A couple months ago, I came across a notice that upset me greatly – The Nylons were going on a farewell tour, before calling it quits.
I want to talk about what all transpired as a result, but I warn you – this is going to be the most emo post I’ve ever written. Probably going to be pretty disjointed too, I’m sorry! I have a lot of feels right now.
So, I’ve been listening to The Nylons since I was about 4 years old – they’ve been together as long as I’ve been alive, though. Their song “Up the Ladder to the Roof” was popular on the radio station that my mother listened to, and I LOVED it. Through all of my other favourites in music – Eurodance, Celtic Rock, etc – this one song has stood the test of time and remained a favourite all the way to today, for me.
I loved watching Brian Orser skate to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“, and Landry/Johnston skate to “Bop til You Drop”.
As I got a little older, my little sister and my “peers” discovered boy bands… and I never understood the draw. My sister would plaster her wall with NKOTB posters… I would have to go to the Centennial Library in Downtown Winnipeg to search through Microfiche for old news articles about The Nylons, and print included photos off as MY wall decor. My little sister would have NKOTB dolls, a sleeping bag, accessories, etc.
… I got some FIMO clay and made jewelry inspired by the angular Silhouettes on the One Size Fits All album cover. Way too big and heavy for anyone to actually wear, but it was one of the few ways I could actually explore and express MY fandom.
When I was 12 or 13, I got dropped off to the Centennial Concert Hall, alone, for my very first concert. I was the youngest in the hall by DECADES… and I loved every minute of it! I’m pretty sure Micah Barnes sent me careening into puberty, too. He became my first celebrity crush, even though he was probably twice the age of all the boy band guys my sister and peers fawned over. That fabulous 90s hair! His dancing!
I remember so much of that concert so clearly, it’s amazing it’s made it with me this long. I can even remember the final line to a joke – more like a spoken word poem? – that the opening comedienne made. I remember she was blonde, and it was snarking about her ex boyfriend, in talking about his sweater. “It was 100% ACRYLIC.”
I learned about relationships. Rather than grow up on some of the relationship themes you see in boy band music or other top 40 stuff, I grew up listening to a more mature message. “That Kind of Man” warned me about.. well, that kind of guy… long before any instance of “The Talk”. The Stars are Ours, A Touch of Your Hand, Grown Man Cry… Sigh. So much beauty. I could rattle off song titles and themes all day. It was all night and day to the kind of relationship drama I’d hear about from kids in school… and a HUGE contrast to what I’d learned of relationships from my parents. They provided themes and examples to aspire to, when nothing in my life did.
When I was about 16, I saw them in concert again – again, on my own – and I’ll never forget what happened. The guys had said something that prompted a cheer from the crowd, and I’d let out a LOUD “WOO!”. Arnold Robinson pointed right in my direction and said something raunchy. I don’t even remember what it was, exactly… I just remember turning bright red and trying to disappear into my seat. To this day, I feel awful about it. Like… guilty somehow. There was no way he could have known he was saying something like that to a 16 year old – I think the next youngest person there was in their 30s! I felt awful!
Arnold was always my favourite. He had this deep, rich voice… unlike anything I’d heard before, or have heard since. The passion and energy he put into it.. Ah hell, lemme just share a video. The sound isn’t the best on this, but trust me, in person? Goosebumps.
.. And here come the tears. Augh. He passed away a few years ago, and … I don’t have words.
He had retired from the group around the same time I moved to the USA. I was so upset, I hadn’t bought a CD or seen them live since moving to Minnesota ten years ago.
Yes, I know I’m a terrible fan. In my defense… you should never underestimate an autistic person’s inability to handle change. I try to be good about it most of the time.. And most of the time, I CAN roll with the punches. Arnold leaving the group? NO.
I was still feeling pretty petulant about it when I heard the news of the farewell tour. I tearfully told my husband that we would need to plan a last minute trip to Winnipeg, and he was totally fine with it. As it was happening the day after our 10th Anniversary, we decided to consider the trip to be our anniversary “thing”.
As we arrived at the concert venue, I changed my Facebook status to “I’m about to be emotionally compromised, send kitty pics, please!”… and then proceeded to bawl through the whole damn thing. (Thank you to all my friends who responded my request, by the way – HUGE thread of adorable cat photos was there for me when the concert was over!).
It’s weird when you get really emotional, and you can’t figure out why. It’s like someone just turned the faucet on in the beginning, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I spent a good deal of the concert lost in my own head.
“This is the last time I’ll hear this song live”.
