01 Jan Hard Rock Murray
Murray McLauchlan, Canada’s most literate urban troubador, teller of tales of the contemporary city, is clearly feeling real good. Really good, as it turns out. On top of things, so to speak. He apparently has cast his eye towards the horizon where the clouds threatening his international career are finally dispersing. At last he has seized the bull by its horns, the bull being that vast horde of record buyers below the 49th Parallel. After twelve long years, seven strong albums and a graveyard of dashed hopes, the 29-year-old singer/song-writer who emigrated to Toronto from Scotland in 1953 is getting a real chance to take on America.
A gifted and talented observer of these troubled times, McLauchlan chronicles the dreams, schemes, misdeeds and missing elements surrounding urban-bound man. He does it with a unique eloquent style and a persuasive performance that very few of his U.S. contemporaries could match. But he’s still a Canadian and he chose to remain here based on the ultimate belief that sooner or later, he would be able to spread his acceptance southwards and make it in America on his own terms. He does have a finely-tuned sense of artistic integrity. Today his attitude is somewhat benevolent; and the fact that it has taken until later to crack the U.S. scene does not seem to unduly disturb him. Now he’s feeling great, and he’s wearing it well.
A day or so earlier, he’d received the adrenalin-inducing news that his latest True North album, “Hard Rock Town” (distributed Stateside by Island Records) had become the first of his seven albums to sell sufficient copies to be listed on Billboard’s chart of the top 200 best-selling albums in the U.S. Three of his six previous albums had been released in America through Epic Records, a subsidiary of CBS, which also happens to be the company distributing True North product here in Canada, l or a number of reasons, the albums essentially went nowhere, therefore effectively stifling McLauchlan’s chances of developing a southern aspect on his widespread success here in Maple music-land. But in rock music, as in so many other arts, patience brings its just rewards. Those hard harrowing days of disappointment have slipped out of range in his mind, seething now with the warm and welcome winds of hope and optimism. ’Tis amazing what an American chart position can do for the morale, not to mention the next hundred mortgage payments.
Sure he’s sold plenty of records before (his last album “Boulevard,” the first to introduce his curious hybrid rock group, the Silver Tractors, sold over 50,000 copies in Canada, thus qualifying for his first gold LP), but selling his songs to Americans is a whole new ball game. And one that he relishes with the sort of intense anticipation that only waiting seven years can bring. Right now the guy is buzzing like a three-year-old boy fooling around on his first tricycle.
Tomorrow he’s off to the Big Apple for what will likely be the most important weekend of his life. He’s appearing at the prestigious “Bottom Line Club” in the Village for two showcased nights; and the record company was flying in key agents, key promoters, key media people, and just about any other keys they could find. If he’s successful and if all those blasé U.S. music industry heavies take a liking to Murray (as it happened, the shows turned out to be a huge success, according to his manager Bernie Finkelstein) then it should lead to months of American concerts, and the sort of international exposure he’s been aspiring towards ever since he first heard Bob Dylan combine poetry and music with social comment.
Rejuvenated by his current SRO concert tour across the country and looming opportunities in the States, MeLauchlan could not have been in better spirits. We adjourned to the True North label’s restored red-brick boardroom — currently crammed with albums, posters, T shirts and sundry items of rock promotion — whereupon Murray sat back crossed his black cord trouser legs, and plunged into an extremely intelligent and mature account of his career and his life thus far.
Sound: Throughout your music and in several interviews I’ve read, you seem to have more than average empathy for the dilemmas of working class people. You appear extremely cognizant of the pressures and problems confronting the working class, and nowhere is this more evident than in your latest True North album “Hard Rock Town. ” What are the reasons behind this attitude?
Murray: I have a familiarity with it because basically that was my own family background. My father was a blue collar worker, an iron turner. He was a union organizer, a supporter of the N.D.P. and that sort of thing, so I was exposed to the problems. My concern also reflects an ongoing fear that I have about the futility in life.
