So about a month ago, on the ever-excellent Definitely Not The Opera, I happened to catch an interview with Paul Anka that wasn’t nearly as annoying as I had thought it would be. Why on earth would Paul Anka, the definition of not-pop-culture, be doing on the CBC’s pop-culture program? I mean, my parents listened to that stuff — not me. (Well, ok, not my parents, being that they were more the
Cat StevensYusuf Islam type, but you know what I mean.) And I like to think of myself as being a pretty hip and with it kind of guy. Paul Frickin’ Anka?
Okay, fine. If it be known, DNTO was in Ottawa and talking about Ottawa’s favorite teen idol-turned crooner. And he did have a new album coming out — Rock Swings. The premise was baffling: Anka does crooning covers of rock and roll songs from the 1980s and 1990s. Fine, I can deal with that, too. And then Sook-Yi played one of the tracks from this new album, a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “oh, this is gonna suuuuuck..”
First impression: Yup, it sucks.
Second impression (about a week later): Hey, this song is stuck in my head.
Third impresison (about a week later still): Hey, this song is still stuck in my head.
Fourth impression (a month has gone by): I wonder what else is on that album?
So I broke down and bought the damn thing the other day. It’s been in my car ever since. And I cannot, for the life of me, decide whether it’s an abomination that should be hauled out and destroyed, and the minds of everyone who has listened to it wiped, or whether it’s really fucking brilliant. If nothing else, Anka deserves credit for having the guts to try something like this — it’s not exactly a gimmick and it’s not exactly an homage, it’s more like a retelling of the same story with a slightly different twist. Purists (read: old-school Nirvana fans) will freak out and argue, as some reviewers on Amazon have, that no one should ever be allowed to remake songs with completely different moods and emotions; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cannot and should not ever be a peppy, upbeat thing. I suppose they have a point, but it’s a pretty lame one; why shouldn’t people be permitted to put a new twist on an old work? I mean, it’s not like Cobain’s around to complain, is he?
On that point, I think it comes down to people thinking the “purity” of a particular song is going to be ruined if any performance ever differs from the original version. Which I can sort of appreciate; “Hold On,” for instance, was always an angry song and Sarah McLachlan got it right on the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy tour when she played it as though she were lashing out against a cruel fate, but it sorta morphed, over time, into a sad melancholic ballad, and I don’t like this one bit. I also resent the repeated use of “Angel” as a romantic song — damn, people, do you not know the back story behind that song? So I can understand the reluctance on the part of die-hard Nirvana fans and resistance from Bon Jovi and Van Halen groupies to accept these new versions, but as someone who (a) wasn’t that into Nirvana that first time around and (b) can appreciate a good cover (heck, one of my favorite albums is full of them), I gotta say, this album works. I don’t know why, but it works.
Sarah Harmer’s in town tomorrow night. This is the third time that I’m aware she’s played here, and the first time I’m actually going to get a chance to see her play — the first time I skipped it for something I thought would be more important at the time, the second time I was in Japan. Now, at $25 a head for a festival seating outdoor show in Centennial Square, I’m finally going to get a chance to see her play live. Finally. Yay me.