“I am such an idiot for not seeing them more often, while I still could”
“I miss Arnold. I remember exactly how he sounded, singing this very song. RIP”
“This group started the year I was born. Claude has been at this as long as I’ve been alive. Now it’s over. *Insert various thoughts on facing my own mortality*”
… and then there was the matter of trying to figure out why it bothered me SO much. Many people there were fans, and not ugly crying their way through it, after all.
What I came up with was this: Having loved them for almost as long as I’ve been alive, their music has really factored into a lot of memories for me, both good and bad. I’ve listened to their music in celebration of some life events, and their music has gotten me through some other, horrible life events.
During the darkest years of my life, growing up with constant physical, verbal and psychological abuse at the hands of my mother and stepfather, their music was there for me, a mental escape from the hell I was living in. When I got out of that and moved in with my grandparents around age 12, they were the ones who drove me to that downtown library, and who dropped me off for concerts. When my grandparents passed away, I consoled myself with that music. Through every move, every nasty breakup, every major life event… I think The Nylons are the closest thing I’ve had to consistency in my life.
Once I realized that THAT was what was upsetting me, the tears slowed somewhat. I still cried a few times more during the concert – some out of happiness, some from laughing so hard, etc.
The concert was amazing, as always. You know, four year old me had incredible taste – I can’t think of any group with anywhere near the talent of these guys. Just ridiculous control over their voices, their lungs, etc. I love their banter. I loved the addition of rapping, such as in “Don’t Look Any Further” – where the rap was performed by a guest artist. (OMG, can we appreciate Micah’s hair for a moment? Glorious)
Claude… man, I’ve seen him in concert when he still had dark hair- now, it’s white. The amazing thing is – for the most part – he sounds exactly the same as I remember him sounding in that first concert… with about as much energy, to boot!
At the beginning of the concert, I joked to my husband “Quick, guess which one is the original member?” and his reply was “The one with the most energy on stage?”… and Claude really kept it up the whole way. Dancing around, great showmanship.. Even doing the moonwalk at one point. I wish I had half that energy NOW, never mind “when I get to be that age”.
… I finally accepted Gavin Hope. It only took me 22 years to get over my snit about Micah no longer being in the group. Good lord… I am such an asshole! Gavin was hilarious. He won serious points with my husband by doing the Carlton, and kept us laughing the whole time. I wish I’d given him a chance sooner… what a treasure he is!
At one point, they surprised the audience with performing a “bucket list” song – “For the Longest Time”. Apparently I was FAR from alone in wishing they’d do it, and they did NOT disappoint. (Bawled through this one, too!). How often do you see a cover that blows the original away? It was very special… an honour and a privilege to watch / hear!
Towards the end, they performed “Me and the Boys” – a song that I’ve loved for decades, but I’m pretty certain that I’ve never actually heard live. It sounded like some of the lyrics had been changed to personalize it to some of the new members, but I couldn’t make out what was being said in those parts. When Claude belted out “Dance, well I can really dance, you ought to see me move across the floor”, it felt… poignant, somehow. These were lyrics written over 30 years earlier, and here he was singing it with just as much energy, and living up to it – he really CAN dance, and we really enjoyed seeing him move across the floor… myself for the last time, my husband for the first AND last time.
… and it also felt special that this – the final time I’ll get to see them live – was also the first time I’ve shared the experience with someone. It felt profound and symbolic, but not in a way I can really put into words coherently. The concert happened at a time when I was already facing themes of saying goodbye, and losing ties/connections to the past. To share the experience for the first time, with my amazing husband – the light that has balanced all the dark of the past – it was beautiful.
(As I write this blog entry, and think back on all of those earlier themes on what to aspire to in relationships, I am so happy to report that my husband lives up to all of them. I’m listening to some of their older tracks as I write this, and they give me the same warm fuzzy feeling they have my whole life… just like he does. Comfort, love, safety, reliability…)
We didn’t stay for the meet and greet, because I was a mess and knew I wouldn’t be able to put anything worthy into words at the time. I guess you could say…
I won’t ask you to stay
I can love you when you’re far away
Please, don’t stop to say goodbye
Unless you want to see a grown woman cry
…SO here I am, trying to be a little less messy (whoops) and a little more coherent, trying to put into words… just how much this group and their music has meant to me.
If you guys are reading, thank you for everything you are and have done. For all of the lightness, smiles, laughs, joy, and tears that you’ve brought not only me, but the rest of your fans. You are amazing – a national treasure – and I wish you all of the best in your future pursuits.