Let's Rave On; Flight Pain


I’m back in Toronto rather permanently, which means I’m back in the throes of the music community. Just this weekend was Wakestock, the Warp Tour, a Beerfest, as well as several other festivals with great live entertainment. I of course slept through most of the weekend, thereby missing out on an opus of music coverage. I could have probably covered three week’s worth of column space talking about the dearth of talent hitting Toronto this weekend, but intead I’m going to serenade you with a story about excruciating pain and the unbearable idea of loss. Two weeks ago I wrote about music writers not transcending the limits of criticism enough to become great writers, so it’s really only suiting that I take a crack at it.


Cassette Tapes From Crushed Lovers Vol 6

You know the drill when it comes to mp3s on the internet. They’ll be up for seven days, are for listening and sampling purposes only, and they’ll be taken down immediately if the artist or a label head has a problem with it, even though I’m giving them free advertising.

With that, here’s volume 6 of my mixtape collection. Enjoy.

1. Happy Go Lucky Me – Paul Evans
2. Pull Shapes – The Pipettes
3. Chocolate – Snow Patrol
4. Dreaming of You – The Coral
5. If We Could Be Together – The Roots
6. Rude Boy Don’t Cry – Bedouin Soundclash
7. Chelsea Hotel No. 2 – Rufus Wainwright
8. Means To An End – The Hourly Radio
9. Boys and Girls – Blur
10. That Old Pair Of Jeans – Fatboy Slim


What I’m Reading When I Should Be Recuperating From Teaching

Greg makes some good points, but I personally think a lot of bands would benefit from a tuba section.

Mathan writes a list or something, but I’m more interested in the fact that he’s equally excited about a Roots CD as he is about Pete Yorn. We have such a strange staff.

I used to do what Shawn did this week when he sold 700 CD’s back to the fiery pits of retail that he once sought through, though I can’t say I’ve ever done it to that sort of quantity. Hat’s off.


Let’s Rave On

On average, there’s music on in some capacity for just about every minute of my day. It’s consuming to the point of worry sometimes, but it’s how I’ve chosen to live my life and damned the consequences. I’ve got friends who base their musical decisions on my opinions. I’ve got people who pretty much only listen to what I post on my website for free. I’ve got a weekly column about music criticism, a book in the works about said column, a few pending DJ dates, and the makings of a new band. Music is pretty much my life, which is why this last week was so difficult.

Last week I had this cold and sinus problem that clogged the crap out of me. I quit my job, cancelled my visa, said goodbye. I packed up my stuff and headed to Seoul, where I was going to spend the weekend and then fly back to Toronto on Monday. Sometime around Thursday I noticed that my left ear was giving me some troubles. My cold was clearing up, but the ear stayed clogged. I considered going to the doctor, but I’d been spooked before. In my first week in Korea, I developed this stye. I went to an eye doctor, and within three minutes he prescribed immediate surgery. In training, they told us that this was just business as usual. I refused the surgery and treated it in other fun ways, but the experience rang in my head anytime I considered going to a doc. It’s one thing to do surgery on an eye, but like Ray Charles, I put far more currency in my ears, so I didn’t do anything.

By Sunday I was in some pretty bad pain and it was clear I’d been given my very first ear infection. Since Friday I’d stopped listening to music, but with the pain I could barely listen to anything without painful reverb. I was in the midst of doing something very stupid. I was twelve hours away from a fourteen-hour plane ride with an ear problem. Due to the decompression and ear popping that planes are known for, I was in for just about the most painful day of my life. In addition, traveling that long in decompressed air puts in mind the serious chance of blowing my eardrum and suffering permanent damage.

Hopped up on as much Sudafed and Tylenol as I could grab, I wrapped my headphones around my neck and boarded the first flight to Tokyo. The takeoff was murder. Imagine your ear as a stress ball, clenched tightly in the hands of an introverted shut in who’s just lost his last bit of patience and is now ready to wreak his revenge on those who’ve wronged him. Imagine that after he’s through molding that stress ball into a cast of his own fingerprints, he decides to practice golf, baseball, and Martha Stewart’s latest recipe all at once. I do all I can from screaming out in pain, and there’s really nothing I can do to distract myself. In order to watch a movie or listen to music I’ve got to put audio into that mess, and even though it’s been three days since I’ve listened to a single song, I know better than to think that concentrated waves of any kind could be good for this situation.

The plane touches down in Tokyo, and the descent is the cherry of it all. I pop my ears, praying that doing so won’t cause anything to explode. I wait, clenching my backpack and guitar case. It’s all I can do. I’m rushed to my next plane. Tokyo’s airport looks the same as Seoul’s and Toronto’s. I’m feeling a little better at this point, but I’m far from okay. Ahead of me is twelve hours of overseas flying. All I can think about is how it might just kill me.

Frankly, I’m lucky. If I had flown out three days later, like originally planned, then I wouldn’t have been able to take pills or headphones or water on the plane. These were the only things that saved me. The pills took care of the exceeding pain from lifting off again. The headphones took care of the decompression a little bit. There was no music on, but the pressure of something sealed around my ear was a haven from that air-conditioned his of a flight cabin. The water, well, it was good for making sure I got to move around every forty-five minutes. Without these things, I’m fairly sure I would have concentrated on the pain so much that my ear would have burst from the impatience of the hours stacked upon hours.

It’s possible to live a perfectly healthy life with only one ear, sure. It’s not particularly a handicap in any giant capacity. Still, music has become such an important chassis to me that I was afraid that I would never get to experience it in it’s full surround glory ever again. This was a real jarring fear that I drowned in during this flight. My ear would explode at any moment, and besides the incredible pain of the moment, I would surely be filled with a great sorrow of losing an aspect of myself that had become so second nature. What would I be without the constant stream of sound coming at me? What would I be without my opinions, my reflections, my sense of adventure and ownership and acceptance and snobbery? Where would I really be if I had to give up this part of me?

I thought about the slew of music festivals hitting Toronto and Montreal in the next few weeks, and how I’d have to give them all up because a broken ear drum can’t sustain live music at that velocity. I thought about all the dive bars with bad acoustics I’d have to be careful to avoid. I thought about all the kids who had it really bad already, who would never really get a chance to appreciate what I had already experienced and was about to lose.

The plane began its final descent. I’d been talking to an attendant almost hourly about the problem. She’d once had the same thing, so she was walking me though what I would feel. She was gracious enough to feed me pills throughout the whole ordeal. With thirty-five minutes left in the flight, she handed me a hot towel, told me to put it under my ear, and said that the next twenty minutes would hurt the worst.

I was so conscious and prepared for the worst. I’d felt bones break and sinew tear before. I’d been through the kind of pain that brings images of fire and dust and screams. I’d listened to enough bad pop albums to know pain in my ears. I was ready for the worst.

We touched down at Pearson. I couldn’t hear out of my left ear, but it wasn’t because of any major event. I was just clogged and swollen as hell. It hurt to touch my ear, to move my jaw, or to blink with any regularity. Still, these feelings meant that nothing had gone horribly wrong. In the next few days, I’d visit my family doctor, and she’d give me giant horse pills of antibiotics. The swelling would go down. The blockage would decrease. And Friday morning, exactly one week since I last hit ‘stop’ on my ipod, I listened to it again with both ears, hearing fairly evenly a wonderful new Rufus Wainwright song courtesy of the Leonard Cohen soundtrack album that I reviewed this weekend.

There’s still a little feeling, but it should be gone in a few days, and I can get to watching the Much Music countdown and go right back to reminding everyone why mainstream pop music is kind of like sitting for fourteen hours in decompressed air with an ear infection.