The beauty of quick and dirty — loving garage rock and being a librarian, too

It’s funny how easily I forget that I’m crazy about old ‘60s garage rock. Months can go by without me thinking about it, until it’s almost possible to believe I’m a person of sophisticated tastes (after all, I read “serious” books and I’m picky about what TV shows I watch), but then I’ll hear an old, noisy, primitively-recorded 4-chord song (maybe The Troggs or the Count Five or ? and The Mysterions), and it all comes back to me. It’s not a poetic or romantic kind of love, it’s the sheer physical kind, the type that is electrifying and unbalancing, that hits you hard and makes you forget common sense and shame. If they were teenaged boys and I was a teenaged girl I’d text these guys in the middle of the night, I’d skip out of my afternoon classes so I could hang out in front of their school in hopes of seeing them come outside when the bell rang.

But never mind the not-quite-right metaphors, I’ll admit what actually happens when I hear them: I am compelled to jump up and dance and shake my hair around, totally forgetting that I’m too old, too uncoordinated, too graceless,  too much of a librarian to be able to pull this off.

If I had to choose just one first-generation favourite garage-rock band, it would be The Sonics, from Tacoma, Washington. Growing up in Vancouver and doing campus radio and going out to see bands in the ‘80s, I was introduced to them through The Pointed Sticks (who covered The Witch), almost certainly The Enigmas, my favourite local live band at the time, who did lots of garage covers, and ultimately the Sonics Full Force LP that came out sometime midway through that decade. (I bought mine from Zulu Records; you can still see the plastic wrap.)

sonics back sonics front

Like the whole punk scene (which was also already over by the time I was old enough to go see live bands), the garage guys* were proof that being loud and audacious and having just a few basic skills on an instrument was enough to make life-altering music. A boyfriend with serious music cred (and no formal music training) showed me how to play “Strychnine” — my introduction to barre chords, and not the sort of thing they taught us on our nylon-strung acoustics in the guitar class I took as an elective in high school. After that it was just a matter of months before I was in my own band, writing songs and singing and playing guitar — essentially because I was too naive to realise I wasn’t good enough.

But that’s another story.

The Sonics came to Vancouver in September — their first time playing here since their original 1960s incarnation. It could have been awful, and maybe it should have been awful, some guys in their 70s (!) who were never particularly huge, playing fifty-year-old songs. But the venue was packed — sold out or close to it — and with a mix of people who could have seen them in the old days, people my age, and people who weren’t even born when I discovered the Sonics in the ’80s. Somehow we all knew this was going to be special, and it was: Gerry Roslie’s voice was inexplicably even better than on the old records, there was a huge happy mosh pit, and everyone was blissfully soaked in sweat, including me. Yes, I danced and sang along at the top of my lungs, probably to the great amusement and pity of everyone around me. But I didn’t care. I was absolutely high from the whole thing.

This stuff makes me happy, and more than that, it reminds me of the beauty of quick & dirty and DIY, approaches that I have mostly unlearned through years of education and experience.

Librarians are notoriously obsessed with accuracy and even perfection — something that’s essential when we’re cataloguing items or answering reference questions. But there’s a place for quick & dirty in my work too, and I need to remember that possibility. How often do I find myself at work staring at a problem that feels like having to write, arrange, and conduct a symphony, complete with hiring a room full of musicians, when all that’s needed is a three-chord song that I can whip off in an afternoon?

I don’t have the answers, but thank you to The Sonics for reminding me to ask the question.


* There were women who did great garage rock too — see the Girls in the Garage series, for instance (unfortunately there isn’t a Wikipedia entry for those records yet — and I don’t know enough to be the one to create one Someday I would love to do more exploration of these old girl groups (and why and how they are mostly forgotten; certainly it wasn’t for lack of talent and visual appeal). For the moment, you can get tiny and delicious tastes on the web, including here: