What’s in a Name?

March 15, 2024

One day, I’ll be able to tell you how important Gordon, the debut album from Barenaked Ladies, is to me. Fifteen tracks, just under an hour long, the soundtrack to so many essential memories. It wasn’t the first album of theirs that I owned. Like most Americans, I learned of the band from their 1998 single “One Week.” Stunt, its album, is a pop rock extravaganza full of silliness – to be expected, given the opening track. But it’s also full of emotional vulnerability: melancholic romance, angry declarations, tender pining. So much of it spoke of worlds I couldn’t understand but knew that I wanted to explore. The album became a star; the Citgo sign fueled by ’90s alt-rock in place of neon.

But for the band, it became something else: a dividing line. The album came ten years after the band formed, their fourth since 1992’s Gordon. It made them famous, and fame is a pressure cooker. Bonds are strengthened while cracks become fissures. Four albums and eleven years later, co-founder Steven Page left the band.

This is another dividing line, a more important for me. I love most of the albums released before 2009, and like a bunch of songs from the other two. But everything that comes after Page left is…just not the same. Maybe I’m repulsed simply because one of the two original members is missing. Maybe I stopped caring because the music just isn’t as good.

Music is full of duos: Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Flansburgh/Linnell. I’d put Steven Page and Ed Robertson in that group, any day. Because it’s not about how many people like your songs – it’s about how intensely they matter to the people who do like them. And the songs of Barenaked Ladies changed my life. I love them, and am grateful that these two guys met all those years ago in Scarborough, Ontario.

But here’s the problem: when one member of the core duo leaves, is the larger organism the same? I do not think so. If John Linnell left They Might Be Giants, the name dies too. That doesn’t mean the remaining musicians can’t continue, building and growing for years. But it’s a dividing line. To keep the same name seems disingenuous. And, frankly, lazy.

There are so few opportunities to create an identity. I don’t know why Ed and the remaining three guys don’t do that – but exploring my thoughts and creating a psychological hypothesis seems unnecessary right now. And, frankly, insulting. These are human beings with human frailties and dreams; I should step back and just appreciate what they have created with their life’s work. So I’ll close this computer and go listen to their albums. The songs will tell me everything I need to hear.


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