Thursday, November 19, 2009

last show

Last show is tomorrow night at Sneaky Dee's in Toronto. 431 College St. 2nd floor.

Hope to see a lot of you there.

For those that can't make it: we wish you all the best, and thanks for 7 years of awesome.

PS - we will be posting the last stuff we ever recorded right here very soon.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


each and every subject's
easily erased
each model reduced
to black and white figures on a page

portraits of new monsters
an old image retraced
paint it all with numbers
a distortion of common shapes

broken down and rebuilt
servitude in relief
sculpted to be ruins
for a landscape of pride and belief

two thousand feet above
a thousand miles away
nemesis needs no face
for this reconceptualization of space

may good fortune strike us blind
may we see not their eyes
may they wear our masks so bold
may these young hearts beat cold
that we may destroy all our enemies

I don't see or understand
why or where these men stand
but empathy alonecould stay this failed artist's hand

I didn't want to write a song about how war is wrong. That's been done a lot. And I don't really have much in the way of a fresh compelling argument that would make me want to write one; much less think the world needs one. I completely agree with Edwin Starr's (and before him, The Temptations') answer to the question of, "War, what is it good for?" So much so that I feel reiterating it, with only subtle variations in phrasing, would do nothing but render a simple idea unnecessarily complex.
So, this is not an anti-war song. I'm anti-war...well anti-modern war. There's been no armed conflict involving Canada or America during my lifetime that I think were justified. I say during my lifetime because WWII, of course, is a gray area. I mean, Hitler was trying to take over the world and kill a lot of people in the process. But I digress. This is not an anti-war song. Nor is it a commentary on the necessity for violence when faced with violent attack. This is a slightly different beast. This is about the how of war - particularly how you get people to kill.

About a year ago, I bought a copy of Gwynne Dyer's WAR, for three bucks at the used book store by my work. In the 80s (when the book was written) a documentary series about it had been produced. I saw portions of it at school (several times in varying grades) and had even used the text for a report in the days long before I ceased to be a virgin, but not much of it's information had survived my later party years. All I remembered was some cool pictures and the utter horror that the idea of nuclear holocaust awakened in me. When I reread it though, I discovered that the cold war sections were far less interesting** and that the book's overall theme regarding the evolution of warfare, particularly the evolution of combat training, was far more engrossing.

The most interesting part of the book deals with Dyer's claim that the vast majority of human beings are not born killers. This isn't to say we lack the capacity to be killers just that most of us do not want to kill and find the idea both repugnant and terrifying. This characteristic is not something that the common soldier lacks, as the research of SLA Marshall demonstrated. During WWII, Marshall conducted interviews with soldiers from hundreds of different battalions of the US infantry. What he found was that in any given battle only 25% of the men were actually firing their weapons at the enemy because they did not want to kill. Their dispersion in foxholes allowed them to neglect their duty with little to no ramifications, simply because no one was close enough to observe them. When the US military was informed of this statistic the methods they had been using to train new recruits changed drastically. They military took Marshall's study very seriously.

In the past couple of decades Marshall's findings have been the centre of quite a bit of controversy. Both his conclusions and testing methods have been called into question. Regardless of whether his work is legitimate or spurious, the affect that his research had on the military provides a partial answer to this song. The post-Marshall army had to think very seriously about how to make a soldier. As Dyer points out, the primary method they introduced was desensitizing recruits to the suffering of their enemy and to indoctrinate them, "in the most explicit fashion (as previous generations of soldiers were not) with the notion that their purpose is not to just to be brave or to fight well: it is to kill people." There's a joke here that a funnier man could make which would illustrate, in a far wittier fashion than I am capable of, that the army figured out that the best way to make a soldier was to just tell a soldier the truth about what he is being trained to do. Of course, the same 'duty to your country' stuff was still used to great affect, but it was the emphasis on killing that was the newest tool to be used. Stripping the young man of his compassion for the enemy, and essentially transforming him, both physically and mentally, into a killing machine, is the object of boot camp.

