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  Left and Leaving  
  The Weakerthans  
  Sub City/Hopeless  
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"Circumnavigate this body
Of wonder and uncertainty
Armed with every precious failure
And amateur cartography."
     -- John K. Samson, Aside

There's nothing good on television these days, nothing at all. With all due respect to The Priestess, today's tube is an empty, vacuous wasteland of opiate and distraction. Not that it's ever been more than that, of course. As noted in Ned's Atomic Dustbin's Kill Your Television in the early '90s, or Black Flag's TV Party in the mid 80s, or even from the "boob tube" epithet that reaches all the way back into the 50s, no one has gone out of their way to accuse television of being necessary or meaningful. Perhaps that's what makes the truly interesting moments of television's history so memorable.

Back in the 80s Michael Moore inched himself into the public consciousness by means his leftist documentary Roger and Me (DogEatDog, 1989), a scathing satire of the General Motors Company's decision to close its manufacturing plant(s) in Flint, Michigan. As the son of an autoworker and Flint native himself, Moore took his video camera and microphone in search of a meeting with GM CEO Roger Smith, to get an explanation of why, despite record profits throughout the 80s GM was continuing to "downsize" 40,000 Flint workers out of a living. (HINT: Plants are cheaper to run in Mexico.) It was a pretty good film, and it made Moore a player of sorts in the world of independent, underground film.

Moore eventually parlayed his notional film success into a TV deal. TV Nation was a half hour news/opinion/satire bit of populist politics, broadcast on the nascent Fox Network. Not surprisingly, it didn't last. American viewers were much more impressed with the fictional shenanigans and fake-plastic "beauty" of some group of so-called friends. Marginal stories that highlighted and accented those same viewer's shortcomings and self-obsessed blindness with regard to a world exterior to the fictionalized, placebo fairytales of New York (and LA), a half-hour of ironic, hyper-intelligent commentary that required the viewer to think his way through the humor, TV Nation just didn't garner the ratings, surprisingly enough. But TV Nation endured for a short while, on the heels of critical acclaim and a rabid (if small) fan base that mobilized to save the show for as long as possible. And while it was there, it did crack the veneer of America's love affair with itself, if just for a while. (The show now airs in Britain on the BBC, Channel 4. Go fig.)

One of the best and funniest episodes of TV Nation was concerned with, of all things, Canada. One correspondent, intent to prove that immigration laws and enforcement weren't overtly racist took a group of workers from Mexico and tried to get them across the border, while another took an entire ice hockey team and lined them up on the Canadian border and had them walk back and forth unchecked while repeating "Legal" and "Illegal", depending on what side of the boundary the undocumented Canadian "workers" were on. It was as funny as it was telling. (The brown skinned workers on the southern border didn't get by so unmolested.) Another segment of the "Canada Night" episode was a poll taken on the streets of Montreal and New York, respectively. Each poll worker would ask passing pedestrians questions about its neighboring country. "Who was the president or prime minister", "what was the number one rated television show", those sorts of things. Obviously, the Canadians were well aware of American culture, as we as a nation broadcast it nonstop to every region of the planet. And of course, the New Yorkers were often unaware that Canada even had a prime minister, let alone who he was.

All of this brings us to The Weakerthans. See, The Weakerthans are a post-punk outfit from Vancouver, and they are fucking great. They are just truly, stupifyingly good. They combine the political gestalt of Billy Bragg (at his best) with the musical styling of The Replacements (at their soberest) and Weezer (at their blue album height) and the lyrical brilliance of, say, The Dismemberment Plan and/or Death Cab For Cutie (or, again, Billy Bragg at his best) to produce a melodic, low key post-punk smorgasbord of goodness, highlighted by occasional flourishes of alternative country, of all things. And it all just melds together seamlessly, engulfing the lyrics in an aura of absolute, auto-poetic truth. Seriously, this band is just fucking unbelievable. Much like The Frames (who I just got a taste of live, and who blew me away as well), there's an intelligence and passion evident in this music that just destroys any and all stateside contenders, in my honest opinion. And much like The Frames, no one in the US seems to know who The Weakerthans are. And that's just sad.

Now granted, I've been known to rant and rave about how great bands are before, like Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. But I realize that a band like TMGE is going to have a distinctly limited audience appeal. You're either going to like them or you're not, and the crossover factor is going to be very, very low. But The Weakerthans don't suffer that caveat at all. Every person I know should love this album if they ever heard it. Every single person I know should be listening to this album and talking about how it has quickly and effortlessly worked its way into the nascent "best of the decade" lists, right from the start.

But we're not. For the most part, we don't even know they're there. A single from Left and Leaving, Watermark I believe, spent 6 months on the Canadian college music charts. There are rabid fans of the band in Toronto and Montreal who trade bootlegs like crazy. But we're completely blind to the bands very existence. I only downloaded a sample MP3 from on a lark, because the front man of the band is/was/is the bassist for Propaghandi, and the G7 label is behind the album. And then I just went ballistic and did everything in the world I could to find more and more of the Weakerthans' music. A few downloads later, an internet only mail order and finally I'm able to entrance myself at will. But still, the question is begged. Why is it that only Splendid, of all the stateside rags and 'zines, managed to cover this release when it happened? Why did it take me, a certifiable music geek, two solid years to even learn of the thing? It all hearkens back to that TV Nation skit, as far as I'm concerned. (See, I tied it all together nicely at the end.) We Americans are just stupid and blind sometimes, and as often as not, we lose something worthwhile because of it.

Don't lose this band. Get out there and find it, somewhere, somehow. Special order Left and Leaving, and even 1999's Fallow as well. Get your local venues to search out these guys next time they tour the states. Make this band an indie rock darling on the "legal" side of Manitoba. It happened with The New Pornographers, so I see no reason for us not to get to work and make it happen for The Weakerthans as well. Both bands exist in what might be termed the western Canadian musical zeitgeist (as opposed to PostLibyan's space-rock shoegazer zeitgeist over on the eastern seaboard), a crunchy, new-new-wave guitar pop with teeth. What The Weakerthans lack in Neko Case they more than make up for in musicianship, lyricism and indie-ethos. So get out there. Make these people famous, for just a little while at least. They more than deserve it.

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