unpolished in the best possible way.  They don't sound like some over-produced, pop-rock by-product, but they definitely won't be mistaken for a bunch of teenagers at a Battle of the Bands or some such shit.    

Between tunes with decently catchy riffs like "Shifty Eyes" and "Knives from Behind" (a personal favourite on the album) and other stand-out tracks like "See the Day" and "Wilson Fill-Ups," Treadlightly doesn't actually sound too far off from a lot of what you might currently hear on the radio.  Depending on how one looks at that analysis, it might be seen as an insult to wares being peddled by "professional" musicians and various large, soul-sucking record labels or as a back-handed compliment to the boys of Treadlightly, implying a certain adherence to the generic.  My true intention was rather to indicate that their product had reached a Critical Mass of marketability, which is one of the cultural indicators of talent/success.  My advice to the members of Treadlightly is to do their damnedest to get their product heard by as wide an audience as possible, even if it means taking the local radio station hostage, and leverage the dividends to procure as much pussy (and/or cock depending on their individual proclivities) as they possibly can while they still can.  It is, after all, better to burn out than to fade away (unless that burning is centralized in the genital region).

Thematically, Less is More is rife with what seems like an existential angst ripped straight from the '90s, including a veritable sound check of tropes for human specimens on the fringe:

Check, check, one, two, check.

Loneliness and isolation. Check

Heartbreak. Check.

Bitter regret. Check

Failed relationships. Check.

Righteous anger.  Check

I'm not sure if Guillemette went through one or more messy and/or disastrous relationships, but, from what I can make of the lyrics they seem to be a lot about being shit on in a relationship and basically giving the offending party a big "fuck you" in return.  Which is what rock is really all about: not giving a shit and doing so as passionately as possible.  In that respect, Treadlightly seems to be well on its way.

Though their album release in a dark corner of the digital Universe may not lead to sold-out stadiums and boatloads of drugs, Treadlightly does fill me with a certain kind of hope.  The point isn't necessarily to become a rock star perhaps as much as it is to embrace (in the best sense) the rock star philosophy.  The traditional narrative arc of the rock star seems to follow three basic phases:

  1. Achieving a breakthrough and rising to some degree of Fame and Fortune
  2. Testing the human limits of endurance for excess, including--but not limited to--drugs, alcohol, sexual partners, money, and ego
  3.  Emerging from the flames of self-destruction and re-emerging as the wise sage or imploding under the pressure and a) dying young, b) fading into obscurity or One Hit Wonderhood, or c) squandering a fortune that other men would literally kill for and having to pimp yourself out to degrading reality TV shows and movie cameos, cashing in on unfulfilled promise just to make ends meet
The whole point of rocking out isn't necessarily to get filthy stinking rich (although that seems like a pretty fucking sweet deal from here); it's to test the limits of your endurance.  If you can't tolerate yourself and see it through to the bitter end no matter how low you may sink, then how can you expect others to do the same?  If you don't aspire to greatness at least a couple of times in your life, then why would others try to tough it out with you rolling around in the shit and the filth?

Whether Treadlightly's goal is to weave themselves more intricately into our cultural fabric, or simply to "leave their mark" without simply pissing all over the rug as so many seem content to do, I wish them the best in their endeavors.  Perhaps it's enough to do something so that, years from now, when our grandchildren hear about it and look up at their kindly old grandfathers they will see--if only for an instant--standing before them not men, but Legends; they will gaze upon those wizened old coots and instead see in their presence Luminous Beings bathed in the light of the past who--if even for some transient, ancient moment now long forgotten--explored depths of debauchery and excess, accomplished (seemingly) unimaginable feats, and did shit that would make their grandchildren stare up in wide-eyed wonder.

But they won't have to imagine it, because they will see it as clearly as anything they have ever witnessed before: grandpa nose-deep in pussy, shit-faced or stoned beyond what the normal human tolerance for alcohol or other foreign substances would seem to allow, or rocking out like he was a fucking King Amongst Men.  And mixed in with their amazement a new-found respect, a yearning to be a part of that Legend, and--with any luck--the burning desire to exceed it.

For those about to rock, we whole-heartedly salute you.


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