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“Shampoo Suicide” and the Age of Seventeen
The first time I ever heard “Shampoo Suicide” was very cinematic. Maybe it’s just the lighting that saturates a nostalgic memory but I remember it as a very collegiate, soft and glowing moment in the long and confusing path that was my life’s soundtrack. I was sitting in the back seat of a friend’s car while he and several others were speaking very animatedly about something that had happened to them earlier that day. In 2006—three years after Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People was released—this all seemed very juxtapose to me against the mellow ambient mixes of the album.
I was a fence-sitter in 2006. Like most seventeen year olds, I was uncertain about what the things surrounding me meant about my own identity. I spent a lot of my time going to local shows and mostly went along with the armies of pop-punk kids packed in gyms and veteran’s halls.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy or respect the local fare but I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel the same feelings as these kids sweating and barking at the moon every Friday night about the injustice of suburban living. But with my head against the window, watching the lights of the countless strip malls anonymously streaming by, I felt that sense of feeling towards music that I thought I would always remain merely an observer of. I won’t say that Broken Social Scene changed my passive mentality, but it certainly helped me better identify with something outside of myself.
The Early 2000s
Broken Social Scene was born in the late 1990s in the indie machine that is Toronto just as the music industry was seemingly imploding—beginning with the surge of A&R layoffs. For BSS co-founding artists like Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, this disappointing reality was frustrating but ultimately the necessary obstacle to creating something worthwhile.
Their debut album, Feel Good Lost, was released in 2003 by Noise Factory Records. The “CD release” show was unique in that it publicly positioned the group as the strangely unpredictable onstage presence that it would eventually become. The debut of Feel Good Lost as a live set was not so strictly married to the music that the ever-revolving group of artists created in the studio—which is not at all to say that the set resembled a jam band. It meant that they wrote loosely structured songs that no longer adhered to the almost anesthetic songwriting formulas that are historically typical of a lot of “fusion” groups and that translated well for live music.
It was an interesting cultural renaissance for the music community: an onstage presence that doesn’t really depend on studio recordings to become a fully mature entity.
“… what the indie-rock movement is doing right now is very inspiring. It felt like [hip hop] in the beginning. These concerts, they’re not on the radio, no one hears about them, and there’s 12,000 people in attendance. And the music that they’re making and the connection they’re making to people is really inspiring.” is how legendary hip hop artist, Jay Z explained the notion to MTV.
Despite the fact that he was actually talking about an encounter with the blogsophere after being spotted at a Grizzly Bear show, the message is the same: the music industry is flawed but people are still making interesting music and delivering it without the traditional industry’s blessing.
By 2009, Arts & Crafts–the label originally created to house BSS projects–had already been alive and well for several years. The rest of the story and the introduction to each old and newly released album seemed to flow naturally with the on-going concourse of my life.
I suppose when you emotionally invest in the idea of a musician, things can get strange. The uncertainty and unpredictable nature of BSS was something that I felt was akin to the way music and life should be lived. People come and go on stage. They leave behind records of their existence and move on. This idea seemed simply permanent to me. As I entered and left college, BSS was a go-to. It was a common thread amongst friends and a common theme in the music I would eventually only begin to create in my own life.
Growing Up and Getting Old in 2010
In 2010, Broken Social Scene released Forgiveness Rock Record which would ultimately serve as what is being called their indefinitely last album. With John McEntire at the producing helm and a smaller group of six artists, Forgiveness Rock Record took on an entirely different focus that was atypical from the historically (and wonderfully) chaotic musings of BSS.
In 2010, I got a new job. I moved to a new apartment and left a tumultuous relationship. I ate a lot of pizza and spent a lot of nights near the bay windows in my living room, housing a group of revolving friends overnight as they looked for post-graduate jobs… or perhaps just something else to do.
The lighting of these nostalgic memories is not saturated in dramatic colors like the memories of You Forgot it in People, but brighter and crisp like the twangy, alt rock lines in “Water in Hell” off of Forgiveness Rock Record.
Is there life after Forgiveness Rock Record?
It’s been two years since Forgiveness Rock Record and the BSS family is seemingly only continuing to produce a series of solo albums under the “Broken Social Scene presents” banner without much talk of a full group reunion in the queue.
I have this very High Fidelity feeling about it all. I’m not sure if I have identified with this group because of the constantly revolving lineup of players in my life or if I projected these ideals on the invariable parts of my life because I’ve been growing up listening to a group of artists who only believe in the certainty of uncertainty.
Fortunately or unfortunately, in 2012 I learned that relying on life to be uncertain was just as foolish as relying on life to be constant. As I continue through my twenty-somethings, there is no longer a common thread of lost and uncertainty (What will you do in college? How will you pay your student loans? Where will you live?) amongst friends.
We endured and enjoyed rebelling against the constants and uncertainties of growing up as millennial and now must face life after Forgiveness Rock Record. Do you still have a strong thread in common with the people surrounding you besides the excitement of an uncertain journey? Perhaps. And perhaps not.
In the wise words of Brendan Canning, ”From what I can tell / There’s water in hell!”