Pride: “Pride (In the Name of Love)” – U2

In fifth grade I became suddenly and almost pathologically obsessed with U2. It was at this year’s class Christmas party that I consumed seven cupcakes, followed shortly by my first slow-dance, ever. My partner was the inimitable Christie Cameron who, in her mismatched Chuck Taylor’s and Lee jeans safety-pinned to the knee, was about the raddest thing under five feet tall. From the requisite arm’s-length apart, we moved in stiff-legged circles to “All I Want Is You”, and after a few minutes in, Christie moved closer and asked, “Do you have The Joshua Tree?” I backed away a bit, terrified she might feel my boner against her leg, and proudly exclaimed: “Yes.” The next day I had my dad drive me to a shopping mall where I bought the record, using all eight dollars of my allowance savings. I got it home, heard the opening chords of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and from that point forward, I swore there would be no turning back. I wanted to run, hide, tear down whatever walls, regardless of barbed wire or little bits of glass stuck in the top, that had been holding me inside – inside, what I realized, amounted to a void of musical ignorance. 

Wrath: “All the Things I Wasn’t”
– The Grapes of Wrath

I remember watching this video as a kid and being confused. There were a bunch of guys in a house, and all of them had the same haircut, and that haircut happened also to be the same as my mom’s. And then there was the guitar part of the actual song, which sounded like it should have been played on a lute or a lyre or some other sort of instrument that you might find lying around the dressing rooms at Medieval Times. Still, there was something captivating about the chorus – “Tell me all the things I wasn’t/Could have made that big a difference/To all the things you are” – the meaning of which I still can’t quite wrap my head around. Also was the enigma of the group’s name: I had a vague idea of what “wrath” entailed, but having grapes as its perpetrator just seemed absurd. So in typical pre-pubescent deductive fashion, I began piecing together what I did know to eke some sense out of the entire business. What I came up with was this: the men with women’s haircuts were, in fact, grapes… no, no, I’m just joking. I have no idea what at twelve years old I would have made of this song. And goddamn if I don’t feel plenty wrathful about it to this day.

Envy:  “Can I Kick It?” 
– A Tribe Called Quest

Somewhere along the tricky climb of adolescence I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be black. And so began a calculated, methodical process of appropriation, and for a brown kid living in suburban Ontario, I fared about as well as one might expect. But I did at least have the fortune of having a half-Jamaican friend, Jeff, who I grew immensely close to during this time. We would play basketball, shave lines into each other’s hair, trade VHS tapes of Rap City episodes – all in the name of approximating, as closely as possible, a culture of which both of us had only cursory knowledge. One of the seminal albums of this time period, and one that still remains a favourite of mine, is Tribe’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Jeff and I would pop the cassette into his dad’s Genexxa hi-fi and rhyme and dance along to Phife and Q-Tip. Quickly I realized how much better Jeff was at this than me. His Running Man was a fluid, seamless thing of beauty. When Phife broke into Patois, Jeff was right along with him, while I could only make confused imitations of the foreign sounds. In time this carved a divide between me and Jeff, culminating in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, when some Somali kids moved into his housing complex. These were real blacks – from Africa, no less – and  I certainly wasn’t ready for this sudden clash of fantasy and reality. Jeff, meanwhile, had found a community. 


There are no songs about gluttony. Actually, I’m not even sure I know what gluttony is.

Greed: “Greed” – Fugazi

My older stepbrother Ron was always one step ahead of the hardcore music game. He had a copy of Fugazi’s Repeater before it was Repeater + 3 Songs; he owned a Dayglo Abortions album before he could drive a car. He liked his music loud, and he liked it angry. Also, when I was in junior high he liked to stumble home drunk at four in the morning, haul me out of bed and throw me into our backyard swimming pool, where I was forced to paddle around until dawn. Ron would sit on the diving board smoking cigarette after cigarette, his feet dangling inches above the water, and threaten: “Don’t even think about trying to get out of there, kid.”  If I did make a move for land, he’d bash me with a pool noodle until I retreated back into the water. I want desperately now to make some connection with all of this to Greed, to maybe infuse this story with some sort of moral lesson, to say that in the end Ron helped me from the pool, that we embraced or high-fived or something, but the truth is things were never like that. The only greed in this story is the greed of a teenage boy who was tired and cold and wanted to go back to bed, which really isn’t so greedy at all.

Sloth: “Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Playthings”
– Palace Brothers

I think this must have been the first Palace song I ever heard. Immediately, I was struck not by the beauty and honesty of the lyrics, nor the simple, plaintive melodies, but instead by this thought: “I can sing like that.”  Having not had much luck as a rapper (see “Envy”) I decided in high school that I could at least make a go of being a hapless slack-rocker, and Will Oldham’s model seemed a good one to follow. So I went through the painful process of learning some guitar chords, sat through various Palace songs with stereo remote in hand, hitting pause every few seconds to scrawl down lyrics (I am well aware of the Nerd Alert sirens this is setting off). I was initially quite eager, but unfortunately this all happened during a time in my life that I also discovered laziness. The guitar playing didn’t last – bar chords proved entirely too difficult, and practicing seemed to be cutting into time I could have spent eating Doritos or playing Sega Genesis or watching “Perfect Strangers” re-runs. So the guitar disappeared into a closet, and any plans of future rock stardom were shelved in favour of far, far less complicated things.

Lust: “Lust for Life” – Iggy Pop

I’m going to admit right away that I hadn’t heard this song before seeing the movie Trainspotting. Whether this discredits it as a legitimate choice here is beside the point – I don’t even particularly like the song, anyway. What is important is that in my first year of university, this was the big hit at our ridiculous campus dance bar. On Thursday nights hordes of undergrads would get liquored up and converge on “The Underground,” named entirely due to its location in the food court basement, and certainly not because it was the nexus of some cutting-edge subculture. For whatever reason the music played at The Underground was almost exclusively British, prompting anyone with even a passing connection to the United Kingdom to affect silly accents and bop around telling each other to “Sod off!” There were lots of “blokes” who looked like the guy from Blur, and even more who looked like the guy from Oasis, and occasionally there would be fights between the two camps. Then there were the girls in their mini-skirts and go-go boots – or perhaps, more likely, jeans and Radiohead t-shirts. And so it was precisely these people, in all my undergraduate misanthropic glory, who were the best to make fun of. This was done from afar, and usually out of jealousy, as the Brit Poppers seemed for whatever reason to be the ones finding love – or at least some sweaty, drunken groping – under the pulsing lights and disco ball-spangled ceiling of The Underground.

[Forever after at


"A B-Side of Musical Virtues" follows shortly


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