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“I want to take a streetcar downtown
Read Henry Miller and wander around
And drink some Guinness from a tin
‘Cause my U.I. cheque has just come in”
And so starts The Lowest of the Low classic: “Rosy and grey”.
Oh, how many times have I sung along with those words? And how many times have I done something similar, at many different points in my life – a starving student, university graduate with a low wage job, call centre employee in a brand new city, new home owner in the suburbs, middle aged man revisiting the city of his youth and not recognizing it all? The sentiments are still the same, just heading out without purpose, maybe hitting a record shop, maybe hitting a pub, maybe a cafe, and both forgetting and thinking about everything. And for that one day, everything seems rosy and everything seems grey.
I’ve already mentioned how obsessed I was with this band’s debut album when The Lowest of the Low made an appearance on my Best Tunes of 2001 list with a tune they released after the first of their reunions. And really, their debut, “Shakespeare my butt”, is still my favourite of all their albums, with songs like this amongst their number, though they have written some fine songs since. The Lowest of the Low was formed by Ron Hawkins, Stephen Stanley, and David Alexander as a side project when it appeared their primary band at the time, Popular Front, was on the way out. Many of the songs on “Shakespeare my butt” were written by Hawkins and Stanley while still part of that other group so they were well formed and performed by the time the album was released. It’s no wonder to me at all that there is very little filler on such a long album. For an independent release, it sold very well, for a brief time holding the record for units sold by an indie (beaten shortly thereafter by the “Yellow tape”), and has appeared on a handful of best Canadian album ever lists over the years.
“Rosy and grey” is Ron Hawkins songwriting at its best. Jangle guitar and harmonica folk sound and punk rock angst and sensibilities, both literate and juvenile, juxtaposing references to writers (though Henry Miller has become Dostoevsky in recent years) with sexual double entendres (“I like it much better going down on you”). It’s a song for drinking alone or for clinking glasses with your best mates. It always brings a smile to my face, no matter how grey things may seem.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.