I bought Ted Leo’s Shake the Sheets a few months after its release–which would have been early 2005. I picked it up at Val’s Halla Records in Oak Park. This was the original location that smelled like Marlboros, dog piss, and dust, right off the Green Line. I spent hours there after school, usually Friday nights, talking to the two guys on staff, James and Shane. Shane was a big goth guy with a penchant for Steely Dane. His hair always looked like a bomb went off in his face and he chain-smoked all the time. James was the token gangly punk dude who was in a band called Blasted Diplomats. And it was James who got me into all kinds of bands. He was my second access point to the punk canon.
Anyway, when Shake the Sheets came out I had no idea who Ted Leo was. I was moping around the shop with what little money I had from my weekend job at Gem Comics. James recommended I pick up the album. James was a human library of music info and a lot of it centered around rock’s underground history. But at this time, poptimism, the reframing of pop music history from the perspective that pop music was serious and should be appreciated as such, was gaining steam. Rockism, the old guard’s view that rock was the lens through which pop music history should be viewed, was dying out. Goodbye Lester Bangs, hello Pitchfork.
It didn’t dawn on me that this was happening. Rockism was how I implicitly viewed the word without knowing it thanks to music journalists/historians like Mike Azzerad. I bring this up because I got a hold of a large portion of my CD collection from high school and I’ve been listening to this record a lot lately. These were the last few years when indie cred might have actually existed. But it was in its twilight. It was also Bush’s second term, and that’s all over this record.
I put Shake the Sheets on recently to see what it was like to listen to something that was, for me, totemic of the Bush era now that Trump’s president. We were at war. The administration had a startling carte blanche to do whatever it wanted and that was confounding for almost everyone around me. Weren’t protests supposed to end a war? What kind of contract had we with the state anymore? Why didn’t it matter that everyone knew Operation Iraqi Freedom was a crock of shit propped up on grandstanding and lies? And who elected this dumbass–twice?