The Weakerthans – Fallow (1997)
Way back in the day, when the green eyes of neo-liberalism beamed along with a wide-eyed grin, and as headlights on trucks carried the first loads of consumer products from maquiladoras in border towns, John K. Samson was chilling in western Canada, recording modest songs with his acoustic guitar on a four track recorder, between days off from shows which took place across that northern prairie, in the minor hamlets and old industrial towns, still existing today in one form or another, which dot the landscape like tiny islands in a great sea of native grains and industrial agriculture.
He left the band he was known for, a well-known punk outfit, soon after recording those first cassettes in 1994, but their political tenets – social equality, ideological veganism, a vow to resist and expose exploitation of others – very much remained a part of his philosophy as he moved onward. He started a publishing company, then a band. The sound of Samson’s music changed over time – some of the rawness from the early work segued into smooth, delicate forms – but in Fallow, Samson’s first recording as the Weakerthans, we can see all of it coalescing together, and it is a great record because of that awkwardness.
For Gerald Wallace, his change came more as an unpleasant surprise than a gift of liberation from earlier, less inspired works. “I felt betrayed,” he said to reporters from Charlotte when his old team came to Portland for the first time in early March. He was unsure of himself, unsure of coming off of the bench, uncertain of the power forward position that Nate McMillan had asked him to supply more often than his traditional spot at small forward. Could he “crash,” as his nickname appropriately indicates an inclination for, with much larger and stronger people than in years past?
What Samson did when he left Propagandhi makes sense – maybe he realized that a great deal of persuasion is rooted in the heart. He still sings political songs on Fallow, but instead of the bluntly ham-fisted rhetoric of his former band, the lyrics are personal and introspective. In the upbeat “Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist,” Samson expresses a life of optimistic, riled-up poverty, allowing his wry narrator to speak of progressive activism through the prism of being young and poor. In a frenzy, Samson shouts out a list of daily exercises, which includes checking out unwashed teeth and “enlist our cat in the upcoming class war.” He was just scrapping, working his way into things, in these tunes.
Betrayal is a strong word, but his usage of it seemed appropriate considering the finagling that the spend-thrift Bobcats did to toss their consistent franchise player out of town after eight hundred years of the team’s up-and-down mediocrity, in exchange for a hurt big man’s expiring contract. But the Bobcats were always a waste of time for Wallace, even if he is only seeing it now through the eyes of the second or third best player, working in much more pleasant working conditions. Things are new and different and it takes time to adjust – but Gerald Wallace seems to be a very quick learner.
It is a change, and like most unexpected things for the Blazers this season (like Brandon Roy’s destroyed knees), it seems to be working out better than expected. Despite his reluctance to shift positions, Wallace provided a burst of energy and unpredictability in what is normally a calm, precise team, expressing himself in ways that seemed to have gone by the wayside when his relationship with his superiors in Charlotte soured. He is shooting better than he had with his old team, and providing wing and post defense superior to the alternatives in a Portland lineup that was already defensively adept.
What Portland will do in the playoffs is not certain, beyond just "winning at least a game or two," obviously: they are facing a thorny opponent in a very strong Dallas squad, and Wallace’s primary opponent will be another pair of stalwart defensive players – Shawn Marion at the wing and Dirk Nowitzki down low. But what Wallace must do to defeat them is the same thing that Samson’s work on Fallow documented in his own evolution as a songwriter: he must be true to his own abilities, play on his knack for unpredictability, and occasionally, swing into some calculated brutality recalling his roots.
Negative Dunkalectics editor Chris Sampson's list of the best Weakerthans records: 1. Left and Leaving 2. Reconstitution Site 3. Reunion Tour 4. Fallow. Follow him on Twitter here. For more Emo Spring NBA Playoff Previews, click here and wallow in your weird combination of nostalgia and embarrassment.