It’s something more than just a knee-jerk 60s reaction to plastic culture. It’s a thing I’ve always had: a fear of being stuck in a house trailer or something with a tiny Arborite table and a plastic flower and surviving by running a milk store or something. I know that some people do that and I suppose some people get off on it. After they’ve worked in the store all day, they can always go out to a disco at realist stuff of its time, but nobody in pop music was saying anything about what was going on right here and now. Hearing Dylan for the first time really just blew my mind — I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. Those songs really meant something at that time.
Sound: Which record artists do you find yourself listening to at home these days?
Murray: I’m really a big fan of Loudon Wain- wright because I like his mind. I like the left turns he takes . . . he’s really a maniac. I’m really fond of Randy Newman and always have been. I guess the stuff I like to listen to is pretty well the standard litany of any average, upwardly-mobile college student nowadays. (much laughter) Now and then I listen to the car radio – I check out AM records to see what’s happening.
The albums I buy are usually those that I’ve heard somewhere and which attracted me to the artist. For example, I went out and bought the J. J. Cale album (“Troubador”) just because it includes that song “Cocaine” and I like the lick. It’s certainly better than “Sunshine of Your Love.” I loved the Stones’ album “Black and Blue.” I really loved that record. The critics slammed it all over the place. But the track “Memory Hotel” was like my on-the-road national anthem. I used to listen to it on the tour bus and tears would roll down my face!
Sound: If you were to name Canada’s most significant up-and-coming singer/songwriters (aside from Bruce Cockburn, Dan Hill, Valdy and yourself), who would you include? Who should we be keeping tabs on?
Murray: Now that’s a good question because to tell you the honest truth, I really don’t know that many. Somebody who I think should be up-and-coming, but isn’t, is Eugene Smith. He’s been around for a long time and he’s back working again with a new band. He’s really fun to listen to; I really love the guy and I think he’s good. He’s nuts, but I think he’s really good. But he’s been around since day one; he’s been waiting for 15 years or something to connect with an opportunity.
I think Ray Materick is very under-rated. I think he’s pretty good too. I like his cynical dry approach to what he writes – I find that really enjoyable. It’s the same reason that I like Randy Newman.
Eugene Smith and Ray Materick are the artists that will not be found lacking when the opportunity finally presents itself. I hope the opportunities will present themselves soon. Those guys more than deserve it.
Sound: How do you view the contemporary Canadian music scene, now six years after the introduction of Can Con regulations on AM radio?
Murray: I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. I think there was and there may still be a chance in Canada to take a different approach . . . not merely to music but to the arts in general. There’s a chance to realize what the functions of art actually are. Which is to reflect what’s going on back at people so they can say: ‘Hey, is that what’s going on?
That’s how I see Canada as opposed to the straight-ahead bullshit of trying to create an industry out of a vacuum. I see it like this: to sell a toilet bowl, you’ve got to manufacture a toilet bowl. It’s got to be there and it’s got to work before you can market it. Similarly you can’t create arts out of a vacuum and then market them.
I’m kinda disappointed with all the booster- ism that’s so inherent in this scene. Let the quality of what’s happening take care of itself and speak for itself. As far as the scene in general is concerned, I think it’s splintering. The country music people are doing their own
“My primary influence, obviously has to be Bob Dylan — in his earlier period.”
awards with an attitude of ‘we really like country music but we don’t like anything else.’ In the general scene, most of the music that’s given a chance is mainly middle-of-the- road stuff, I think. It’s not necessarily bad music … if people want to listen to that, great. But I think it gets too much attention, that’s all.
I simply think there’s a chance in Canada to do something better because it’s not so organized here. There aren’t the sort of monstrous corporate megoliths – you don’t have to walk in to the Columbia Records building in Toronto and have to listen to somebody like night. That’s their outlet and its great – but it’s not for me. I find the concept of it terrifying. So what I try to do is kick out alternatives in my songs. At least the songs are trying to foment the idea that there always is something else to check out, if you don’t like what you’re doing now. If you do like what you’re doing, then groovy.
