The Indecision of It All

So here it is, my almost Final Draft, a couple of things changed from my final graded version.

If you’re crazy enough, enjoy:

Be prepared for indecision. Those words mark the beginning of the first chorus of “Indecision,” the lead single from Page One, by Steven Page, his first solo album since leaving the band he co-founded with Ed Robertson in 1988, Barenaked Ladies. The song, on the surface, seems like a simple quirky pop love song, but buried underneath the up-tempo cheeriness is a deeper significance tied to the word indecision. The word indecision brings to mind preparation, but preparations to not really do anything.  The word indecision speaks directly to me about my uncertainty, maybe misdirection, of what I want to do with my life; I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. “Indecision,” as a song, sums up a great deal of things to me. The indecision about who I should love, how I should love.  “Indecision” sums up a great deal about what Steven Page needed to do to get to this point in his artistic career. “Indecision” was chosen as the song to kick off the opening chapter of a new direction in the life of Steven Page, and yet it seems like the same direction he was already going.

My initial overview of Steven Page’s library of songs directed me to a completely different song. The song I originally found myself attached to, “War On Drugs,” from 2003’s Barenaked Ladies Album, Everything to Everyone, embodies everything about Steven Page’s talents as a serious artist that I was looking to capture, everything that he wanted the mainstream to notice. “War On Drugs” comes off as a heavier song dealing with serious subjects, like suicide, has weightier lyrics such as, “From the very fear that makes you want to die/ Is just the same as what keeps you alive” (Lines 38 – 39). I wanted to do an in-depth and serious analysis of this song. I got to a certain point and realized this was a heavy topic. Suicide. Depression. These are dark places. Darker than I felt comfortable going to.  There is a complexity in these words, worth exploring, but by me? But here I was stuck, do I continue this way? Or just do nothing. How should I go about his? In my absolute indecisive nature I got an idea. There was this other song, this new song, this, “Indecision” song. It might not be as, deep, or meaningful, on the surface, it might not be dealing with as heavy of a topic, but it’s something worthwhile. It’s about something that hits close to me, that feeling of constant indecision, constantly not knowing what to do. Is the song a light poppy love song, or is it tied to deeper feelings that Page had within him when he wrote it, the internal struggle he had been dealing with for years.

It might make me disappear, “Indecision,” line 7.

Page states that “Indecision” was written with frequent non-BNL collaborator Stephen Duffy, before leaving the band, but was shelved due to an unstated rule within the band about keeping the song writing within the group (Rounder).  Page felt his artistic vision being compromised within the group, known mostly for lighter pop hits such as “One Week” and he felt that they were hiding behind their jokey image (Doherty).

One of the tells of Page’s forthcoming split with the group was his waning involvement in their more recent projects.  Higher profile projects that the band worked on, such as a song for Disney’s mangled and mismanaged Chicken Little (To be fair, nothing could have helped Chicken Little, but that’s a topic for another day) and the theme song to the television series, The Big Bang Theory, both ended up being Ed Robertson songs with little Page involvement.

But then again, my addiction to indecision keeps me here, “Indecision,” Line 9.

Nothing seemed to say more about Page’s dissatisfaction with the direction of the Band than their last full album together, Snacktime, the band’s children’s album, which Page described as, “a lot of fun to do, but it wasn’t [his] idea. [He] was along for the ride” (Campbell). Drummer Tyler Stewart reflects that on the recording of the album, “There were only four guys really participating. A bit of a harbinger? Perhaps” (Campbell).

During this time I last saw the full band together (I’ve since seen the “smaller” version of the band twice) at an E-Town taping in Boulder, Colorado, during the Snacktime Tour, June, 2008. E-Town is a locally recorded but nationally broadcast radio program, part concert, part entertainment show, very liberally, very Boulderesque minded.

Two things instantly stuck in my mind during that experience. This was a band that managed to function so well together that Paul McCartney proclaimed them to be better at harmonizing than the Beatles, “they could out sing us any day of the week” (Halperin). The band, is known for having very entertaining live shows, filled with humorous playful banter, and yet, on this day, there was something about they way they interacted with each other seemed off. Typically the banter would be between Page and Robertson with more thrown in from the rest of the group.  This was different. The chemistry was off.  Something just wasn’t the same. It seemed like two different groups: Page, and the rest of the band. The staging of the band seemed to also imply a divide, the four members grouped together at mid stage, while Page had a sole microphone at stage left.  At one point E-Town Host, Nick Forster, asked the band the reasoning behind making a children’s album, Page was quick to point out that it was NOT his idea, and that his children were far too old to enjoy it and they would be more interested if they were included on Guitar Hero.

The other thing that stuck out to me during the performance was Page’s appearance.  Page generally, with his trademark glasses, had a specific look to him. And that look has always been on, well, the heavier side. Not exactly obese, just husky, I suppose. This time was different. Page was skinny, really skinny, too skinny, almost to the point of unhealthy skinny. I remember thinking, “What is he on?”

I’ve always been a creature of habit, “Indecision,” Line 1.

Smash cut to July 16, 2008. Page arrested for cocaine possession. At this point the band was still midway through a tour for a children’s album. Clearly, this was not the best thing to have happen. “It was incredibly tumultuous, because he didn’t go through it as an individual; he went through it as the guy from Barenaked Ladies, and that was all of us,” Ed Robertson relates (Doherty). Several shows, including a major series of shows at Disney World, needed to be cancelled. Ultimately, the charges were dropped.  The band stated that it was back to business as usual; instead, it was the final nail, marking the end of Page’s involvement with the band. In February of 2009 the split was made official.

Happiest when I don’t know what to do, “Indecision,” Line 4.

