Red Rider releases Neruda, Tom Cochrane rails against “trendy bullshit”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 15, 1983

By Steve Newton

Red Rider plays the Commodore Ballroom Tuesday, April 19. I spoke to the group’s lead vocalist and songwriter Tom Cochrane over the phone from Toronto last Monday.

I understand your group had a bus accident in the Rocky Mountains not long ago.

Well we lost a wheel going through the mountains, and the bus kind of slipped off to the side of the cliff, but our bus driver regained control of it.

Were you fearing for your life?

I was asleep [laughs]. It was about three in the morning. It woke me up, but sort of after the fact. Some of the other guys were up in the lounge, and they were slightly petrified, but I had passed out with a John Irving novel on top of me.

Which authors have influenced the lyric style you use in Red Rider?

This album is named after Pablo Neruda, and i’d say that he probably influenced the main body of it. He’s a Chilean poet. The album wasn’t directly based on his work, but a lot of the moods and textures, and some of the ideals on the album have strong parallels with his work. I used him as a metaphor for the character that’s stumbling his way through the album.

There’s an overall theme, which is the survival of the individuals at times when everything in society is undermining that individuality. It’s abut standing up for your beliefs in spite of the odds. I think that in the computer age, and the age where there’s the threat of nuclear war continually hanging over our heads like a dark cloud, thats it’s easy to get beaten down and I think one of the things rock and roll has always stood for is survival of the individual and freedom of thought. A lot of those themes are explored in this record.

I used Neruda as a metaphor for that because Pablo Neruda was chastised for being the sort of individual who wrote what he felt he had to write. He got expelled from his homeland for his beliefs.

Where did the idea for “Power (Strength in Numbers)” come from?

The idea behind that was spawned when I was witness to a jumper at Toronto City Hall about a year ago January. There were people chanting “Jump” and a lot of people looking indifferent–and I became really depressed and repulsed by the whole thing. I thought about the whole crowd dynamics and the fact that there was a lot of excitement generated by this sort of thing, and that people really liked to court this kind of tragedy.

What about “Napoleon Sheds His Skin”? That’s kind of a strange title.

That is, once again, a metaphor. Napoleon is a metaphor for power and how power corrupts. That song is basically about the pressure, the elixir of power and the fact that we’re all drawn to power in different ways. It’s a corrupting force and an erosionary force, and it undermines all the good in mankind.

In the end of that particular song the character has been captured. It’s about an incident that actually happened in Latin America. He was captured by the forces that were in power in that particular country, and in the end he found himself in jail, realizing that he really didn’t want a lot of the things that he had gotten involved in and the power that he was striving for. All he wanted was to be with his loved one and his family.

And I could relate very strongly to [Dire Straits’] Love Over Gold album, when it came out, because of that. We explored some of the same themes that they did. It’s funny that the albums should parallel and be released at relatively the same time.

Did your first album, Don’t Fight It, have the themes of power as well, or was it more just a collection of fun tunes?

Most of the song that have gained attention for the band have been the songs that have been somewhat thematic, and there’s a few songs on Don’t Fight It that perhaps lack the depth of a “Lunatic Fringe” or a “Napoleon Sheds his Skin”. “White Hot” got most of the attention, and that was one of our more left-field songs.

We began to realize during As Far as Siam that we were one of the lucky bnads in that we could do the kind of material that we wanted to do and indulge ourselves, and that people were still responding to it. That was the secret to our success. “White Hot” and “Lunatice Fringe” were the songs that we thought were least likely to get any airplay, but we really wanted to have those songs on record. So we got them on record, and they turned out to be the songs that got the lion’s share of the attention The were never the songs that we thought would be the singles.

Do you think there’s too much “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” in rock and roll today?

Well I have said that haven’t I [laughs]. I think there’s a lot of junk, a lot of crap out there, and I’m tired of journalists and writers trying to justify a lot of it and trying to place a lot of it on pedestals. I think there’s a lot of material out there that doesn’t deserve to be on record–it’s a lot of trendy bullshit. And I think a lot of the press and a lot of the radio reaction to things is based primarily on fashion and on trendiness rather than on substance.

I think that bands like ours tend to get overshadowed by a lot of this junk. It comes and goes so quickly that two months down the line you can barely remember the names of some of these bands and artists.

I don’t understand why some very intelligent people in press and in radio seem to respond to this kind of thing. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel it’s a threat to them. They like to think that they’re above it, but as soon as anything comes along that challenges their own intellect it scares them.

But there is a lot of good music too. There’s a  lot of really relevant new music and it is going through an exciting period right now.

Where did you find the cover art for the Neruda album?

It was a collaborative effort between myself, [keyboardist] Steve Sexton and the designer Hugh Syme. It was just an idea that I had, and I was really determined that the artwork should tie in with the feel of the music, and the whole theme of the album.

It’s sort of an image of a man disintegrating.

Yeah, a lot of people call him The Nuked Man. He’s still standing in a very proud pose, and yet he is disintegrating. He’s almost like a jazz figurine–the kind of thing you’d see etched on a shield of the Mika indians or something.

Living in Toronto, and having your management in Vancouver, do you find any differences between the music scenes on the east and west coasts?

I find the attitude is much better in Vancouver–and I’m not saying that because I’m talking to a Vancouver paper–I truly believe that. I think there’s much better interaction between musicians, and a much more active musical community in terms of sharing ideas in Vancouver. Toronto is much more competitive and more cutthroat that way.

It’s very common to slip down to The Savoy and find people from Chilliwack playing with people from Loverboy, or Bryan Adams jamming with people from Chilliwack. That sort of thing goes on all the time. I find that it’s exciting and fun and a real good opportunity to share ideas and stimulate each other.

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