Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hanson grows up

In a world full of plastic pop stars taken right from the cover of Lisa Simpson's Non-threatening Boys Monthly magazine, I saw these three children (the oldest one not only still too young for me to take serious notice, but also embarrassingly overshadowed by his "no other word for it" pretty middle brother) performing some fluffy bubblegum pop tune on MTV one morning as I was dragging my ass out of a motel room near the beginning of my two-month trans-Canada road trip. It was 1997. The tune was pretty meaningless, but it was catchy. I occasionally enjoy pretending I'm a high-school boy with a crush on someone like Nick Carter or the queenie one from New Kids on the Block [don't actually care enough to google for his name], but Hanson were all just way too young — if I had had a son right after college, he would've been about the right age to have a crush on the middle one. I wound up buying their Middle of Nowhere disc mostly as a prank on my friends who feign concern over my taste for younger men, nearly fainting when I expressed interest in a man who was almost two years older than I am, as a sort of a "You think I'm a chicken hawk? At least the guys I chase after are legal!" I put it in about the same category of serious musical interest as Weird Al Yankovic or Björk or Dick Feller.

The joke was on me. Unlike Back Street Boys or N'Sync or New Kids or Insert Interchangeable Boy Band Here, these children wrote their own songs, wrote their own lyrics, and played their own instruments, and they worked more on the song than on the choreography. Sure, the love song written by the pre-teen youngest brother was impossible to take seriously, so I always skipped over it, but that was a matter of limited life experience, not lack of musical talent. Put it this way: it was as good writing as the short story I did in fourth grade, and I like to think I've gotten better with experience. On the other hand, I can only just carry a tune in a bucket if I have a little help from a dozen of my friends.

Of course, the fact that I associate Hanson music with the great prairies and mountains of the Canadian west — including pulling off the road to wait out a summer thunderstorm while listening to "Where's the Love" and "Man from Milwaukee" — doesn't hurt their case, because Canada is Shangri-La or Tir na nOg, or something like that. Everything Canadian is wonderful — Degrassi, Matthew Ferguson, Rush, Queer As Folk, the last couple of years of X Files, half of Showtime's schedule, really just about everything except Celine Dion. Oklahoma isn't yet a province of Canada, but I'm patient. I can wait.

But I digress. After four years, Hanson has a brand new album released on their very own indie label, and it has reached #1 on the indie charts. Did I mention these Tulsa boys are serious about music? Their bubblegum pop roots still show, but so does the talent underneath, and (gasp!) artistic integrity. The oldest one also has graduated from gawky jailbait with braces to a bit more of a Matthew Fox look. I didn't even recognize the youngest one, who once saw himself in a video and asked "Who's the pretty girl?"

I'll close with a quote from the middle brother:

It’s not about us. Music is going down because it sucks. But you [the audience] have the power to change that. — Taylor Hanson, fall 2004