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Savouring Every Ounce of Sunlight

December 4, 2011

Early morning here in the old rectory where your Uncle Eddie is hiding from the law. Sunlight is starting to creep through the window, and I’m quietly tapping away at the laptop keys, writing short story premises for an anthology I’ve been planning on putting together for a little while.

Got my tunes (BNL’s All In Good Time album, with all the extras), got my tea (Twinings Ultra Spicy Chai), got my early Sunday morning snack (Herr’s Ragin’ Ranch chips), and I’ve got no idea what this post is going to be about.

But it occurs to me that the music may have just handed me something to talk about; second impressions. We don’t have nearly enough of those in this life. We place so much weight on the idea that the first impression is absolutely critical, and often fail to appreciate that the best things in life do not reveal all of their charms and selling points in the first meeting. Sometimes, you need to hang around a while, visit a few galleries, turn left instead of your usual right and see what those houses on the quiet street really look like. Sometimes you need to give the girl or boy a second chance to make a more lasting impression. Sometimes you have to remove the scales from your eyes and see the person you thought you knew so well, and realise for the first time just how amazing they really are.

Sometimes you have to let your band mates write more songs and discover that they can hit it out of the park just as well as you. Sometimes, you need to let the kid pick the movie. Sometimes, you have to give your friend more credit than you think they deserve, and see them rise to the occasion. Sometimes, you have to be willing to risk certain doom to rest victory from the jaws of defeat.

I know these all sound like a lot of pious platitudes, but I’m not jerking you around here. Life is never going to give you everything you expect it to, like a smooth transatlantic cruise, but if you learn to work with the people you’ve found yourself in the same lifeboat with, you might at least make shore. The same goes for first impressions. They don’t always play fair. We aren’t always in the mood for something new, or if so, we often have a pretty good idea in our head of what we really want to see, which isn’t so new, and are invariably disappointed when the new person, place or thing turns out to be a little too different from what we had been hoping for.

I’ve spent most of my life trying not to overlook the hidden diamond in the rough, so I’m having trouble coming up with a personal anecdote, but I’ve known lots of friends and loved ones who sold each other short because they didn’t measure up on first appraisal. I can think of a few people who have slid down in my estimation upon revealing more of their less flattering characteristics over time, but that never seems as tragic to me as missing out on a chance to spend time with someone who really was cooler than I thought they were when I first met them.

A perfect example for me is Barenaked Ladies, both as a band and as individual songwriters. BNL when I was in my early twenties was kind of a clever joke, but they hadn’t yet written any of their great songs, so I had no idea they would ever be more than a flashy novelty band with nice harmonies and better-than-average chops for a college band. Maybe that’s because they weren’t anything like what I thought they were.

But it took me a long time to figure that out, even after listening to every one of their albums more than once over the years. Close friends were fans, but I stood fast. BNL put out the occasional good song, but the albums were inconsistent, so I still I felt they were merely getting better. Then their albums started to get really solid, with a few truly great songs mixed in there, but the campy nature of their biggest hits kept me away. Even the hits I really enjoyed still felt slight compared to the occasional ‘When I Fall’ or ‘The War On Drugs’.

Then they started letting the other band members contribute songs, which was nice, but the band mates weren’t as strong at songwriting as Steve and Ed, so it felt like a failed, if noble experiment. I loved the last three ‘mature’ studio releases they made with Steve, each more than the last, but I still felt like they hadn’t arrived. Like something was holding them back from really reaching the top floor.

Then Steve left. It seems he had the same feeling I had. But the irony is, it wasn’t Steve who moved on and moved up to the top floor. His first studio solo album sounded like a really good BNL album. But BNL had already released their first album without Steve, and it turned out to be a light year away from where they had been. They were a band again. Kevin and Jim had written truly great songs, and Ed had risen to a whole new level with his singing, songwriting and guitar playing. Even Tyler, the much overlooked drummer, had turned in what, to my ears, was an album’s worth of the best drumming of his career. Every tune sounded brilliant. He’d really gone for it, and it showed.

Very tellingly, the classic harmonies didn’t sound quite the same, but with repeated listenings, I find myself forgetting what they sounded like before Steve left. It’s all there now, in what I feel proud to say is the best album of their career. Brilliant. As good as anything in my music collection. This is the BNL I’ve been waiting to be a fan of, and it only took 25 years or so to get here. Hell of a long time to make a second impression, but what an impression!

So that’s the lesson for today. Remember, the first impression isn’t as critical as we’re taught to think, because really, it’s what happens to that first impression when we finally realise what we’ve really had on our hands all along that truly matters. For better or for worse.


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