Ever since I was a little kid, I never wanted to be an ordinary person. That persona was always totally distasteful to me – I wanted to be an extraordinary person. Plus I guess I’m enough of a bastard, and I’m egomaniacal enough to presume that I should at least try and tell everybody else that they should consider the same outlook. So that’s the whole trip – I don’t really like the idea of people being exploited and having no alternatives at all. I just think that in the quest for profit, there must obviously be some better way to do things than just using up people and spitting them out at the other end.
Sound: The whole concept of the entrapment of Western man was superbly characterized in Patrick McGoohan’s prophetic TV series “The Prisoner.’’ You’re right – it really is profoundly saddening.
Murray: Right. You see, the funny thing about these times is that the last generation – my parents for instance – had the stability of the task of raising a family which was justifiably and morally right. You had to get out there and make it for your kids’ sake – plus there was a war and a depression. So the previous generation had a focus going for them — there was a purpose to life.
Now my parents look at me doing what I’m doing . . . writing and singing rock music. My father is dead now, but my mother is very happy about what I’m doing. She feels partly responsible for it and I think that’s great.
But this is a totally different generation. I can’t sincerely entertain the notion of having any kids myself. A lot of people can’t get into raising kids in these times, so that family stability thing is not as strong now as it once was.
Sound: Indeed it is abundantly obvious that the 70s is a period in which people seem to have very little left to believe in. A lot of things have gone down the drain in the past few years, a lot of dreams have been shattered. Many of the supporting pillars of everyday life are now viewed as illusions.
Murray: Yeah . . . being a Rhodesian mercenary is getting to be popular, for instance, if you like an active life with lots of adventure!
Sound: You have often admitted being a victim of pre-concert jitters. Has the fact that you now play with a group rather than as a solo artist reduced your stage nerves?
Murray: That’s always a constant with me. I mean, I don’t get sick or quake with fright. But there is a certain apprehension prevalent – I get butterflies and heart palpitations and yeah .. . I do get pretty scared. But it’s irrational because you just run through in your head all of the things that could possibly go wrong. It’s the same trip as that line about a coward dying a thousand deaths.
Sound: What were the primary musical influences in the development of your own styles?
Murray: My primary influence obviously has to be Bob Dylan — not so much nowadays but in his earlier period. It’s my own personal feeling that Dylan’s shot his best wad until he moves on to something else. He’s into a transitional period artistically or something. But he really was responsible for planting the idea in my head – and the heads of a lot of other people – that a poem is a poem, and a piece of music is a piece of music. But when you put them together, they turn into something else. A popular song can be a vehicle for communicating ideas and alternatives.
Bob Dylan was the first guy I’d ever heard who wrote in that manner and it was a completely new thing to my ears. I’d heard folk songs about the Depression and of Ron Alexenburg (the head of Epic Records, U.S. when McLauchlan was signed to the label), telling you how to produce your records. In Canada, you can just sit there and they’ll actually listen and you can explain what you want to do. And generally somebody will give you the money to make a record and they’ll also leave you alone. I suspect that there’s probably more consideration in Canada for what a new artist may be trying to accomplish.
Mind you, I’m spoiled rotten. That probably comes from having been managed by Bernie Finkelstein. If I was, God forbid, trying to get it together myself, I’m sure I’d run into a whole lot more bullshit than I do. Bernie and I have always tried to maintain as much autonomous control as possible over what we do. Right from the initial concept through the selling of it – and that’s really the only way to do it. I mean, I believe that really good movies are only made because of one man’s conception of what a movie should be.
Sound: It must be extremely gratifying that your seventh album has become your debut listing on the American best-seller charts?
Murray: Yeah, I’m hoping it will be my biggest album ever. It should be a gold album by the end of the Canadian tour. It really is gratifying.
Sound: Many observers have felt that your U.S. success was substantially overdue. Has it bothered you that it has taken this long to get the ball rolling in the right way stateside?
