I think the first time I heard the phrase “49th parallel” was while listening to the 1993 song “The Lazy Boy” by Moxy Früvous. “The Lazy Boy” is a song about the United States (maybe?), sung from the standpoint of Canadians. The song contains odd lyrics comparing furniture to countries, such as “I put my feet on the ottoman empire,” and at one point the singer croons:
I was a down and out Canuck
Now I have put my faith in lazy luck
Since they removed all the barriers
It’s not a very good song, in my humble opinion. But it introduced me to the notion of the 49th parallel, which is shorthand for “the United States – Canada International Border,” aka, the longest international border in the world. Where I live, in the eastern portion of the United States, the US-Canada border is rather curvy and bumpy, with Great Lakes forming parts of it. But from Minnesota all the way out to the Pacific, the border is a nice, long line along the 49th parallel north, as determined by a treaty between the US and Great Britain in 1818, decades before Canada was even its own nation.
Now I have a choice here. I can either talk about the borders of the United States, which is a particularly fraught topic right now, or I can talk about Moxy Früvous. I’m going to choose the latter.
I discovered Moxy Früvous on Usenet. Usenet was an early internet discussion system. It was kind of like a precursor to internet “forums” that followed. Back in the mid-1990’s, Usenet was the place to go to chat about anything and everything with like-minded people around the world. I was never much of a Usenet user — I spent a little time on rec.arts.drwho, of course. It was the place to discuss a particular British science-fiction show I might have liked at the time. (By “at the time,” I mean “at every time in my life, save the first seven years or so, which we call the dark time.”) But that’s not where I discovered Moxy Früvous. That was on alt.music.barenaked-ladies, a newsgroup to discuss the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. (I would like to say here that I became a fan of them in 1994, long before they became popular in the states. My only hipster cred. So there.) There was a thread on there about what other bands one might like if one liked Barenaked Ladies, and Moxy Früvous was mentioned. I picked up one of their albums, Bargainville, and found it to be okay. Folky and acoustic and sometimes rather political.
But Barenaked Ladies — they were my band. They had me at “absence makes the heart grow fungus.” They had me at “Drove downtown in the rain / 9:30 on a Tuesday night / Just to check out the late-night record shop.” (This was true of me! I had driven down to Toones on 19th St. around that time of night!) They had me at “I wake up scared, I wake up strange / I wake up wondering if anything in my life is ever gonna change.” The lead singer looked like me. I felt like they were writing my life story in advance. They had a song called “Enid,” which was about letting go of a breakup. In it are these lines: “It took me a year to believe it was over / And it took me two more to get over the loss.” At the time I heard it, I was still in those two years of getting over a particular loss, of a relationship with someone whose name was remarkably similar to the name Enid! (These are the kinds of — ahem — “coincidences” I thought were very meaningful at the time.) And this was all on their first album, Gordon, the only album they had at the time. I had a very close friend who went to college in Wisconsin. I guess he was close enough to Canada to discover them, because he brought me back a copy of Gordon on Christmas break our freshman year.
I bought all of their albums. (Although I just checked, and I’ve apparently fallen a little behind. Music just isn’t as important as it used to be.) I saw them in concert three times. My roommate and I named our post-college apartment “The Old Apartment” after a Barenaked Ladies song. They continued to write my life:
There is nowhere I would rather be
But I can’t just be right here
An enigma wrapped in a mystery
Or a fool consumed by fear?
(“For You,” 2003)
Your heart’s got a heavy load
There’s still a long way to go
Keep your eyes on the road
I lie awake
I’m adrift without a snowflake
(This song was released when I was “stuck in limbo” after finishing my internship, but waiting for what ended up being eleven months before actually being ordained and called to a congregation.)
You’re looking for something, that you’ll never find
You’ve got the questions, you’ve got the time
You’ve got the bruises, to show you’ve been blind
‘Cause you’re looking for something, that you’ll never find
(“Something You’ll Never Find,” 2007)
Anyone with half a heart would help me out
Before they ever let the other half find out
But if they could see how far I’ve let you down
Anyone with half a heart would let me drown
(“Half a Heart,” 2007)
And so on, and so forth. I once wrote a song which included these lyrics:
The Barenaked Ladies can write my songs
But there’s nobody out there to right my wrongs
And that’s my 49th parallel story. I gotta go and buy those new BNL albums. A shame Toones isn’t there anymore.