Tuesday, 7 August 2012

"Camouflage" by Stan Ridgway: the Best Song Ever.

Growing up as an acne'd young punk in the working class battlefield of Joliette, Québec in the seventies was tough enough, you didn't want to stand out or anything.  You had to fit in, to choose up sides, it was dog eat dog.  I ran with a rough crowd, tough customers like Marc and Alain, and Jean, and P.J. before he had to leave us way too soon.  They had my back.


I might be making a little too much of this, maybe I'm getting carried away.  Sure we got into some lunchtime scraps with the Rawdon boys, over things like the intra-mural volleyball league or Cosom hockey, or whether someone got bumped into a locker by someone else.  Actually, I had a pretty sheltered suburban upbringing when I really think about it.  Besides, P.J. just left us because his mom and dad moved back to Ontario...

But the fitting in part is true.  And one way this manifested itself is that you didn't use words like 'manifest'.  And when it came to music, you listened to CHOM-FM, to rock, classic rock, before it was even called classic rock.  You hated disco, you wondered why anyone even bothered proclaiming that rock'n'roll would never die, you wore jeans and a jean jacket, you grew out your hair as much as your parents would allow, and you chose a band, a kicking rock band, to be your favourite.  A lot of guys went with Rush.  Zeppelin was big.  April Wine and Mahogany Rush were local favourites.  This became your calling card, your identity, your modest allotment of allowable differentiation in the homogeneous rock collective.

So you listened to classic albums from the seventies maybe even a couple from the late sixties, like early Who or Deep Purple, but mainly it was stuff like Aerosmith and Yes and pre-Phil Collins Genesis.  Established bands with platinum sales.  'New Music' was Led Zep's "In Through the Out Door" and the Who's "Face Dances", unless you meant a new band that burst onto the scene fully formed as a multi-Platinum supernova, like Boston or Van Halen or Foreigner, a band that didn't serve its customary three album apprenticeship before making it big on the fourth one, or disappearing forever.

Yet a lot of bands and artists came out of left field, you'd never hear about them from CHOM until a hit single or album made it impossible to ignore.  Guys like the Police and Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello.  Dire Straits.  And where did The Cars crawl out from?  How come nobody ever told me about the Clash, until they started overplaying "London Calling" and killing it for me then and there?

So once I got to college, and had a lot of time to waste on introspection instead of studying, I wondered why I wasn't being exposed to all these alternative bands that the cool kids listened to, those who wore lots of black and never hung out at the Sports Complex .

The thing was, there was exposure to that segment of the music scene grudgingly apportioned on the radio dial.  One source was the CBC, with its groundbreaking twin titan late night shows "Brave New Waves", hosted by Brent Bambury, and "Nightlines", hosted by David Wisdom, and his trusty assistant Jeff Stump.  I fell in with these characters soon enough, but my first deliberate attempt to seek out New Music was by forcing myself to listen to Benoit Dufresne's 'New Music Foundation' on CHOM when it came on one Monday night in its usual 2100 hr time slot, instead of shutting it off and firing up the tape deck as I usually did, almost like a programmed reflex upon hearing the first three chords of any song and not recognizing it right away.

I don't remember too much about that initial show.  Benoit Dufresne was a consummate pro and excellent radio DJ normally, when he was spinning Styx and AC/DC, but I found that he came alive during his show dedicated to alternative music, demonstrating true passion for the music he was playing and a deep understanding of the genre.  Some of the stuff he played was heavy on the synths, too electronic for my tastes, but I sat through it, resolutely, until he did a Spotlight on Stan Ridgway and his debut album "The Big Heat".

I knew Stan Ridgway from his days with Wall of Voodoo and their quirky minor hit "Mexican Radio", and that's all really, but had liked his vocals, so it was a welcome introduction to his new solo work.  Every song was a delight, melodic, with interesting and intelligible lyrics, which isn't always the case for me.  In any case, after a couple of tracks I was sold already, loved the album, at which point Mr. Dufresne played "Camouflage".

The song is really catchy and melodic, and while the lyrics are very straightforward, offering a rectilinear narrative, it escapes the banality of many songs which try this tack and fail ("Well I got up this morning and got out of bed and I drove to work and the boss got on my case...").

Anyway, the very next day I marched to Sam's and bought my first 'alternative' record, Stan Ridgway's "The Big Heat", largely on the strength of "Camouflage.  Which saved me from a lifetime of Top 40/Classic Rock imbecilization.  Which makes Stan Ridgway's "Camouflage" the Best Song Ever.

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