It’s the morning after the Polaris Prize ceremonies. Helen Spitzer was a presenter, introducing Miracle Fortress; I was in the peanut gallery. We both talked ourselves hoarse at the Drake after-party and are in full recovery mode at the moment.
In true Canadian fashion, I just made a fried egg sandwich with old cheddar and maple-smoked bacon on whole wheat bread with tomato, washed down with coffee. I’m going on four hours sleep. I also walked the kiddo to school. Helen Spitzer caught a few more winks than I, but she’s currently holding a wet cloth to her head, groaning, recoiling at the sight of my greasy breakfast, and cursing the name of Eye Weekly editor Dave Morris for buying her the final glass of wine at the Drake.
M: Good morning, Ms. Spitzer.
M: I figured this would be easier—and more entertaining—than actually conversing at the breakfast table this morning.
H: I must thank you for deciding in favour of writing over speech. You are a wise man.
M: I tried to find the Patrick Watson album this morning, to no avail. I don’t think I’ve listened to it in a year—but don’t tell [Secret City Records’] Andrew Rose that. I’m pretty sure it’s in one of these five dozen boxes of CDs we have here. Do you have any desire to hear it?
H: Patrick is the first person I encountered walking up to the Phoenix earlier in the evening, funnily enough. I don’t have any desire to hear any music right now, although that is a reflection of my state and not Patrick’s record. Though perhaps listening to something louder than the fridge at this moment might be good for us.
M: Rumour has it he was downright tanked before the ceremony even began. I’m surprised he managed to make a halfway-decent speech at the end.
H: Rumours, huh? Hey, perhaps that’s what you should put on the turntable. Timex Social Club …oh, good man. [Barclay has just put on Destroyer’s Thief] This record I blame for inadvertently turning me into a rock critic. Is this the vinyl?
M: No, CD. [Helen is currently stalking around the kitchen clutching her stomach and reaching for more bacon.] I know you had planned to take the stage last night [she introduced Miracle Fortress] to “The Sublimation Hour,” but I didn’t hear it. In fact, I didn’t hear any of the presenter’s entrance music—or, for that matter, most of what any of them said. The podium mics didn’t seem to be functioning properly for most of the evening. But there’s no mistaking that Grant Lawrence did a fine job as host—even though I know there’s a lot more he wanted to jab at.
H: I want the gentle reader to know that I declined the bacon. Yes, Grant was certainly in fine form last night, though NOTHING quite outshines Bookman’s singing intro to Julie Doiron. Especially the moment he said, over the roaring cheers, “there’s one more verse.” Carl Wilson was having giggle fits next to me. He might have fallen off his chair just a little bit.
M: I love Dave Bookman to bits. For those that weren’t there, Bookman introduced the New Pornographers at last year’s ceremonies but singing “California Girls” with lyrics changed to pay tribute to Carl Newman and company. This year he did the same thing for Julie—though the really weird thing is that, despite obviously being a huge fan, the guy still doesn’t know how to pronounce her francophone name. Attention Mr. Bookman: it’s “dwa-ron,” not “door-ee-on.” But speaking of Ms. Doiron, she and her Eric’s Trip bandmates delivered one of the more discussed performances of the evening. I loved it: I thought it was raw, inspiring and slightly dangerous, and she seemed a bit loopy (I don’t mean in the Final Fantasy sense) and unpredictable, which I really appreciated. You, on the other hand, hated it, yes?
H: I think hate is a really strong word, Barclay. I just felt that arrangement (raw, dirty, double guitar attack) didn’t serve her in that venue. I don’t know that her voice works at that volume. But maybe I was just thinking about the TV audience. [picking up the Polaris commemorative CD thing] “Pianos are the new turntables?” [from the Patrick Watson blurb] What could he possibly mean? I’m reading the write-up for what we know now is the Polaris prize-winning CD, Close To Paradise, and I find it amusing that fully half of Brendan Murphy’s blurb is actually about Brendan Murphy.
[conversation moves to the bedroom, so Helen can lie down. In our bedroom after the war, if you will.]
M: I guess I liked the incongruity of the Doiron performance in that space. Regarding the Watson quote, yeah—that’s totally ridiculous. I think most people in the room were shocked if not baffled when Watson snapped the prize. It simply didn’t seem to be on anyone’s lips, not in the initial lead-up to the shortlist, and not in the months since the nominations were announced. I think he’s an incredibly talented guy, and watching the band live I was reminded how amazing each of them are individually. But the whole thing just doesn’t gel for me; I get no emotional connection to any of the material. In fact, last night it looked downright masturbatory.
H: It was a very baffling win. I do think my jaw actually dropped. And you’re right in that his album wasn’t being discussed by critics during the lead up to this as a serious contender. Which makes me wonder if it didn’t win by being everyone’s number two. Hey, Joe Jackson wrote a song about that. But I do believe that the process in the jury room was slightly different this year.
M: You were saying something last night, when we were talking about acts that we didn’t want to win it. Neither of us are fans of the Besnard Lakes, and yet you said that if they won it would at least make sense: there’s a near-consensus regarding that band.
H: Because people who love that record really loooooooove that record. And I respect that, even though I’m befuddled. I have a strong sense that there are very passionate feelings about that album, I have a strong sense that people also feel passionately about Junior Boys. But this was sort of like The Dears winning.
M: Which we all knew wouldn’t happen. What a terrible record. I really wish I could have heard what Aaron Brophy was saying in his introduction, because I desperately want someone to articulate to me what’s actually good about that record. I should point out that this morning, the first Polaris-related email I got was from Jon Bartlett, gloating about the fact that he totally called a Patrick Watson win. I think he pegs it on Laurie Brown being on the jury.
H: I think a more entertaining evening could have been had if, instead of calling on random critics to introduce acts, we could have called up jury members to defend their pick.
M: And then what, face heckles from the crowd? Or like a cross-examination?
H: Yes, exactly. Don’t you think Grant would make a good Crown Prosecutor?
M: Isn’t that what he does for a living when he interviews indie bands? “Is it not correct, sir, to say that in the fall of 2006…”
H: No, that’s Nardwuar.
M: We should talk about Chad VanGaalen.
H: Oh!!! Performance of the evening, by far. There was something just so beautifully pure about the ramshackle joy of his playing - it just blew the television artifice to smithereens. For that brief interval anyway.
M: Television artifice? I didn’t really get that from any other performers.
H: No, I meant the room itself. It reeked of television.
M: I wonder what Chad would have done had he won, seeing as how vocal he’s been, publicly and privately, about how he doesn’t really like Skelliconnection much himself. I also thought it was great how Patrick Watson was rooting for him, as were other artists.
H: I don’t love the album, but fuck, I love Chad.
[end of part one. Helen continues groaning and clutching her head. We’ll talk about Miracle Fortress, Joel Plaskett and others shortly.]