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Fatwah / July 23, 2008

Page will be a bare naked lady in jail for sure.

There was some wonderful news last week: Steven Page, lovable lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies, was arrested for cocaine possession. If Barenaked Ladies, BNL to their fans, were a normal band, this would hardly be news at all. In fact, it might be good for ticket sales. But BNL is a Canadian band, the paid pipers of Anglo-Canada’s blandest, dullest, most aggressively mulched minds–so a simple drug bust is a disaster for them and their trusting, stupid fans.

Page, a puffy plaid every-Canuck, started the band with his friend Ed Robertson, who now hosts the smarmy Canadian TV series Ed’s Up, where he tries on the tough jobs ordinary people do—for a day, of course—so he can bond with the losers and pay a thirty-second tribute at the end of the program to what tough lives they have. Then, of course, he lets them go back to those lives so he can return to discreet decadence.

BNL had just come out with their first record for kids when Page, who looks like a computer-aged version of every other smartass you knew in the dorms, was caught by cops in Fayetteville, NY, a suburb of Syracuse, with two women and a few lines of coke. The smug idiot felt so untouchable he’d left the car running outside and the apartment door open. The cops walked in and he said, “It’s cocaine.” No need to waterboard this one, boys.

Poor Stevie learned the hard way that celebrity immunity to persecution under the drug laws is a tricky business. If those had been Canadian cops who walked in on him, his girlfriends and his powdered mirror, they might have laughed it off. That’s how important this band is to the Canadian beige belt. But in Syracuse, NY, BNL is strictly from nowhere. You better have some serious name recognitiion, local too, if you want to beat a coke rap, and Steve wasn’t even close.

The rest of the band was really bummed because BNL was about to make the big money, Disney money. They’d stopped pretending to be grown-up music and were making the rounds of Canada’s talk shows promoting their first record for kiddies. I’d actually seen them, on our new tv, playing the goofy but nice, safe band guys—a middleaged boy band, the sort of music a suburban wife’s husband might make with his buddies at a weekend bbq. Alas, Disney dumped them as soon as Page’s blow job hit the papers. The family market is not for the weak. Disney announced that BNL was being replaced on the Disney tour by They Might Be Giants, which might be the most loathsome band ever spawned, pure cynical Manhattan sneering, eminently suiatable for the little ones, nearly as evil and cruel as a five-year-old.

The reason Page’s blow job doomed BNL was that blandness was their only reason for existing. They were to hiphop what Pat Boone was to Little Richard. People laugh now when they hear Boone’s cover of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” a wide-open anthem to ass-fucking, but it was no more grotesque than BNL putting little rap riffs on their poptunes. If you want to understand why Boone’s version outsold Little Richard’s, just look to the BNL demographic. Cowardice is always profitable, and there’s always a huge market for cultural inoculation—dangerous cultural material killed in a lab and injected in safe form to immunize the frightened, wealthy portion of the population. That was all this band ever was or aspired to be: a very Canadian take on the vicious rhyming coming up from the hot, evil south. Just enough naughtiness to make the wives tsk-tsk proudly at that BBQ. Lame prosody, too:

I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral
Can’t understand what I mean? Well you soon will.

Ugh—rhyming “funeral” with “soon will”–that’s the true last refuge of a scoundrel. And that was from their biggest hit, “One Week,” a quaint little pop anthem to those silly fights nice, stable couples get into, just the thing to make the half-drunk neighbors go “Awww” at that suburban BBQ.

Of course, some bright spark will no doubt manage the critical insight that this is “schadenfreude,” and therefore illegitimate. But why illegitimate? Perhaps, if you’re a Christian, you have to pretend to believe that a bus crash in Bangladesh is more tragic than your own impoverishment. But I’m not a Christian, most especially not the secular variety so common in Canada. And in the two years since we’ve immigrated to Canada—well, I’ll spare you the whiny details, but things have not gone well. And if there’s one thread uniting all our nastiest experiences here, it’s the taint of Anglo hypocrisy. Real, old-school, Dickensian hypocrisy. Barenaked ladies are the sound track of that hypocrisy, and I am shamelessly delighted to see them fall. May they all be raped in prison.

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