Leaving It All On the Stage

To mark the occasion of our upcoming tribute to the Boss, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on the influence of Bruce’s music on my work and to provide a bit of context behind why we are undertaking this tribute.

When I think of the Boss, the first image that comes to mind is of an artist that leaves everything on the stage. The Boss gives his all every night, trying to reach each and every person in the stadium. This is fairly rare in the entertainment business.

It is also rare thing for somebody to write music that is at once so sophisticated, and ambitious, while also being so immensely appealing and popular. In our highly polarized, over-categorized modern world, music often seems to either pander to the masses, or sell itself short in an effort to appeal to those who identify with a life outside the mainstream. Bruce’s music blows away the dichotomy by embracing the full potential that music offers.

Exploring the Darkness on the Edges From the Inside

Its easy to often overlook the dark themes and withering criticism of American ideas that underpin Bruce’s 1980s classic, Born In the USA, one of the best selling albums of all time. The album spawned 7 top 10 singles and went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide. It also dealt with the harsh realities of the American Dream. Take the title track, Born In The USA, where a Vietnam vet unable to find work at the refinery, laments the death of his brother fighting the Viet Cong (“they’re still there. He’s all gone.”). Then there is the smash hit Dancing In The Dark with its catchy bridge that so perfectly captures the frustration of the unfulfilled artistic temperament (“You sit around getting older. There’s a joke here somewhere, and baby its on me.”). These are certainly not the lyrical themes that we have come to expect of our top ten singles in this day and age.

Regrettably, to my mind, the current musical landscape seems more rent in two than ever before. A predictable procession of music industry pap clogs the airwaves of most “mainstream” radio stations. Perhaps in retaliation, many musicians have self-consciously rejected the need for consensus, by making music that willfully obscures, prevaricates and confounds. This is all well and good: a musical landscape should be a rainbow with all colors reflected. However, there is room in the middle for music that can do it all, and it takes the courage, honesty and passion of somebody like Bruce to make it happen.

As I try to navigate the complexities of being an artist in the Montreal music community, it strikes me that too often bands take the easy way out of trying to impress their friends (bloggers, “music journalists” and other band members) rather than trying to write truly great songs. In an effort to not disturb some sense of shared sensibility they make music that is merely cool, but fails to connect to the humanity that’s inside each and every one of us.

You and I are A Gang of Losers

Montreal has a large and vibrant musical community with a good variety of music festivals and industry related events. It’s become a reliable fact of life that Andrew Johnston and the Hurricane is rarely selected for these things. I wouldn’t want to speculate too much on the why, but I can tell you that it’s helped me forge my artistic identity.

To my mind, me and my Motley Crue of musical cohorts are like the gang of losers in the Dears song of the same name (a truly great Montreal band!). We’re on the outside of almost everything, yet we hang together because we have the same heart. Like the characters in Born to Run’s Bobby Jean “we like the same music, we like the same bands, we like the same clothes.” Or perhaps we’re a bit like the two friends in No Surrender who “made a promise we swore we’d always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender.”

It is in the ability of Bruce’s music to both appeal to the spirit of the under dog while swinging for the rafters, that makes it so powerful and important. It says alot that the outcasts and downtrodden of the world relate so strongly to a music that went went top of the pops.

On Songwriting

Ever since I made the decision to start making music under my own name I’ve been trying write great songs that transcend genre and style to try to speak to people on a fundamental human level. I’ve tried to make being cool my last priority and I’ve held fast to the belief that great popular music can be immensely challenging and sophisticated without being alienating. Along the way I’ve looked to the Boss for direction and inspiration on many occasions.

Next Tuesday I hope you will join me and my Motley Crue of Losers as we pay homage to one of the greats.