Murray: It’s always bothered me a great deal. You see, we had a very unfortunate recording arrangement with Epic Records in the U.S. (Epic and CBS Records are the parent company of CBS Canada which distributes the True North label). It wasn’t very successful – in fact it got to the point where I was not willing to make another album of original compositions under that deal. I saw it as just wasting another ten of my songs. And that was one of the main reasons why we put out the live album “Only the Silence Remains”: just to fulfil our contractual obligation with Epic.
Sound: Certainly Epic did not seem to comprehend how your music should be marketed, and they didn’t provide much credible evidence of belief in you as an important new artist. It was almost like they were doing their Canadian branch office a favor by putting out your product in the U.S.
Murray: Columbia has been great to me here in Canada. But they simply did not have the authority or clout to generate any kind of serious working relationship with the parent office in the States – they had no power to do that, contractually or otherwise. It just didn’t work out.
Now the only difference – aside from the fact that with “Hard Rock Town” I feel we have a better record – is that our new U.S. distributor, Island Records, is doing an excellent job in America for us. They’re really out there hustling the album and they’re all very enthusiastic. It’s a small independent label they’re very involved with all of their artists and don’t sign anybody unless they really believe in them. It’s an English sort of outfit; a kind of reaction against the big American corporate trip.
“Our top priority is America … we’ve got to establish a presence in the U.S.”
Island also has taste – I don’t think they’d get involved in any irresponsible marketing. I really subscribe to the adage that life imitates art. Therefore in a hypothetical case, a new band could have a hit record and their concert gigs could include say representational slayings of children dismemberment. Suppose this stance made them become very popular.
Most of the schmucks in the American record business would probably just go along with it and say: ‘This is the next thing kids are gonna dig . . . OK man, line up the babies.’ They’d actually do it!
Island Records is a lot different trip than that. I went down to L.A. and met most of the people and I was really impressed with their grasp of what is happening up here. Sure, maybe some of them are trying to buy flashy cars to drive up and down Santa Monica Blvd. like everyone else, but they certainly do know what’s going on. The whole thing is great.
Sound: You’ve been working with your band the Silver Tractors for around two years now; is it conceivable that you’d ever return to being an acoustic solo act?
Murray: No. It’s real fun with the band. I play acoustic guitar at home and we jam in the bus and I’m learning to play chromatic harmonica. I’m trying to get a bunch of Toots Thiel – mans licks together. I’m not likely to go back out there with an acoustic act at this point – in fact. I’ve never considered myself a good enough guitar player to pull it off. I play rhythm guitar and I can play solos, but I can’t play the sort of intricately-structured stuff that Bruce (Cockburn) would do for instance. My singing style is too loose – too all over the place. I can’t think about serious guitar pickin’ or I can’t sing the way I like to. So the band environment has turned out to be my natural home. Whether it stays rock ’n’ roll or whether it takes a little twist here and there doesn’t really matter. The music always seems to do that anyway.
The albums that we put together are diverse to the point of being eclectic sometimes. The music takes care of itself, but each one reflects a different attitude so each album is different from the previous one.
Sound: What do you hope that the next 12 months or so represent in your career?
Murray: I’m really hoping to have a really well-organized crackerjack American tour, and really get that album off the ground. I’m already writing stuff towards the next one – and it’s enough of a significant departure from ‘Hard Rock Town’ that it’s very interesting for me. I’m having a lot of fun writing the stuff I’m doing now – it’s a lot more lusty and a little more up and little more rhythmic. Overall I’m happier about the way things are going now than I’ve ever been.
Our top priority is obviously America. We’ve simply got to get down there and play; we’ve got to establish a presence in the U.S. beyond what the record represents. I want to do it — for instance I want to go back to Houston and play that crazy joint with the little South American emcee who’s always lighting bits of flash-paper!
