I hate watching award shows, for the most irrational of reasons – I’m mad I wasn’t invited. Of course, even when I have been invited I didn’t really like going – they were a pointed reminder of how little I’ve accomplished in life. So it’s no surprise I’m not watching the Juno Awards on TV tonight (for the uninitiated, the Junos are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys but with fewer grandiose performances, or the Brit Awards but with fewer fights).
That said, I am curious to know how it goes – William Shatner is hosting this year. Having someone as immune to embarrassment as he is is a brave choice – although many music snobs say the Junos have been immune to embarrassment for years, by virtue of nominating the band Nickelback over and over.
Which brings to something I’ve been wrestling with a long time. In fact, I debated whether or not I should publish this post, but I’ve been re-visiting some of my old psych texts about Jung’s theory of the Shadow Self. “The shadow personifies everything the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself” Jung writes. Naturally, failure to embrace and assimilate the Shadow leads to all kinds of messy, fucked-up behaviour. I’ve seen the movie Shame – I know what can happen.
So I suppose if I’m to become a Better, more individuated Man (or at the very least, avoid getting caught in flagrante delecto with the neighbour’s cat) then I need to accept my failings and drag some secrets into the light. And trust me, I’ve been carrying a secret – a big one. No, I haven’t killed a man. I’m not raising a second family no one knows about. I don’t have a sixth toe on my right foot. My secret, to a lot of people, is much much worse.
I like Nickelback.
I declare it publicly with the same stomach-churning angst I might have if I were coming out to born-again Christian parents. The reasons are obvious: while I may like Nickelback (and I hear there are others who do – perhaps we can form a support group) there’s is an equal if not greater number of people who dislike Nickelback – they’re the ones who say the Juno Awards is a farce for nominating them. Actually, I suppose “dislike” is too mild a word – they hate Nickelback. We’re talking write-to-Congress hate, boycott-your-favorite-team-because-Nickelback-is-playing-halftime hate, white-hot intensity-of-a-thousands-suns hate.
A part of me understands the people who hate Nickelback, because I suspect I have the same musical tastes as they do. I’m pretty much the epitome of a contemptible hipster music snob – a quick glance at my iPod reveals an intense devotion the Black Keys and Arcade Fire. I love the Kinks, the Clash, The New York Dolls, The Stone Roses (first album, not second), Talk Talk, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Wire, and Television. I won’t listen to anything the Stones recorded after Tattoo You, or anything Bowie did after Scary Monsters, or anything The Who did after Who Are You (with the possible exception of the song “Eminence Front”). I love Eric B. and Rakim but think Rick Ross is a rap cliche blessed with a cool voice. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Lightning Hopkins, Shuggie Otis, and early Dionne Warwick. So while my admission is not quite an Only-Nixon-Could-Go-To-China moment as if, say, Jello Biafra were to admit he liked Nickelback, it’s still an anomaly.
At the same time, another part of me harbours a certain contempt for the haters, because hating Nickelback is easy. If you say “I DESPISE Nickelback”, rarely does anyone press you for a reason. Chad Kroeger was once asked why this was during a radio interview, and his reply was because they weren’t hipsters. He could be right. Of course, if one were to cull from some of their worst songs (such subtle, nuanced tunes like “Something in Your Mouth” comes to mind) you could make a reasonable argument for how bad they are. However, I doubt there’s a hipster in the world who’s taken the time to listen to that many Nickelback songs. If you think about it, that’s kind of odd – considering that hipsters a) love irony, and b) define their tastes in opposition to what everyone else prefers, and c) Nickelback hatred is more or less mainstream, you’d expect a few might embrace the biggest band from Hanna, Alberta. Mind you, hipsters have never fully grasped the irony of all of them trying to stand out by dressing the same, so loving Nickelback may be a bridge too far.
The point is there is no risk in hating Nickelback, while liking Nickelback can take some nerve. In this way, Nickelback fans are not unlike the first Christians in Rome – in the face of such arbitrary, sometimes cruel disgust, their devotion requires both bravery and perhaps a measure of delusion. (It should be mentioned that Nickelback fans aren’t casual admirers. Most of the ones I know personally LOVE the band with a fervent, almost religious zeal – as if their passion is the armor they need to face the derision they get from friends, family, co-workers, strangers, etc.)
Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m that brave or that deluded. It’s at this point I must confess to a significant advantage over both the lovers and the haters of Nickelback, for it is the source of my admiration: I’ve actually met the band. Not just met them, mind you, but spent quality time with them – and not just them, but with their parents, their families, their friends, and their kids.
I worked at MuchMusic in Vancouver (where most of the band lives) for almost a decade, just as Nickelback was blowing up. It was inevitable I would have to interview them on occasion, and as it turns out the experience was sufficiently pleasant for them to want to do it more than once, which led to a certain rapport.
Now, I should probably qualify this: by no means were we close. We were friendly, and have lots of mutual friends, but we are not compadres. Nowadays, I doubt Chad Kroeger would recall my name, although I’m pretty sure a wave of recognition might pass across his face should he see me. Still, I’ve seen enough and know enough to have an informed opinion, and I can tell you that if I like Nickelback it’s not because of their music. I make allowances for their music because they are some the nicest, most decent rock stars you could ever meet.
First there’s Ryan, the handsome, affable guitarist who loves bluegrass music more than anything else, with the possible exception of his beautiful wife (and high-school sweet heart) Treana. Ryan’s parents regard with him a pride that is in no way enhanced by his success – their support for him is boundless and unconditional. Ryan’s brother (a chiropractor on Vancouver Island, last time I heard) is not envious, or resentful of his brother – they behave like best friends. Thanks to his family, Ryan is almost irritatingly well-adjusted.
Then there’s Mike, the other Kroeger in the band. Mike knows that unless you’re Sting or Flea, no one really gives a shit about the bassist, and he’s fine with that. He’d rather stay at home on his ranch in Hawaii with his wife and kids. Mike’s approach to music is workmanlike – he’s conscientious, hard-working, shows up on time, and is polite with everyone. That said, the most excited I’ve ever saw him get was when we discussed the Detroit Red Wings. Mike knows that as things go, it could be way worse for him.
Finally, there’s Chad. I believe Chad’s the one guy in the band who really, REALLY wanted to be a rock star. Luckily he’s found guys he can trust to help him do it and who seem happy to let him hog all the attention. Chad gleefully embraces every single rockstar cliche you can think of – gorgeous (ex-)wife, box seats at sporting events, garishly-decorated mansion with a fleet of Ferraris in the garage, and a full-size hockey rink in the basement. But he is resolutely NOT an asshole – he’s simply living out the rockstar fantasy he envisioned for himself as a teenager.
For the most part, Chad Kroeger possesses the same simple qualities he grew up with – a zen-like focus combined with a (near) puritan work ethic. And just like Chad Kroeger the Teenager, Chad Kroeger the Rockstar is still kind of insecure and wants to be liked. That’s probably why people’s hatred of his band irks him the most. All the posturing, all the Yoda-like pronouncements about knowing what it takes to write a hit song – partly it’s true, but mostly it’s fronting.
It’d probably be wise for Chad to ignore it, but I suppose he can’t help himself, and frankly I have some sympathy for him. I can’t imagine the paradox of his life, playing to tens of thousands of fans night after night then waking the next morning to speak with journalists who demand to know why everybody hates his band. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said ”the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. By this criteria you could make a case for Chad Kroeger being one of the smartest men in North America.
(I should probably include a paragraph about the drummer Daniel, but I don’t know him that well. He replaced the old drummer Ryan, whom I knew a little better but was unceremoniously fired for reasons which are none of my business. From what I can tell, Daniel seems nice and feels fortunate to be part of the group.)
But chances are I wouldn’t even bother with the clinical analysis if I didn’t like them as people. The guys in Nickelback are living, breathing evidence that character (for me, at least) can atone for many sins, musical or otherwise. In a world where plenty of folks act like contestants on The Apprentice, their example seems almost noble. When I listen to Nickelback, I don’t hear music for scenesters to gnash their teeth to so much as four regular guys who by hard work and a lot of luck get to live a life most of us can only dream about. Frankly, I find that hard to hate.
Of course, this probably makes me the one fan the band doesn’t really want. They may see me as the music-lover-equivalent of a pee-wee soccer coach, dishing out playing time to hopelessly untalented kids over the truly gifted athletes because the little losers have good attitudes. They may not win any Junos tonight, their music will never come first in my heart, but Nickelback will always get an “I Played Too!” ribbon.
Anyway…glad I could get that off my chest. If Shatner doesn’t embarrass himself tonight, I suppose that’s good. If he does though, that’ll be amazing. Not that he’d notice.