Did You Pick up Your Dry Cleaning?

Do you like good music?” is a question that resonates more than 50 years after Sam Cooke, Arthur Conley, and Otis Redding first asked it in 1967. “Yeah, Yeah!”, has always been my unequivocal answer, but like natural resources, it seems rarer and rarer to find these days. So, I must continue my Covid thank you series with a heartfelt Thank You to my friend James Cheney for introducing me to the band Dry Cleaning.

From South London to Midtown Toronto via East Lansing

Cheney heard Dry Cleaning’s song Scratchard Lanyard somewhere within earshot of Michigan State University’s student radio station WDBM IMPACT 88.9 and sent me a link, along with the heads-up:

“The band members may or may not have The Fall in their music library.”

James Cheney, from Michigan

For me, it was love at first hear. The Fall was John Peel’s favourite band, a favourite of Cheney and one of mine as well. Frontman Mark E. Smith of The Fall had a unique vocal delivery and stage presence. His devotion to his craft meant that he almost literally died on stage doing what he loved, performing his last view shows while confined to a wheelchair. Sadly, that reminds me of Bette Midler dancing in a motorized wheelchair while dressed as a mermaid. If there was ever a “confederate statue” in need of being torn down…

Even with all their baggage, The Fall was ground-breaking and essential. There was always a beat, at times danceable, at times enough to make you feel like you were hungover. Mark and crew made you feel something but never like you we being ripped off by some corporate suck-ups. It was fun, and it was art.

The rise again of The Fall?

Singer and lyricist Florence Shaw reminds me of Mark E. Smith, not only in terms of delivery but also lyrics themselves, and her stage presence. In terms of presence, she seems like she’d rather be any other place on earth rather than fronting a band, while at the same time knowing she is exactly where she is supposed to be, and would die if she wasn’t delivering her lyrics with Dry Cleaning.

I suspect William S. Burroughs would be on board

In a KEXP interview, Shaw says her lyrics are snippets of conversations she has overheard over the years while on the bus, eating chips, popping over to The Rovers for a pint, or whatever it is they do in South London. That reminds me of William Burroughs’ writing, of connecting fragments of reality and creating something that is very intimately your own, but also something universal. We’re all on the same bus, but we all have our own memories to filter out what we see through our own window.

In pictures, Burroughs is almost always smartly dressed, as if his 3-piece suit was fresh from a mythical dry cleaner on The Bowery. He had a very dry delivery, too, and his topics of discussion were often centered around street scat, something dry cleaning removes. Maybe there is a connection, but likely I am nuts, just like you. Image though: William Burroughs, on a bus, carrying his dry cleaning.

We are the Mods, We are the Mods, we are… …Dry Cleaning!

There’s a certain minimalism inherent in the Dry Cleaning sound that reminds me a bit of Sleaford Mods which I find extremely interesting. It makes me think that maybe there is something important happening in England in terms of music again, something I find so direly lacking in current Canadian and American music. Live in-studio performances and interviews with both bands on KEXP can be found on YouTube, and when you listen to the artists respond to questions, the most refreshing part is that they seem like actual human beings.

There’s adults in the room/studio

The members of Dry Cleaning (Shaw, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard, and drummer Nick Buxton) all come across as thoughtful adults. They’re not idiot rock stars and they’re not idiots anxious to sell their soul, and maybe even give up their #hashtagging to become rock stars. I find it very refreshing that these are actual people, people I might be able to have a conversation with beyond a nod. They don’t seem anxious to become heroin junkies for the sake of one good taste, which is essentially what most North American bands seem to crave.

Give Dry Cleaning a shot

Dry Cleaning has that same “feel” for me, and that is most certainly a good thing, not unlike the feeling of getting a COVID-19 shot. Yes, there IS hope.

Fun Fact: I had tickets to see The Fall back in the day, but Mark E. Smith socially distanced himself from Toronto because of the SARS outbreak and cancelled the gig.

George Perry, from Toronto

Check out Dry Cleaning on Facebook, on their website, or at 4AD.

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