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Friday, May 13, 2005 

The Floating World: My Favourite Chords

Yes, I know. It's been way too long for me, too. We'll see if I can't get back into the swing of things so these are closer than a month-and-a-half apart in the future. I feel like I've been busy, although I don't know if I can point at much I've accomplished.

Last Friday we went out to Jer and Aaron's place in Toronto for that Party Without Pants that looks to become a yearly feature. It was a lot of fun, and it's always good to see those two (and others), but the party is almost wholly without importance for what I want to talk about here.

The ride home, on the other hand, is noteworthy, as I had brought the Weakerthans' classic (yes, already) Left And Leaving. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I'd played it for K. Left And Leaving is one of those albums that I don't listen to all that often, but when I do I nearly always choke up a little, staring wistfully out the window. It as nearly perfect an album as any I own, with only the inclusion of "Slips And Tangles" at the end sounding a false note (and do notice that the lyrics for it are, unlike every other song, not in the booklet). Even then, I can buy it as some sort of recovery space from the end of "Exiles Among You" (the placing of which just before "My Favourite Chords" could carry a Floating World all on its lonesome).

There is so much I could write about various aspects of Left And Leaving that I simply wouldn't know where to begin, which is why it's only making its appearance here now; it is quite simply the best album that happens to have been made by Canadians in probably the last ten years. Only Readymade's first and third albums, the Sycamores' Farewell To Deseronto and the Constantines' albums even come close (don't start muttering about the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene to me or I will smack you), and all of must reluctantly concede the ground to the Weakerthans on one ground or another (although if the Constantines ever do make an album that fulfills the promise of their records and their live show it will be better than Left And Leaving).

Of their three albums so far, it's definitely the quietest Weakerthan album, a hell of a lot more accomplished than their generally underwhelming (save "Confessions Of A Futon-Revolutionist", "Wellington's Wednesdays" and especially "Diagnosis") debut Fallow, which is still too in hock to John K. Samson's past as the bassist in Propaghandi. Nothing against that band, but you can't exactly picture them doing "Everything Must Go!" or "History To The Defeated", and that sort of song is crucial to Left And Leaving and the Weakerthans.

It's also better than Reconstruction Site, a record I've never really grown to like. I was really only able to articulate a reason in the Jeep on the way home that Friday, as I told K about the gimmicky clever-clever nature of many of the songs on that album, whether successful ("Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)") or... not ("Plea From A Cat Named Virtue"). I certainly don't require every band, or every album by any band, to be serious, but most of what I get from Left And Leaving is emotional, and Reconstruction Site neither reaches for those same emotions nor even really tries to. Which is fine, but that's not replaced with anything that does it for me.

One of the other things I think is so great about Left And Leaving is that it is a stellar example of the way that the political is the personal. I hate it when people say the converse, by the way - it's not that politics are unimportant, it's that putting politics above people is dangerous and wrong and irritates me. Samson manages to tread the right side of a very thin line here, using (to quote allmusic.com) "personal ethics as a reaction to the welfare state" without ever making Left And Leaving anything other than a very personal album.

So. Enough beating around the bush. "My Favourite Chords" (nearly) ends the album with a very simple acoustic guitar part and Samson's singing, augmented with steel guitar near the end. It's a showcase for Samson's lyrics, and they're as strong as ever - in my opinion, Samson's is one of the few modern lyrical bodies of work that could actually work as poetry. There are a ton of great lines:

Wish I had a socket set to dismantle this morning
Me and my anger sit folding a paper bird
It's such an enormous thing to walk and to listen

And mostly:

We've got a lot of time
Or maybe we don't
But I'd like to think so
So let me pretend

It's not my favourite song on the album, but it is great, and it does fit perfectly. But that's also not why I'm writing about it tonight.

The next night after driving back from Toronto I found myself, as per normal, out at the Shadow, and eventually I left to go home. Joy was with me, so I walked her home first, and due to the routes involved I wound up walking through most of downtown twice. There weren't that many people out, but on the way from Joy's to home especially, there were lots of people going home disappointed. People who had been out to try to pick up, that sort of thing. Lots of twos and threes of guys walking home drunk, bullshitting each other that the night went well. And as I walked down the slope past the Albion towards our building, I realised that "My Favourite Chords" had crept into my head unbidden, and I thought about K.

Partly because of the way Samson sings I'd like to fall asleep to the beat of your breathing, which reminds me of K in a funny way because her breathing as I'm trying to fall asleep is generally pretty, uh, noticable (yes, I told her that's one of the reasons this song made me think of her, and yes she laughed).

She'd spent the day either sleeping or doing nothing much, deliberately after a stressful week. As much as I do enjoy hanging out with Joy and playing video games, I'll admi part of the reason I had been out of the house all day was to let her decompress. And as I walked home, I just felt happy. Oh, I'm sure a little of it was this song. It's one that's not blind to the shit that's out there sometimes (The Mayor's out killing kids to keep taxes down), but it's a song of acceptance and love and patience. But mostly, it was just knowing I was coming home to K. I'd had a good day, a fun day, and I had a cute girl waiting in bed in my apartment for me to get home. I shamefully admit to feeling a little superior to all the single guys walking home that night, but it wasn't just that. I'd heard the phrase "the love of a good woman" tossed around in various pop cultural contexts for most of my life, but the last few years it's started to actually mean something to me.

So I was happy, which is worth a lot. I spent half of my walk home in a little reverie, thinking about all the things I love about K, and I won't even try to list any of them here because (a) the moment is gone and (b) that's kind of between the two of us, don't you think? and most importantly (c) because when you feel that way about a person you're not really thinking about "all the things", you're just thinking of them, and what they mean to you, and how they make you feel, and doing that makes you feel warm and happy and at home and all those good things.

So. I got home and K was sleepy but up and the first thing I did was give her a hug (although that's often the first thing I do). I don't think "My Favourite Chords" was responsible for the way I felt, not even close, but I do think it was more congenial to the way I was feeling than, say, the stuff we heard at the bar. And I know whenever I hear this song from now on, I'll think of a certain someone.

Don't these normally go in the Journal, and skip the blog?

They normally go in both, actually.

One of the Da Capo collections has a really good piece on the Weakerthans and their relation to place (and more). I wish I could remember the details, because I think you'd really like it, esp. right now.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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