learning love songs

est. 2008


The Weakerthans


Eight days ago, I had one of the finest concert experiences in recent memory at The Wiltern. I went to see John K. Sampson, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and frontman of the late greats The Weakerthans. He was opening for Frank Turner, an artist I knew but didn’t really know — not until I saw him on stage, anyway.

Sampson rocketed through favorites like “Aside” and “Sun in an Empty Room” along with tracks from his beautiful new solo LP Winter Wheat. I highly recommend it pensive listening sessions, when you need something to sink into that isn’t too aggressive but is still deep and smart. He introduced his group as “a soft rock band from Canada” and I think that’s a fine way to say it. I sang along with every word I knew from a seat up in the mezzanine, head tucked on my boyfriend’s shoulder. I felt warm and safe, comforted by the familiar voice that has accompanied so many highs and lows over the years.

Frank Turner, on the other hand, I didn’t know much about except for strolls through his discography in the week leading up to a song. When his set started with the unveiling of two big positive-negative light-up displays on either side of the stage, and his band entered in coordinating black and white suits, I knew this was going to be a show. Not just a concert but a performance, with engagement and attitude and stagecraft aplenty. And it was! Turner is an undeniable band leader, he’s got that charisma and energy to bounce him all over the stage without losing the audience’s eye once. His band played their own respective hearts out, and backed him up well during the almost-rockabilly punk tunes as much as the poppier side. I loved the keys and drums set up on risers in the back, creating a stage that looked like something out of a 1960s variety show. We’re so used to seeing bands set up in the same formation, and I like it when artists go out of their way to make a setup that feels like their own.

Frank’s songs have an emotional vulnerability to them that spoke to me instantly, and something about a crowd of thousands singing and jumping along to these introspective thoughts was quite moving. A word about the crowd: audiences LOVE Frank. It was clear people had seen him before, and first-timers like us were the minority of the group. But I’d instantly go back and see him again. The songs were that good, the performance was that sharp and the experience was that fun, a kind of suspended reality and coming together that felt light and strong and necessary. Three cheers to Frank and his stellar team, fans included, for giving me a night at The Wiltern I’ll never forget.

“Some days I wake up dazed my dear,
And don’t know where I am.
I’ve been running now so long I’m scared
I’ve forgotten how to stand.
I stand alone in airport bars
And gather thoughts to think:
That if all I had was one long road
It could drive a man to drink.

But then I remember you,
And the way you shine like truth in all you do.
And if you remembered me,
You could save me from the way I tend to be.”

~The Way I Tend To Be
Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart


The Weakerthans are no longer a band, as of the day that ended 40 minutes ago.

Life is not easy, lately or ever, but for me, The Weakerthans, have always made it better.

This band was a gift from a friend, a discovery I cherished to find and never grew tired of. Their songs have meaning that unravels and unfolds, that adopts to new circumstances and paints them with poetic context time and time again. Their rhymes and patterns roll off the tongue, their riffs soothe and strengthen and sedate.These songs have grown only more important — and relevant — to me as I’ve aged, whereas so many others have faded away.

John K. Sampson is one of the greatest modern lyricists, and worthy of awe in plainspeak. The band’s aesthetic is a weathered indie rock with a healthy Canadian flair, suitable for bus rides with the Discman, headphones across campus, or long drives across interstates. Their brand of lonely is comforting, even when being alone isn’t a concern. The amount of times I have played “Aside” in order to not feel so bad about feeling so bad, or “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open” when I am homesick, or “My Favorite Chords” to consider the shy little intimacies of love, well, it has to be in the hundreds by now.

I know most of their catalog like the back of my hand. Like I know my name or my home address. I know their words the way Christians know Bible passages, and I believe I repeat them for the same reasons. They make me feel, they make me understand, they make me believe.  That won’t change, just because the band is no longer a unified, existing entity. I will still get to love these songs, I will still play them and sing to them and share them with others. The Weakerthans, as a group, were inactive long enough that this is not exactly a surprise, but it still feels like I’m losing something. Like we, the listeners, will miss out on all we could’ve gained from something more. We will not get new material or tours. We will never again feel the anticipation preceding a potential release. We will no longer have new albums to rank, or live recordings to compare.

I never saw them live. What a shame. Least I’ll always have the mix CDs. I’ll always have the liner notes, the MP3s, the vinyl, and these beautiful passages embedded in my mind. No one can take that away from me.