Back then the first step in creating soldiers was making sure that they know exactly what it is they are supposed to do. The form of the soldier dictated its function. But that isn't the first step, anymore. With the days of conscription long gone, the first step is getting someone to enlist. The recruitment propaganda that takes the form of commercials, with all the excitement and feel of a summer blockbuster, is one of the techniques used to attract young recruits. Trolling economically under privileged neighborhoods for youth with minimal career options is another popular method. The oldest and truest method, of course, is to project the image that the young recruit would be taking on the role of the protector, and in order for that to be effective, a threat must be introduced. The creation of a new enemy is essential for the military recruitment process, and the enemy changes often.*** The past century saw us slapping Japs, bombing Gerry, and fighting terrorists and communists of all different types the world over. In each instance the importance of overcoming these enemies through violence was fully stressed. The humanity of each force we opposed was stripped, be it through racism, or through the introduction of the enemy as an idea - we're not fighting people on the battlefield, we're fighting communism, or terrorism. These aren't humans we're shooting at; they are representations of all that is in contrast to our way of life. They are the thing that will take away our freedom and comfort, or worse still, our lives.

The dehumanization of the enemy, as we have already seen, carries on into boot camp. And, as we have also seen, this is where the dehumanization of the recruit begins, as he is slowly molded into a killing machine. But all the propaganda and training in the world won't necessarily spurn a person to kill. There are other factors involved. The military's institutional structure helps to perpetuate the execution of a soldier’s duty. Soldiers are inducted into the lowest rung of the military hierarchy and from there on they're trained to respect and obey every form of authority above them. It is their job to take orders before anything else. And the primary order they are given in war time is to kill. Humans that have difficulty making decisions in a crisis look to authority figures to make those decisions for them, as is evidenced in the controversial Milgram experiment of the 1960s. The experiment's creator, Dr. Stanley Milgram, was basically trying to find out how far people would follow an authority figure (as well as how much pain a person could inflict on another.

During his testing, he would hire an ordinary citizen to be his test subject, and then pair him with an actor who would pretend to be the second test subject. The real test subject was told that the experiment was to study memory and that the other test subject (the actor) had been told to memorize a list. The actor was in a separate room, and while he could not be seen, he could be heard. The real test subject was then told to administer an electric shock to the actor every time he made a mistake reading back the list. With every wrong answer the intensity of the shocks increased. So, here you have this ordinary citizen being told to inflict pain on a complete stranger, the effects of which (the screaming and begging for him to stop) are completely audible. At all times a scientist was present to ask the test subject to continue administering the shocks whenever he voiced misgivings or guilt about proceeding. It's really kind of an asshole trick to play on someone, and there have been a lot of questions raised about the ethical implications of the study. What is interesting, however, is that Milgram found that about 50% of the test subjects kept on administering the shocks - most did it begrudgingly, but they did continue. At the end of the study he concluded that human beings are capable of committing horrible acts of cruelty as long as their instructions were coming from a legitimate source. The test subjects essentially saw themselves as tools for carrying out the orders of an authority figure. If we transfer this scenario to the battlefield, the same type of behaviour is present. Soldiers are expected to obey their commanding officers, and the majority complies with little to no resistance. Those commanding officers, after all, are part of the military establishment and thus employees of their particular country’s government. And it is difficult for most people to conceive of a more legitimate symbol of authority than the government.

The advances in military technology we have seen in the last few decades have changed the face of warfare dramatically and produced yet another method of reducing the enemy to something less than human. We've all seen footage of soldiers in Iraq using video screens to launch attacks on their enemies, and most of us have noticed the eerie similarity between what we were watching on the news and the video games that we've wasted hours of our lives playing. And while, I have no experience in actual combat, I can only imagine that it would be easier to pull the trigger on a two-dimensional figure on a video screen than it would be to pull the trigger on someone standing directly in front of you in the vivid colour of reality. This sense of disconnection that technology creates within a soldier is comparable to the desensitization that distance creates. As Dyer notes, bombers often have fewer reservations about firing on the enemy because they are so far removed from them. In short, it's easier to believe that you aren't really killing people when you don't actually see them.

