After months of filling forms, your doctor’s appointment will begin to read like your latest college application.
Name: Mr. James Owen
Age: 18 years old
Date of appointment: Freshman, undergraduate, 2019-20
Reason for visit: Ever since I was a young child, I have wanted to visit the doctor. This selfless man with the white coat and the stethoscope asking me to take a seat as a four-year old on Christmas morning with a Thomas the Tank Engine play-set stuck in my mouth, shoved in with Thomas and a few of his mates intact (or maybe not) in pure excitement of the sort only a four-year old high on Nesquick on Christmas morning could be, I was enraptured by this man and his love for his art, and the enigmatic pearls of wisdom he occasionally sprouted.
He spoke seldom, and when he did, it almost wasn’t ordinary human English.
“Aaaah”, he said, and while that should have made no sense at all, somehow, I understood the man. His command over his subjects was complete, his composure and dignified mannerisms subtle, yet screaming.
He nodded ever so slightly and passed me an ancient puzzle, a few scratches on a paper. Once again, while none of this made any sense to me, mum seemed to understand, he was universal; she nodded, although I felt her body relax for some reason, as in defeat.
‘Oh shit, I think I’m close to the word limit, I gotta end this!’
“—That incident left a very deep impression on my younger self, and for the last fifteen years, I have only had one thought every night that I go to bed: I would like to study medicine at Harvard.”
‘There we are, now we just sit and await that call.’
Ten minutes later, a nurse walks out holding a clip pad and a wearing a concerned expression.
‘Mr. James Owen?’
‘Yup, that’ll be me. Tell me, did I make it?!’
‘Mr. Owen, it’s alright, I’d like you to come with me.’
‘Nurse, where are we headed?’
‘We read your profile, James, and there may be a slight problem,’
‘Oh dear! Would you need an additional portfolio? Recommendations? My thesis from summer research?’
‘No Mr. James, you’re really sick, and just to make sure you’re not a hazard to yourself or anyone around you, we want a little check up.’
‘Nurse, you must have made a mistake, I’m perfectly fine! Take a look at my athletics! I played for Junior Varsity, I’m very fit indeed!’
‘Don’t worry kiddo. It’ll all be okay.’
‘No, no, what does that mean? I’m perfectly fine, I told you, I’m not crazy! Are you rejecting me?!’ Nurse smiles sweetly
‘We only wish the best to you now, and in all your future endeavours. Come with me.’ ‘What?! Nooooooooo!!’
Sometimes, you just have nothing to say. I’ve often had nothing to say, I’ve just hung around wondering how people talk so much.
Then they turn and hit you with the s-bomb. You’re so silent!
Yes, well, if all you can talk about is the last wedding you all were at and all the food you ate there, there is no way in a million lives I can contribute to that chatter.
I’ve realised of late that my way of coping with this, anticipating that dreaded blow, has been verbal diarrhoea: oh you wanna talk food? Allow me to divert and rant about how spicy this was, and then hijack the conversation and start talking about the history of spices and why all countries in the world wanted to set sail for India back in the set sail times (hint: thé answer is spices). Then I plan to dart and run away before you can throw any kind of bomb at me. I’m out.
Or you can be nice and give me the wifi password and we can avoid this whole mess. Keep me leashed, I guess, if you value your sanity.
And yeah, of course you’ll probably end up in one of my comics. That’s the sole reason why artists exist. We love annoying you.
People are always complaining about how things have become so much tamer. People aren’t wild enough. They don’t take enough risks. They don’t step out of home, or their comfort zones.
It’s ubiquitous enough a complain, but it really seems to roar louder in the world of rock music. There are reasons for this.
Since the demise of the grunge movement following Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain’s death, the entire rock music scene lost momentum and spiralled inwards. By the end of the nineties, only the bands that survived the chaos of the younger half of the decade would go on to make it into the next era. The others would be lost, and so would their fans.
As a kid of the aughts, bands from the zeros seem closer and more familiar to me, but on the grand timeline, it could be argued that they were definitely more obscure than rock musicians have been in past decades. For those that did prevail though, the set of problems they faced were a little different in nature than their predecessors.
