OTR, Take 24: Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Good morning & happy Saturday!

(If you'd like to listen to today's record as you read, click here.)

Do you need this little break as much as I do this week? There are some weeks that when Friday night hits, I make my list of three get-tos (rather than to-dos, which my brain refuses to accept) that I make for myself every weeknight and get ready to work through the weekend. Here's a little secret: I like to work, and if I'm in the middle of a project or excited about something I'm working on, I'll happily spend time on the weekend doing work.

There are other weeks, like this one, where I just feel like I need some air – like I've been enclosed in a too-small space, my own little ease. One thing that I've come to accept (it took me an embarrassingly long time – and literally almost killed me) is that the body knows things more deeply than the brain comprehends. After two difficult weeks, last night my body said, enough, and went to sleep early. No get-tos. No plans for weekend work. No wind down.

*Actual footage

And I woke up joyous. Unburdened. Not even the pervasive leaden Pittsburgh sky could bring me down. Having a full weekend without obligations? Amazing. Even Clare, who generally goes back up with Audra to catch more sleep after we take an early walk, could tell I had a different energy this morning. She stayed down with me as I made coffee and settled down to write. She's sitting on the ottoman just staring at me. It's a bit unnerving, really:

Clare would like to wish you good morning.

As we took our walk, I knew what record I wanted to put on when we came in from the rain. This is a very special record to me, and one that lives up to its name. Ladies and gentlemen, let's talk about Japandroid's Celebration Rock.

oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oooooooooh

Like so many things, it's a bit remarkable that this album exists at all. In 2008-9, Japandroids were ready to pack it up. They weren't getting any traction, the shows sparsely attended, and let me tell you: it's a lot of work to be in a band. We generally have this conception that being in a band consists just of getting together and jamming, booking some shows and playing music. More often than now, being in a band means breaking into heated arguments in practice about how to end a song – should it ease out or end with purpose? – or a knock down drag out fight about what key a song sounds best in.

The Police, no joke, broke up over a drum fill. (I'm team Stewart Copeland, if you care; Sting was nothing on his own.)

So Brian King (guitar/vox) and David Prowse (drums) were nearing the end of their resolve and decided to record Post-Nothing as a farewell of sorts. They expected to release the album and then, I dunno, go get a job. Post-Nothing has that desperate feel of two men trying to hold onto something they knew they were about to lose.

And then a funny thing happened: the album started getting buzz around their native Vancouver and their shows started getting bigger. Ian Cohen reviewed it for Pitchfork and gave it a Best New Music rating. They started touring North America.

This thing they had basically given up on, this album that was meant to be a feral farewell, this music that lent itself to wild, uproarious concerts...it became viable. King and Prowse shot their shot and they made it.

Look at those skinny jeans. Keep hanging on to youth, gents!

Hitchhiked to hell and back
riding the wind
waiting for a generation's bonfire to begin
when the plunder of the poets
thunder of a punk's guitar
beat life into my body
drunk at the back of a bar

Celebration Rock opens and closes with the sound of literal fireworks. A touch on the nose? Maybe, but everything in between lives up to that promise.

What does a band do when it experiences unexpected life? How does a band follow up a record made with nothing left to lose? When you lay it all out on the table, what's left?

This question pretty clearly weighed on King and Prowse, as it took years for Japandroids to release a follow up to Post-Nothing. The first single from Celebration Rock, "Younger Us," was released a full two years before the album! (This isn't normal.)

When you have nothing to lose, it's easy to put everything you have out there. When that bet gets miraculously paid out, you basically have two options: you move forward as though you're playing with house money or you tense up and freeze. It strikes me that, perhaps, Japandroids did both.

Remember when we had them all on the run
and the night we saw midnight sun
Remember saying things like, "We'll sleep when we're dead!"
and thinking this feeling was never gonna end
Remember that night when you were already in bed
said, "fuck it!" and got up to drink with me instead?

