I have been reading - a lot - about something near and dear to my heart lately; namely, Canadian music - especially what has used to be called "alternative" or "new" rock by radio stations and the media alike. As I get older, like many Gen X'ers - or the Baby Boomers before me - I am naturally looking backward a bit after being let down by what is happening now. I could just as easily be talking about life in general, and for musically-minded me, one complements and goes hand-in-hand with the other. Life has sort of settled into a complacency in terms of new ideas once you hit your mid-40s and it becomes increasingly difficult to get your brain out of it's comfortable neural rut. Or maybe it's just a small rut before the big comeback...
(That's me in the photo above on the right playing our first trial gig of "Singing for Seniors" - 50s and 60s songs intended to shine a little light in the otherwise dark corners of local seniors' residences.)
Once you achieve some stability in life, are reasonable happy in your work, and aren't on the brink of financial disaster at every turn, you start to question what it is that made you passionate about life in the first place. For me, it was - and remains - music.
Some of the best books I have read on this subject are listed below:
"Have Not Been The Same" chronicles the 1985-1995 renaissance period in Canadian "alternative" rock that most closely coincides with my formative years and talks about and with many of the bands that I would consider to be influential in my own life, and is a highly engaging read whether you were there or not. A few of the artists that get coverage include The Tragically Hip, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pursuit of Happiness, Rheostatics, Sloan, The Doughboys, 54.40, Blue Rodeo and many more. Here's Amazon's take on the book, which gives a pretty good rationale for why I picked it up:
According to the authors of Have Not Been the Same--the first comprehensive history of contemporary Canadian rock--1985 was a pivotal year for Canadian music. Generic rockers like Loverboy, Triumph, and Bryan Adams would no longer rule the roost. Instead, "a newer generation looked inside their own country and started to create art for themselves, for the right reasons." The ensuing 10-year window was an amazingly creative and productive time, and artists like the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, and the Rheostatics finally made the words "Canadian" and "cool" a plausible combination. The authors examine the history, motivations, and achievements of the era's musicians--both the famous and the undeservedly obscure--with great diligence. Due to the book's considerable girth--nearly 800 pages!--Have Not Been the Same may appeal mainly to fans who were deeply into the underground music scene of the time and still need to know what inspired Eric's Trip to make the album Love Tara or want to learn the weird story of Vancouver proto-grunge band Slow, who made the song for which this book is named. Other readers will be surprised to find out just how much was going on in Canada, and how it was suddenly possible for a band like the Rheostatics to sing songs about hockey hero Wendel Clark and the province of Saskatchewan and be revered for their efforts. --Jason Anderson
Never fear, if you were born before 1975 and lived in Canada for any length of time, had access to a radio, and gave a damn, this book will have something for you.
Dave Bidini's funny and moving "Around the World in 57½ Gigs" nicely dovetails his first solo tour with the 2007 breakup of the Rheostatics, perhaps one of the most influential bands from that era. They never quite broke into the mainstream like a lot of other acts did, yet are still held in high regard, probably because they simply refused to compromise their music for the sake of a hit. Their one nod to the Top 40 was the song "Claire" from the 1994 movie of Paul Quarrington's novel "Whale Music", to which they also composed the soundtrack, as well as their 1992 record of the same name. I finally "got" them this year, and have just come off an eight month aural bender where I played the living hell out of Whale Music, Melville and Night of the Shooting Stars. I strongly suggest you do the same.
For someone like me who was quite literally raised on radio in the 1970s and 80s, I would venture that new music ceased to matter somewhere around 2002, and commercial radio became instantly redundant at the same time. I firmly believe that the recent rapid decline in civilization coincides with hip-hop, mp3's, and Nickelback's rise in popularity. That's not to say that there aren't some great current acts out there, and some great songs and albums produced, they are just pushed further underground, nearly undiscoverable unless you're diligently scouring the interwebbian catacombs every day, something I just don't have the time for. In the 1970s and 80s, it just came at you from the radio - no special effort required other than a set of really good ears.
This one is notable mostly for it's iconic cover as opposed to it's content - I can't conceive of a more Canadian image than the Rheostatics' Martin Tielli wearing a toque while playing his famous doubleneck Ibanez emblazoned with a never-quite-presented idea for the then-new Canadian flag designed by A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven. He painted it himself, of course. The only way to make it more Canadian would be to have a stubby bottle of Labatt 50, a Tim Horton's coffee, and a snowsuited beaver playing bass.
Part Two Coming Soon:
Retro Recall -The Halcyon Days of CFNY and The Rise of "Alternative" Rock