What's In Your Fridge: Jonathan Simkin
What’s in Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz Ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6 cubic-foot refrigerators.
On the grill
Who are you
Jonathan Simkin is: a reformed criminal, a recovered junkie, an over-educated lucky-to-be-alive mutherfucker; a lawyer-hating lawyer; a Jew-loving Jew; a fat body with a rail-thin attitude; as honest and straight as life is brutal and/or a prick with an ice cold heart (depending on who you ask); scared of no one and nothing (except flying); a slayer of majors, a fighter against hypocrisy; a heartbroken Canucks loyalist; a loser of lawsuits; and a lover of gingers. Also, prez of 604 Records and Light Organ Records and pretty good at signing bands that people like.
I assume things like “Hanukah concert at Hebrew school” don’t count here, correct? The first real artist I ever went and saw was Elton John. I am not gonna be able to tell you for sure which year it was. That’s a bit of a blur. But I am going say 1973-ish. (Jesus, I’m old.) I went with a friend and his dad, and I am 90% sure it was at the PNE, though I cannot remember if it was the Coliseum or the Agrodome.
A lot of the finer details are lost now in time, but for some reason what sticks out all these years later is that at one point he was wearing a costume consisting solely of coloured ping-pong balls glued to some kind of leotard. It was so over the top, but he also sang so beautifully and it was really incredible entertainment. Plus, the first album I ever bought for myself was Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, and I remember the thrill of hearing him sing “Daniel”, one of the first songs I fell in love with, and it gave my young mind a glimpse of the endless possibilities of music.
Tempted to go with Nirvana at the Town Pump, but then I remember “Oh yeah, I didn’t actually go to that concert. I have just lied about that so much I almost believe I was actually there”. Then I thought the Who, 1980, but that was more a life-affirming concert! If we are talking life-changing, I gotta go with Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff at Kerrisdale Arena in 1982, and no, not because of the ganja.
I have always been a fan of reggae, but the first reggae album I really got into was a soundtrack of The Harder They Come, which featured Jimmy Cliff. And by the time of this concert, I had also listened to a fair bit of Peter Tosh. But I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so otherworldly. Seeing Peter Tosh prance around the stage, so long and lanky, and covered with what almost looked like bandages, gave him an appearance of a mystical mummy. It was so unlike anything that I had ever seen.
Love Vancouver as I do, it made me realize there was so much going on outside of this city; so many other ways to live. It instilled in me an intense curiosity to find out what these other worlds were about. And okay, I guess it was the ganja too.
Top three records
When I agreed to this, I thought there would be some interesting music questions. Like “What historical bands would you most like to have managed?” (Joy Division and the Band), or “What songs literally bring tears to your eyes?” (“Tank Park Salute” by Billy Bragg, “Something To Talk About” by Badly Drawn Boy). Now those are questions! Ha ha.
Instead, I get a bunch of “favourite” questions. Might as well ask what my favourite fucking colour is. Favourite album? Come on. That’s not how art works. And it is like asking me which of my children is my favourite. Plus, a certain album might be one’s favourite at a particular point in time in one’s life, but then years can go by when it’s not really relevant. (Thanks for letting me bitch and complain there.) I feel much better!
But I do have to set a couple of ground rules. I am going to exclude any artists that I have worked with, and also exclude Greatest Hits. If Greatest Hits were included, then it would be a no brainier: The Best of Lou Bega! And what guided me here was which albums have I gone back to over the years, and not just particular songs, which is tough because I am more a “song guy” than an “album guy”. I fell in love with music listening to AM radio in my dad’s car in the '70s, and that was about songs. I was happy to just push the button’s in my dad’s Oldsmobile to switch between 1410 CFUN and whatever the other station was in Vancouver playing pop music. So for me to actually love an album start to finish is pretty rare. So having said all of that:
The Kinks Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire) If you write down the intended scope of this record, and what Ray Davies was trying to do, it would almost seem laughable, not to mention pretentious. He was trying to tell the story of a certain period of British history over the course of 12 songs. And in some kind of fucked up way, he completely succeeds. This record manages to tackle the horrors of modern life – from the travesty of war, to the mind-numbing boredom of life in the middle class – and does it effortlessly. “Some Mother’s Son” alone makes this album significant. I am a huge Kinks fan, and my favourite Kinks songs are not even on this record, but I am not sure this band (or any other band) ever made a better long-playing record start to finish.
R.E.M. Automatic for the People This album is kind of a downer, but it’s a wonderfully beautiful downer. I remember hearing the rumors flying around at that time that Michael Stipe had AIDS, and when I heard this record, it was easy to believe that. The mood is overwhelmingly one of regret, doom, and sadness, yet it is also unspeakably beautiful. But this was one of the most important bands of the '80s and '90s at their absolute best, both commercially and artistically. They would never hit this peak again, and it was the beginning of the end for them. But that’s another story.
The Who Who’s Next This is the sound of a band at the absolute peak of its power. And as much as I find Daltrey’s vocals to be bombastic and cloying, the power of this band on this album is undeniable. From the use of synths on “Baba O’Riley”; to the insanely melodic bass line in “Getting in Tune”, to the most anthemic of anthems “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, to the palpable paranoia in Entwhistle’s “My Wife”, there is simply not a bad moment, let alone a bad song, on this record. And Keith Moon never sounded more wonderfully chaotic.
Honourable mentions: Eno (Another Green World) Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) The Smiths (Strangeways, Here We Come), Nick Drake (Bryter Layter) Peter Gabriel (Peter Gabriel [1st 1977 solo album]), Hüsker Dü (Warehouse: Songs and Stories) Los Lobos (Kiko), Dylan (John Welsely Harding) Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?) Joy Division (Closer) Elvis Costello (Imperial Bedroom), Love (Forever Changes), Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street) Zumpano (Going Through Changes) Procol Harum (A Salty Dog).
All-time favourite video
Weezer “Buddy Holly” Great song. Great concept. Flawless execution. And Al from Happy Days. Still a gas to watch all these years later.
Honourable Mentions: Beck “Lost Cause” (like watching the slowest, most exquisite car crash ever); Phil Lynott “Old Town” (kind of a cheesy vid, but just goes to show that a compelling charismatic front guy is easily worth as much as a ton of special effects); R.E.M. “Imitation of Life” (I still don’t quite get how they did this); Fatboy Slim “Praise You” (Still makes me laugh out loud).
What’s in your fridge
Aloe Vera Gel. Jews are known for having touchy stomachs. We sometimes refer to it as “Jewish stomach”. So, when I am having a stressful day, and it’s taking the toll on my stomach, Aloe Vera gel is incredibly soothing to the gut. Good times!
Veggie pepperoni. Strange that I haven’t eaten a meat product in over 30 years, yet from time to time I yearn for the taste of pepperoni. Veggie pepperoni looks and tastes like the real thing. I always feel mildly disgusted with myself and guilty afterwards.
Ice packs. Having spent a vast majority of my adult life sitting on fat ass and typing at a computer, the carpal tunnel and the repetitive stress muscle pains are ever present and intense. So, I am in constant need of ice packs to sooth the aching muscles. Even though I am at the age where I can feel myself hurdling towards my demise, I still wanna get a few things done before I kick off and the only way I can do it these days is with an ice pack nearby.