Pillar No. 1: Song

“Sound is a powerful kind of vibration. You never really know what you’re in for when you listen to a new song. I’m never prepared for the way it might make me feel but there is always a feeling. The lyrics have always been a big thing for me. Poetry in itself has helped me express myself in a way that felt both safe and risky, adding music to this allows another layer of expression and can tell a whole other story if you let it-or make it. Connecting to a song can really save a person from themselves sometimes-at least in my experience. I know that I wouldn’t be able to write if I hadnt first felt something from someone else’s. Not honestly anyway. An example of a song that has strongly impacted me would be “through the roof n underground” by Gogol Bordello…I don’t know why it hit me so hard in that time, I guess like a lot of teenagers, I has having a hard time with my existence. The song really made me feel like the adventure-even if it hurt-really really hurt, was hard, (whatever it may be) was worth finding out.”

That quote above is from my friend Mik. She is from Northern Ontario and I am from the South. Our paths would cross for the first time in the summer of 2016. Despite an immense difference in age we would share the same passion for music after being deeply affected early on in our teenage years.

I went to a public school that had under 300 students and was located next to a cornfield (and still is). This is no joke as my mother was a teacher at the opposite end of our county and shipped my brother and I on forty minute bus rides each day to go here. It wasn’t all bad although with the limited number of students I had a rather hard time finding my voice and where I ‘fit in’ for a long time. In either the 7th or 8th grade a friend of mine who switched schools for a year came back and all of a sudden knew all the cool rock bands around. Some of them were a little extreme for my tastes at the time but the more bands I got switched on to the more interested I became. This was also amplified by our school dances and not having access to cable, no internet access and never frequenting record stores I decided to discover the medium of radio. I would start by finding stations that played the limited number of bands I was familiar with. Over time this happened and I finally gained confidence and acceptance once public school was to end.

Fast forward to autumn of 1996 and coming off what was one of the best summer’s of my life at that point I am completely lost and forlorn. I enter high-school for the first time and am constantly reminded on what ‘fun’ it is going to be. Whoever towed this line sold me a bill of goods because at this point in time I pretty much hated every minute of it. The classes were either too hard or too boring and my friends blended into other crowds I had no chance of fitting with. The student size in this school was around 2600. Quite the culture shock from where I began and one would think basic math would say that I should have an easier time fitting in and finding a crowd. This was not the case as it seemed every clique either ignored me or held resentment because I had a relatively stable home life and didn’t have the urge to go get wasted and fight every weekend.

My personal taste in music was also getting a little behind the times oddly enough. I really loved grunge and alt-rock at this point in time but it was already on the way out. Most of the students at my high school were into skater-style punk or edgy new hip-hop like Wu-Tang Clan. Both of these genres were foreign territory for me and I sleepwalked through the ninth grade. I mentioned that my home life was pretty good. A little bit of dysfunction like any other family but I felt safe there and also lived just outside of the town I grew up in so I wasn’t exactly around the corner of the more popular kids’ neighbourhoods. This explains why the stretch of time between summer of 1997 and early 1998 would lay down a foundation that would forever change my life and it would start through the power of music.

Given the current social situation I was in most Friday and Saturday nights were spent in front of the radio. I noticed that after certain hours some of the stations I listened to would play music with a lot more ‘edge’ and would let the profanity edits go by the way side. It was way more fun than listening during the day as I felt like I was discovering material that some others maybe weren’t hearing. Sometimes late on Friday nights I would dare to change the dial to Beyond 11. This was the metal show that aired on 97.7 HTZ-FM out of St. Catherines, ON. This was known as a bit of a ‘rogue’ rock station for quite some time and it was the only one playing this style of music on their frequency. In fact if there was the right amount of rainfall the signal would cut out entirely because I lived on the outer range of the station’s signal reach. Of course it was only two hours per week between the hours of 1:00-3:00am early Saturday morning. Some of this music sounded real dangerous to me, not just edgy. But more and more I turned the band to that frequency to check this cacophony out. Then in the summer of 1997 I just plainly had enough. As if the social pressures of high school and being a teen hadn’t gotten me down enough my radio stations were now being taken over by this sweeping phenomenon of electronica. Artists like Prodigy, Chemical Bros, Underworld were all fine in their own right but I didn’t want them all over my rock stations. The music industry was even reporting that this success may kill off rock entirely and between this and some of my favourite bands ceasing to exist I decided to start listening to full episodes of Beyond 11 to see what it was like.

Overall I was up and down on what I heard until they previewed a live album from a little metal band out of Texas named Pantera. The album’s production and energy was amazing from what I heard of the three songs they played. However the song Cemetery Gates ended up blowing my mind as it had clean singing and guitar parts book-ended by distortion and screaming vocals that make metal what it is. I honestly didn’t know at the time that bands like this could become melodic and from that moment on I was hooked. Beyond Eleven became a weekly ritual in my life for about the next 24 months until Napster, file-sharing and music videos on Much Loud would change how I consumed new music.

