A few mixed-up words on mixed-up words.

I like a good lyric as much as the next person. When a perfect phrase grabs you, it’s a sublime moment of understanding.

But I also kind of like it when a song is hard to understand.

As a kid, I mainly bought albums on cassette. In those days, it would seem tapes were a cheap afterthought from a record business perspective: they came without their own custom design, and certainly without lyrics printed. So I would spend hours trying to decipher what my favourite singers were singing. Sometimes, when I eventually found out what it was, I liked my own interpretations better.

Just as one example, for the longest time I thought that the line in Rush’s “Freewill”—the stars aren’t aligned, or the gods are malign—was the stars on the line of the dark summer night—a more poetic, if less meaningful per se (and certainly less showy), turn of phrase.

(Incidentally, I could say a lot of things about the recently deceased Neil Peart as a lyricist, and his perhaps unfortunate influence on my young writer’s mind, but I’m not sure this is the place, or indeed if that place in fact exists. But I will excerpt this passage from the same song—which incidentally I could never understand despite hundreds of listens, and remained a mystery until I looked it up recently—as a fond farewell…)

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
That’s far too fleet 

Mumbling towards ecstasy

Later in life, I would become enraptured with deliberately mumble-mouthed singers. Obvious examples include Michael Stipe with the early REM, Mick Jagger on Exile on Main Street, Kurt Cobain whose vocals were slurred enough to be mocked by Weird Al… I liked the mystery of these unintelligible hooks, plus maybe I found some justification there for my own inability, or unwillingness, to sing clearly (as a child choral singer, I was often pestered to open my mouth wider and enunciate).

On the extreme end of incomprehensibility, you’ve got outright nonsense lyrics—the dadaist poetry of Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra,” the famous backwards hook in the chorus of Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” or the work of singers like Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser or Duchess Says’ Annie-Claude, who went as far as to make up their own languages… to me, these are the purest reflections of the idea that the important thing in a song lyric is how it sounds, not what it “means.”

I only once had the audacity to try this wordless approach myself in a song, very early on. If I’d been left to my own devices, most or all of my songs might just have had nonsense lyrics, but clearer heads prevailed…

Getting around to the point…

All of this is just to explain why, for many years, I resisted sharing the WP’s lyrics, even though people have asked about them from time to time. I guess I thought that song lyrics were meant to be heard, not read.

In keeping my lyrics obscure I was also deeply affected by David Thomas of Pere Ubu, who once declared in some liner notes that “Printing lyrics is a Bad Thing.” (What can I say? I’ve always been susceptible to strong personalities, manifestos and decrees.)

Well, times have changed, and now I want you all to bask in the brilliance of my lyricism. So I’ve made all the WP lyrics—from the random surrealism of the early days, to the self-help-influenced posicore pronouncements of the mid-late 2000s, to the emotional oversharing of the last decade—public for the people to enjoy. Now, you can saunter on over to the WP Bandcamp page and find out what I’m going on about in your favourite song.

Just be warned…. it won’t be as mysterious!

A Year in Shows

It’s my turn to add to the glut of 2011 musical listing.

As wiser people than me have pointed out, a year is a rather arbitrary marker and the “best” things that happened that year even more so.

My own position is also very subjective. There have been years in which I saw a ton of shows (like when I worked in the music business) and years where I hardly saw any (like for about two years after I stopped working in the biz).

Nonetheless, this is a good opportunity to get down some thoughts about a few shows I saw this year that inspired me.


RUSH, Bell Centre

I grew up as a huge, unabashed Rush nerd. There were a good two or three years where it wasn’t a question of what I was going to listen to that day, but rather which Rush album (or albums). My getting into punk rock in early adolescence handily coincided with the era where Rush started putting out truly terrible records, and I put my fandom aside.

(Note: I am very much aware of the reasons why a lot of people hate Rush. All I can say is, watch the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage and if you still think you can front after that, let’s talk.)

Oddly enough given the band’s notoriously overwhelmingly male audience, it was through my wife that I got back into the band. When she would get excited about hearing “The Spirit of Radio” or “Closer to the Heart” on classic rock radio, I had to admit that there was still a kernel of love deep inside for Canada’s foremost prog power trio. So when they came to Montreal last spring, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Never have I seen a show that was so amazing and terrible in equal proportions. The evening started off with a comedy video starting the members of Rush—the corniest dad humour imaginable. Then they came on with “Spirit of Radio” and all was forgiven. From there they went into “Time Stand Still.” And from there, a good HOUR of their 90s and 00s material, the absolute nadir of their career.

(I will say, though, that the songs from the last record or two are not so bad. They at least have some good riffs and hooks, though in typical Rush fashion they dogmatically avoid repeating these in a catchy way.)

Then there was an intermission, another comedy video, and then the band came back with another hour-plus set of all classic bangers. Suddenly the unspoken bargain with the audience made sense.

Neil Peart had his usual po-face on (plus I’d read his book in which he talks at length about how much he hates touring), and Alex Lifeson kind of looked like he was thinking about something else the whole time (I was reminded of Trent Reznor’s comment on why he quit touring, that he’d be onstage performing while thinking “I should have had the chicken sandwich”). But Geddy Lee was a true entertainer—running around the stage, jumping, smiling the whole time, all while playing songs that in some cases are approaching 40 years old and that he must have played thousands of times. Truly inspiring.



I’ve always been in awe of this band. When I saw them a few years ago at Sala Rossa, I had the same feeling about Rob Wright that I did about my dad as a little boy—he was a supreme figure of paternal authority, benign yet incredibly powerful. The strength of his hands and of his bellowing voice had me trembling like a believer in the church pews before a thundering preacher.

This time around, in a smaller and packed-to-the-rafters venue (and with the members of the band looking up close like the almost 60-year-olds they are), I wasn’t quite as enraptured, but they still put on a hell of a show. I also admired how they, unlike a lot of old-timer bands enslaved to their greatest hits, can reach basically anywhere they want into their catalogue and pull out songs that people will go crazy for. And there’s something about their fashion style that’s so brilliant—Jon Wright’s Bermuda shorts and Rob Wright’s Papa Smurf t-shirt are so nerdy that they go all the way over into being totally punk rock.

I also enjoy the feeling of being one of the youngest people in the room at a show—usually it’s exactly the opposite.


FOXTROTT, Quai des brumes

I knew Marie-Hélène Delorme as a friend, and as a member of Lesbians on Ecstasy and remixer in her own right. So going to this show, I knew it would be cool, and fun, but I wasn’t prepared to be blown away. Aside from her great voice, the cool sounds and melodies, it’s hard to explain what’s so good about what she does—maybe just a certain emotional honesty to her songs and performances.

Those in the know in Montreal are all over her now, and I sincerely hope that she sees great success in the future. To see such a talented artist in a small intimate venue is a truly rare treat.

Other shows I enjoyed, but don’t have quite as verbose a response to, were Mastodon and Red Fang at Metropolis (Dillinger Escape Plan on the same bill, not so much), Judas Priest at Bell Centre (Rob Halford seemed to have recovered his golden pipes since the last time I’d seen them), Katie Moore and her excellent band at Cabaret Mile End, the truly bold genre-mashing of Boris (heavy metal segueing into outright electro-pop and somehow not having their fans riot) at the same venue… and probably a few more that I’m forgetting (and will feel free to add here as they float back into my memory).