Trying to Understand Those Two Years When I Was a Fan of Barenaked Ladies

For a brief moment in time I was into the Barenaked Ladies and the further I get from that time, the more it all confuses me

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My high school sat in the middle of sunny Portland, Maine and was a long, large building that from a distance looked more like a prison than a high school. But it was an old high school, one of the oldest, and it was only a block or so from the unofficial center of town, Monument Square. Off to one side of the square was One City Center. In One City Center were a couple radio stations, one of which was the local alternative station and that station used an outside area on what was probably the third or fourth floor as a stage where they had bands play. You couldn’t see the band all that well because of the height, but you could definitely hear them. When a band was playing up there, they could be heard throughout most of the immediate area.

With school ending one day, a couple friends and I had heard about a free show happening over at Monument Square and decided to check it out. This was in 1996, which the record will show was a long time ago, so anymore details regarding our exact thought process have been lost to the annals of time. I do somewhat remember the music having already started as we were walking over there, getting louder as we got closer. It was upbeat music; music that at the time, a time of the last throes of grunge and the upswing of Green Day and emergence of Dave Matthews Band, I didn’t hear a whole lot of. But there was something about it, that at the time, appealed to me. I only know this because I left Monument Square having become a fan of Barenaked Ladies.

Soon after I bought their latest album, a live album called Rock Spectacle. They had released a few albums before the live one and truth be told, I’m not sure if I bought any of those. A reminder, this was 1996. The Napster era was a few years away and streaming music was a decade down the road. If you wanted to get into a band and dive into their catalog you only had a few options: you could hope your friend had an album and would let you tape it, you could find the CD in the used bin, thus saving you a few bucks, or you could pony up and by the album new. I feel confident saying that in the first few months of my Barenaked Fandom, I only owned Rock Spectacle.

Eh, I might have had Born on a Pirate Ship, the album released a few months before Rock Spectacle.

Wait, Pirate Ship was released in March of 1996. Rock Spectacle was released in November. The free show was definitely in the summer, if not spring. Upon further review, I most likely bought Born on a Pirate Ship after seeing them and then bought Rock Spectacle when it came out.

Glad we got the cleared up.

Image result for barenaked ladies band 1996

Steven Page, Jim Creeggan, Ed Robertson, Kevin Hearn, Tyler Stewart (from L)

What doesn’t need clearing up is that I had become a pretty big fan of the band. They were right up there with Live, the aforementioned Dave Matthews Band and Green Day, and whatever classic rock bands I was into at the time. They played another show on the One City Center patio the following summer and at some point during this time frame, played at show at the fabled Portland venue, the State Theater. That same alternative radio station was giving away tickets and somehow, either through can good donations or through the magic of calling in to the station and being the right caller, I won tickets. I remember trying to find a buddy who was also into the band to let him know. He was in class and I communicated the news from out in the hallway; a memory that sounds very high school, which means it probably wasn’t as cool as it seems all these years later. You know, kind of like liking the Barenaked Ladies.

Between seeing them that first time and the summer of 1998, my fandom for the band stayed pretty consistent. During this time I was deep within the clutches of an endless hunt to determine the music and bands I liked and didn’t like, so there was no doubt strong competition from other bands when it came to keeping my attention. But if memory serves correct, which it you know, kind of does, Barenaked Ladies were in the mix at least to the point where the release of their 1998 album Stunt was something to look forward to. Stunt of course, was the one that blew them up. With the door kicked open by “One Week,” the album became their most successful and elevated them from cult band with a small, but dedicated following to morning show fodder and top 40 radio stalwarts. It’s always dicey when a band goes from being a secret to being what everyone is talking about, which is what happened in the months after Stunt’s release. I would imagine that this surge in popularity may have had something to do with the decline in my appreciation of the band, but I can’t be sure. If this tale has proven anything so far, it’s that my memory is spotty at best.

While in college, my journey of musical discovery had taken a turn, becoming a leg of my journey that historians will describe as hippie-led. Phish and other jam bands, as well as DMX (it’s complicated,) became fixtures for me, and a lot of what I had listened to in high school started to fall by the wayside. Barenaked Ladies shouldn’t feel bad. A lot of the grunge bands I had loved fell victim as well. I have a hard time believing it now, but there is a chunk of my life when Pearl Jam just straight up didn’t exist. Yet during that same time I could sing along with every word of the latest Moe album.

Times had changed and as I moved on, parts of my past didn’t make the trip.

