Guest Post No. 25: Poet Jeremy Stewart

Jeremy Stewart is a poet/musician from Prince George, British Columbia. His book are 100% guaranteed fabulous, good, dark and moving. His first collection, “flood basement” is a stirring portrait of disaffected youth in northern BC and his latest, “Hidden City” is a gorgeous exploration of the guts of a place and its people. Here he is writing about the late, great Meow Records and the  single by Corey Wintemute, “Oh Jughead” b/w “Hiram Lodge”

Prince George was once home to the best record store in Canada. At least according to CBC. The Searchlight competition for best record store was a “vote early, vote often” affair, and Meow Records was brilliant at motivating its passionate support base. Owner Bryndis Ogmundson had been the Music Director of CFUR 88.7 FM Campus and Community Radio at the University of Northern British Columbia, and she had already done more than her share to support local music in Prince George when she founded the store; we were happy to reciprocate. Meow Records was a place where concerts happened (on the so-called “Awkward Stage,” built by Christopher Earl), where people hung out, and oh yeah, bought a small amount of music—too small, as it turned out.

When Meow Records won the Searchlight competition, Bryndis got to choose who she would bring to perform at the store while it was featured on national CBC. She chose Chad VanGaalen, a favourite on CFUR as well, and sure enough, Chad VanGaalen and Grant Lawrence appeared one day and the store was stuffed with people and music and people buying music. I was there briefly, but it was pretty crammed. It felt like we would have a great record store forever, and there was a dynamism in the air that really did feel national in scale.

It was in that heady mood that the Meow Records Wax Society was born. Bryndis planned and sold the Wax Society as a subscription service that would provide a locally-produced 45 a month on coloured vinyl. There was a competitive entry process for the local artists who wanted to get involved and have their singles released. I was one of the first people to buy in, and I also applied with my band to be a part of it.

Jeremy Stewart & the Rest offered the A-side “She is Disappearing” b/w “Everything is Right.” I recorded the songs in the basement with my rhythm section, which consisted of both of my then-future brothers-in-law: Justin Arding on drums and Jeffrey Arding on bass. At the time, I was working on my English M.A. and living with Justin and Jeff, who were both carpenters. An arpeggiated guitar riff on a zippy I-IV-V progression introduced an up-tempo continuous tom roll, something like Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” filtered through a 90s grunge sensibility. “Everything is Right” had little bits of audio pilfered from a reading by Dylan Thomas undermixed into the intro and ending.

Our single was chosen as the December 45, to be released on transparent red vinyl, which was my own choice. Then it was all anticipation.

When the release date for the first single finally came in January 2008, I dropped by the store and picked it up: Corey Wintemute’s “Oh Jughead” b/w “Hiram Lodge” on sky-blue vinyl, with a full-colour sleeve featuring an original drawing of a mouth and a hamburger. It was shambolic pop music, like a more reverent Pavement; a scrappy power trio with fuzz solo overdubs; music for record store nerds par excellence. The first song was something about Jughead and what a basket case he is. The B-side was about Hiram Lodge, and what an ambivalent character he is. It was a blue 45. I listened to it on my Sony turntable with my Shure cartridge out of my Tannoy speakers in the basement where I had recorded my own single. It was sweet.

The next single was delayed and delayed. I asked Bryndis what was going on and apparently not enough people had signed up for the money to work out. She tried hard to make it happen, but volume one was as far as the Wax Society project ever got. Our Wax Society membership cards bought us privileged few who had them a permanent discount on music from Meow Records, which I was pleased to take advantage of, albeit in the limited way a grad student’s budget allows.

As it happened, I was one of the first people to be invited to buy Meow Records as its operations started to flounder. The impression that I formed from looking at the books as I seriously considered buying it was that it was too capital-intensive to acquire new stock, and too much stock was sitting unbought. Deep discounting could’ve moved old stock, possibly, but what if nobody bought the new stock then? I was sad to turn it down. The store was eventually bought by a nice guy who didn’t keep it open all that long, and then I guess the vinyl was liquidated. Bryndis stayed on a while in PG before moving back to Chilliwack. (She is also one of the founders of Prince George’s very successful Roller Derby team, and overall, she has left a durable legacy of community-building here).

Nowadays, my son spends the two days a week when both me and his mom are at work at Pine Top Boogie Woogie Daycare. Effie, the son of the couple that runs the daycare, discovered his dad’s copy of “Oh Jughead,” which he enjoys listening to, although I understand Effie prefers to play it back at 33 rpm. He showed it to me that way one day when I came to pick my son up from daycare, and I have to say, it sounded pretty trippy.

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