1991 was a strange year. I was in grade 12 and we seem to be bombarded with a pile of sounds we had never really heard before. Commercial radio wasn't sure what to play and young people weren't sure what to like. One week your favourite band was Jesus Jones (don’t judge me), the next week Pearl Jam. A week later it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Public Enemy. And so 1991 went. The fact was we weren't sure what we were listening to but we knew we liked it.
In September of 1991 a flurry of great albums came out and of course one of them in particular has been talked about a lot this year. However in November of 1991 an obnoxiously coloured pink and yellow album (that had the audacity of putting a big money bag on the front) showed up on record store shelves: Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque. By the end of the year it was Spin Magazine's number one album, beating out the likes of My Bloody Valentine, REM, Pearl Jam and, most surprisingly, Nirvana. Over the next few months the album would slowly crawl into my zeitgeist. I bought the album and listened to it intently. In February of 1992 friends and I gathered around to watch them perform on Saturday Night Live.
I was hesitant to call them my favourite. They were only slightly aggressive, and they were that one thing that teenagers don’t want to be: sweet. They wore their romanticism like a badge of honour, and at 17, I wasn’t quite ready to be that open, that vulnerable. Just under two years later their follow-up album Thirteen arrived in record stores. I went in on the opening day and bought it. Instantly found myself committed to the cause.
Where Bandwagonesque was the sound of sappy young love and fun Saturday nights, Thirteen was the sounds of a band growing into a greater appreciation of the world around them. Love was in the air, but so too was a cynicism that lumbered through the slower pace of the record. It is a record that the band seem okay to forget, but one that for me holds a special place. It was the album that made me more than just a casual fan. The maturity of their songwriting expanded on their third album Grand Prix in 1995. The unofficial soundtrack of my own band’s cross-country tours we drove the Trans-Canada deciphering the Norman’s broken heart, Raymond’s philosophical ideals and Gerard’s penchant for pop. Like teen girls of the 60’s idolizing The Beatles, we each had our favourite members. As much as I liked the philosophical overtones of Raymond, I yearned for the type of relationship that Norman sang about. Ultimately, I found myself dancing under Gerard’s “Discolite”. My identity, like Fanclub’s was in flux.
In July of 1997 they released Songs from Northern Britain. As much as I still loved the band I was not sure how I felt at first about the record. It sounded older. Slower. They had matured on me. But, I was still young. For now. Just when I thought I was finally out of sync with Teenage Fanclub, I realized that I was not. Just as they were singing of love and settling down. I too was. I moved to Ottawa, moved in with my partner and started a “real job”. I was humming "Planets" and serenading my future wife with "I Can't Feel My Soul".
In 2000, I bought my first house and I got married. And, of course, Teenage Fanclub released their new record two weeks later. I remember that it was the first record I bought as a home-owner and husband. Seriously, the song titles read like inside joke “Accidental Life”, “The Town and The City” and, the apt named “Cul de Sac”. The band seemed comfortable with the new developments, and as much as I wasn’t sure I would like it, I grew to. I remember listening to the record while mowing my lawn, and shovelling my driveway. I was officially no longer the young man of my youth. And, I was at least partially okay with that.
Other albums followed: Manmade (2005), Shadows (2010) and most recently Here (2016). Each album was unmistakably Fanclub. Yes, the aggressive power chords of “Hang On” were gone and the cheeky juvenility of “The Concept” have long been banished to the final song of the set, the truth is that for Fanclub to do that today would be foolish. Just as it would be foolish for this 42 year-old man to say “when I see you cry, I think tears are cool”. I can only imagine my wife’s response. Instead Fanclub was contemplating the world in a way that can only come with age, and I understood the comfort of doing just that.
A week from now my friends and I will drive up to a Toronto venue I was supposed to see Teenage perform at in 1994 (I was stranded at the St. Catherines bus shelter because of a snow storm). We have seen them various times over the years. But, each time, I cannot help but think on my life. It seems to fit into two eras: Before Fanclub and After Fanclub. It is times like this that I realize bands are not merely about the music. They act as a timestamp on your life. The band you truly love and listen to should change with you. You connect with them because they are at the right spot at the right time of your life. The truth is in ten years most people aren't going to go and see some act topping the charts today. Why? Because that band will no longer be part of you. They might be part of some multi-million dollar revival tour, but they will no longer be part of who you are.
On Wednesday night for about 90 minutes I will enter a time machine. Throughout the night I'll be bounced to and fro.
I’ll be reminded that “time can only make demands” and ultimately that “my life is going fast”. A flood of memories will come over me that night, just as it has every time I have seen them. At the end of that night I will get in my car and I will drive home. I'll go to sleep and wake up the next morning say goodbye to my kids and head off to work just like an adult does.
Yes, like Fanclub, I “get older every year”. But, unlike the lyrics of their 1990 classic “Everything Flows", I do “notice you’re changing”.
But, aren’t we all?
We just need to be okay with the change.
The world of music and media offers us a view of the world like few other arts.