Page’s last major contribution to the direction of the band was in 2005, recording music to a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, for Canada’s Stafford Festival.  This album was in direct contrast to the rest of the band’s output of the time, noted by the fact that the songs are only sung by Page, the other band members only performing instrumentally.  Also in direct contrast was the commercial appeal, unlike the other projects, As You Like It was never released as an official album nor is it considered part of the official musical chronology.

After the split Page went on a tour of Folk festivals and Shakespeare festivals fearing he’d be labeled as an eccentric extrovert (Rounder) despite the fact that, well, that seems fairly eccentric. In Early 2010 he released an album of covers, A Singer Must Die, with The Art Of Time Ensemble, a Canadian orchestral group.  Like, As You Like It before it, A Singer Must Die did not get a commercial release in America.

Leave decisions up to fate, “Indecision,” Line 15.

If not for the arrest, Page feels he would still be with the band, despite the rifting friendship between himself and Robertson, still trying to work his artistic vision with the rest of the group (Campbell).

Nothing comes to those who wait, “Indecision,” Line 16.

And yet, he did wait, waited for something so ground shatteringly important that it gave him his excuse to leave.

I can only hear the decisions I’ll make, “Indecision,” Line 20.

Page’s decision to release “Indecision” as his first single seems misaligned with the creative freedom he craved. Why choose this single first? Page states one of the reasons he left the band was because he felt like he wasn’t getting the respect that he felt he deserved, that while “the diehard fans understood the more serious songs” he still “felt like a lot of what we did that was really good didn’t get the attention it merited” (Campbell). Page points to one specifically biting critical review, “‘The only thing worse than a comedy band are a comedy band’s serious songs.’ Page’s thoughts on this?  ‘Oh God, that hurts.’” (Campbell). The remaining band members offer a more optimistic viewpoint to the same problem:

Well, no. We never felt cornered by it because we always had such a huge fan base of people who got it and responded to it. The fact that the critical press didn’t “get” the band, it’s sorta like, Eh. It’s too bad, but we’re okay with it. (Pastorek)

Page’s reasoning is that he wants to be respected, understood, get the adoration he feels he never got, but deserves, and yet after all this, why would he choose this to be the lead song? Something that sounds so, specifically, well, poppy. Light. A song that sounds like a typical Barenaked Ladies song. This is a man known for writing love songs that are not actually about actual love, but break ups. Songs about depression, that might be humorously minded, or pop culturally influenced, such as “Brian Wilson,” but deep underneath the pop coating, lays a serious meaning. Page’s lone solo contribution to the Snacktime album, was the especially moody, “Bad Day” a song that is about childhood depression, and comes across believable and so real that it taps into our own dormant childhood emotions.

“Indecision” is a lyrically quirky, up-tempo song. Exactly like the types of songs the mainstream knows him for. It doesn’t seem like this is the deep and meaningful serious stuff that he wanted to convey.  Meanwhile his former band mates, the ones who Page claimed hid behind their jokey image, instead went out and did the opposite. They opened their first post split-album, All In Good Time, with a somber, moody personal ballad, “You Run Away.” No jokey lyrics. No songs about monkeys.  These guys are the ones who are not afraid to revel in the joking. Not afraid to keep on doing the goofy act. “You Run Away” is not afraid to show you its heart, and more. The song is also not afraid, while not specifically pointing it out, to tell you exactly WHO, ran away. Not afraid to point at exactly where the pain is coming from.

Page’s “Indecision” decision seemingly counters this by, well, not knowing what it should be about. Here was a man, who in the last three years made some pretty big life altering decisions and opens up his big artistic expression by, well, seemingly doing exactly what he was already comfortable doing instead of going out and stating what it really should be about. He comes off as if he’s the one hiding behind the safe jokey exterior.  Maybe this is a less obvious attempt at irony. Maybe this is the indecision of it all.

Works Cited.

Barenaked Ladies. “Your Run Away.” All In Good Time. Rasin’ Records. 2010. CD.

Barenaked Ladies. “War On Drugs.” Everything To Everyone. Reprise. 2003. CD.

Barenaked Ladies. “Bad Day.” SnackTime. Desperation Records. 2008. CD.

Campbell, Geoff. “One Difference Between Canadian and American Media.” Blogger. 22 July 2009. Web. 27 September 2010. <http://geoffatmountallison.blogspot.com/2009/07/one-difference-between-canadian-and.html>

Doherty M. “Barenaked About Former Bandmate.” Maclean’s [serial on the Internet]. (2010, Mar 29), [cited September 19, 2010]; 123(11/12): 81. Available from: Academic Search Elite.

E-Town. Host. Nick Forster. Boulder Theatre. Boulder, CO. Recorded 13 June. 2008. Originaly Broadcast 13 September 2008. Live Perfomance.

Halperin, Ian. “Paul McCartney Says Barenaked Ladies Sing Much Better Than Fab Four.” Ianundercover.com, 13 December 2008. Web. 27 September 2010. <http://ianundercover.com/2008/12/13/iuc-paul-mccartney-says-barenaked-ladies-sing-much-better-than-fab-four/>

Page, Steven. “Indecision.” Page One. Zoe Records, 2010. CD.

Pastorek, Whitney. “Barenaked Ladies Frontman Ed Robertson Talks About Their First Album Without Steven Page.” EW Online. Entertainment Weekly. 9 March 2010. Web. 27 September 2010. <http://music-mix.ew.com/2010/03/09/barenaked-ladies-ed-robertson-all-in-good-time/>

Rounder. “Steven Page: About.” Rounder Records Website. 2010. Web 27 September 2010. <http://www.rounder.com/stevenpage/about>

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