With the right makeup though, that gaze does pop.

I read this interesting article today. I was a 2011 NPR article entitled “How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Song?” I’ve known for years the manufactured nature of blockbuster pop music, but it was all pretty vague. This article put substantive outlines around how that process goes and it was a fascinating read. I always thought it was a little odd that the overwhelming cultural narrative of pop music was that of individuals in control of their career. THERE’S SO MUCH INVOLVED IN CREATING A POP STAR, how could that be one person’s job? Is it expected that these people write all their songs? Dictate the creative direction of music videos? Album art? Costuming? Etc etc? There are way too many things to do for one person.

I heard this term in an article years back, the “Britney Industrial Complex”. The notion was that Britney Spears was such a pervasive cultural force and her mere existence formed part of the economy. Laugh it up, but aside from Britney still making a hefty chunk of change each year (between X-Factor judging and her Vegas residency, she’ll be bringing in a heap more than “mere” residuals), she’s a part of a cultural narrative that sells products and creates jobs. It takes teams of people to make Britney what she is. Outside comparatively smaller roles surrounding her music like hair and makeup, costuming, choreography and songwriting, her PR and marketing are huge. Agents to sell her songs to radio, find appearances, interviews and other opportunities for her to stay in the public eye. There’s media coaching so that she’ll be perceived in a complimentary light, people to sell her songs to radio and keep her heard. There’s a company of people keeping her in business and that company churns a profit because of it.

This makes a lot of sense to me, considering that so many pop stars come into the scene at such a young age. Of course they would, that’s what’s marketable. I’m sure a ton of talents get themselves taken advantage of when they’re new to the game. Backstreet Boys certainly did. I’d hope that as they aged into the role they’d be given more creative control. The more music that’s produced under their name, I’d hope they’d have more of their hands in the pie. I’ve heard Beyonce is pretty involved in the production process, which is pretty cool. I still haven’t heard Lemonade, but a project with that much talent attached has got to be all kinds of impressive.

I don’t get why pop stars’ personas aren’t treated more like films. Films aren’t just about the stars, there’s a whole host of creative crew behind the project making it into the best possible product they can. Directors, writers, editors, agents, marketers, distributors, trainers and coaches. Rihanna, Bieber, Taylor Swift, how are they any different? They’re people playing parts in a larger construction. Why do we assume the stars are responsible for the end product? When hundreds of eyes have gone into creating an image to present to the public, why do we only question the gaze of the person standing in front?

Oddly enough, I feel pretty dirty today.

I stayed out late last night (for a decrepit senior like me, anyway) and didn’t get to bed until around 3.30am. Since the weather jumped about ten degrees yesterday, the bedroom was sticky with heat. Great sleep was not acquired. Even with an hour and a half nap this afternoon (I mentioned the decrepit senior thing, right?) I’m still catching up mentally. What I’m saying here is don’t expect Shakespeare in this entry.

Anyway, I was thinking today about mercy and how unstrained it is as a quality.

Dumb.

A friend and I went out to Dance Yourself Clean. It’s an indie music dance party (named after the LCD Soundsystem song. You’d be forgiven for assuming it was an alcohol/drug free gig). Basically a DJ going off a playlist of popular indie tunes both classic and contemporary (the idea of classic indie seems strange to toss around in my head). Throwing out crossfades and unnecessary flange, etc. At some point later in every event they’ll throw on Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” and the crowd will go nuts. It’s a commodified experience being packaged and sold, but I’m pretty okay with that. If I get to come to an event, hear the kind of music I enjoy dancing to and have others on a similar wavelength, I figure I’m in for a good night. It’s not about pushing boundaries and discovering new things, but rather getting that reaffirming tingle from waves of nostalgia all evening. Last night’s event was less grand than the previous one. I dunno, fewer tunes my friend and I knew. I mean, she kept on pulling out Soundhound for evidence. Once again the label throwing the event had their own artist performing live, which felt a little tone deaf. If people were coming for that specific purpose of essentially listening to a playlist, why put live performance in front of them? That’s not what they’re looking for. As with the last DYC, the live performances worked gangbusters to clear the dance floor. Who knows? Maybe it was done specifically to drive people to the bar. Help out the venue a little. In any case, if a night ends with a friend and I going for 2am korean food, it’s been decent enough.

