Why Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau says books helped make him the person he is today
Canada Reads 2019 panellist Chuck Comeau was just a kid in Montreal when he and his bandmates formed Simple Plan in 1999. The pop-punk rock band became world famous, selling over 15 million albums and performing in more than 70 countries around the world. The band also started the Simple Plan Foundation, which raises money for charitable causes devoted to helping young people in need.
Comeau was always a big reader, and says literature and reading have served as a foundation for who he is and how far he's come in life. He's now defending the memoir Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung on Canada Reads 2019.
The Canada Reads debates take place March 25-28, 2019. They will air on CBC Radio One at 11 a.m. (1 p.m. AT/1:30 p.m. NT), on CBC at 4 p.m. (4:30 NT), live streamed online at CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and will be available on the free CBC Gem streaming service.
How much of a book lover are you?
"Books were always around in my family. My parents are big readers. My uncle once owned one of the largest French bookstore chains in North America. I have memories of going to his bookstores in Quebec, the flagship store in downtown Montreal in particular. It was this incredibly beautiful store — three levels and books everywhere. We would spend hours there.
"Books were always around in my family. My parents are big readers."
"Then I got older and my focus was on music and the band. We were playing about 300 shows a year! Books were still part of my life, but they did take a bit of a back seat. But about four or five years ago, I felt I needed to reconnect with books. I wanted to expand my thinking, reinvest in my own mind. It's all about challenging yourself as a person. I went to law school at McGill but I dropped out to become a drummer of the band — and I've always felt a bit insecure about that.
"I try to use books as a way to elevate my mind as I'm extremely curious about everything."
What kind of influence did books have on you growing up?
"When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who introduced me to classic literature. She had a way of connecting the classics to contemporary social issues. One of the books that she made us read that had an impact on me — one I still feel is relevant almost every single day — is 1984 by George Orwell. Especially in the world that we live today, it's relevant more than ever. When you look at the news, politics and Donald Trump — we see and hear all of today's doublespeak and almost a denial of the truth. It's one of those books that you had to read to better understand your world."
Any other books that were key in your formative years?
"The book The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz is a corny self-help type book, but it's one that had an incredible impact on me. My dad bought me this book when I was a teenager and I still don't know why.
I try to use books as a way to elevate my mind as I'm extremely curious about everything.
"I was a kid in Laval, which is a suburb of Montreal, who spoke French as his first language. We started Simple Plan when we were 13 years old. I had never touched drums before and we were creating instrumental songs without any lyrics or anything.
"After reading that book it was always in the back of my mind: Why can't Simple Plan be the biggest band in the world? Why can't we go play all over the world? I've always been a driven and ambitious person. Reading [that book] was a confirmation that it was okay to imagine incredible things. It defined me and my vision of what you can accomplish as a person and where you can go."
So books definitely helped during the early days of Simple Plan?
"We were a punk band playing to relatively small crowd in Montreal when we were about 14 or 15 years old. We moved to opening up for American music bands like NOFX and Pennywise, playing the Warped Tour at 16 years old and going on a cross-country tour at 17. We were receiving letters from all over the world. Back then there was no streaming music sites... fans had to physically buy a record. It was an even more impossible dream at the time.
"That book made me believe that it was possible and it shaped the way that we approached it. And for us, even though Simple Plan was an underground punk rock band, it was our lives. We just poured every single ounce of energy into it. And that book made me believe it was worth it. Sure enough, it turned out to be true!"
- Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, teenage refugee from Syria, tells his story with help from his teacher Winnie Yeung
What genre are you drawn to at the moment?
"Nonfiction books like music biographies, books about the industry and reading about inspiring lives and people are definitely my go-tos. I would say that's like 90 per cent of my reading diet is about.
"I'm really into the business of music as well as being an artist. There's nothing more important than knowing how your industry works and empowering yourself with knowledge. I remember reading All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman, which is like the bible of the music industry. It breaks down every single aspect of the band's life and or an artist's life — contracts and getting a manager or getting an agent signing into a record label what to avoid. All the basics. I still have it in my bookshelf and I still go back to it.
Nonfiction books like music biographies, books about the industry and reading about inspiring lives and people are definitely my go-tos.
"There's also a book called The Operator by Thomas R. King. It was a biography of David Geffen, who is obviously a music mogul now but started music as a manager at first. It's just inspiring to see what he accomplished the way you went about it. I don't agree with everything Geffen did — because he created a lot of enemies in the business — but he's an icon and a trailblazer in that world."
What are you reading now?
"I've been trying to read as much as possible, particularly a lot of nonfiction and the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris really stuck out to me. He's a news anchor and had a panic attack live on the air. After it happened, he wanted to understand why it happened to him. The book is about this guy that went on this quest to figure out why he's not happy or ever satisfied with his life despite being a successful journalist. I've always felt the same way about my career and my life. I was always comparing yourself to other people. Harris discovered a practice of mindful meditation that helped him cope.
"I read the book like three four years ago and thought the ideas in it were cool, but never did anything about it. It only recently came back to me that it would be cool to apply the mindful practices that I read about in this book. It started about four months ago and it's been an absolute game-changer for me. It's about looking at yourself and trying to face whatever you're going through instead of trying to always avoid it.
"Life is about being with your emotions and your mind and seeing that basically there's no fixed mindset. You can completely change if you want to and if you put an effort."
Chuck Comeau's comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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