By Matthew Stella
Propagandhi plays Ritual on August 12th with RVIVR and War on Women. In the lead-up to the show, longtime fan Matthew Stella will reflect on how the band has impacted his life by reviewing a different Propagandhi song approximately every day until August 12th.
Song: “Things I Like”
Album: Failed States
First Listen: 2013
When you’ve made a career out of articulating every little thing that you see wrong with the world then I’m sure at some point people start to see you as a negative person. Chris Hannah probably drew on this experience when he wrote “Things I Like,” which is literally just a list of things he likes. The first verse goes like this:
“I like Kurt Russell as Captain Ron. Grace Under Pressure on in almost any circumstance. I like dark planetariums. I like when she wears them low-cut shirts and yoga pants. I like unbroken snow on lodgepole pine boughs. The rusty pump of a jay’s forest communiqué. And I like a rowdy fuckin’ Pride parade.”
It’s quite the eclectic mix to say the least. I think his love of Grace Under Pressure kind of comes out of the blue, but it makes sense, it was a pretty good album. The point being, it is obvious that somewhere along the way of analyzing all of the bullshit that goes on in this world and distilling it into one and a half to three minute treatises backed by an enormously talented rhythm section Chris Hannah would have learned to like some things.
Obviously there is some sarcasm here. The lyrics are just too simple and too direct. It’s almost as if someone was calling him out on his negativity and he said, “I can write a positive song too,” and scribbled these lyrics down on a napkin. But I feel that in this song’s extreme sincerity lies the real criticism (you knew there had to be some criticism). “Positivity” is a rhetorical tool used by reactionaries and liberals alike. It’s as though, in the face of insurmountable criticism, they can just play the “you’re being too negative” card as a way to nullify any claim. What’s worse is when the label switches from “negative” to “cynical,” as though pointing out all of the shitty things that are wrong with the world in the hopes that they might get better is cynicism. It’s not.
For Chris Hannah and the rest of Propagandhi, the critiques of oppressive power structures, governments and discourses that justify neo-imperialist conquest are balanced by years of activism, education, relief work, and support from individuals and groups that seek to confront power head-on to make positive, structural change. To deny their critique on account of its negativity is to ignore all of the work they put in to improve the world. This is the ultimate cynicism.
I’ve been called cynical a fair bit in my life. This mainly occurred while I was at my most political. I would never hesitate to speak my mind, and express my dissatisfaction at the current state of the world. This was during the Bush Administration and the early days of the War on Terror, so needless to say there was a lot to be dissatisfied about. Now the funny thing is I spent a lot of time travelling, living in different places and experiencing the world, and in those years I turned away from political activities to focus on writing stories that had little, if anything, to do with politics. When I moved back to Canada and saw people from my university days, they would often comment on how I’d changed, how I’d become less cynical. But in my mind it was the exact opposite. I still believed much of the same stuff I did before, I still believed the world was fucked up. I didn’t think Obama was any better than Bush, but I wasn’t politically active and I largely kept my opinions to myself. If I did talk politics it would usually be party politics and I would talk about it from a detached level, like I was talking about sports, rather than saying that party politics is all bullshit and we should burn down Parliament Hill (something I’ve never stopped believing). I had ignored my political beliefs to live a life that was only self-fulfilling. And for that I was called LESS cynical?
So this song, to me, begs the questions “what is cynicism?” Is it pointing out the problems that you see and would like to change, or is it slapping a smiley face over every problem in the world and partying like everything is fine when it clearly isn’t? It’s obviously nice to hear that there are things in this world that Chris Hannah likes, even if one of them is the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it would be a waste of a great mind and a great band if this were all Propagandhi songs. So just to remind everyone that this is still the same old Chris Hannah singing he ends the song with, “I like speculative fiction – dark narratives of the future that looms. Of our impending doom.”It sounds bleak, but you know that he and the band are still fighting for some redeemable quality left in humanity or they would have thrown in the towel years ago.