After hearing this live album I was on a mission to listen to the Pantera back catalogue which thankfully wasn’t very big at the time. However in autumn of ’97 nothing prepared me for when I heard their magnum opus Vulgar Display Of Power. Song five from this album was on the live record and I wanted to hear the album version cause it also featured clean singing and guitar. But when the first four songs of this album reached my ears I had nearly forgotten about it. Like Mik said in her opening quote I was eager to see what kind of an adventure this album would take me on and I was clearly struggling with my early teen years but this hit me square between the eyes like a concrete sledge. Mouth For War, A New Level, Walk and Fu—ng Hostile were not just mere songs. They were a battle cry and a giant middle finger to all the social setbacks I had incurred within the last year. People don’t get you? Who cares! Your former ‘friends’ don’t talk to you anymore? You don’t need them! You gonna let others disrespect you? Not a chance! It was like Pantera front-man Phil (great name) Anselmo was specifically calling out myself and my perceived enemies through these lyrics. The rest of the album was pretty damn strong too and to this day remains an all time personal favourite. This is a main reason why there is a section on this website called Motivational Metal.

“Where do I begin? Without the power of song, I might as well have killed myself a long time ago. It gave me purpose. An endless pursuit of chasing the “perfect sound”. When I hear a song I like, I wanna know that artist. I wanna hear their other songs. And all their albums. I wanna know their history. I wanna know their influences. I wanna listen to their influences. I wanna figure out how they made their music and how they got successful so I can be inspired to do the same thing. When I’m happy, music makes me happier. When I’m sad or angry, music makes me better. Music is the perfect outlet for expressing the things I wouldn’t be able to express otherwise and the feeling of having people sing along to words you wrote and dance and mosh to funky grooves is the greatest feeling in the world.”

This quote is from my friend Jonah who lives in Toronto and is the lead singer for the band Numb Tongues. I met him and Mik at the same time and his quote sums up where I will take the conclusion of this writing. After seeing the light through the eyes of Pantera and Beyond 11 some positive changes came through. I developed some self-confidence and more of a backbone. I also began to question a lot of things around me as the more bands I discovered off of the mainstream ‘grid’ that I thought could have been huge I felt like Big Media was lying to me and this skepticism would serve me later down the road. I also made a friend through this music, a best friend. His name is Adam and we had some roller-coaster years but we are back together for life and we met while struggling through high-school because we liked each other’s Metallica t-shirt. At this stage of our lives if our love of Metallica didn’t bond us I don’t think we would have come out on the other side and as for his story I’ll get back to him at the conclusion.

Not only did this music improve my ability to think, have self confidence and make new friendships I began to shape my career out of the love of it. Mik and Jonah are both musicians (damn good ones, might I add) while I am not. I decided that since musical ability was not in my forte that I would promote it. I would end up going to take Radio & TV Broadcasting at Conestoga College in Kitchener. This would lead me to hosting a campus radio show that turned into a short-lived podcast and kept my love of the music alive. Years later I would attend the Harris Institute in Toronto to take their Artist Management Program which is where I would meet Mik and Jonah. Jonah and I hosted a music discussion podcast in 2017-18 called The Dispensary (if you look in I-Tunes it still might be there…check it out!) The skills I learned in that program would lead me to start Unexplained Inc. and this website you are currently on. Just remember that it’s all connected.

Which brings me to the conclusion. My friend Adam and I had a falling out and didn’t speak for a few years. As painful as it was to go through it needed to happen and Adam would hit rock bottom to the point where he made up his mind that he didn’t want to live anymore (this story was told on The Dispensary so it has been given permission to be shared). Before this act was to be committed his father was driving him home after a weekend visit and popped in a CD to his car stereo of Tom Waits. Adam claims he became so enthralled and curious that he reversed his decision and would break down and tell his father what was going on. Long story short he would turn it all around and raise a lovely family in the process. He has also become a die-hard Tom Waits fan for life. So when I end each podcast with the phrase ‘stay curious’….I mean business because you never know how far curiosity can take you. Especially when that curiosity leads you to the impeccable power of song.

Recommended Reading:
Shut Up and Give Me The Mic by Dee Snider
He is known for many different projects but Dee Snider was the long trim front-man of Glam-metal Hell-raisers Twisted Sister. This entire book was written by Dee and ties into this writing as an example of how the power of song can turn one’s life around.

After reading I believe Dee had ever less friends in high-school than I did and used relentless passion, anger and fury in his songs and live performance. It also proves a cautionary tale as to someone who made it to the mountain top and lost everything only to regain it all back again. The main reason it is included here is that Dee fought just about every obstacle imaginable and showed persistence to the point where Dee himself said it was ‘moronic’ not to give up on his dream to be a rock singer. Did I also mention that Dee’s natural storytelling make this book informative, easy to digest and absurdly hilarious?

What can I still learn:
Even though I have become a lot more open to other forms of music since that angst-ridden age of fifteen, I can still do better. I still need to learn to understand which songs and frequencies drive people that aren’t like me. We all respond to different sonic qualities and every one affects everyone else differently.

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