People of tomorrow, it is today!
We’ve just set out on our first proper North American tour of Synthetica and spirits are high. Our time is now and we’re feeling the love for life on the road.
It struck me the other day, as our tour bus pulled up to West Elizabeth and Woodward to park behind The Fillmore, that I owe a great debt to the city of Detroit, Michigan. My father, the late poet and teacher Paul Haines, was born in a town nearby called Vassar in the 1930s. His life took him far from home to New York, New Mexico and New Delhi (the birthplaces of my brother, my sister and me). In the mid 1970s, the family moved to Canada and we have been there ever since.
Of all the things I remember from being a kid, our road trips to Vassar stand out as being impossibly fun, even though as the youngest I was always the one squished into the backseat middle. I can still recall the visual of arriving in Vassar at Uncle Russ and Aunt Esther’s house, Russ’ prized Ford Model T parked in the driveway, with everybody waving and running toward our car, rushing to scoop me up into hugs of epic proportions. The whole extended family lived within blocks of each other; grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles always just across the way. What a clan!
Paul Haines wasn’t a musician but his whole world was music. When he was a teenager, he would come to Detroit to see shows at the small jazz clubs that were popping up at the time, and his mind was permanently blown by the great artists of the day. It’s so hard to fathom but I guess it was pretty unusual then for white kids to hang out with black kids, and segregation was still common in many parts of the country. I just can’t fucking imagine seeing a “Whites Only” sign, you know? It seems like forever ago to those of us who have had the privilege of growing up as the generation that benefitted most from the civil rights movement. Like, of course everybody can vote! Women too? Of course they can, yeah!
However, as we are seeing in the run up to the next presidential election in the US, the great strides and accomplishments of past trailblazers can be eroded by time if the principles they fought for are not actively upheld. Politicians creep in slowly with their incremental encroachments and we feel stupid being nervous because, in general, we have it so good. Like, don’t overreact! It’s impolite and ungrateful to be vigilant because we’re supposedly post-everything, right? Well, perhaps on paper, but often not in practice. The thing we have to get our heads around on a daily basis is that even a small step in the wrong direction is too far when attempting to prevent a slide backwards. We have to remember that there were plenty of people back in my dad’s day who really didn’t want black people to be able to vote and aggressively stood in their way. Nightmarish scene on Montgomery bridge, anyone? And now we’re finding out that even today there are people who would seek to suppress the vote of certain groups.
Being in Detroit, thinking of my father’s time, it makes me realize how the distant past can also feel like recent history. We need to understand that these rights we take for granted are quite new to us and not so immutable as we might like to think. A mature democracy is not one where we all have the “freedom” to let the prize of power land in the hands of the highest bidder because we couldn’t be bothered to think about what’s happening outside of our personal lives. Becoming so completely consumed by the diversions of our culture that we forget to care about anything larger is not freedom.
I’ve played shows all over the world with METRIC and had many magical nights, but the sense of solidarity we felt with the audience at our concert at The Fillmore was something else. As we drove out of town wearing big fucking grins, Mitt Romney’s infamous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” rang in my ears like nothing more than a sad slogan for narrow minds.
As a dual citizen, I split my time between Canada and the United States, looking out as best I can for ways to make myself useful and participate in the issues that concern me in both countries. Being in the public eye, I’m always a bit wary of being outspoken, and a lot of people seem to want musicians to keep their mouths shut except to sing. If you are one of those people, surely I’ve pissed you off by now. Some things are more important than being a crowd pleaser. Those of us who are in a position to do so must act to preserve the basic right of all US citizens, whatever neighbourhood they live in, whatever their race, whether they are loaded or broke, to cast their vote in the 2012 presidential elections.
METRIC will be doing our part to help with this effort as best we can. If you value your civil rights, please exercise them.
P.S. I KNOW THERE IS A LOT OF CYNICISM FLOATING AROUND RIGHT NOW, AND FOR GOOD REASON. WHERE DO WE START? CORPORATIONS BUYING ELECTIONS? BANKS SCAMMING THE WORLD? ENDLESS WARS IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND OPPRESSION OF EMERGING DEMOCRACIES? THE CRACK DOWN ON WHISTLE BLOWERS? ONGOING DENIAL OF CLIMATE CHANGE? DRILLING FOR OIL IN THE ARCTIC? INDUSTRIALIZED FOOD AND PRIVATIZED WATER? GUN LOBBIES AND RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM? POLITICIANS USING PHRASES LIKE "LEGITIMATE RAPE"? SERIOUSLY? IT’S HARD TO PUT ALL OF THAT INTO A TIDY PHRASE THAT WE CAN ALL CHANT TOGETHER IN HOPES OF ALTERING THE OUTCOME OF THE CURRENT GAME. IT JUST COMES OUT SOUNDING LIKE AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!
And now for something completely different…
It has been quite a while since my last letter, so here are a few of my favourite musical highlights from the summer for your pleasure:
Our Visit to 89.3 The Current
“Synthetica” video at Sasquatch with NPR
“Youth Without Youth” video at The Bowery
“Youth Without Youth” official video