I've never read "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. As a guy who doesn't appreciate the genius of creating ways to destroy people and parts of the world, I was never too interested.**** It seemed like the kind of book aggressive, young, hot-shot stock market goons would read and declare as their mantra. Maybe I'm being too literal, or too much of a hippie, but I find the notion of killing and conquering as an art form to be kind of unsettling. Oddly enough, the experience of war for humankind has spawned an abundance of brilliant artworks, from Goya’s "Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, 3rd May 1808," to Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" to Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." As we continue to invent new ways to take each other apart we create new works to express our horror and to condemn the whole ordeal. An emphasis on the latter seems long overdue. The shape of war is always changing, as are the methods used to mold its combatants. What won't change is man's mortality and the permanence of death.
*Yes, I’m lumping Canada and the US together as a couple, but only because we go to a lot of the same parties.
**This does not reflect the insight or the narrative poetry of the, it's just not as interesting to me because the cold war is over.
***I’m not trying to suggest that the military industrial complex is picking its targets based on efforts to increase recruitment numbers. but obviously the idea of defending the freedom of Americans from liberty hating terrorists in the middle east is enticing to a great deal of young recruits.****Given my initial statement regarding my ignorance of the book's contents, I am in no way trying to diminish it as a work with immense historical


I need a thicker cloud
need a heavier shroud tonight
I need a newer, faster, longer lasting high
I need a cure of uncut purity
rescue me from security
need a reason to shake
I need a wonderful mistake

I need a boozecan night-train, moonlight or rain, yeah
I need to borrow your piss because tomorrow’s the test, oh yeah
I need alibis and reasons why
a new excuse to make you cry
I need to go off track
I need to crack and never come back

new drugs, new loves, and better scars
don’t know yourself until you’ve fallen apart

I can't feel my face
don't want to feel my heart ever again

Witness the proof of our unoriginality:

Monday, November 16, 2009


no one says it's their blood speckled in the sink
it's kind of hard to say since we're all looking sick
and the last man standing ain't going to draw no breath
paper citizens know nothing of fault or regret

there's flames on the river again
that dance as we're both shivering
they burn through the snow, rain and wind
and the match holder ain't ever going to sort it out

my risk, it has been determined for me
with these legal fictions we keep the poorest company
this was given to many
it was taken by some
this was given to many
this - it was taken by some

the punishment is always cheaper than the crime

I was taking a shit at my friend's house and reading her latest issue of MacLean’s magazine when I got the idea for this song. I’m not really friends with this particular publication - it takes an unexpectedly time-consuming bowel movement or a walk-in clinic waiting room for me to even consider picking it up. So needless to say, I don't remember the cover story, what I do recall of this 50-some-odd page magazine is a short editorial near the back. It seems the fine people of Guelph Ontario had been attempting, with limited success, to keep a Wal-Mart from being built in their city. They weren't eager to subject themselves to the local-economy-killing-retail-juggernaut and sought to preserve their city's cultural essence by vocalizing and acting upon their distaste for what they considered to be a potential threat. They won at first, but eventually their elected officials allowed a store to be built. After a period of success, the owners of Wal-Mart wanted to expand the store but, again, the people of Guelph let it be known how much this pissed them off. This is where the story stopped and the editorial began. John Whiteman, or whatever the fuck his name is, was there in MacLean’s magazine to defend poor Wal-Mart. the way he saw it, Wal-Mart’s rights were being infringed upon. Sure, a large number of Guelph's citizens opposed the erection of a new outlet, and its subsequent expansion, but didn't Wal-Mart, as a store, have the right to grow up in Guelph too? I immediately found this notion to be both absurd and frightening. This nimrod actually believes that the rights of a corporation (a fucking idea on a piece of paper) are equal to those of an actual human being. Astounding, but understandable. Corporations, after all, are legally viewed as people. It’s how they're designed. a bunch of dudes incorporate a company, thus relieving themselves of any personal responsibility for the company's actions, and imbuing this company with all the legal rights of an actual human. It’s crazy but it's true. And as melodramatic as it sounds, this is how Exxon, shell, Monsanto, Syncrude, Wal-Mart et. al have been able to fuck over the people of this planet, and the plane itself so successfully. Physicist and environmental activist Dr. Vandanna Shiva once said, "the corporation, as a legal person, is really the beginning of all the treachery of our time." I, for one, think she's right. The problem boils down to the fact that the corporation is the dominant institution of this day and age, and it is an institution with one goal: to make money. And, by now, it is common knowledge that as a result of this institution's legal standing and agenda, millions of people have been hurt, and the basic things we require to live (air, water, soil) have been either spoiled or outright stolen.

