"Here's My Heart": Braid's 'Frame & Canvas' Turns 20
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Frame & Canvas by the Champaign, Illinois-based band Braid. This album mattered. It mattered when it was first released for what it meant for the punk/emo/hardcore genre. It mattered for what it meant for the band. It mattered for what it meant to me and the thousands (Tens of thousands? Millions?) of kids like me. And yeah, it matters now.
I know I’m not the first to get all fanboy gooey over this album or this band. But lately I’m having a hard time not submitting to the allure of nostalgia, that gorgeous siren. No, it’s not nostalgia. It’s reference to the past, my past. It could be that the last year was a wild one — first year of marriage; dog gets sick; land a new job; wife gets pregnant; lose the new job; dog dies; first child is born. A lot of impactful things have happened personally — internally. And it’s been busy externally, too — all things Trump; the generational war; the race/socio-economic war; the geographical war; Stranger Things 2. In wild times like these, it does one best to cite history for the guidance, clues and cues for how to best navigate the new, but always familiar, waters. And so, I’ve been going back to the well of my favorite movies, books and music for comfort and clarity.
Frame & Canvas is a favorite. Braid is a favorite. As such, the record release of 20 years ago today is worth writing about.
On April 7, 1998, I was a freshman in college at UNLV. I was miserable. The whys and whats of why are too numerous and convoluted to get into here but I can tell you that overall, I felt stale.
I didn’t run out and buy Frame & Canvas on its release day. I don’t remember when I bought the CD but I remember that it did not leave its place in the 6-CD disk changer in my new Volkswagen Golf — my first car — for all of my sophomore year at school. I remember playing it at full volume with the windows down and the sunroof open as one of my sophomore year roommates, Matt Sandoval, and I drove to San Diego for a weekend on the beach. He was impressed with it. It sounded like nothing he’d ever heard before. He wanted more. So did I.
“So I’m told that Chicago’s cold. Can’t be cool as California.” — First Day Back
Braid wasn’t new to me. The released two albums (and a slew of singles and splits and compilations, etc.) but Braid hadn’t resonated with me until Frame & Canvas. The band’s third and final album — before the release of a two-volume compilation of singles and B-sides, and a temp-to-full-time reunion release 16 years later — was just the right mix of nuance that my sensitive, wannabe rockstar heart and ears required. I had even seen Braid perform the earlier stuff at Chicago’s Fireside Bowl several times when they shared the bill with my favorites at the time, The Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids to name two. (Those bands still rank among my favorites, and their albums remain in routine rotation on my turntable, in my iTunes and in my car.) After I completely absorbed every lyric, drum beat, guitar riff and bass line I could from Frame & Canvas, I dove into the older stuff. And now I loved it. All of it. I became a superfan.
Braid broke up in 1999. They went on a one-off reunion tour in 2004. I flew from Las Vegas to Detroit to see them open for Minus the Bear. I still have the ticket stub. It wasn my birthday weekend. It was fucking incredible.
But back to the record at hand…
The songs were about being in a state of certain uncertainty. A place of transition with the balls to step up and have no fear of fucking it all up. The songs were about girls and friends and getting older and being younger and parents and longing and having and missing and distance and places and things and giving a shit and not giving a shit at all.
“We’ve got a lot of great mistakes to make. We’ve a lot of chances to take, so let’s take our time and hurry.” — The New Nathan Detroits
Or that’s how I perceived them. What do I know? I didn’t write them, I only listened to them. It’s that old argument: What Does The Art Mean And Who Does It Mean It To? The album, front to back and back again was everything my tender Midwestern heart was feeling and everything my late teenage brain was thinking
Frame & Canvas was released at the end of my freshman year, but it was wholly consumed throughout my sophomore year. My sophomore year was the year when I was still sad but sick of being sad; bored but sick of being bored; interested but struggling to find something interesting. Throughout the album, there were lyrics that spoke to exactly what I was feeling or thinking, or needed to hear because I hadn’t thought of it that way. And certainly not with that shift in time signature or run down the frets.