Besides that, I get the feeling that we should evolve out of this country to some extent. It’s possible that what I’m doing has essentially reached its peak in Canada. If I’m not careful, it might start to become . . . let’s just say the concerts could become something less of an event. There’s a certain expectation that builds up in people’s minds over a period of time.
Sound: Murray, would you care to pass along any advice or observations to aspiring young singer I songwriters and musicians just starting out, given the current state of music industry caution, and the unwillingness of the industry to stray away from the tried-and-tested?
Murray: The best advice I can give anybody is to try and get better at what you’re doing. I really mean that, and not as facetiously as it sounds. Try to find a place where you can play and where you can work out. Try to develop as much original stuff as possible, rather than simply settling for being a copy band in a bar. Get out and play high school concerts, lose money . . . don’t settle for the steady $100 per week on a five way split for some bar gig.
I think you have to conceptualize just where you want to be before you can really get into the role enough that you can actually become it.
Sound: A lot of young musicians find it incredibly hard to even get a record company to listen to them. There doesn’t seem to be tremendous interest on the part of the big record companies to really get behind the Canadian talent scene?
Murray: Yeah, but that’s where I think that things are ass-backwards really.
What’s important is the quality of what you’re doing. There’s too much eagerness by musicians in trying to make a record right away . . . people are maybe thinking more about making a buck and not too much about making music. It’s important to make music if that’s what you want to do.
Sound: The current rock scene appears to be very much into a bottom-line mentality. Everybody’s trying to fit the format, rather than let the music flow. But we sometimes tend to forget that this is the super 70s, the name of the game is big money.
Murray: Yeah, in the 60s, there was such a climate of optimism. The future didn’t loom very largely. Now I think poverty looms a little larger than it did in those days. There are plenty of musicians around who’ve had the experience of starving for six or seven years, and they really want a chance to do something.
But rather than contradicting what I was saying before, I don’t think that just because you’re poor you should go out and do something you think radio stations and people are gonna like. Be as original as you can. I really don’t think you’ve got anything else going for you.
‘Hard Rock Town’…
The making of a world-class record album in 1977s super-sophisticated rock music scene is a complicated and remarkable process. This music has obviously evolved a long, long way from those legendary two-track sessions at the Sun Studios in Memphis. Nowadays production techniques, technical wizardry and neat tricks are as far removed from the Memphis of the mid-50s as 70 mm Cinerama film is from Super-8 mm home movies.
In the current U.S. recording scene, an average album by a new act usually costs in the vicinity of $50,000. Big-time successful studios generally charge between $100 and $150 per hour. It seems to be almost an axiom of the music scene that the more successful an act becomes, the more likely they are to accumulate vastly increased studio costs. Whether this is caused by a reckless pursuit of perfection, real need or artistic self-indulgence is difficult to determine … a moot musical point.
In making their second album “Deja Vu”, members of Crosby Stills Nash and Young spent more than 800 hours in the studio before Atlantic’s resident production genius, Arif Mardin (Aretha, Bee Gees, A.W.B., Andy Pratt and many others) was called in to unravel the mess of tape and put the album together. Simon and Garfunkel reportedly spent more than $225,000 producing their classic 1970 effort, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
More recently production costs have escalated at roughly the same rate as everything else – extremely rapidly. I have been told on reliable authority that Emerson Lake and Palmer poured around $700,000 into their double album “Works”. You need to sell one hell of a lot of records to cover that sort of nut, most likely well over the two million mark.
In Canada, costs tend to be slightly less than in the U.S., but there is greater diversity in individual album costs. Many best-selling Maple Music albums have been brought home for under $15,000, while Klaatu – whose second album “Hope” undoubtedly is one of the most ambitious musical projects ever undertaken here or anywhere — cost more than $125,000.
None of these figures take into the account the vital pre-production task of creating original music to be recorded. How music is created, how songs are written, what exactly is involved in evolving an idea from a mere comment to a fully-fledged rock record – such questions are just part of the incredibly complex and frequently sub-conscious art of music creation.