Now, don't get me wrong. This song is not intended to be some high and mighty rant. I’m not suggesting we should all stop buying coffee and clothes and just move up to north and build ourselves cabins and try to subsist on an ethically informed system of hunting and gathering. that would be silly. how could we afford to purchase the land from the men that already own it? if I was saying that, then I would just be another leather-jacket-clad hygienically challenged punk singer screaming, 'down with corporations' on a CD that just happens to be distributed by a multinational corporation. Because Hostage Life has already released two CDs on Underground Operations, and those CDs were distributed by Universal music (perhaps you've heard of them). We get royalty cheques and mechanical cheques from Universal, small ones mind you, but we get them. We, as a band that drives a gasoline fueled automobile to corporate-sponsored music festivals, are entrenched in this system. In my real life I work for a multinational corporation. I purchase products and pay for services provided by corporations. We all do, because there is little choice in the matter. It is almost impossible to live day-to-day without being affected by the most intrusive and pervasive entity of our time. This, however, is a good reason to pay attention to what is going on and to speak out and act out when we disagree with what we are seeing happen. From the abuse of workers to the degradation of the environment, and subsequent health ramifications that affect the public, the current system we have built is in dire need of an overhaul.

The Cuyahoga river, for example, has long been a symbol of corporate indifference. more than once (please note - more than once!!!!) the river caught on fire (please note - caught on fire!!!!) due to high levels of industrial pollutants. yes, a fucking body of water caught on fire. all because several different corporations chose to dump their raw waste into that river. doing this, of course, made perfect sense for the people who actually made the decision. it was a pretty common practice around the time the Cuyahoga caught of fire. in fact, the Cuyahoga fires were hardly isolated incidents. plenty of rives caught on fire during the 20th century. the Cuyahoga fires were just the biggest and provided the most photo-ops.

The job of the corporation is to make money for its shareholders. treating the chemicals that these companies were dumping into the river, or finding an alternative way to dispose of them, would diminish the companies' profits. that's a big a no-no. when an institutions' sole motivation is the bottom line, it makes sense to embrace practices that will cause harm - as long as you make money. it doesn't even matter if those practices are illegal. In the corporate world, breaking the law is justifiable if the punishment is less than the profits that can be acquired. just look at Syncrude and how much of Northern Alberta they have destroyed with their oil sands project. Over the several years that the company has been mining and refining bitumen they have produced miles and miles of toxic tailing ponds - some of which are now visible from space. In 2008, about 500 ducks landed in one of the ponds and suffered brutal, agonizing deaths. Photographs of the birds covered in toxic sludge were seen around the world, forcing the provincial and federal governments to react by laying charges against Syncrude for their degradation of the environment. Now this is a nice sentiment, and our elected officials should be praised for trying to make an example of this company. Unfortunately the punishment hardly fits the crime. Under provincial law Syncrude faces a maximum fine of $500,000. Under federal law it faces a maximum fine of $300,000. That's $800,000 if they are found guilty and receive the maximum penalties for their actions. Now, to me, you, and most of the world, that's a huge fucking number. But it is literally peanuts to the company facing the penalty. In 2008, Syncrude reported $1.5 billion in profits. It is ridiculous to think that a measly 800 grand is going to force them to clean up their act, much less their mess.