Meeting at the Crafty Coyote was a fun choice. Sitting next to the bar, the fellow behind the bar couldn’t stop plying us with sample tasters. It’s nice when you find someone with a passion for their craft (pun kind of intended). As soon as we described the kind of tastes we enjoyed, he’d fill a bunch of sample glasses and push them our way. I think at one point I had four sample glasses sitting in front of me. One or two of them though, he really stuck the landing and nailed what I was looking for. One cider he picked out for my friend was amazing. If we weren’t heading off we would’ve downed a few pints of it. It was nice too that after an evening of arguing with people on Facebook about connotations of certain gendered terms, the barman called both of us “friend”. An unexpected, but delightful gesture that took the edge off a frustrating evening. It was really great to catch up with my friend. She’d gone through a bunch of stuff in the last while and we’d been to busy to catch up.

It was amusing, then, that some old guy at the bar kept making conversation with me. He must’ve been lonely and he was super friendly/respectful, but also wasn’t catching the social clues that I was really there to hang out with my mate. It was more funny than annoying. Thing was, the conversation got kind of interesting. He was talking about how Toronto has a bunch of remote spots that are really picturesque, but also happen to be sewerage outputs. At some point he started talking about Ghost in the Shell and Akira and it pained me to turn away from the conversation. What part of me didn’t want to talk about vintage anime with some 60+ year old stranger? I had to tell him in all honesty that I was enjoying chatting with him, but I really wanted to talk with my friend. I thanked him for his time and turned around. Once more, unexpected but delightful.

That’s my time, which means I now get to leave and eat (drink?) pea soup with my main squeeze. May you all be so lucky.

How far do I want to push this metaphor? If I tried hard enough, could I cash in on the lucrative key ring sponsorship market?

At what point do you decide that something has given you all it ever will?

Okay, that’s way too wide a question. I’m not sure how you’d define that into a focused answer. So I’ll start rambling instead. We had two bands play short two song sets at work today. The New Pornographers and Cold War Kids. Both are bands that I used to listen to with some regularity. I had TNP’s Mass Romantic and Electric Version on repeat for months. Fun, poppy hits with excellent harmonies and toe tappin’ tunes. I listened to Twin Cinema and Challengers, but neither impacted me as much as their initial albums had. When Together failed to deliver, my enthusiasm for the band petered out (a phrase which I only just read may date back to the depletion of mineral refinery. The mORE you know, eh?). I haven’t as of yet listened to their 2014 release Brill Bruisers and it’s unlikely I’ll hear the follow up in two weeks. I got from this band what I wanted, which has served me well. No regrets, but neither am I mining their subsequent albums for new, fresh material. In my mind, they’re petered out.

Even if you weren’t, I was pretty impressed with how I turned that etymology around. Self love, people.

New Pornographers were a band I enjoyed. Cold War kids were a band I adored. I thrashed Robbers and Cowards. A distinct vocal sound combined with innovative production and refreshing songwriting. “Hospital Beds” (which has an excellent Florence and the Machine cover), “St John”, “We Used to Vacation”- fuck, I’ve gotta stop or I’d be quicker to say “the whole album”- hit me hard. I fell in love with all of these tracks and they found their way to every contemporary mix tape I made for years. Loyalty to Loyalty had a couple of neat songs too. The ones I liked worked into my constant rotation. “Mine is Yours” bombed hard for me. The sound, more stadium oriented, was no longer what I wanted from them. Much like The New Pornographers, it wasn’t for me, so I stopped cold (War Kids?). So it goes.

I could name a stream of bands who followed a similar pattern for me. The aforementioned Florence, my almost eponymous Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, TV on the Radio. I don’t know if this is more a comment on the effects of wider audience reception, fame and success, or that I have specific tastes. All I do know is that at some point, these bands have taken a fork in the road where I’ve refused to follow. The journey to that tangent was fantastic, but we’re clearly not meant to go down every road we see.

Seeing Cold War Kids in particular today, the band sounded great. Previewing new material off their forthcoming album, the experience of seeing them live (and shaking the lead singer’s hand. They awkwardly didn’t know what to do after the short set. He’d seen me kneeling on the ground during the performance, walked over and extended his hand) still had a stirring effect on me. While things may have changed, the seeds of that which had called to me were rooted fast. I don’t know how I feel about the new tracks, but I loved them in that context. Would I feel the same with the mixed versions? I’ve got no idea. Are there gems hidden in their past two albums I ignored? There may well be.