Given that isolating the influential factors is no easy task, even for the originator, we were absolutely delighted when songwriter Murray McLauchlan agreed to elaborate upon the background of each of the songs on his latest album “Hard Rock Town.” His explanations proved to be absolutely fascinating, and they not only illuminate his own current crop of new songs but also provide a deeper understanding of just how rock songs come together. Ladies and gents, let us now proceed down into that proverbial well of inspiration, upon which Murray McLauchlan’s “Hard Rock Town” was founded. It’s time to meet the muse.
Sound: For starters, perhaps you could enlighten us on how the title song from your new album “Hard Rock Town” came about?
Murray: It really began to manifest itself in spirit on our last tour. It took place at a time when there were a lot of things going on. My band was just getting really cohesive creatively, to the point where we weren’t looking for directions. The players were starting to make real easy contributions to the music and to what went on — so that loosened up my writing a good deal.
It was at a time when we were playing lots of real small towns – like weird little hockey arenas and stock auction emporiums. They were the only venues where we could perform in some of the more offbeat places. We were in cities like Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay as well as Lethbridge and so on. It was the first really monstrous tour that we’d done and we had absolutely no idea what was out there or what the reaction would be from people who had only seen the acoustic act previously. It was a complete unknown: we just, decided, ‘Let’s go out and see what’s there.’
It was also around the time that Levesque came through with the P.Q. so there was plenty of scuttlebutt in the country. We got a grassroots feel of things, I think.
Sound: That was a unique point in time in Canadian history – presumably you must have been exposed to a lot of different outlooks?
Murray: Well yeah, and conceptually the album takes that form. You could draw an analogy between Canada and a teenage kid with pimples. The country is sort of going through a lot of exploratory growing pains. All sorts of people are tearing around screaming about identity and the like . . . but there are also a lot of people out there just trying to make a living. Just trying to eat, stay alive. And they don’t really care a lot about identity – they already know who they are.
I guess you could say that the different themes of the various songs on the album really all hedge around that. We explore the changes that women are going through in ‘Well Well Well’; the old entrenched mining community in ‘Hard Rock Town’; and just pure energy and defiance in ‘Love Comes and Goes.’ The whole thing essentially reflects what I felt was going on in the country at that time and concurrently.
Sound: Why does Sudbury play such an integral role in this album? Do you have any special allegiances to the place or anything like that?
Murray: It’s a place I’ve been to many times. I dunno . . . it’s difficult for me to just sit here and start slagging off somebody’s hometown. It’s just that when you’re 30 miles out of Sudbury, you can’t help but notice the fact that the countryside is completely defoliated by the spill-off from the stacks. You look around the area and there are places that literally look just like the moon.
Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in the town is extremely mean. At least it feels that way to me. It’s like a mill town with one big, central authority that has everything and everybody under its thumb. If you don’t like their trip or you complain about it, you get laid off. Without that gig, you can’t get a job. So what’s a guy gonna do – go and shoot moose? There aren’t any anymore! That’s about what it boils down to up there.
The thing that does occur is that some of these towns are set up in such a manner that the companies have effectively destroyed any other means of creating a livelihood. So they create a completely dependent work force. Maybe I’m being a bit overly-dramatic, but to me it’s almost like creating a slave pool. They’re economic slaves. And I think it renders people up there a little more bitter than your average Canadian – and a little bit meaner.
Sound: Of course we all used to pay homage to the idealist dream that pop music has a social and cultural responsibility to point out pointless trips? A lot of artists got behind it but lately it’s been more a trip of grabbing as much money as you can and running as fast as you can?
Murray: There is something of that popular spirit in what I am trying to do. Not to the point where I’m trying to become the Charles Dickens of the Industrial Revolution or something like that. But definitely I think that a writer or an artist has some responsibility to try and cover what’s real as far as he sees it. So that’s what I try and do.
Sound: So you felt that the time had finally come to put some of your Sudbury observations into musical terms?