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that corporations are evil. why should I? corporations are not living things. what they are is a tool that allows men to realize their greed. they are a fictional construct that shields selfish men from the responsibility of their actions. they are institutions that have been given the same rights and freedoms as people so that a limited number of individuals can make obscene amounts of money. even when the law isn't on their side, the heads of these corporations have been able to use their wealth and influence to plunder the world. and it is all done in the name of greed. some of you reading this will point out that capitalism is the real problem here, and you'd be right to do so. this song, and the poorly structured essay that accompanies it, however, are smaller in their focus. This song is about one part of the problem. This is about the corporation as person - the paper citizen - and how its rights and status should be revoked.

Friday, November 13, 2009


so sick of fools
refuse to recognize
that love could never be so rigidly defined
so sick of the argument of tradition
one of inequality should be met with derision

because they ruined this bed before it was made
the notion of freedom so utterly betrayed

we're still waiting
for you to catch up with the rest of us
and stop greeting change with disgust
there's purple hands everywhere
'69, Halloween again
no lives need beg for acceptance
(no lives begging to be let in)
there's purple hands everywhere

so sick of the lies assigned to us at birth
you're straight until you ain't
and it determines your worth
so sick of the reverence of good ol' days
their majorities of hate and the shelf life of those ways

this ain't yours to deny
this ain't yours to give

I’m not really one for national pride. As anything other than an identifier for the playground or the battlefield, flags have always seemed like an unnecessary indulgence - the boastful advertising of a child too self-absorbed to see its own shortcomings. every year, without fail, I am sent into cringing hysterics at the sight of a person wearing the old maple leaf like a cape and bleating out the national anthem with a red and white whistle as she/he roller-skates down to harbour front for July 1st fireworks.* the idea that I am somehow special because I dropped out of my mother's vagina and landed on this stretch of soil is foolish. I’m no better than a Mexican or an American, an Iraqi or a Russian. Thus the alien sense of national pride that rippled through me when Canada legalized gay marriage was a bizarre sensation to say the least. But it happened, on July 20th 2005 I felt proud of my country. Well, it's government, anyway. We were the fourth country in the world to declare that a human being's sexual orientation should not preclude them from the liberties enjoyed by their fellow citizens. It was a great step forward for social progress, but, of course, not everyone sees it that way. Like their partners in hate down in California, a vast majority of Canadians still oppose marriage equality. They feel that it will devalue the importance of heterosexual union. Marriage, these bigots claim, is a heterosexual institution - it as an arena of love that only the straight may enter. Allowing others to enjoy the same freedom as the professed straight, will diminish the quality of our lives, and will diminish love. To me, this is the most childish of arguments. It’s like saying, "if everyone can do it then my ability to do so doesn't seem as special." grow the fuck up. Two people with the same sex organs saying, "I do," doesn't mean you don't love your wife or husband. It doesn't render the bond that you have chosen to express through a legal action meaningless. If that were true then marriages like my parents do as much to devalue this sacred union.**

The most successful opponents of gay marriage have been affiliated with church organizations. The prop-8 campaign was primarily funded by the Mormon Church. This is no big surprise. Most religions regard homosexuality as a sin, or at the very least, a deviation from nature. Of course, this idea doesn't appeal exclusively to the faithful, there are plenty of secular homophobes out there spouting similar nonsense. But when you boil down both of their arguments, all you're left with is the belief that homosexuality is, for some flimsy reason, wrong, and therefore those who practice it are less than those who do not. Now, I say, 'practice,' because what we find here is the idea that homosexuality is a choice. As far as I have been able to find, there is no universally accepted scientific evidence that homosexuality has a biological cause, however, several biological factors, such as genes and brain structure, have been identified as possibly relating to sexual orientation. the prevalence of homosexuality throughout human history, as well as it's prevalence within the animal kingdom, leads me to believe that sexual orientation does not spring from a conscious choice. Nobody chooses to be gay, bisexual or heterosexual. Nobody wakes up one day and decides that they'd like to endure the alienation and persecution that accompanies a gay lifestyle in most of the world. This is not to downplay bi-curiosity. Many a heterosexual (and, I’m sure, homosexual) has fantasized about how fun it might be to play scrimmage with the other team.