“My city’s still breathing but barely it’s true
through buildings gone missing like teeth.
The sidewalks are watching me think about you,
sparkled with broken glass.

I’m back with scars to show.
Back with the streets I know.
Will never take me anywhere but here.

The stain in the carpet, this drink in my hand,
the strangers whose faces I know.
We meet here for our dress-rehearsal to say ‘I wanted it this way’
Wait for the year to drown.
Spring forward, fall back down.
I’m trying not to wonder where you are.

All this time lingers, undefined.
Someone choose who’s left and who’s leaving.

Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me:
a blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest,
the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires,
new words for old desires,
and every birthday card I threw away.

I wait in 4/4 time.
Count yellow highway lines that you’re relying on to lead you home.”
~Left and Leaving 
The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving


My copy of “Left and Leaving” is getting a lot of needle action lately. I can’t stop playing The Weakerthans on shuffle in my car. Maybe it’s the ice finally melting from the hilltop pavement, maybe it’s the cyclical trappings of the years, but I love love love how this album, somehow, always sounds new again. John K.Sampson is better than most. His lyrical metaphor, his anthropomorphism, his meter, and his blunt dictation of sorrow provide honesty at this literary level so difficult to accomplish in any words, let alone in the format of a song.

To think I discovered this band more than 10 years ago, when the depths of relationships with other humans, flawed and fragile as me, felt so dark and intriguing and winding. Now, how innocent those emotions seem. How much deeper and meaningful and layered these words feel, on this side of time: “I’m so glad that you exist.” 

You take them for granted when you are young, all those full and inspiring and vibrant people around you. We lose it, sometimes, somehow, as we age.

I’m a lucky person, to have had so many wonderful people in my life. People who have taught me about music, about words, about art and life and strength, in fleeting, accidental moments that stick in my memory, or subliminal, extended lessons interwoven with the respect and admiration and sheer fun of friendship. Whether they are in my life now or never again is secondary to their sheer import; we felt, and we feel, we connected and always will, and for this, I am grateful. With each passing year, my appreciation and acknowledgment grows, as I hold tighter and tighter to the imprints left behind.

“How I don’t know how to sing,
I can barely play this thing,
But you never seem to mind,
And you tell me to fuck off,
When I need somebody to,
How you make me laugh so hard,

How whole years refuse to stay,
Where we told them to, bad dog,
Locked up whining in a word,
Or a misplaced souvenir,
How the past chews on your shoes,
And these memories lick my ear.

I know,
You might roll your eyes at this,
But I’m so,
Glad that you exist.

How we waste our precious time,
Marching in the picket line,
That surround those striking hearts,

And the time is never now,
And we know who we should love,
But we’re never certain how.

I know,
You might roll your eyes at this,
But I’m so,
Glad that you exist.”
~The Reasons
The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site


Dreary mornings are made tolerable by The Weakerthans. Rain and drudgery, grey skies and lingering dreams beg for this kind of song, the kind that creeps under your skin and crawls into your veins, scurries through your bloodstream and settles there for awhile, laying dormant and almost forgettable until it’s biting on your heartstrings.

“You always stole all my last words
Here’s no exception then
One more for me to send
And nothing happens in the end

I’m thinking of you less, more concerned
And more is less, I guess
It doesn’t matter now

Maybe we’ll never go insane
You always said we would
Sometimes I wished we could

With you lying naked in the rain
And singing Boney M
Cutting down all our old friends
I talk to them again now

So here’s the last one I have left
We fell a little deep
I watched you fall asleep

And nothing happens in the end
But I remember when I could remember when
Seems like a long time ago.”
~The Last Last One
The Weakerthans, Fallow


On a huge Weakerthans kick this week. Maybe it’s because I’m content, in a bored way. Or bored, in a content way, where I’m finding that little moments and gestures pack more meaning into a second in lieu of any one-shot events.

I love this song. Such happy tension. Scene, resolve. Every word is perfect. Commence listening.

“I want to call a request through heating vents,
And hear them answered with a whispered no,
To crack the code of muscles slack and tense,
Let every second step in boots on snow,
Complete you name in accents I can’t place,
That stumble where the syllables combine,
Take depositions from a stranger’s face,
Paint every insignificance a sign.

