The Weakerthans: Aside
was going to write about “Aside” even before I saw the movie. For years before that Left And Leaving was a record that meant a lot to me—that still does mean a lot to me, if for different reasons now—and it had become clear to me over the last couple of years that “Aside” in particular had been adopted by a number of people, far more than I would have thought.
Like the first song I ever wrote about for Seconds, “Aside” and Left And Leaving will always be First Year music to me, the stuff I grabbed tight to myself after leaving home. But whereas “The Cedar Room” was raw, open wound territory “Aside” had a bit of snark to it, a little bit of ironic distance. John K. Samson writes tremendous lyrics for this type of music, zippy but never quite falling into punk or hardcore (or rock or whatever). Standard slower verses into swelling choruses, but with some wiseass singing about being “Terrified of telephones and shopping malls and knives / And drowning in the pools of other lives.”
But the lines right after that are what everyone remembers, because everyone quotes them: “Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony / Get clobbered on by courtesy / In love with love and lousy poetry.” Of course we all went nuts for those lines. In the midst of a song about “losing all those stupid games [we] never thought [we’d] play,” don’t we all want to think we’re the type of people whose main failings are that we’re too ironic, that we drink a little heavily, that we take love and “lousy poetry” too seriously? Doesn’t that lend a little bit of extra dignity and cool to those nights where we don’t get what we want or think we need?
I’m not knocking our sincerity, or Samson’s, or the band’s, but in retrospect it all seems a bit too obvious, too close to what we might have wanted to be and not close enough to what we actually were. For every early-20s night that “Aside” fit perfectly, there were ten we spent sitting in a bar or a friend’s apartment, having a good time. Maybe in Toronto or New York you can always be so perfectly devastated, so wittily distant from the events of your own life, just like you were writing a song about it, but life as I’ve known it has always worked out a bit more prosaic.
None of which detracts from the pure adrenaline rush in the way the guitars power up for the first brief, wordless chorus section, or the joy in Samson’s voice as he dissects a whole bunch of stupid crap he used to do. I’ve listened to this song probably hundreds of times, I’ve heard it live at least three times (always a highlight, naturally), it has meant an immeasurably huge, wordless amount to me. Left And Leaving is a great album for all sorts of reasons, but the way it sums up to me the ambivalence and terror and elation of a certain period early in my second decade will always be both the most personal and the most important, and “Aside” was/is the biggest part of that, the entry route and the perennial favourite, the one quoted on a million Livejournals and Myspace accounts.
And then, on a friend’s birthday, I went to go see The Wedding Crashers. As brainless comedies go I quite enjoyed myself, but I’m not here to make a case for it as great cinema; I just want to point out that as the credits started rolling, “Aside” came on. And I laughed, and laughed and laughed.
Not derisively—a part of my delight was that the band from Winnipeg started by the ex-bassist of Propaghandi was doing so well. And whatever I found funny about the sudden juxtaposition would only have carried laughter so far. But I kept going, red in the face and gasping for breath, friends staring at me.
By the time I got out of the theatre, a little shaken and feeling oddly emotional, it was clear to me that my laughter had been a catharsis. I used to get a little disdainful and maybe a tad resentful when I saw other people quoting “Aside”; I think subconsciously I was assuming they couldn’t really “get” the song the way I could. But of course it wasn’t my song and it never had been. Those people I saw singing along or scrawling lines on a bathroom wall could mean it just as deeply as I did, if not more—heck, it could easily have meant as much to the person responsible for selecting it to blare out over the end credits.
It took hearing “Aside” in such a different context, so totally wrenched away from what it meant for me, to truly hear it for the first time in years. There are still some nooks and crannies of the musical world that I’ll jealously guard as being “mine,” but the time for “Aside” to reside in that cul de sac is years past. These days, I hear it just as a great song about what I used to be, not what I am, and I think John K. Samson would find it amusing or maybe fitting that it has become just another bit of the never-ending process of slowly growing up. Now that it’s no longer “mine,” now that my subconscious has released it from the heavy weight of melodramatic metaphorical burdens, it sounds better. “Aside” hasn’t been weakened by not holding it so close to my heart; like everything else you love, if it comes back to you then maybe it really was meant to be.
By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2005-08-10