Celebration Rock is a rare album that is unflinchingly ingenuous. There's a knowing naivete to the work, deeply endearing and slightly uncomfortable. True to its title, Celebration Rock is just over a half hour of no-holds-barred lust for life. It is as elemental as any rock record I've ever heard: it is simply guitar, drums, and vocals – like early Black Keys, but more joyous, more fist-pumping, more communal.

It's a lifeless life, with no address to give
but you're not mine to die for anymore
so I must live

Periods of our lives are soundtracked by certain records and are indelibly linked to those records. Hearing them will whip us back to those emotions, smells, fears, and lusts experienced during that time. It happens unbidden, and often it is quite unwanted.

I'm certain you have had a moment when a song comes on and your whole body tenses up and every ounce of your being says oh god without uttering a word.

Celebration Rock came out in 2013 and I bought it when it came out, listened to it a few times, thought hey, this is pretty good, and promptly forgot about it. I wasn't ready for it yet. Over the next two years, my first marriage fell apart. It was mostly my fault; I didn't see it then, but I recognize it now.

I moved out of our house and back in with my parents – at 34 years old. My sweet girl, Winnie, came with me.

Gratuitous Winnie photo, because I miss her like crazy.

It felt, at the time, as though I had forever ruined my life. We all, to some extent, have a conceived narrative of how our lives are supposed to go, and we all, without exception, have a moment when we realize that it's not going to go that way. These moments can be highs or lows, but they are breaking points after which we must learn to think of ourselves in a new light.

Pretty soon, I moved out of my parents' house and into a row house in Lawrenceville. I was pretty lost, working a job I loathed, mostly just stumbling through life in a suit and tie.

I started dating and realized how much I didn't miss dating. Good lord. It was around this time that I put Celebration Rock on the turntable again – and it had a vastly different effect on me. It spoke to me in a way that I needed at the time, in a way that sustained me in some ineffable way.

I'd been trading messages with a girl on Match. I quite liked her: she was funny, incredibly smart, could fire right back at me in banter. I had been dating someone else for a few weeks and was in the process of breaking up. (These terms seem so alien, now.) This girl had a date set up with another guy that she wanted to honor, so we just traded some messages and that was that.

Heart's terrain is never a prarie
but you weren't wary
You took my hand
through cold, pissing rain
Dressed to the nines,
arm in arm with me tonight
Singing out loud
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Like continuous thunder

Around 10 pm, I got a text message from this girl. "Hey, what are you up to?" It was a Wednesday or Thursday. "Aren't you supposed to be on a date?" I was reading and getting ready for bed. "Don't even get me started. I'm over in Oakland, not far from you. Wanna grab a drink?"

Remember that night when you were already in bed
said, "fuck it!" and got up to drink with me instead?

So I gave her the address to Brillobox, changed back into presentable clothes, and walked over. I grabbed one of the booths and ordered a big cone of fries. Then I walked to the jukebox and selected a bunch of songs. When she walked in fifteen minutes later, "The House that Heaven Built" was playing. I doubt she remembers this detail. She didn't see me at first, so I was granted a short window of seeing her without her realizing it. She walked in with a smile on her face; I like to think that she was excited to meet me, and I will not permit you to dissuade me. Her eyes scanned Brillobox and, after waiting just a moment, I waved to her and got up to greet her.

At the scene of the crime. Brillobox c. 2016.

She sat down across from me and started eating the fries. "Didn't you just have dinner?"

"Do not get me started on that dinner. My god, this guy...he needed to know every ingredient and preparation and was such an asshole doctor!"

"Oh yeah, doctors are the worst."

"I'm a doctor."

"You're not like other doctors."

And in the background, King was singing – in a key just a touch too high for him to hit the high note without really reaching for it:

When they love you, and they will, (and they will)
Tell 'em all they'll love in my shadow
And if they try to slow you down, (slow you down)
Tell 'em all to go to hell

When they love me, and they will, (and they will)
Tell 'em all they'll love in your shadow
And if they try to slow me down, (slow you down)
Tell 'em all to go to hell

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