Of course, those who grew up in the ‘golden ages’ of the sixties, seventies, or even the nineties, claim that they don’t make it like they used to. The nature of showmanship has changed. The faces of venues have changed. Artists’ demeanour is more closely scrutinised than ever before, and they’re everywhere, all the time.
This is a big change. Earlier, the only exposure you’d have to your favourite artist would be through an interview they did with a music magazine, or an MTV special on the late night telly. You’d hear from them when they dropped their music, and of course, in their music, where they’d always be with you. None of these have changed, although as a compelling article in SpinMagazine argues, the interviews have become rarer, and the music has broken itself into smaller and smaller pieces: from albums to singles, and singles to snippets and breadcrumbs (a phenomenon I recently explored and outlined in this article).
What has changed though, is that in addition to this, you can find your favourite bands on YouTube, their personal Instagrams, Twitter, and for younger artists, even Snapchat. Like every other person, they find these platforms ideal to express their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, for a fan what this means is that your favourite stars are now living in your face, having comfortably nestled there after building themselves a little fire and drinking hot chocolate.
Metal exposed to free air for too long begins to rust, and the same is true of your interest in your favourite musicians. The tabloid has exploded, and everybody can be a reporter; heck, the artists themselves can do it. As you scroll through your news feed in infinite scroll mode, there’s too much stuff to catch your eye, and soon enough, the fifth reposted promotional picture of favourite artist becomes boring. You cast a momentary glance at a gothic, high-heeled, heavily made-up picture of that band you like who would swear to be so strictly folk rock that their getup would be otherwise shocking. But then you move on, because you just saw another picture yesterday.
Rock music was built on the social foundations of ‘rebel and shock’, but what used to shock people is either seen so often that it’s just not shocking anymore, or it’s simply unacceptable.
If Iggy Pop were a rising musician today, he’d have had a tough time.
Iggy relied heavily on the effects of the shock he could have on people, and do it more subtly than contemporaries who would proclaim themselves rebels. (See: MC5)
In particular, Iggy used to cut himself up with a blade live.
Today, he’d probably be cast as having mental health problems. He’d be told, it’s okay, everyone has darker days, and it’s great that you’re putting it out there for everyone to see. Self-inflicted harm? Total sign. Do talk to someone though, please!
And he’d have been a mental health advocate, broken by the stress we all face, a product of that system, with all our respect and our sympathy.
Rebels don’t get your sympathy, and that’s what endeared young rock and rollers to him. That’s what shocked people, and what made him a rebel. It simply wouldn’t work today.
In the face of this, the Noel Gallaghers of the world say that bands simply don’t have it in them anymore, that they’re not dangerous enough. They don’t wake up stoned or turn up drunk onstage (au contraire, only a month ago I witnessed a bassist down seven cans onstage). Artists do what they do. Only the implications of their actions have changed.
Of course, this also makes a band like Coldplay so likeable. In short, Coldplay are anodyne rock and roll: maybe a gateway band to artists more rock and roll, but also a band that you, your mother and your puppy can bond over. They aren’t out to offend and mum and dad won’t hate them. They won’t be in the news for the wrong reasons. In fact, all Coldplay have done to iff anybody is make more mainstream, pop radio-friendly music, and that seems to piss you off more than it does your mum.
But they’re hitting the charts alright.
This is something you’d see showing up all over the charts. Softer pop rock and more mainstream friendly artists are dominating the rock airwaves. Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and Twenty One Pilots are the biggest things rock on the charts. Oh, and probably Billie Eilish.
So is this the changing face of rock music? Has it become so mainstream friendly that it’s no longer friendly to those who created it in the first place? (Case in point: Greta Van Fleet. You either love them, or you love to hate them.)
The short answer is it’s not the end. The rock music scene was always stronger underground. A quick glance at Billboard’s archives tells you that rock music seldom dominated the hot music charts. There were moments when artists shone bright before being replaced by hotter tracks. The limelight was never meant for endurance, only an upthrust. And all legends are written in hindsight. Maybe we’ll be looking back on something we may have missed in our Instagram feeds and think it an incredible display of rock and roll showmanship.
