"He was talking about disappearing. That maybe the best had already come and gone," says Douglas Arrowsmith, director of the new Ron Sexsmith documentary Love Shines, which recently screened on BBC and at the SXSW film festival. LoveShines follows Sexsmith in 2010 over the course of recording Long Player Late Bloomer under the unlikely guidance of über-producer Bob Rock, who has scored hits with everyone from Metallica to Michael Bublé. It also tells the story of a kid from St. Catharines, Ontario, who was raised by his mother in government housing and went on to become a father himself at age 20. Sexsmith and his young family then moved to Toronto, where he struggled as a courier while moonlighting as a musician until finally scoring a record deal with Interscope at the relatively advanced age of 31.
For anyone familiar with the abject beauty of some of his finest songs (such as "Strawberry Blonde," where the singer remembers the troubled childhood of a neighborhood girl), none of these details should sound surprising. Sexsmith's music humbly belies so much more experience than, say, the music of Travis or Coldplay. As we watch him on screen emerging from the biggest funk of his career, and perhaps his life, Love Shines shows us the heart of a resilient everyman ready to take one last earnest shot at putting it all out there. "I was sort of in a down point in my life and in my career before I made the record," he admits. "The film sort of caught me struggling to make a record that people might actually hear."
Sexsmith isn't concerned about creating music that people want to hear. He just wants them to hear it. Here is a guy who had pretty much mastered the art of making audiences nod their heads at life's funny ways - or well up in tears, for that matter - by the time he made his first album. So what is keeping the cream from rising to the top? Is it the way his glum demeanor and Bing Crosby-affected warble give way to an air of melancholia? Is it the way his cat-dragged-in Little Lord Fauntleroy countenance rubs the camera the wrong way? Does his uncanny synthesis of classic pop's intellectualism and folk music's directness throw both folk and pop audiences for too big of a loop? "My songs don't have any spin to them. They're not coming at you from an ironic place, and some people don't know how to take it. I remember I had a song called 'God Loves Everyone' that some people were quite offended by. And I thought, 'What could be more positive than a song called 'God Loves Everyone'? "
And though some might view Sexsmith's enlistment of hitmaker Bob Rock as a sellout, another viewpoint is that the intention was actually a rebellious one - and one sure to create whispers in those pages of Mojo. Maybe Sexsmith started to realize that it wasn't worth the accolades, even from the all-time greats, to preserve an artificial sense of integrity that he never cared that much about to begin with. "You can't sell out at something if you never bought into it in the first place." As he says this, his words come across like a lyric that he wrote before fully grasping the meaning. "When I started making records, I wasn't trying to make cult records. All my idols had hit records."
: Music Features
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