So tell me nothing matters less or more,
Say whatever we think actions are,
We’ll never know what anything was for,
If near is just as far away as far,
And I’m permitted one act I can save,
I choose to sit here next to you and wave.

The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving


The Weakerthans, always.

I will say I prefer the version of this song from Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre, but still one of my favorite songs from them. Plus, I’ve already posted “Pamphleteer” even though that’s what I woke up with in my head this morning. 
Pretty much all music from The Weakerthans sits perfectly at the intersection of story and song, and for that, it is some of my favorite to get lost in. 

“My confusion corner commuters are cursing the cold away
As December tries to dissemble the length of their working day.
And they bite their mitts off to show me transfers, deposit change
and I can’t stop finding your face in their faces, all rearranged
And angry like you never were…

And I ease us back into traffic
Dusk comes on and I wonder why I’m always remembering you,
In civil twilight

For the most part I think about golfing and constantly calculate
all the seconds left in the minutes, and so on, et cetera
Or recite the names of provinces and Hollywood actors;
Oh, Ontario! Oh, Jennifer Jason Leigh!
This part of the day bewilders me…

Streets slow down and ice over,

Dusk comes on and I struggle to stop to stop to stop thinking of you,
In civil twilight

Hey, every other hour I pass that house,
Where you told me that you had to go
I wonder if the landlord has fixed the crack,
That I stared at, instead of staring back at you…

My chance to say something seemed so brief, but it wasn’t.
Now I know I had plenty of time
Between the sunset and certified darkness
Dusk comes on and I follow the exhaust from memory up to the end

The civil twilight”

~Civil Twilight
The Weakerthans, Reunion Tour


This is a song that makes me want to write every feeling in the world ten times over, while simultaneously feeling like I will never come close to being half as beautiful about it.

Probably one of my favorite songs about growing up. Also one of my favorite songs from The Weakerthans, which is a tough list to make. Definitely some of my favorite lyrical phrases. Dusty school yards, elegant plumage, wet cement….phrases I should know enough to be able to emulate in my own writerly way. All I can tell myself is these things take time, practice, and getting up each morning to try again.

“We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest/Shedding skin faster than skin can grow/and armed with hammers, feathers, blunt knives words, to meet and to define and to but you must know/the same games that we played in dirt, in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale than we feared possible and someone must be picked last, and one must bruise and one must fail./And that still twitching bird was so deceived by a window, so we eulogized fondly, we dug deep and threw its elegant plumage and frantic black eyes in a hole, and rushed out to kill something new, so we could bury that, too.

The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether. /Pushed towards tired forms of self immolation that seemed so original, I must, we must never stop/watching the sky with our hands in our pockets, stop peering in windows when we know doors are shut. /Stop yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows, and my voice will scratch to yell many more,/but before I spill the things I mean to hide away, or gouge my eyes with platitudes of sentiment/I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty; crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.”~Sounds Familiar
The Weakerthans, Fallow


John K. Sampson *would* write a song about grad school, and only he could make it cool. Video game references, present scene depiction, and bright chords contrasting chronicles of desperation. Mmmhmm.

Also, pretty sure Anti is one of the best record label out there – a quick catalog scan shows nothin’ but real. Neko Case, Tom Waits, Sage Francis, Wilco…and many artists I’ve never heard of and excited to check out. I’ve come across a lot of new music from them through their Winter Sampler, and it rarely disappoints.


Top ten albums of the year, according to how excited I was to listen to them, how many listens they’ve received, how groundbreaking and advancing I think they are for music right now:

1) The National – High Violet
2) The Black Keys – Brothers
3) Jimmy Eat World – Invented
4) The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
5) Minus the Beat – Omni
6) Taylor Swift – Speak Now
7) The Weakerthans – Live at the Burton Cummings Theate
8) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy *
9) Neon Trees – Habits
10) Beach House -Teen Dream

*I know this is the probably the most popular and overarching album on the list, and I do really enjoy it. Kanye is the trendsetter for the rest of the trendsetters, and I loveeee his work. However, taste is a factor, and I’m more likely to put on one of the higher-ranked albums than MBDTF, solely based off of mood and style factor.

But ya know, no one has to listen to me. Hats off to Lovedrug and States for the most talent-ridden EPs I’ve heard maybe ever.

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