Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mike Peters Would Be Proud

While most of my elementary school friends were hot for bands like Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Depeche Mode, I found my musical likes straying to different bands. My walkman was always filled with a mixed cassette so I could listen to the tunes of The Alarm, U2, Men at Work and The Police.

Tunes like ‘She Bop’ by Cindy Lauper or ‘Dancin’ On The Ceiling’ by Lionel Ritchie just didn’t cut it for me. The pounding beats of ‘I Threw A Brick Through A Window’ by U2 and the wailing harmonica in ‘The Stand’ by The Alarm were the vibrations that really got my blood moving.

Songs about the underdogs, and the oppressed looking to find ‘Strength’ really spoke to me. Songs that spoke of societies blind obsessions and the world that we have created gave me a new – and at that time – profound sense of moral obligation to my fellow human being.

In ‘Synchronicity II’ by The Police - , Sting quite clearly paints a picture of our polluted society…

Another Industrial ugly morning
Factories belch their filth into the sky

Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race

The song ‘Spirit of ‘76’ by The Alarm always seemed to me to be what a truly spirited Rock’N’Roll tune should be. A melodic intro with a piano and harmonica soon opens the door for a rifting guitar and mesmerizing bass. The song builds to many different peaks and then suddenly we’re washed with a filling guitar ballad before the drums kick in for a final rapture of textured backbeats.

Ahhhh! We’ll never give in
Until the day when we die
I’ll get myself some independence
Carve out a future with my two bare hands

In 1999 I was able to see The Alarm – for my first and only time – when they opened for Bob Dylan in Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum. During one of the songs, Mike Peters – as per his history of communicating with the audience – climbed down into the crowd that lifted him up and carried him towards the back of the stadium. All the while Mike is speaking into the microphone. “It’s always been our intent to get as close as is humanly possible to the people who come and see The Alarm.” Near the end of his rambles he gets to what he really feels, “I hate a song that makes you feel like you’re no good… that makes you feel like you were born to lose, bound to lose… I’m out to fight those songs with every ounce of strength in my body!” By this point the crowd has brought Mike back to the stage where he encourages the audience to realize our responsibility as the ‘future Rock’N’Rollers’ to continue to find strength to fight for the things that we believe in.

That was way back in the late ‘80s and I think that Mike’s words did have a positive effect that may still be influencing the bands of today.

Over the next few years – at which point I was finishing high school – I found myself exploring some of the new bands that were taking the spotlight from the legends of past times. It seemed that the entire music culture was establishing social rock bands that stood for a cause. The Tragically Hip, Midnight Oil - - and Hothouse Flowers became great energies in my life.

In 1993 The Hip released ‘Day For Night’. After many listens I came to appreciate that the title of the album was making references to what our society needs to do in order to survive… we must change, we must become the opposite of what we are now, we must pull ourselves from the darkness to become the light! This CD was one of the very first to break industry standards by using ‘tree free’ paper and vegetable inks to produce the small booklets that contain the album artwork and lyrics.

In 1996 their album ‘Trouble In The Henhouse’ took this idea to the next level. There was no plastic used in the manufacturing of this CD, at all. Recycled papers with vegetable inks were slowly becoming industry standards… for those socially conscious bands, anyway.

Whenever we buy anything new, no matter what the product is, we are destroying a part of the Earth. The raw materials needed to create the item comes from somewhere. Even the recycled paper products need to be manufactured, thus creating pollution in that process – albeit not as much pollution as a non-recycled product. The product needs to be shipped, hauled, loaded, unloaded, sorted, loaded and unloaded again until it reaches the store shelves, creating pollution in each of these – and more – steps. For this reason I rarely by anything new. Most of my music is bought second hand… years after bands have fallen off the ‘Top 40’ charts.

In an average year, I will buy two new CDs. I think that it’s great that all the bands and artists that I’m attracted to have followed standards that are more environmentally friendly. Kate Bush’s newest release and the Foo Fighters anniversary edition of their first album are all ‘plastic free’.

This year, I seem to have broken my own rules… with over four months remaining in this year I have already doubled the amount of new music that I usually buy. I just couldn’t help myself.

This spring saw the release of ‘We Are The Same’ by The Hip as well as ‘No Line On The Horizon’ by U2 – my two favourite bands.

My ear has also been peaked by some newer bands, as well. When I heard the first release from Ontario’s own Arkells – hailing from Hamilton – I thought that I was listening to an old Who song that I had never heard before. The quality of the lead singer’s voice, the driving of the bass and the tones of the electric guitar just had that ‘old’ flavour of Rock that I just love.

The packaging of this CD was, again, following new standards by using ‘tree free’ paper and vegetable inks, with no plastic. It was while listening to this CD that I got the idea for writing this particular blog. I heard many things in this album that I thought were similar in many Rock songs of the past. One song began with a harmonica and piano and I thought that I was listening to a song that could have been written my Mike Peters and The Alarm.

As I’ve recently learned, Rise Against has been around for several years. Their newest album has received a lot of radio play and daily I found myself enjoying their loud rockin’ beats and lyrics, more and more. Once I bought their CD ‘Appeal To Reason’ I learned that this band is truly on a mission to empower our societies to rethink everything that we think we’ve learned through our mass media industry.

Their CD is manufactured using no plastics, 100% recycled with 35% PCW (Post-Consumer-Waste), printed using vegetable inks. Their packaging is biodegradable, recyclable and renewable. Similar to U2 – who encourages their fans to join Amnesty International, etc – Rise Against has listed several books that they would like their fans to read: The Ground Truth, Wal-Mart – The High Price of Low Cost, Sicko, Future of Foods and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.

They even had a small insert that promotes vegetarian diets. This one single piece of paper is finding its way into hundreds of thousands of homes throughout North America and the world and even though it will not be recognized by all fans, I am sure that thousands of people will begin to take a closer look at the foods that we eat. This may by bad news for McDonalds and Swiss Chalet, but it’s great news for all the billions of animals that suffer, daily, from our societies thoughtless consumption practices.

What really turned me on was this quote, stated by Pablo Picasso, concerning art and mankind…

“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”

I’m sure that many of my readers can understand why these words offer me hope and strength as I continue to wage my war against the world’s ignorance, to inspire all that we all have the right to food, clothing and shelter, home and happiness filled with love for one another and our Earth.

Peace to all, in the spirit of Rock’N’Roll!!!


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