It was my sophomore when I shook off the dust and salt and tried new things while staying evermore true to myself. That was the year college started to be enjoyable and life started to suck. That was the year my twenties began and a new, more confident, less afraid David emerged. I didn’t know what a Nathan Detroit was — I didn’t get the reference, but I couldn’t help to relate because there was something both familiar and new about this guy, Nathan. (I later, of course, realized that Nathan Detroit was a reference to the character from Guys and Dolls. The reference and connection still accurately applies.)
One of my longest standing and still best friends, Brian Wolff, once told me, “You treat lead singers like they’re great philosophers.” Yeah, I do. Fuck Socrates. Eat shit, Voltaire. Bite my dick, Angelou. Give me my Nanna, Broach, Portman, Schwarzenbach, Andriano…
I’m not alone in this, I know. Music matters. Bands matter. Singers and guitarists and bassists and drummers matter. They say and play what we want to say and play but can’t because we’re in our own way. And get this; there are bands for the bands, too. Everyone is inspired.
So, it’s 20 years later…
I’ve seen Braid perform live countless times at this point — considering all the times in high school at the Fireside, the reunion show, the quieter shows before the release of the new album in 2014 and the few since. And yeah, I own the VHS and DVD of Killing a Camera, the live performance documentary of the band’s swan song performances. I’m a fan. Superfan.
In the years since Frame & Canvas has been among us, the listening public, it has remained a constant source of companionship. Through girlfriends of distance, through missing my Midwestern roots while living my dear desert life in Nevada, through being married...
“I can’t come home, I’m stuck in a phone booth again. But once in your arms, we’ll rise above the ground. You and me, and the beautiful aerial view… I’m never coming down.” — Collect from Clark Kent
A short departure for a story of a different tone, yet related…
When I was making my move from Las Vegas to Chicago during June of 2007, I stopped in Rock Springs, Wyoming. It was on the way and I had to pee. I also was jonesing for a small town beer. Preferably a draft. I found what I considered a local-enough tavern to piss and throw anchor in, and steered the VW into the small parking lot. I took my piss, drank my beer and scribbled in my notebook. Those writings are somewhere, actually close to me in a well-disheveled filing of notebooks in my desk just to the left of this very keyboard. I’ll spare you the contents of that bar top writing because it’s not good. At least not without music to it…
Point is, while I was drinking and writing, it dawned on me that Braid had recorded a song about Rock Springs, Wyoming. It’s called I Keep a Diary, and as I realized that, I recognized that was living out a song I loved. For I, too, was keeping a diary. Bonus: The date of the diary entry in that song is my wife’s birthday. How about that?
“Ten-ten, ninety-seven… Rock Springs, Wyoming hotel. As far as I can tell, I just don’t miss you anymore.” — I Keep a Diary
OK. So here we are, 20 years later. I embarked on my career, I poured through and over girlfriends, I bought a house with a pool, I lost my virginity, I bought a boat — sort of — I got married, I became a dad, I bought another VW Golf then a VW GTI, I got some cancer, I became a scotch drinker.
The thing about our formative years is that they’re always formative. We don’t grow out of who we were when we were angsty, emotional, needy, angry, confused, certain, brilliant, and dumb-as-fuck teenagers and twentysomethings. That is our base. All of us. That’s why our record collection, and collecting, caps out around the time between our teenage and late twenties years. Unless you’re a music critic or seriously committed to avoiding atrophy in spite of the certain emotional disappointment new music will bring your aging ass, this is true.
But Braid keeps on.
Never mind that the band got back together. Never mind what members went on to do in subsequent years. Never mind that Bob Nanna — guitarist and vocalist of Braid — went on to write — for hire — our wedding song. Yeah, it’s pretty fucking cool that my rock ‘n’ roll emotional hero knows my dog’s name!
How does one reconcile fandom with heroism. I see these guys at shows… they are cool enough and real enough to be friends but incredible enough to pass me over as a passing piece of late ’90s and early 2000s dust. Except that we’re all part of the same thing… The Scene, the listening public. And wouldn’t you know it? My wife hired Braid’s lyricist to pen our wedding song.
The frame… the canvas… it’s still so real and so important.
And if Bob, Todd, Chris, Damen or Roy happen to read this… Thanks. Next time I see you at some show in town, the drinks are on me.