On Mac Demarco and Change
With his ceaselessly playful demeanour, Mac DeMarco currently stands as alternative music’s Goof-in-Residence. His combination of grade school comedy and Alfred E. Neuman grin seem more typical of an amicable neighbourhood jokester than an internationally known musician. Naturally, music publications flock to such a character and document his antics regardless of their relevance. In turn, Mac’s slackest-on-the-block disposition has been introduced to a massive, predominantly youthful, fanbase. And like a line cook at a Denny’s off the interstate, Mac has gone to great lengths to satiate this ravenous network of supporters. Just look at his tour schedule over the past two years – hell, I bet he’s played in your uncle’s backyard at least once in the last eighteen months. Since the release of 2014’s Salad Days in 2014, the 27-year-old musician has progressively become a staple of music media coverage; however it is neither his output nor his artistry at the forefront of examination. Instead, he has received attention for his antics and personage. Be it his review of the new Star Wars film or a jaunt in a rowboat, Mac DeMarco has become known as a musician without actual reference to music. A video with the tagline “Watch Mac DeMarco Try on Too Many Hats…” is not a gag but standard coverage.
Now this is not merely a bid to bash the hero. Mac DeMarco’s music is undeniably catchy and well-crafted, almost defining listenability. After the release of 2, I drove five hours to catch him live, camped in a college dormitory, and felt like the protagonist in a Linklater film the whole damn time. No, this is not a condemnation in any sense, but, like Morrissey sang, “This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.” Maybe my current predilections diverge from the fifteen year old virgin who drank his first Pabst listening to “Annie” (I desperately hope they do), or maybe I gradually developed distaste in place of fatigue. Either way, I shovelled my former fandom and began to treat DeMarco like the joke that wasn’t funny.
But the headlines read differently this time around. Promoting his third LP, “This Old Dog,” DeMarco has sidestepped the gimmicks and has instead spoken candidly about the album’s personal subject matter. Last year his father, who existed as a peripheral character in DeMarco’s upbringing, became deathly ill. While he eventually recovered, the episode profoundly affected the young musician. As art so often arises as the product of pain and confusion, “This Old Dog” acts as the conduit for DeMarco’s inquietude. While distinguishably DeMarco, the characteristically upbeat “jizz jazz” here sounds sombre and self-reflexive. Songs like “Watching Him Fade Away” ponder mortality where DeMarco once crooned about cheap cigarettes and “My Old Man” finds the singer contemplating himself in reference to his father. The result is earnest, sincere, and redeeming in depths previously unreached by the Canadian songster.
Whether resulting from his own intent or by the moulding of the media, DeMarco’s personhood attracts equal consideration to that of his music. On that front, it is evident that the musician known for placing drum sticks in heinous places while on stage has changed. He has spoken about the burden of maintaining such a celebrated personality. He has acknowledged that his concerts routinely devolve into carnivalesque pimple-pits of adolescent indiscretion, but cites Ian Mackaye as an inspiration in offering shows without age restrictions. He namechecks his inspirations and doles out praise. The affable humour remains, bolstered now by substance beyond the lark. Five years on the road and in the studio is a long time. I have changed, you have changed, the credibility of the executive branch of the American government has changed, and Mac DeMarco has too. Look, I massacred a pair of jeans with a razor and dressed like Kurt Cobain for two misguided middle school years, who am I to judge? If the “Salad Days” are truly gone and “This Old Dog” is here to stay, I’m willing to give Mac another crack.
Illustration by Anita Rudakov.