Murray: Yeah, I mean I’m not necessarily the kind of person who is politically motivated and I’m not a doom forayer or anything like that, but I do like to write about and observe the discrepancies between the glorified ad campaign that the Ontario Government will put out, as opposed to the reality that actually exists for those people now. I like to make sure that at least some of those discrepancies are pointed out. Sure it’s groovy – you can go fishing in Muskoka and it’s very pretty, but there’s a lot of stuff up there that’s getting really screwed up but fast.
Sound: It’s most commendable. Was there a particular point in time when the tune “Hard Rock Town” became the focal point of the album?
Murray: There’s a lot of things behind that particular tune. When I was a young kid in public school and junior high, ‘Hard Rock’ used to be a nickname for a tough guy with a beat up car. So it was partly because of the fact that it is a rock ’n’ roll album and there’s no mistaking that. Partly the image of hard rock mining tying into that image of the North. Plus I just liked the feel of the three words together. There’s a certain economy of sentiment in the phrase. So it all tied together and became a concept from there.
The other songs – although they may not deal specifically with a place geographically or descriptively – do deal with life attitudes in the same vein.
Sound: Anything you care to mention in particular?
Murray: There are things that I particularly enjoy about the songs because as a writer, it was the first time I’ve been able to really open myself up to deal with certain specific things . . . well I was at least writing more honestly than I could before, and I wasn’t trying to dodge them. Specifically like a song such as ‘Well Well Well’. You see. I’ve lived with the same lady for a long time and I’ve watched her go through the changes that are common to most of the other women I know. And I’ve been really, really trying very hard to see it from their perspective . . . you know, to see exactly what it feels like to be under it.
I wanted to capture their perspective: to really want to step out, to really want to be responsible for yourself, to be an individual. And at the same time to be afraid to do it because you’re afraid of what you might lose. And then you begin to hate the thing that makes you afraid. You start to hate your love. So to me ‘Well Well Well’ is one of the best songs on the record because it does paint a really clear portrait of that situation.
Sound: Tell us about “Love Comes and Goes. ”
Murray: It was kind of written in the same spirit that ‘Down by the Henry Moore’ was created in . . . again it skirts that feeling of if you want something to be going on, then you gotta get out and make it go on. Nobody is gonna do it for you.
The song is kind of currently interesting to me because of what I feel is the intellectual climate in this country, and particularly in Toronto right now — sexually as well as politically. There’s a tremendous conservatism that’s starting to happen – what I feel and see out there is fear. People are afraid so they’re drawing back into themselves and becoming much more conservative. It’s very easy for people to be exploited or marshalled when they’re in that frame of mind.
So that tune presents an idea and a contrast, again and again and again. So you can take it as what it is, and this is what it could be. It’s the idea of “shit or get off the pot.”
Sound: What about “Poor Boys”?
Murray: I love that tune, I really do. I don’t consider them tragic figures or anything like that, but there’s a lot of guys around this town frustrated beyond belief. Grant Fullerton and Pat Lyttle are two players that instantly come to mind, because I’ve known them and I’ve always dug them as guys and as musicians. But it’s so hard to get out of that bar to bar to bar syndrome . . . the Black Hole to the Gasworks to the whatever, time and time again. But these guys really want a chance . . . just a shot . . . just to let it happen to them just once. They walk around with a sort of ‘give-me-a-break’ kind of look.
So this song is for all aspiring rockers – it’s sort of like a little anthem for Yonge St. rockers. That’s why I wrote it: because I like them. And they definitely do deserve a chance.
Sound: Moving on to “The Man Who Sings the Blues”?
Murray: That’s a much more simple song than most of the others. It’s basically a healthy shot against jive, more than anything else I guess. The title and some of the lines it contains were reminiscent of people that I’ve known. One of them was Tim Hardin – and thus my lines ‘whiskey to the Indians and dynamite to the Jews.’
There’s still a few guys out there who are trying to wear an image on their back of being real mean bastards . . . and in the long run, they succeed in becoming exactly that. That’s what that tune is about — you wear the coat long enough and eventually the smell wears off on you.
