Although I can’t for the life of me imagine why you would think this piece is about the Olympics or anything to do with them, I thought I’d go the extra mile and disabuse you of all misconceptions with an additional sentence, you know, just in case. This piece is not about the Olympics.
Years ago in Athens, a congenial fellow named Vassily stopped me in the street. After wandering around the Parthenon (this was back during nicer economic climes when such lollygagging was permissible and, dare I say, encouraged), I stopped to get some food and was tucking into a gyro when the aforementioned Greek walked over. Without so much as a hello, he proceeded to ask me the question to end all questions. “What, kind sir, is your favorite band of all time?” queried Vassily. After much deliberation, I replied “Let me finish my gyro.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s taken me a number of years, but let me tell you I have well and truly finished my gyro. I’m ready to state in unequivocal terms my absolute favorite band, ever. But just as it would be mental to jump willy nilly face first into a pile of poo, my declaration needs a little context.
It was sometime around 1997 in Hong Kong. China was busy adding a second layer of communist-green paint to the telephone-booth red that had previously adorned letterboxes. Street names were being changed from God Save the Queen Avenue to Tiannamen Square What? Road. And I was wondering what I was doing standing under an umbrella (in the rain of course) with 70 million other people waiting for the Handover fireworks to go off over Victoria Harbour.
Although I had several apocalyptic visions of Chinese tanks rolling through the streets when The Handover actually occurred, the only real drama to speak of was that my umbrella proved especially uncooperative when I tried to close it that night. The next day, as I walked to school, a strangely familiar-looking man approached me. Upon closer inspection I realized it was the same Vassily I had met in Athens. “What on earth?” I said to a largely indifferent Chinese man doing tai chi. Vassily came up to me and again asked “What, kind sir, is your favorite band of all time?” This time I had no gyro and no excuses. “I don’t know,” I sheepishly replied. He smiled in a vaguely Athenian way and gave me a box. “Open this tonight, at midnight,” he said, and then disappeared before I had the time to tell him it was a school night and that my parents would not be happy with any post-10pm arrangement.
Undaunted, I pretended to go to sleep that night and at the the stroke of midnight, got the box from my bag and opened it. It was a cd, the title of which was “Less Talk, More Rock.” I put it into my blue discman and as the first seconds of “Apparently I’m a P.C Fascist” commenced, I realized good ol’ Vassily wasn’t just a pretty face after all (which in retrospect should’ve been quite obvious to me on first glance).
This band, a punk rock band of Olympic proportions from Winnipeg, changed my life. I learned to question the status quo, was introduced to a spectrum of leftist perspectives, and developed an extreme distaste for all manner of social injustices and abuses of power. I even learned how dexterous some people were at stringing assorted curse words together. These geeky punk rockers taught me to appreciate music and lyrics (is there a better line to sum up the North American middle-class cultural milieu of the 1990s than “Jesus saves, Gretzy scores!”?), and encouraged me to become a better person.
Naturally, I got all of this band’s albums as they came out and was constantly bowled over by the conviction and integrity with which they sang, the intelligence of their songcraft, and the absolute hardness with which they rocked. A decade and a year after first hearing “Less Talk, More Rock,” I just happened to be in Winnipeg when they released their fifth studio album, “Supporting Caste.” It was quite the experience to attend the release show and to hear live for the first time many of the songs I had so cherished over the years.
What’s even better is that on September 4th, they’re releasing their sixth album, “Failed States.” And I will just happen to be in Winnipeg again. The album marks a 15 year journey I have had with the band and there has been no waning of love whatsoever. In fact, I look forward to seeing them live again in support of the album, and especially hope that I get to hear “Apparently I’m a P.C Fascist.”
So, without further ado, this year’s Olympic Gold Record winner and my favorite band of all time (totally ever) is: PROPAGANDHI. Vassily, I hope you’re reading this.