There are some messages in here about persistence, trust and faith. Like Cold War Kids’ past two albums, I haven’t decided if I’ve got the energy to search for them right now. Maybe though, just because I’ve pushed a door close, it doesn’t mean I need to lock it.

Well folk me.

I’m sure the audience left Wilco’s incredible Massey Hall set with very few questions. Screw that, I’ve got one. Just how many guitars does this band have? After every song- hell, sometimes in the middle of one- stage hands would rush out with an electric, electro-acoustic or steel guitar for a quick change-over. A constant procession of guitartillery. I’d question why they needed that many if they didn’t prove their skill so thoroughly. An expertly concerted effort to put together an undeniably amazing concert.

Easy as it would’ve been to coast on their legacy, musicianship stood at the forefront of their performance. Opener “Normal American Kids” began softly with a solo performance from lead singer Jeff Tweedy, eyes cast in shadow beneath the brim of his hat. The band gradually took the stage one by one, adding more depth to the track. If the first few songs sought to lull the audience into a gentle reverie, it wasn’t for long. “Muzzle of Bees” awoke a fury in lead guitarist Nels Cline, unleashing a blistering solo that brought the crowd to its feet cheering. If anything, it was a mere precursor to a whole new level.

“Art of Almost”, lead single from 2011’s The Whole Love, was an experience. Bright lights flooding the stage in time with thunderous drum beats, an array of discordant colours swirling as the track built. A stage hand hurriedly scurried onstage with a guitar in hand for Cline. Then things got wild: Four guitars shredding simultaneously, solos coming from every direction. Drummer Glenn Kotch frenzied, arms all-a-blur. The crowd howling, baying for more. After seven minutes of magic, the band finally relented, to almost deafening ovation. A moment fit for a conclusion, all of six songs in.

The band would go on to deliver a performance of over two hours, with a setlist stretching as far back as their 1995 debut album A.M. As a casual fan, I found myself utterly enthralled. I can only imagine the bliss of a hardcore devotee.

As always, Massey Hall was an outstanding venue, with unbeatable sound and lighting. For a band with such dynamic range, they couldn’t have chosen better. The stage was beautifully set. Framed by a copse of pigmentally painted trees, they’d be lit in summery tones one minute, before fading to autumnal browns. The effect was captivating, words doing the sight little justice.

When a band is still touring in some capacity twenty years after their conception, it’s usually a matter of love or money. Wilco proved beyond a doubt that there’s a passion still driving the band on the road. Even if it’s just to play with a ludicrous number of guitars.

Well I’ve got enough acid for the recipe, clearly.

I’m pretty wiped right now, so in lieu of anything insightful (as if that were the norm or something) or interesting, here are a few words in certain arrangements:

  • My legs are shot. I’m undecided whether this is a positive development or not. Positive, because I worked them pretty hard on Monday. If my body manages to regenerate the damaged tissue, I’ll no doubt be hefty enough to juggle cars. If I’m in this much pain, I obviously worked to a super human degree. If my *walking* is reduced to a slow shuffle, it must be because the muscles have retreated to chrysalis-esque pods, hiding their eventual potential. They’ll burst out when I need them most for some feat of heroism. It’ll be worth the borderline limp I’m rocking at present. Why I flopped around a Body Attack class trying in vain to look competent. My butt feels like it’s gonna collapse, these buns of steel underneath proving too much for my feeble skin sacs to contain. It can only be a great thing, definitely. There’s no other reason I’d be suffering. It has been ordained. Just you wait.
  • I got my Fleet Foxes ticket today through a pre-sale. It’s great news, it really is. While ordering though, I couldn’t believe how quickly available seats had been snapped up. I’ve heard rumblings that Toronto is plagued by virulent scalping bots, but until today I didn’t understand the magnitude (Pop Pop) of the issue. I ordered perhaps 20 minutes after they’d become available and options were pretty slim. After being allocated tickets far back and hugging the left side of Massey Hall, I took another spin on the “best available” selector and was very luckily given a prime location (ordering a single ticket does have its advantages). It’s a bummer. It’s not good enough that I’ll be fine, what about all the big fans (it’s been six years since “Helplessness Blues”) that’ll likely be singing their own helplessness blues) who’ll miss out? All because a few shitlords want to take advantage of the system? I don’t know what the answer is. Do more Toronto ticket sites need captcha? A four ticket limit per order? A vial of blood extracted from each purchaser? Hopefully this survey garners helpful tips.
  • It may well have hit nine degrees today. I saw some dude on the subway in jandals. I wish I had that much confidence about anything in my life.
  • During today’s Body Attack class we did a bunch of squats. Thing is, I really needed to fart. It unfortunately wasn’t as simple as being ashamed of releasing gas. These were farts barely discernible from the next stage of evolution. I was mortified that if I gave them the credence to run free, I’d free the runs. So not only was I hobbling around with my chrysalis stumps, but I was striving to hold in my lunch. “Body Attack” could not have been a more apt name.
  • For the first time in mind-bogglingly long, I’ve assembled a fresh salad for dinner tonight. I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know how to make a simple olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing by heart. Sure, Google is quick and easy, but isn’t there merit in knowing things without the need to look them up? I bet Jandals in Nine Degrees Dude knows how to make one from memory. Dick. I bet he scalps tickets too.