But let's stop for a second and pretend that the homophobes are right. Let’s say that homosexuality is a choice. Let’s pretend that every human being is born heterosexual. Gay people are really just straight people that, for whatever reason, prefer to fuck people with the same genitals that they have.


But why should that prevent anyone from experiencing the same level of freedom as heterosexuals? The cornerstone of any democracy is it’s its citizens’ right to choose. So, if homosexuality is a choice, it is one that should never lead to a loss of freedom*** If you think that it should - if you think that homosexuals do not deserve the right to be married then you do not believe in the idea of liberty. You do not believe in equality.

by now, you might be thinking, "ok, Colin, what the hell does this have to do with purple hands?" and you'd be right to be doing so, as I have neglected to incorporate the song's title and chorus into it's explanation. Here goes: the purple hand was one of the earliest symbols of the gay liberation movement. It never really caught on, but the story of its creation is pretty awesome. On Halloween night of 1969, a group of people, comprised mostly of members of a few different gay rights advocacy groups, staged a protest in front of the office of the San Francisco Examiner. The paper had recently run several homophobic articles that had outraged the gay community. At some point during the evening, employees of the newspaper decided to dump printer toner onto the protestors below. Their prank backfired, however, when the protestors used the purple ink that covered them to smear slogans like, "gay power," all over the building. After that, the police moved in, and as the legend goes, those that weren't arrested or beaten up too badly proceeded to walk through the entire city, leaving purple handprints wherever they went as a symbol of solidarity. The protest would come to be known as the night of the purple hand.

As I mentioned earlier the symbol never really took off and was pretty much forgotten. And while I do question the plausibility of the entire city being covered in handprints (I mean c'mon, the ink on their hands would have dried up after a few blocks) I do still love this story. And I do think it is still relevant considering that on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots**** Chad Gibson was beaten by law enforcement officials in Fort Worth, Texas for what seems to be no other reason than his sexual orientation.***** Also because, here in Canada, assheads like Charles McVety make it their mission to restrict the liberties of humans who have sex differently than him. Fuck that guy and his ridiculous commitment to hatred.


*Not that I have any problem with fireworks. I like fireworks - everyone does, save for my step-grandmother. Every time she hears an M80 explode, she jumps with fear, painfully reminded of the bombs that rained down on her childhood home in London during WWII.

**see NUCLEAR.
***If we are to believe what we are taught about this country and the one down south on their respective birthdays.
***** and

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I didn't ask for these chains to fit
I didn't ask for the end of this whip
and it's no secret
I don't believe this misery
is somehow justice for betraying a dream
but it's no secret

there's no law that says my will
has the power to attract
and that I’m solely to blame
for what I get back

dance all night because it's so easy
ask, believe, receive
but what you give ain't always what you get

these tubes and these bloody sheets
weren't invited to the party by me
and it's no secret
and how I wish that I could believe
that a thought could make this pain retreat
but it's no secret

there's no law that says my will
has the power to attract
no one gets to decide
between the cancer ward and the throne

no, I didn't ask for this
and no one deserves it

there's no key to

the universe

This song is about this idiotic book/movie:

Which became very popular thanks to this woman:

It is also about this ridiculous movie:

which features this woman:
who claims to be channeling a 35,000 year old former resident of Atlantis.

The problem with writing a song like this is that you inevitably provide the dickheads you are talking about with some much undeserved publicity*. I’ve already done this enough with the refrain that appears in the first and second verse of the song, and also through this blog entry. So to try and curb this trend, I will now use this space to direct you to some brilliantly laid out refutations and critiques of the aforementioned books/movies and their philosophies. Because, truthfully, anything I would continue to write would just be a remedial version of what these people wrote:


*And let's face it, any press is good press. Even if I’m calling the purveyors of this nonsense liars and con artists, I’m still spreading their message - their work is still enjoying the benefit of my attention, and yours if you're still reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The last Hostage Life show ever will take place at Sneaky Dee's on November 20th. This may seem like it is coming out of left field, but one of us had some personal problems that needed to be taken care of and the rest of the band decided it would be better to break up than to continue a man short. Thanks to everyone that helped, watched, hated, loved, and listened.

