KMA264 Barenaked Ladies – Public Stunts, Private Lives

I’ve always liked the Barenaked Ladies. I bought The Yellow Tape all those years ago (and I still have it), and I was tuned right in when Gordon hit huge. This is all thanks, in part, to the infectious enthusiasm of my high school buddy Brian, who loved them first out of everybody I knew. They were an essential part of my formative teen years’ soundtrack, and I am still cheered by their continued presence all these years later. 

BNL used to be one of those bands I collect, meaning that when they released a new album, I was right there in line on New Release Tuesday to get my copy. We usually made a special trip to Toronto for it. I remember getting one of only 300 signed copies of Stunt at the big HMV on Yonge Street, which shows you how close to the front of the line I was, that time.  You know, even at that I suppose I should only ever have bought them from Sam’s, eh? Hm… Anyway, when I got these treasures home, I’d play each release several times all the way through before I started focusing on individual songs. But you’ll notice I said ‘used to be’ at the start of this paragraph. Read on.

I was the ‘jazz’ kid in high school, listening to Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis when the ‘cool’ kids were banging their heads to Metallica (I was a late-starter for metal, I admit it), or worse, they were singing along to really, really bad Bon Jovi ballads. I wasn’t much one for what was on the radio, even then. But BNL awesomely offered me that middle ground between pop music and the swinging, jazzy sound I loved, another reason I played them constantly.

What attracted me most to the band was their musical creativity, their genuine mix of goofy yet sincere hilarity, and utter seriousness. I knew all the words to their songs, and wasn’t afraid to admit it. From a musician’s stand-point, their records really are rather brilliant and fun. Set aside the lyrics (which are great all by themselves) and listen to the way the instruments play off each other (this especially works best through good headphones) – the difference in the sound offered by the upright bass, the slap of the bongo drums here and there, complimenting the kit, those awesome little guitar runs that fit perfectly… Yeah, think of me what you will, but these guys were big with me for a long time. I even truly liked the records others didn’t. I’m not naming any names.

I can tell you’re waiting for the But… so here it is. Something happened along the way, and I can only point to a few things that led me to, well, not quite caring so much. It saddens me just to mention it, given how much I invested for so long. Now, I’m not gonna be holier than thou and say that once they hit it big in the States I stopped listening, ‘cos it’s not exactly true and I wish them nothing but the success they so obviously crave. I’m not greedy, I can share! Hm. Maybe I grew up a little, but even that’s not fair since their music was always only child-like on a superficial level, and sophisticated underneath. Maybe it’s just that my tastes changed, which definitely happened (and happens to all of us), but part of me still believes I was always gonna love these guys.

Part of it was that they changed, too. A wider audience made them somehow less spontaneously fun (on record – I’m sure the live shows are still a blast). The difference between writing fun lyrics and trying to write fun lyrics, perhaps. Maybe they’ve grown jaded, or age and family responsibilities changed them. Hell, I’d have lost just as much interest if they hadn’t changed, but somehow it grew up wrong (for me).

I clearly give this far too much thought, and still haven’t hit on a definitive answer. Yet.

So when I recently found Paul Myer’s book in the library, of course I had to read it. Call it my own nostalgia for a band that’s still going strong… So. Being a fan of the band, this book didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. Oh, it’s well-written, and it paints them as the friendly, curious and intelligent guys they are, and anyone just getting interested in the group at this late date would do very well to read it. It’s obvious this volume was meant for the American audiences that have come late to the story. I mean, I’d already heard the Slint story many times. I was already aware of the way things came about in the first place (the camp, Corky and the Juice Pigs, the endless hard work and self-promotion). My copy of Gordon has the original cover on it. That sort of thing.

I didn’t know, though, that Tyler Stewart was quite so obnoxious about getting into the band. He fits well enough, I suppose, and we appreciate his enthusiasm, but yeesh. What is it about drummers? You’d think it was his band and idea – what does he think his name is, Lars? OK, that’s not fair. Lars actually did start Metallica, with James Hetfield. Tyler came along a little after the fact, in BNL history, but whatever.

Interestingly enough, this book ends with Maroon set to be released, and that record (and here I get back to the point I was making earlier) is the last one I rushed out to buy on New Release Tuesday. Oh, I have everything they’ve released since, in my collection, but the Relase Date Urgency finally fizzled with that release. There seems to be a line of demarcation at that point, for me, so this volume makes a nice book-end for the way the band has evolved (or devolved) in my listening habits. Sad, I know.

I recommend that you read this book. And check out all of Barenaked Ladies’ records, if you haven’t already. Start at the beginning.

The band is still great, don’t get me wrong. And hey, if BNL is vanity-Googling their name, sorry guys. I am still listening, just not so much as I once did. I listen to their earlier records way more than the more recent stuff. So be it, I guess.

Posted on February 7, 2008, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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