I was so pleased that John Crossingham of the band ‘Not Of’ from Toronto, Ontario decided to participate in our monthly Dream Phone feature. He is someone who I have known for a long time from back in the day when he was playing tiny clubs in Southern Ontario.
Fast forward a few years and he is still playing music, except now he is also he is a father, an author of a children’s book, and a feminist.
Check out our conversation..
SZ :: Can you describe your earliest introduction to music?
JC :: I’d say that I grew up with a pretty typical cocktail of novelty records, children’s albums, and The Beatles that a lot of kids of my vintage did. But more than a particular album, it would have to be the ritual of playing LPs that really hooked me. I was obsessed with playing records, looking at the art, trying new things from my parents collection. Being trusted to play records myself was a big deal.
SZ :: Who have been some of your biggest musical influences over time?
JC :: It feels kind of absurd to list them…it’s too big a list. But as a quick five off the top of my head? Rick Froberg, PJ Harvey, Low, Super Furry Animals, and Unwound.
SZ :: How has your music evolved since your first band?
JC :: Well, I mean, that’s a span of 25-plus years and there’s been some really different looks in there. I think I just know what I’m doing now. A quarter century of writing, performing, recording, playing different instruments has really put me in touch with my limitations and my strengths. I’m way more aware of what I want the music to sound like and how to evoke certain textures and moods. For a good ten years there, it was all a real shot in the dark.
SZ :: What is the theme of your most recent album?
JC :: I mean, it’s not a concept record, per se. But it certainly speaks to a general feeling of disappointment in one’s self. Of falling short of the promised self. The songs all address a different aspect of this, but I was writing from a general place of confusion and displacement—especially in arenas in which I had previous felt pretty confident. I tried hard to not write about specific events, mind you. I wanted the songs to be more about feelings that could be transposed to others’ experiences than exact ‘things.’ But they were definitely driven by what I was experiencing in my life. And in the end, it’s not a record that aims to bring any sense of closure or resolution. A lot of these feelings I’ve just had to learn to live with. Which is something I think a lot of us do with our disappointments and frustrations. You don’t kill them so much as learn to cope with them.
SZ :: Can you describe your most memorable moment on stage?
JC :: There have been a lot, and a few of them would kind of seem like a humble brag, which I don’t like. But the one recent one was when Not Of opened for Sleaford Mods recently at the Opera House. It was my bandmate Victor’s 40th birthday and he was convinced that the Mods’ fans were gonna eat us alive. But they loved us from basically the word go and we played probably the best show that he and I have ever played. It was a really simple, pure rush that carried all through the night. As I’ve gotten older, I can really recognize a special night and just enjoy it. That wasn’t our show, it’s not like we sold out the Opera House and I think we made maybe $150. But we played our asses off, made a bunch of new fans, entertained the rest of the room, and my friend had a super fun birthday. That’s kind of all I’m in this for now. It’s not a career and it’s certainly not fame.
SZ :: Do you have any stand out tour memories?
JC :: For sure, but the road in general is a real blur. There’s LOTS packed in there, and it’s a strange thing to try and pull apart into separate pieces. It’s a sticky mess of crowds, and sound checks, and green rooms, and beer, and art galleries, and architecture, and buses and vans and trailers, and weird run-ins, and friends, and panic attacks, and parties, and loneliness. I love to travel. Love it. But it was too much transient living after a while. I’m so grateful I did it, but I very rarely miss it.
SZ :: What does feminism mean to you?