The remaining essays for the Centre of the Universe songs will be posted on this blog.

xoxox HL.

Monday, November 2, 2009


with stick and stone this beat was forged
without a god man’s soul was born
and no biped could ever dispute
that nature functions without a mute

and we took our time
with these tools designed
to manipulate vibrating molecules
such genius from fools

I’m the first instrument
took my cue from the winged
and I can’t catch my breath
my gift is persistence
when talent is scarce

from imitation to patterned speech
we cultivated our morning shriek
by the midday skin, wire, wood and brass
could be employed for a gentle whisper
or violent clash
by the evening we stripped our fingers
and vocal cords
for tomorrow my muse
my bane
must be stored

and this is everyone
and this is everywhere, all shapes that we take
count it down
these waves will shake the air
until these drums break
shines light on our place in nature
cuts down these deity’s ladders
hell and back to resurrect my baby
sang my song and touched the hearts in Hades
this time I ain’t looking back

cut out my sex so we’re elevated
cut these piano legs so my hearing’s aided
stand up, stand tall on innovation's shoulders
yesterday’s tune will loop at dawn tomorrow
over and over

morning whistles spawned our symphonies
while wind coerced applause from the trees
same current that's hummed for centuries

50,000 years ago an understandably uncongenial ancestor of ours decided it would be fun to imitate the sounds of the birds that called to her/him from the trees. She/he was pretty good at this and, since it was fun and sounded good, it caught on. Thus music was born. Of course, no one knows that this happened for sure. Or rather, how it happened. It's just a pretty good theory. As a singer (or a close approximation of) I'm quite partial to it. It also could have started when some bored ancestor of ours absently beat on a rock with the stick she/he had been picking their feet with. For reasons of ego and artistic license I have adopted the voice theory over the rock theory for this song.

Regardless of how music was born, the place of its origin is fairly certain - music began in Africa....the same place where humans began. Why did it happen? I have no idea. Maybe we just like the sound. Perhaps we are innately musical. It was with us long before we began writing things down, and subsequently its complexity, as well as the tools we use to create it, have evolved with us. At first music was produced internally, with the musician's body as the only instrument. After a while we began incorporating different external tools, inventing and altering them as our tastes expanded. We beat sticks against rocks, carved wood into flutes, stretched the guts and skins of animals, and shaped metals in order to make different, more challenging music. Not only did we figure out that we could manipulate sounds with our body, we figured out how to manipulate objects in our environment in order to make structured noise. We are built to do this. And we are built to enjoy it. Most importantly though, we are built to share it. Like the tools that become an extension of the art within us, so becomes the actual art as it extends to those listening. Music, like all sound, penetrates and interacts with the listener, regardless of whether or not they are paying for a ticket or calling the cops to complain about a neighbor's party. Hearing is a physical reaction. Sound waves vibrate our eardrums, causing chemical and electrical reactions in our brains, all of which leads to physical and emotional responses. We either tap our feet and bob our heads, maybe just awkwardly mouth the words we don't know, or we tense up our muscles, screw up our faces and ask, "Who put this shit on?"

In so many ways we are made for song, and entire genres are based around our sheer physical capacity. The opera singer requires a hyoid bone, a flexible diaphragm, and healthy vocal cords. A broad chest cavity doesn't hurt - all the more room for the sound to reverberate from. (Don't take it as a fact, but the way I see it, opera and gospel are the only current genres that encourage a female artist to be heavy). Through trial, error and rigorous practice we have turned the art of singing into a science. When you do it right there are no problems....when you do it wrong you get nodes and cysts on your vocal cords and a very short career. But we keep doing it because we love it. And for this love there have been casualties. A million voices lost. A million ears deafened. Carpal tunnel syndrome all over the place. And a million artists ripped off or exploited. At one point young boys were volunteering to have their balls cut off so they could sing higher. (A great number of these boys had castration forced on them, but that doesn't work too well with my argument so we'll just forget I brought it up.) Singers, drummers, guitarists have been fucking up their bodies for years just to experience the joy of playing. That kind of drive can't be forced.