In September of 2000, the band released Maroon, an album I vaguely remember maybe having. The tone of the album was different. It was their serious album. By that point though, a shift in tone really didn’t matter to me. If I did buy Maroon, it was more of a last gasp act of loyalty than anything else. The relationship was over, but I still felt compelled to show face to keep up appearances. I said we’d be friends, but it was only a matter of time before Barenaked Ladies became an after thought and a memory as opposed to active part of my life.

They were never completely forgotten though, but the reason why has less to do with their music and more to do with liking them in general.

A little bit about me: I can be a tad bit obsessive when it comes to things like bands, TV shows or other facets of pop culture. The end result is that when I fall, I fall hard. It’s why I went to college with two large books of CDs. Again, this was 1998; your music traveled with you either in CD books or in shoe boxes filled with tapes. In high school I frequently became enamored with a band, rushed out to buy their CD and more often than not, ended up selling it a few months later when I needed money to buy something from a new band I had fallen in love with. It was vicious cycle. Addiction usually is. Yet where things with Barenaked Ladies are different is that at the time, there were other bands that came out of nowhere to capture my attention. Marcy Playground for example. The radio started playing “Sex and Candy” and sure enough, I ended up buying the album. But that didn’t last long and most likely within a few months, I was back at Bull Moose Music, selling the CD to get money to help me move on with my life. The difference with Barenaked Ladies is that my obsession lasted longer than the others; lasted to such an extent that I would have very easily described myself as a fan of the band, something I wouldn’t have necessarily done with Marcy Playground. I liked Marcy Playground, but I loved Barenaked Ladies.

And then I didn’t.

Then I just stopped.

Well, it was more gradual than that, but still, looking back now it feels like one day I was a fan of Barenaked Ladies and the next day I wasn’t. This shouldn’t feel weird, but it does. It’s why I still think about the time period. On the one hand, Barenaked Ladies weren’t any different than the other bands I became briefly infatuated with in high school, but on the other hand, they were a level up from those other bands. I didn’t just buy one album of theirs, I bought a couple. I saw them live; putting forth an effort to do so. I learned things about them; became attached to them. Twenty years later my fandom with the band continues to befuddle me not just because their music hasn’t aged well for me, but because my fandom seemed to have such a definitive beginning and ending. It’s rare for a band that I supposedly liked as much as I liked Barenaked Ladies not to have at least a little bit of staying power and for me to come back to every once in a while.

As was previously mentioned, I got into Phish in college and when I saw I got into Phish, I got into Phish. I thought for sure I would like Phish for the rest of my life and that was that. Except that wasn’t that and a year or two removed from college my love for Phish started to wain and would continue to do so until they were a band I thought of in the past tense as opposed to the present or future. However, I still listen to Phish from time to time and remain interested in what they are doing, even though I don’t generally consider myself a fan anymore. I was into Moe in college as well and a similar pattern followed. And while I don’t keep up as closely with them as I do Phish, I’ll still go back to Moe from time to time. The same goes for bands like Oasis, Nirvana and Atmosphere, bands that held my attention the tightest for a short period of time, before that grip eased up and I moved on.

Barenaked Ladies didn’t do that though. Their window opened, air rushed in and fill the room and just like that, it was closed. It was closed with such fervor that now, twenty years later, the idea of liking Barenaked Ladies seems laughable, if not embarrassing. When they appeared on a float in last Thursday’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, celebrating thirty years together, I was almost amazed with the idea that I once really liked them. It didn’t seem possible. “One Week” is a terrible song. What was I thinking? Again, liking them just doesn’t seem possible.

But it was possible. It happened. I have the memories to prove it.

From sometime in the spring of 1996 to sometime in 1998, I was a big fan of the Barenaked Ladies. I saw them live three times, owned albums of theirs and listened to them on a regular basis.

And then I wasn’t and that was that.

This will never not seem weird to me and that weirdness will end up having more staying power than the band’s music will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Oh I love the way you write!! Your post really spoke to me (being someone who is often known to be a tad bit obsessive with music & books). It took me back to my obsessions with various bands (that I shall not name for fear of loosing what little ‘coolness’ I have left), my own complicated DMX phase (it never really left me) and the trials of a portable music catalogue in the 80’s and 90’s (I too carried my CDs around in cases – how else were you supposed to have music for every occasion before streaming sites existed?!). I guess what I wanted to say was: your blog post rocked – keep on doing what you do 🙂

    Reply

    1. Wow. Thanks for reading! And thank God for CD books, huh?

      Reply

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