It’s dark outside. I am likely to be eaten by a grue.

I need to get out of the house. With the exception of the hour and a half I spent going to and from my doctor’s appointment yesterday, I haven’t left the house in over 24 hours. I’m getting bored of myself. I’ve had my butt pretty firmly glued to my computer chair (save getting up for food, water, or drugs), clad in slovenly sweatpants. Feet stuffed in slippers, wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt. I’ve been the perfect picture of comfort, but also the perfect picture of indecision. With the entire information superhighway at my disposal, I could be anywhere doing anything just by surfing the web. Instead I’ve found myself clicking around the same couple of sites, playing Shandalar and flicking through Netflix without watching much of anything. I repeat, I need to get out of the house.

I’m less sick than I was. The constant pressure of my headache has subsided. My throat no longer burns. My nose is still pretty congested, but how’s that different from any other day? It’s past 6pm and I haven’t taken any meds since this morning. Maybe I am on the mend after all. I really should go, even if it’s cold outside. I do weird things when I’m home alone. I pace back and forth from the office and the kitchen without purpose. Scan the fridge or pantry for something to eat, find nothing that I can be bothered making, go back to the office and feel hungry (or bored. Same difference). Occasionally I’ll feel guilty for not having been active, so I’ll try a few handstand push ups. I maybe get to three or so, then lose my balance and guide myself back to the ground. Feeling accomplished, I’ll usually go straight back to being inactive (realising as I do, that this small amount of work doesn’t constitute a workout. I won’t follow it up with more work).

Indoor kid as I am, I’m finding myself longing for spring. Toronto had an oh so brief flirtation with temperatures over zero. Remember last week or so when I got to jog? That was amazing. There are all these new pokémon to catch. So many unused patios citywide that would be ideal for enjoying a beer. Hell, I miss beer. It’s been about five weeks or so since I last drank and I think I’m ready to open up the La Fin Du Monde sitting in the bedroom. I need human connection. The cat may be talkative, but she speaks a lot of garbage. I love my girlfriend, but I don’t want to wear her out. I realised the other day that most of my friends haven’t seen me with a beard, which has been slowly accumulating over the past five weeks. It’s time to put on real clothes and make elaborate hand gestures while conversing.

I didn’t get the interview with Los Campesinos tomorrow, which is both a bummer and a relief at once. I’ve been raring to see this band live since they dropped two outstanding albums in 2008. Getting the chance to meet and chat with a member or two would be amazing. On the other side, I felt a massive amount of dread that I was walking into some kind of trap. What would I be able to say to people I’d respected and looked up to? I was intimidated, as if I’d say a bunch of dumb things and be treated either patronisingly or like I wasn’t worth their time. I was sure they wouldn’t be rude, but that any amount of prep I’d done wouldn’t be enough to, I dunno, have them like me? Don’t meet your heroes encapsulated. It’s silly. I should really have enough self-respect to know that I’d be fine, that I could hold me own, that they’re just Welsh thirtysomethings and I’d probably have fun in the end. Sorry, *would’ve* had more fun in the end. Still, I get to review their sold out show that I’d forgotten to nab tickets for, so all is not lost.

Enough of this whole “typing” thing. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna shower and see what the outside world has to offer.