The Barenaked Ladies Made Me Do It

Published on May 30th, 2012 in: Canadian Content, Issues, Music, True Patriot Love |

By Charlie M.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the phrase “we broke up over irreconcilable musical differences” is a euphemism for “I was close to stabbing them to death with a pencil.” But can it ever be literally true? Is it possible to fall swiftly and irreversibly out of sync with a person simply because of a discord in melodic taste?

A (now former) love interest was innocently making coffee when he remarked, quite calmly, that no, he didn’t fancy going to a Barenaked Ladies concert with me as he’d heard a few of their songs and he didn’t see what the fuss was about. I wasn’t worried at first. I played him “Be My Yoko Ono,” one of my favorite hits, convinced this would convert him. No response. We went through the rest of the album, Gordon. Still nothing. I slurped my coffee with a sense of growing unease; how can anyone fail to be charmed by a debut record in which musicians admit the names they were bullied with at school and which was recorded in the nude? This latter point accounts, perhaps, for a frenetic jumpiness in the delivery.

I played “One Week”, a zeitgeist of a song, immortalized by its film appearance and forever associated with Jim Levenstein doing unspeakable things with American Pie. My partner looked a little confused, then announced that no, he still didn’t get it.

I dunked a chocolate chip cookie in my drink, distracted.

Then.

“I think that last song has too many words.”

Eh? I accept that Barenaked Ladies lyrics are clever, slick; you find yourself checking the insert to check that yes, they really did just sing what you thought they did. “One Week” is a good example: I summon fish to the dish, although I like the Chalet Swiss/I like the sushi/cause it’s never touched a frying pan.

For me, though, the verbal goofiness is part of the charm, and you can’t have too much of a good thing. Confused, I pushed the point.

“Which particular words do you think they should get rid of?”
“The middle ones?”

I observed with no small degree of disappointment that my biscuit had absorbed coffee to a suicidal, decomposing degree. My heart sank.

“Also—who’s Yoko Ono?”
Ah.

To be fair, getting cold feet in a relationship over a song and a soggy cookie is not normal behavior, but I have a theory as to why I feel so disproportionately protective over the Barenaked Ladies (or BnL for those conserving word space). There are certainly bands more consistent in quality, and with greater critical acclaim, but the Ladies are uncannily good as background music, subtly infiltrating your unconscious. They graft their catchy riffs and lyrics deep in your psyche until criticism of them links, bizarrely, to those everyday moments in life which are most peculiarly, privately our own.

I can’t think of any other band that provides better sound-tracking. And here, I’m not just thinking of their presence on seminal TV shows, though that’s a fair enough place to start. Finding a place in Friends, Charmed, The West Wing, Scrubs and, most recently, The Big Bang Theory, puts BnL firmly in the mainstay of hit TV shows of the 1990s and beyond. They’ve certainly contributed enough radio-friendly rock singles to permeate pop culture, but it’s in their ability to hum along in a person’s day to day life that their power lies.

BnL’s earliest albums, Gordon, Maybe You Should Drive, and Born on a Pirate Ship share the accolade of being perfect driving music. They’ll blur into one great noise, simultaneously soothing your frustration at weekend drivers while keeping you awake enough to dodge cyclists. 1998’s Stunt was the album that catapulted BnL to fame, commercial success, and glory.

It’s here that the early fan base started to feel they’d lost the exclusivity of knowing a wonderful secret as the world catches up, much as early Mac users mourn their lost elitism when the rest of the populace whip out iPhones. I could write about musical craftsmanship, influences of folk, blues, the balance of humor and instrumentation that’s become the BnL trademark—but to me, Stunt‘s energy and upbeat rhythm were designed to do the Hoovering by. You (probably) wouldn’t choose a BnL song for your wedding day or to entertain party guests, but there’s no better music to listen to if you’ve subversively smuggled your headphones to a desk job—try Maroon and Everything to Everyone to liberate you from the drone-like world of work. They’re great albums, illicit enough to do the job, yet not so distracting, not so loud that you can’t function and claim your paycheck.

What begins as background music becomes an addiction: you realize that long after you’ve finished the washing up, you’re being haunted by a chorus about bedside manner, or thoughts of postcards with chimps on them. In part, the BnL are successful because of a refreshing lack of the sentimental, cloying tinniness that a lot of bands suffer from; in a market where teenage bands seem to thrive on delivering anodyne fluff about doomed love affairs with beautiful people, it’s refreshing to have a more eclectic range of song topics. From allergies to sleep deprivation, fantasizing about money to Brian Wilson, styled as frenzied pop or reflexive ballads that cut to the bone, the BnL provide relief from the tired formulas of song writing.

So perhaps, looking back through the years at what appears to be a rather psychotic act of fandom, I can forgive myself for spotting irreconcilable musical differences in my romance.

The Barenaked Ladies made me do it.

barenaked ladies

One Response to “The Barenaked Ladies Made Me Do It”


  1. Streets in the hizzo:
    June 1st, 2012 at 5:54 am

    True dat!

    Agree, agree, agree. Excellent comments and I am totally with you on all points. I have a history of taking off my shirt. Need we say more? If I ever had the misfortune to be in a relationship with anyone that didn’t appreciate the Ladies, it would be an easy decision. How can they be criticised for having too many words?! That comes from a truly Integrated Individual. Poor kid.

    Nice work!

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