My lack of musical ability, combined with my love of music is what led me to join a punk band. There were other factors too, but mainly it was my shittiness as a singer that got me this gig. The thing that drew me to most of the bands I listened to as a teenager was the fact they made it seem like anyone could do what they were doing. The Ramones weren't technically proficient. Ian Mackaye's voice wasn't beautiful. What made those bands good, however, was their style and their passion. In my mind, blitzkrieg bop, in all of its simplistic glory, was far more urgent and compelling than anything I was hearing on the radio. And if those four pasty creeps could do it, than so could this one. In punk rock, talent is eclipsed by passion. And while it may be true that this is nothing more than an arena for the tone deaf, lazy and undisciplined, it serves to illustrate that music is more than just a form of entertainment within our species - it's a compulsion. One so intense that even when we lack the ability, we still find a way to sing and to play.

Our physical capability, and our drive to stretch beyond our limits, is matched by our technological capability. Considering the great number of musical styles and genres that have been built around technological innovations our capacity for invention is staggering. Rock N Roll wouldn't exist without the electric guitar. Hip hop was born when some guys in New York realized that the turntable (a tool that had been exclusively used for playing other peoples music) could be transformed into an instrument.* Countless musical subgenres grew out of the vast array of sounds provided by foot pedals, noise gates and computer programs. It blows my mind to think that this varied pile of shit and genius came from one forgotten and seemingly insignificant human doing her/his best impression of a bird before anyone even knew how to write. We went from one method and one genre to thousands of methods and thousands of genres. We went from a dude doing a bird impersonation to Beethoven, Chuck Berry, The Clash, RUN DMC and Wolf Eyes. We went from having only one Friday night show to having a show almost every hour of every day. More songs exist on the average person's portable music player than a human could ever dream of producing. Last time I checked the player on my computer had something like a week of continuous music.

Like the cave paintings that they served as the soundtrack for, these idiotic and brilliant songs have haunted the imagination of our species for centuries. There is no culture on the planet that is devoid of music. Working with a limited number of notes, every culture in the world has produced music unique to its people. It showcases our differences, and in doing so highlights our similarities. It is the sound of our story as a species. And while differences in taste may divide us on small levels, a natural byproduct of music is unity. From a song's inception it is meant to be heard, the musician may have given it life, but it is through an audience that it breathes. In most cases musical pieces require many different hands, if not to create it, then to perform it. Without the other members of Hostage Life COTU would be an acappella release. In order for the album to exist, the five of us had to work together. Unity within the medium is not just an aesthetic pursuit, it is a necessity.** Great music often arises out of conflict - think of all the great songwriting teams of the last century and the legendary battles over artistic direction that most of them endured. But those arguments, those struggles took place because the artists involved were drawn together to create. It is an art form that binds us together even when we disagree. And we can't agree on all of it. Why would we want to? Most, if not all of us, have tried to educate some wiener at a party about the merits of a certain composition that made us feel complete as a human being. Or we have tried to convince a similar wiener that their favourite 'tune' was trite, contrived and boring to the point of being insulting. Both times, we have had completely engrossing and fulfilling moments, because one of the great things about taste as it relates to music is that we get to be fucking nerds about it. We get to defend it and attack it. And most importantly share it. And we'll continue to do so because it is in our blood. It is one of the many things that make us what we are. To limit it and try to silence it would be a crime.

Carrying on with this theme of music as a force that unites, we enlisted the talents of our buddy Paul for a second drum track for this song, as well as the talents of his band mate Chris to do some singing. Both did a great job and helped to make this song one of my faves on the album. Go buy their band’s new 7 inch.

Below is a clip of Alessandro Moreschi, The Last Castrato***, singing Ave Maria. Witness the creepiness:


* Debate about the invention of turntablism rages on in some circles. I’m no expert on the subject and admit that this information may be incorrect.
**Sure the typical band model can be subverted by technology, but this does not take away from my point.
***The last singer to literally have his balls removed in order to fashion a musical career.