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Winnipeg Free Press: For Plaskett’s fans, new bio rocks

By Erin Lebar, Winnipeg Free Press

It may seem odd to some for an entire 220-page biography to be dedicated to a musician many haven’t heard of. But for those who do know Joel Plaskett, there is no denying the influence he’s had not only on the East Coast music scene, but on the Canadian musical identity as a whole.

Nowhere With You: The East Coast Anthems of Joel Plaskett, the Emergency and Thrush Hermit, written by Globe and Mail reporter Josh O’Kane, is out to prove that point, and he does so successfully.

Nowhere+With+YouNowhere With You chronicles Plaskett’s career in almost exhaustive detail — from the moment his high school band Thrush Hermit decided to make a go of music as a full-time career, to his choice to remain in his hometown of Halifax instead of following the more common path of heading to Toronto, to his most recent release, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test. The book pulls quotes and comments from Plaskett, as well as former and current bandmates and a host of familiar characters, including Chris Murphy from Sloan, a fellow Halifax-bred band.

The first section of the book — in which O’Kane relives the rise, success and fall of Plaskett’s band Thrush Hermit in the late 1980s and early ’90s — is dense, and at times a bit of a slog to get through. But it’s necessary to understand the transition from Plaskett being the one looking up to other artists to becoming the guy everyone looks up to.

There is a tonal shift in the writing that coincides with tonal change in the story. After the tensions between Thrush Hermit led to the eventual split of the band, which O’Kane describes as “amicable, but certainly not pleasant,” Plaskett becomes the star of the show and everything just reads more easily. Sentences get longer and lusher, and even a few snippets of analysis of some of Plaskett’s solo work are embedded into later chapters, which provides some much-needed warmth and colour. O’Kane’s words clearly come from a place of adoration but, refreshingly, he isn’t gross with his praise.

“It’s about recognizing what shapes you find and finding meaning in it, no matter what city or what clearing or what band you’re in,” he writes of Plaskett’s stunning 2007 album, Ashtray Rock. “The story isn’t an autobiography, but the pieces are: the band, the rock in the woods, the mystery girl from out west, the romance of sharing music.”

When O’Kane does add more personal injections, however, they seem too self-indulgent in the context of the rest of the story he’s telling. The time he met Plaskett on a bus, for example, would have made an excellent afterward or epilogue, but felt out of place in the early stages of the bio.

This quibble is a small one, however. For any fan of Plaskett’s, Nowhere With You is simply a must-read. While it can sometimes feel over-stuffed with names and places and times, it only goes to show the quality and quantity of reporting done by O’Kane, as well as the passion he poured into this project.

Erin Lebar is a Free Press multimedia producer and Joel Plaskett fan for life, through and through and through.