On an unusually warm autumn night in Montreal, you can practically feel the breath of this city. The smoky and boozy breath of this city. The all-dressed steamie and bad tooth breath of this city. The steady vegan diet of diamonds breath of this city.
There seem to be endless places to go, people to see, and things to do, especially since the dreaded pandemic ended. People have repopulated restaurants and bars; they stand in lineups to enter various events. Later they post photos and video on social media of themselves doing these things. The scroll of experience is presented back to us in fragments and cut-ups. The juxtaposition of these fragments creates novel knowledge forms and produces an augmented reality, another soft membrane of memory.
Social media make it seem like choice is endless, but it isn’t. There aren’t endless places to go or things to do. There aren’t endless people to meet on digital apps. There are very finite options. Especially in Montreal, it’s best to choose your unusually warm autumn evenings wisely, because they aren’t endless, either. And only so many places know how to do diamonds right.
Rock and roll was a dying artform — or so I thought, until recently at a raucous show at The Blue Dog on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The occasion — with about a dozen acts that I had never heard of — was dubbed Bloodbath. I was invited by a guy named Dylan, the lead singer of a band on the bill called Me and the Dream. Dylan, 22 and towheaded, flips burgers at Paul Patates in Pointe-Saint-Charles, where I’ve been going for lunch on Saturday afternoons all summer. I could be Dylan’s father, I’m literally twice his age, and yet I still feel not much older than 22, like I’m still sitting at the kid’s table at family dinners. Dylan’s cousin, Cassidy, who also works at Paul Patates, told me enthusiastically one Saturday that she would be at the show. So I decided to go to Dylan’s gig, too, because life isn’t endless.
The Blue Dog is south of Duluth at the lower end of the Plateau, just down from where Laika used to be. When you hit a certain age, it seems like everywhere used to be some other place. The aptly named blue-lit bar is a dark, long, narrow space with a square counter jutting out into the centre of the room and a squished stage tucked in back. It’s a bit cramped and scuzzy, as good Montreal bars tend to be. I arrived right as a shouty garage punk band that I couldn’t name who were dressed in 1950’s drive-in restaurant uniforms hammered out a cover of Les Lutins’s “Je Cherche.” I figured I’d found the right place.
Dylan had told me about Me and the Dream over several months of frequenting Paul Patates. They have a jam space at which they rehearse whenever the four members aren’t working their day jobs. The pandemic had spurred a particularly creative period, Dylan said, locked inside with nothing better to do to amuse themselves than make music. This gig would be their first time performing onstage in front of an audience.
As the band prepared to claim their platform, there was a sufficient number of people in attendance to feel cozy but not overcrowded. I leaned with my back to the bar and watched as the ceremonial stage hand-off between bands took place, one drummer carrying a kick drum out, the next drummer carrying a kick drum in. Cable wrapping and unwrapping. Unplugging and plugging in. The bassist, a careless Eugene with spiky green hair, nearly took my eye out with the neck of his axe as he passed by.
A couple who looked to be more in my demographic moved towards the dancefloor. They introduced themselves as Dylan’s mother and step-father. Brimming with anticipation and nervous parent energy, they sipped on pints and swayed to the DJ, then stood off to the side and filmed on their phones as the band began to play. I could not help but be charmed by this. My mother would not have set foot in a dank punk bar to come to my rock show, nor would I have wanted her to. That kind of thing would have elicited deep embarrassment from me at 22.
But the band played on. No sound check, no tuning forks, no introductions, no apologies. They just started kicking out the jams. Were they any good? Let’s see: they were too loud, they were out-of-time, they were out-of-tune, and they were fucking phenomenal. They hit their stride by their third song and were finished after the fifth. Short, to the point, no nonsense rock and roll.
I had shared with Dylan weeks before at the restaurant that I wrote about music, I knew musicians, and music was practically an impossible pursuit. I didn’t want to discourage him, but I’d seen many artists’ dreams dashed by the degree of effort it takes to be in a band, to write and practice decent songs, get gigs and record, only to discover that it’s more difficult than ever to make any money as a musician. Dylan looked at me as if I were speaking another language and said that they had no intention of making any money, that they were doing it “for the right reason.”
The only good art is art done with no intention. Definitely not the intention to make money. That is dead art. More to the point, making money is itself an art, and making art to make money sullies the craftsmanship of high finance. Let commerce be its own perverse artform.
With so much noise out there, it is difficult to hear any signal. It’s tough to spot a diamond in the rough. But the choice is clear: Art for art’s sake. Just breathing in time with the city is the ultimate extravagance. We need to be content to have nothing in order to appreciate having anything.◼︎