Sound: How about “Love Can Make Ya”?
Murray: That’s just a straightforward statement song. In a way, it’s slightly reactionary to the contemporary cheapening of human relations. I wrote it at a time when I was thinking about what you might term the more negative aspects of wide-spread pornography. Not that I particularly care about porn one way or the other, but I was simply pondering it…thinking about things that can exist between people. I just sat down one day – just like John Lennon had done — and tried to define in a song what I thought about love.
I suppose some of the sentiments contained in the song may be a little simplistic, but then many of the sentiments we all have really are quite simple. I believe some Chinese prophet wrote: ‘When the road to the mountain is rocky, it’s best to follow the ruts.’ That’s the trip.
Sound: Would you elaborate on “Immigrant”?
Murray: Well I’m one myself for starters. I still have some memories of those early days in Canada. I have memories from an early age about many things – the fact that it was difficult for Jews to buy cottages on Lake Simcoe; the name-calling that went down when the first Italians started showing up in my neighborhood. Also living in Kensington Market for a long time and watching the Portuguese come and go, and then the arrival of the West Indians. It’s about the fact that this is such an ethically diverse city and country, but cohesively so. The music groups remain cohesive here and that doesn’t seem to happen in too many places.
Plus the fact that the problems of racism and resentment have reared their ugly heads in the public eye, even though it’s always been there since the days of Johnny Canuck. The setting of the song, the musical structure of it developed from a Czech movie I once saw called ‘Shop on Main Street’.
There’s a little bit of that mystical feeling in my song portraiture. In the music I tried to capture more of a European feeling than, say, a West Indian immigrant feeling. I think it’s a sympathetic portrait of what people arc leaving behind, and how they’re probably scared, especially the older people. I saw it happening time and time again at Central Tech because a lot of the kids had been born in Canada to immigrant parents. So they were brought up with a Canadian influence and they gradually became ashamed of their parents because maybe mum didn’t speak much English. So you’d go to their houses now and again and they’d really be embarassed about their parents. They’d say things like: ‘Shut up ma … come on. Go into the other room and leave us alone.’
Sound: And what about “Sweet Song of Asia” which sounds like an ode that Keith Richard might have written?
Murray: That one’s just a straight lusty song … it reminds me of sometimes in the summer when you’d be laying in bed with the windows open and sounds would come drifting in from down the street. The TV’s on but nobody’s watching it. It’s a good feeling.
Sound: “When the Tax Man Comes”?
Murray: Well that’s a pretty straightahead poke at the old government. If we get one week in arrears on the scheduled payments or something like that, they send these bastards around to the office looking for me. They announce in these big authoritative voices: ‘We want so much money now or we’re taking the furniture.’ Fuck them … go garnishee my bank account, whatever they’re gonna do. They’re just real pricks.
Plus there’s the compromise that I don’t really agree with a lot of the government decisions, but I still have to help them pay for what I don’t want happening in Canada. I don’t mind so much paying for social welfare . .. but I’m not that mad about the idea of paying for a dozen F-14 Tomcat jet planes ’cos I don’t think they’re entirely necessary. But they’ve really got us all by the balls . . . have they ever. So this song presents a few statements on that topic.
Sound: Which brings us to the final song from ‘ Hard Rock Town”, the closing tune on side two, “Straight Outa Midnight.” What’s the story on that one?
Murray: I do a special opening dedication at concerts when I sing the song. It’s just a little story about how I once got hauled out of a classroom for acting bad in Junior High. They had me standing out in the hall — it was one of those stupid punishments.
One of my friends threw a note out the door to me, and just as I was about to pick it up, this yo-yo comes wandering down the hall and spots me retrieving the note. So without a word, I swear, he came up and smashed me one right in the fucking head!
So that’s a statement for authoritarian types, and for grand old morons who do stuff like that by the simple single virtue that they’re bigger than you are.