Thursday, January 21, 2010


"Who the hell are the Howl Brothers?" I stared at the round piece of vinyl, knowing there was some kind of joke I wasn't in on. It was one of the first Rheostatics shows I ever went to, maybe my third or fourth, and as we made our way into the Bathurst Street Theatre we were all handed a recording of the Howl Brothers' song "Torque Torque." I don't remember how I learned the identity of the Howl Brothers - whether it was during the band's performance or shortly thereafter - but I soon learned that they were a fictional band created by the author of the novel Whale Music, and that The Howl Brothers actually were Rheostatics, and that this song was to be included in the upcoming film, Whale Music.

I did know about the book in a vague way. I knew that its author was a Canadian by the name of Paul Quarrington, and that the novel had been the inspiration for the Rheostatics album of the same name. I was very familiar with the album. It was, and remains, a favourite, and even by then I had listened to it so many times that I had committed each lyric to memory, sat in anticipation of the beginning of each consecutive song, was all set to switch to side "b" at exactly the right moment.

I went to that Bathurst Street Theatre show with a friend of mine from SEE School, a friend who was a million times cooler than I was. The drummer for Barenaked Ladies, Tyler Stewart, was sitting a few rows away from us, and I wanted to say something to him, to acknowledge his significance, here, because it was Tyler Stewart who brought me to Rheostatics.

I was a big Barenaked Ladies fan for a short little while. In grade eleven, when Derek worked at the Rogers Video at Dundas and Royal York, Adam and Jill and Maryan and Nicole and myself and/or whomever else was available would visit him there on slow nights, and we'd bop around the video store to that infamous yellow cassette. Everyone had a copy of that Barenaked Ladies tape. It was everywhere, along with the baseball caps. I wore my bright red barenaked cap with frequency and pride. They were also on tv a lot, and I swear, every single time I saw Barenaked Ladies on television, I saw Tyler Stewart wearing a Melville t-shirt. After a little investigation I learned this was the name of a Rheostatics album. And it's because of Tyler Stewart that I found myself at Sam's on Yonge street purchasing a copy of their brand new album, Whale Music. I had no idea what Rheostatics sounded like.

The rest is history. It's amazing, all of the things I could and will and have said about this band and their significance to me. It's frankly astonishing that this is the first blog entry I've devoted to them. Although I have written a song, an academic paper, and a facebook "note" that reads like a blog entry, back before I started this thing.

I did speak to Tyler Stewart that night, and I said "Thank you for introducing me to Rheostatics." That probably wasn't very cool, I certainly should have said something about his own band, even though I was totally over them by then. It would have been polite. He was nevertheless very kind to me, and told me I was welcome. I think he seemed really glad to have introduced a new fan.


Several years ago Rheostatics played a show at Reflections. It was very poorly attended, but I was there, of course, and with me was my friend Claire, who had never heard the band before.

Claire played cello with me. We used to be a folk duo called nate and marcel, and this Rheostatics show took place not long after Claire and I returned from a brief and whimsical tour we had gone on in southern Ontario. What was initially just a trip home I was to have taken with my father and his partner (now wife!) Susan, became a hastily-planned tour, with Claire and her enormous stringed instrument joining our party of three.

One of the funnest things about that trip was listening to music in the car. I had made many mixed tapes in anticipation, and collected all of my old, tried and true favourite mixes as well. The car stereo didn't work, but we brought along a tiny battery-operated cassette player that we managed to position atop of the cello in a way that ensured that it only ever fell over when we had to exit the highway.

Claire didn't know a thing about popular music. I was astonished when she had to ask me who was singing "Like a Rolling Stone." Though I suppose it all evened out when she laughed at my mispronunciation of Haydn. But she was the best to play new songs for! She really listened, and she loved hearing all of these new musicians. I got to play her all of my favourites.

Claire brought that same enthusiasm with her to that Rheostatics show. I don't know if she ever followed up with them, ever purchased any of their albums and listened to them at home, but she sure had a great time at that concert. Being an "Amelia," perhaps it is especially exciting to hear my name referenced, but I know it was also pretty cool for "Claire." I wish I had as cool a song with my name. It was so much fun showing this band to her, because a Rheostatics show is like driving through my old neighbourhood, for me. And where I live, with all of these great people I'd sometimes like to explain myself better to, we are so far away from my childhood homes. It sounds silly to say it, I guess, but there are things about my relationship with this band that are defining.

I read Whale Music. I read it in a basement apartment on Woodbine avenue in the year 2000. I liked it a lot. I thought it was well-written and funny, and I devoured it pretty quickly. It certainly didn't affect me in a significant way, though, not the book itself. But it goes like this: Paul Quarrington wrote a book about a fictional band called the Howl Brothers, loosely based on The Beach Boys. Rheostatics, inspired by this novel, named an album after it. When the movie Whale Music came out, Rheostatics were asked to do the soundtrack. Among other compositions was the song "Claire." The lyrics had already been partly written by Paul Quarrington. I took my friend Claire to see them play and she thought it was so cool that such a great band had a song called "Claire."

Paul Quarrington passed away this morning, and I am especially sorry for all of the people whose lives were directly touched by him, but I am also sorry for all of the people who didn't even know he was here. He really, really made a difference. Rest in Peace.

Claire - Rheostatics and Paul Quarrington

Purify me.
Purify me Claire.
Let me see you save a mind that isn't there.
Purify me.
Clarify me, Claire.

Liquify me.
Liquify these walls.
Let me see them gushin like Niagara Falls.
Liquify me.
Vapourize me, Claire.

Purify me.
Purify me Claire.
Let me see you save a soul that is impaired.
Purify me.
Clarify me, Claire.

Claire confide in me.


Candice said...

I feel like I'm reading my own introduction to Rheostatics, and then to Paul Quarrington. I hope you don't mind if I link to your post since you've basically expressed how I also feel today. Thanks for sharing.

Amelia Chester said...

I don't mind at all. Thanks for reading!

Did you read dave Bidini's piece in the National Post?

I've never tried to link to anything in the comment box before, but here goes...

Nicole said...

Oddly enough, I can't think of the Rheostatics without thinking of you, Amelia. :)

I also vaguely recall a friend of yours with a rubber chicken...?