11 September 2008

There is no nation of you, there is no nation of me : Franz Ferdinand, the Olympics, and a short trip down Memory Lane.

This is an essay I wrote a few weeks ago, before, during, and after my vacation to Florida. You know, the one that got ruined by Tropical Storm Fay. Considering the material, I'm a little late in posting it, but I wasn't quite sure how I liked it to begin with and needed some time to tweak it a bit. I'm still not 100% sure on how I feel about it, but if I don't put it out there then, well. I never will. So enjoy.


What does this guy have to do with Franz Ferdinand? Not much, actually, and yet everything. Keep reading...

Ask me who my favourite band is, and odds are, I'll give you the following response : It's a tie between Franz Ferdinand, OK Go, and Scamper, in no particular order.

It feels a little weird admitting that because, firstly, let's be honest here – these days, you ask any given music blogger who their absolute favourite band is, you're probably expecting Radiohead, right? Right. Though if you haven't already figured out that I'm a sucker for the powerpop-dancerock thing, then either you're new here or you haven't been paying too much attention. (I called this thing "That One Pop Gem" for a reason.) I'll readily admit that none them are the singularly most original, musically ground-breaking bands ever. But then again, very few bands are.

Secondly, given that this has been my standard response for about two and a half years or so, I've started to wonder if those three are still my favourites, or if I've just started to say that out of habit. I mean, I’ve found and fallen in love with a lot of new stuff as of late and, frankly, I just don't listen to OK Go or Franz as much as I used to. (Scamper is the glaring exception to this, but that’s largely because they split up and I went through a long denial phase wherein I listened to their stuff relentlessly.)

Then again, I think we all recognise that the "favourite band" thing goes a little beyond just liking (or even loving) the music, to a much more emotional spot. Take OK Go, who, for all intents and purposes, changed my life. It was (mainly) because of them that I (re)realised, hey, I like going to rock shows and seeing new bands and buying records and talking to other people and writing about music. I'm not exaggerating when I say I wouldn't know half the people I do without them. Cliché? Yes, but entirely true.

Then there's Scamper, who probably hold a nearer and dearer spot in my little powerpop-adoring heart. Brendan once said to me, "We don't have 'fans,' we have 'friends'", and I suppose that's innately true of a band that's popular on such a small, local scale. But when you're nineteen and stuck in perpetual "fangirl" mode and the guys from one of your favourite bands actually take the time to respond to you, it kind of goes down as "awesome."

And frankly, I could gush on and on about these two, and say nary a word on Franz Ferdinand. To be fair, I've never been a hardcore member of the Franz fanbase, they've barely toured my area in the past few years, and I certainly don't spend time chatting with Nick, Paul, and Bob. The much more, um, intimate connection (for lack of a better phrase) just doesn't exist here.

And yet, Franz Ferdinand has probably been just as influential as the other two, and I really do love them. I often forget to take note of that.

So why am I taking note of it now?

It's because of the Olympics.

Yeah, I know, that doesn't make much sense. Hear me out on this.

Franz, to this day, remains the only band I've discovered via MTV. I took a sick day during my senior year of high school, circa April 2004, and turned on MTV just for kicks when the video for "Take Me Out" came on. I thought the video and song were great, so I tried to find it (ie, searched for it on KaZaa), but came up short, because Franz Ferdinand really hadn't arrived in the US yet.

A few months later, on the annual family vacation to Orlando, we went to Downtown Disney and wandered into the Virgin Megastore. Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut was sitting in the one of the listening booths and, remembering how much I liked "Take Me Out," I decided to buy it on a whim. (It was actually that or another terrible record that I will not name, which I actually did wind up buying later, but thank God I purchased Franz Ferdinand when I did and not the other record because my life would be so different now thank you thank you thank you.)

I remember sitting in the back of the rental car, listening to "Dark of the Matinée" for the first time. The whole record was like nothing I'd ever listened to before. I wasn't even sure if I liked it. Remember that whole "rerealising 'I like music'" thing? That only happened a few years ago, and didn't come into full swing until the latter half of my first year of college. Up to that point, I'd only really ever listened to the crap on Top 40 radio. This sort of indie dancerock thing was completely foreign to me, as embarrassing as it is to admit that.

"So, yeah," you're saying, "that's great and all, but I still don't see what this has to do with the Olympics." I should point out that all of this went down during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, back when Michael Phelps was making his first bid at walking out of there with nothing but gold. We all know that he didn't succeed that time around, but it was kind of amazing to watch regardless. My family would go back to the condo at the end of the day and watch the games before calling it a night.

In the meantime, I was utterly caught up with "Take Me Out." I listened to it incessantly, every night before I went to bed that week, after having watched Phelps swim. Good God, I was obsessed with that song : the minute-long intro, the way the tempo slowed into something that makes you want to strut, the searing guitars, the "Come onnnnnnnn……take me out!" in the middle of the song, the general sass of it all. I wanted to do nothing but hear that song on repeat again and again. And thus began my love for the New Scottish Gentry whilst everybody else had their sights fixed on Athens.

Franz Ferdinand went on to soundtrack most of my first year of college (indeed, "Michael" still makes me think of stretching out at the gym. Weird but true.), but it wasn't until October 2005, with the release of their second LP, You Could Have It So Much Better, that I got to see them live. It was a seminal moment for me, I think : it was my first concert at Madison Square Garden (at The Theatre, of course, not the arena) and the first time I'd gone into the city on my own to see a show. (Actually, that's not entirely true – my little brother came with me as well.) Possibly more importantly than that, though, is that a mere ten days later, I also saw this other little band that I really liked, OK Go, play in Boston. Oh, and this other little band that I'd never ever heard of before, Scamper, happened to open for them.

I mean, what are the odds of something like that happening ever again?

And I think that's when Franz Ferdinand truly became one of my favourites. I think I'd listed them off as my favourite band prior to that moment, but that was because I was listening to very little else so there wasn't much competition. I didn't get to see Franz play again until April '06, when I skipped a day or two of class to catch them in New York with Death Cab for Cutie and The Cribs (whom I really liked and ventured out to see at Siren '06). And I remember thinking, "Fuck, I really love this band!" I had been so caught up with my fangirling over other groups (*cough*) that I'd forgotten how much I really, truly love Franz Ferdinand's music. Hearing them play "L. Wells" for the first time, live, sort of changed my life. (Also, I got to meet Alex and he was a total sweetheart.)

And so here we are, at the end of the summer of 2008. The Olympics have come and gone; Phelps has gone and got his record-breaking eight medals, and I haven't seen Franz Ferdinand play in over two years. Watching the opening ceremonies and tracking golds on vacation made me remember life from four years ago - fresh out of high school and moving on and rocking out to my CD player (I know, right?) at night. I guess much hasn't change - my family still vacations in Florida (and still invariably has run-ins with hurricanes), I still rock out at night when nobody's watching. I just happen to have graduated from college this time around.

The good news on the Franz front is that they're busy finishing up their third record, which will hopefully drop next year and include lots and lots of tour dates. Until then, they've dropped a new song, "Lucid Dreams," on our heads, which sounds enough like tracks from Franz Ferdinand to remind me why I fell in love with their sassy dancerock in the first place but new enough that I don't get bored.

Franz Ferdinand - "Lucid Dreams"

And really, that's all I could want from them. Four years on, and they're still making me dance. Hopefully I'll be saying the same things about them come London 2012.

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