JC :: This feels like something that I should have a concise statement about by now, haha. I think it’s necessary and right, and it is something that I believe in deeply. I am a feminist. But like all ‘-isms’, it carries with it a danger of myopia. I have seen it used as a prism through which the world’s imbalances and injustices—though absolutely real—become exaggerated in proportion and importance. (And by the way, I don’t see it as a problem that is in any way exclusive to feminism. Very far from it.) This isn’t meant to be a case of me walking back my commitment to feminism. For one, it’s more a reaction to where I see it as a crucial issue of our time. It’s right up there, for sure. And its benefits are social, cultural, economic…they run the gamut. But in an era where it is so difficult to mobilize ANY lasting change, I’m in the camp that says that everything begins and ends with the environment. It’s the one thing that supercedes all concerns for me. Now when feminism and better environmental policy can perhaps mix—such as in the voting in of more progressive women into political office—well, then fucking A, you know? That’s ideal. But I also think that a more rigid brand of feminism gives us situations like what happened with Al Franken getting removed from office. To lose a guy who was an advocate for so much good social change—and to do so without any due process—when you know full well that the other side won’t hold their own to the same standards, even when they are accused of far worse crimes? Well, that’s a case of a movement not taking a breath. It’s not about saying that Franken’s indiscretions don’t matter. They did and they do. But to the exclusion of all else in his life’s work? They didn’t exceed that bar for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I saw that and was like, “I’m done with feminism now!” Not even close. And realize that me bringing up Franken reeks of using one poor instance to discredit a whole movement. But that’s NOT what I’m meaning to do here. I don’t want to discredit feminism at all. But I’m not interested in deifying it either.When you ask what feminism means to me… Society is too complex a set of interactions and social transactions to even be solved by a single algorithm. When you don’t get in the grey areas of the world, unfortunate things happen. I guess I’d say that feminism is something that I deeply believe in, even when I find certain acts that are done in its name to be regrettable. Which really in my mind, is the greatest test that any ideology can pass. That you believe in it, even when its applications don’t always produce an ideal result. Ultimately, equality of the sexes is a just and obvious cause—it’s unfortunate that just and obvious never ever translates to easy and smooth. I hope that over time, we just get better at it as a society.
SZ :: Did your idea of feminism change after you became a father?
JC :: A little, but I’m not sure that I can articulate it. The obvious answer is that I took a look at my daughter and was like, “I’ve gotta do this for her!” But I was already there, you know? I think it’s more the times that are informing my feminism, not me being a parent. And I figure I spoke to that as well as I can in the previous answer.
Though I will add this much: our new album has a song called “Astoria Jack”, which is about me catching myself resorting to stereotypes in the music scene toward women, even as I was trying to advocate for them. The chorus has a line “It feels so good to save you”, and I think that feeling drives a lot of feminism in men. It’s like, “This is a way I can be appealing to women—I can be a champion for them!” And look, in a lot of ways, that’s great. But sometimes it becomes more about the value a guy can get from being seen as a feminist than actually being an advocate than puts women first. I’m always wary of the super loud male feminist, haha. It’s always like, “Who are you trying to impress?”
Anyway, that song was about catching myself behaving that way—it’s me calling myself out. And this is indeed a realization that has come since I became a father. But I’m not sure that I’d attach it to being a dad. I’m just hopefully getting a little more self-aware and unafraid to admit my fuckups.
SZ :: How has the #MeToo movement affected how you relate to your children?
JC :: I feel a responsibility to raise my son a certain way, definitely. I feel it more with him than my daughter. I mean, my wife is a strong feminist and has been as long as I’ve known her. Our daughter is going to be pretty okay in that regard, I think. But with our son, it’s funny. He’s not even six yet, but I catch my wife saying stuff to him about treating women with respect and how women can do what they want with their bodies and their careers and…he’s just this little dude who wants to run around naked and fart on people. Sometimes, the fevered pitch of the times imposes this desperation upon parents to NOT FUCK IT UP. And it’s too much pressure. Toxic masculinity is a real thing. But as parents, you feel this intense responsibility to perform a kind of grand exorcism on your kid and it’s like, “Whoa…” There’s no sacred ritual to remove all possibility of these male behaviours. It’s instead a very boring, day-in, day-out code of conduct that leaves far deeper impressions than any big talk or teaching moment. It’s like, go through the checklist: Do I treat my wife with respect? Do we share duties and decisions? Do we do spontaneous kind things for one another? Do we apologize we when make mistakes? That’s 95% of it. The other stuff can all come—and it will, believe me, when something happens in the news, it does come up. But just being decent and collaborative as a couple is the lion’s share. It also doesn’t hurt that I love cooking and do all of it in our house—so that’s one stereotype our kids won’t grow up with, haha.
SZ :: Do you have a message for other fathers trying to raise their kids in a post #MeToo era?
JC :: Other than that? Nah. I mean, I’ve got a bad temper, a big ego, I procrastinate, I don’t make enough money, have regular crises of confidence and direction, and my life experience in many regards has left me more indecisive and lost. (Except with making records, I know what I want to do there!) So I don’t know how much advice I should be giving anyone, especially with parenting. The only good thing I can say is that I know there’s a difference between the parent I am and I one that I could be. And becoming that parent is a very long process that never really stops. So I just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other. See? All those words, and in the end all I have for you are cliches. What a disappointment.
Ha.. A lot of good insights from a good pal.
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