In the meanwhile, do us all a favour and hit your local club, or a bar. There’s tons of good music buried under the unassuming air of carefreeness there that’s just itching to be discovered.
Tip: If you are looking for new music right now, here are some artists I could suggest.
Looking for some laidback surfside Cali blues, and generally a good time? Check out the Beach Goons. In their own words, they hate the beach. San Diego based surf blues-with-a-dash-of-Mexican-rock and roll, they’re my age.
Looking for something with the punk attitude but with catchier tones? I’ve said this before, but check out SWMRS. They’re also a lot better live than their records suggest.
Looking for some old fashioned indie rock? Come on, there are tons of bands out there, I won’t even try. Just go to a club, for goodness sake.
Looking for some hard hitting garage rock? Do, do, do check out Phono Pony. It took me forever to remember their name right, but it’s all worth it. British Columbia based duo hitting it in the vein of the White Stripes. Also, in the words of their drummer, “We’re not the White Stripes”. As a bonus, if you happen to be in Toronto tonight, hop down to the Horseshoe Tavern, they’re playing a midnight set.
You were expecting comics, weren’t you? I have many, but I call this a social experiment.
Isn’t the very essence of a comic but the excitement, the suspense, the thrill by the time you reach the last panel?
Well, just a drawing can sort of do that, only it’s sort of only one panel and no words.
But I’m not making excuses to show off my pretty dragon.
Would you agree that there’s action writ large over this one panelled, unintentionally worded but actually wordless comic, with the dragon’s paw (paw?) raised, poised to make a big move, those wings, ready to expand and fly, the fire already escaping those ready nostrils, those eyes, looking right at you?
Don’t you think there’s drama in here, leaving you wondering, “what next?!” Isn’t there suspense in the fact that you’ll never know what happens next because there is no second panel??
Isn’t there extreme thrill in seeing that I can finally draw a dragon properly??
… oh, hi mum.
Anyway, you got a few panels less than you’d bargained for. I hope a pretty dragon makes up for that.
Alright guys, suit yourselves. Look who’s back here, especially when I said I wouldn’t do this here. I’m around kids quite a bit these days—kids of every kind, including a little pupper—so I’m kind of used to dealing with people putting their foot down here and around. The only way to win is to give them what they want, while getting what you want. Subtle. An art. A master move.
And so I’m back to posting these here.
I suppose most of you guys are more familiar with this blog, and I’m too lazy a bean to update you guys with links to every comic I post over there (FYI if you actually are suddenly in this weird position where you’re craving napkin comics, head over to Origin of the Pitchforks, in spite of the name, I promise you the site doesn’t bite. It’s actually quite a pretty blue colour. That came about after precisely four hours of a CSS colour code nightmare. It’s pretty) so the comics have come home.
Don’t you cheer in that corner, you’re promoting anti-lazy behaviour. Boo.
Anyway, speaking of lazy, here’s a lazy Sunday morning comic, because I don’t get to read the newspaper on most other days now.
What do you think of it? Would you have spent any time looking at that dashing Lolex model? I imagine he’d be a tad bit disappointed if you didn’t.
But I’m also quite a heat of the moment sort of a person, especially when things happen after 11 PM. Which means, for all the stories I string about being up till 3, I’m there, but I’m really not.
My friend and I have a theory that after 11:30 PM, my alter ego takes over. And after some inspection, we’ve come to realise that my alter ego is in fact a monocle-wearing, Fedora-tipping, moustache-sporting, English journalist called James.
Too bad half my best work seems to come after 12 AM.
So I’d promised comics twice a week, and now I’ve put out more. Feast, dear readers! (Actually, I don’t really recommend eating while you’re reading comics. I’ve done that with my Spider-Man comics (with a hyphen, as the guy himself has said!). It doesn’t end well either for your food, or for the mag.)
I mean approaching, formally. Like the absolute value of the difference between my math final and I, is getting really small and fast. And thank goodness for that absolute value, because this distance would’ve been negative without a doubt otherwise.
Also, mathematicians must hate physicists. And computer science first years too, probably.