Friday, October 01, 2010

Music,Time and Perspective

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

Friday, July 02, 2010

Look into the Mirror

It occurred to me on my quiet way to work today, the day after Canada Day, that Canadians still live in the best country in the world.  You can stop rolling your eyes now, I saw that.  As I was sitting on the nearly empty express bus, watching the sun shine across the Ottawa river, listening to and being ennobled by the message in  "Northern Wish", the Rheostatics' painterly paean to our home and native land,  got off the bus and walked in to my particular workplace overhung with gently waving red-and-white flags, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of national pride and gratitude for being able to live and work here.

Despite all human attempts to destroy the planet that we live on (witness the current, horrific belching of thousands of gallons of crude oil every day in the Gulf of Mexico), economic disaster lurking at every turn, wars and injustices continuously being carried out in countries all across the globe; pointless, ridiculously expensive meetings of world leaders right here at home (see post below) and hundreds of other daily annoyances - some large, some small and insignificant in the broad scheme of things - we still have it better than most.  Hell, you want bad news, you know where to find it.  We're bombarded with it every day from all sorts of different angles. There are a thousand valid reasons why we should all be stalking Parliament Hill with placards, megaphones and possibly molotov cocktails, shouting angrily in protest of one thing or another and demanding justice, fair treatment and funding for our own particular pet cause - what used to be called "special interests". Save for a misguided, vocal minority infected with a virulent, wrongheaded sense of entitlement, Canadians don't do that.  What we do best is quietly go about our daily business to the best of our ability.  The old-fashioned work ethic that saw our predecessors through hard times in the past continues - it just never makes the news.

Don't get me wrong - I'm in favour of many of the things that reasonable, intelligent people write and/or protest about. I also believe our country needs a bit of a political and economic reboot.  There are real problems that I won't diminish.  I'm not na├»ve enough to believe that Canada really looks like a Group of Seven painting - but if you get far enough out of the city, it does...  What we often forget in our efforts to shout above the din is that there's still an awful lot of good here. Our national identity is something we've struggled with since 1867, but the best thing about the Canada that our parents grew up in was that anyone with a dream could succeed with enough tenacity (and a bit of luck).  Somehow, even with all the doom and gloom of the world today, it's still possible.  Tune out the naysayers - the world, our little corner in particular, is what you make of it.

 Happy Canada Day! 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Time Well Spent


Roughly a week ago, give or take a few days (who's counting) some of the more level-headed members of our society decided to gather together and politely demonstrate to the worlds leaders gathered in Toronto (I like the word "gather"; it's a happy word, full of promise and joy) that they were not happy with the way things were and that perhaps a different way of thinking would be appropriate.

Apparently (I'm going on here-say) the world leaders gathered in Toronto were kinda busy so they were unable to attend any think-tank with the level-headed members of our society but they did send some representatives of the local constabulary to try and maintain peace and order. The more level-headed members of our society decided to try and circumnavigate the local constabulary in order to at least get closer to the world leaders gathered in Toronto but the local constabulary were organized and ably lead and were able (for the most part) to stay one step ahead of the more level-headed members of our society.

In the end the world leaders were able to meet in relative peace and quiet before leaving for their respective countries due largely to the efforts of the local constabulary and their ability to stay one step ahead of the more level-headed members of our society.


The police do a thankless, difficult job protecting us for ourselves and the latent retarded (in dictionary sense of the word) anti-social tendencies that we have lurking around inside our craniums and more often than not they are vilified in the media, spurned by the public and feared by our youth. We live in a country where anyone caught doing a crime has more rights than the people trying to stop them. We've all seen the images and film of the police cars burning in the downtown core of Toronto and of the pointless vandalism and wanton destruction of shops and businesses up and down Yonge Street.

To what end? Did this make anyone sit and take notice that there was problems in the world that need to be fixed? Really ?!?!

Or did it just make you think, like I did, that large groups of people suffer from terminal brain cramps? Give some reason for the large groups of the criminally stupid to mass together and protest *anything* and watch the fun! Mob mentality! Missing were the torches and pitchforks and just because there wasn't time to find a dark ages-themed shop. The only thing between what happened and what could have happened was the thin, blue line of the men and women of our police force. Working un-thanked and un-appreciated as usual.

Last week made me ashamed (briefly) of being a Canadian who lives in the GTA. What must the rest of the world think of us now.............

Good job police. Keep trying to protect us from ourselves. And Happy Canada Day.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Post Traumatic Stress

So.  What have I been up to?

After seven-and-a-half long months in an Uzbeki prison with little to do but watch a 13" black & white Sylvania TV showing nothing but old Soviet propaganda films and horrendous Eastern European game shows, I'm back - released of my own recognisance, down thirty pounds and full of crossword clues, excellent curse words, and beet recipes I never knew existed... 

******************************* what I would say had I been held in such a manner.  Unfortunately and far less dramatically, I have no real excuse other than laziness and writer's block for not updating this Web Log, or, what we techies call - and try to follow me here if you can - a "blog".  Instead of being honest, I'm trying to lure eyeballs and potential advertising dollars with a sordid, poorly-spun tale of unjustifiable incarceration, and for that I am truly, deeply sorry.  This is me, hanging my head in shame right now.

With that off my chest, I can tell you that there will be all sorts of goodies to look forward to on this - say it with me - "blog" in the coming months.  Oh man, just you wait 'til you see what we have cookin' -  Famous guest columnists! Free music! Great summer recipes! A visit from Oprah! Ticket giveaways, monster trucks, an explanation of the "Twilight" phenomenon that actually makes sense, Spanish hookers, three-legged hamster racing, and the world's largest single piece of cobblestone from the Giant's Causeway!  These are just a few of the things that I cannot procure and are are beyond my grasp. 

Instead, it'll be more of the same stuff you, my loyal readers family ex-girlfriend insomniacs, are used to.
Unless I can convince my Contributing Editors to come back, this is no empty threat.  This is the 21st century equivalent of a gun to a kitten's head. 

 So let's keep everyone happy, including the metaphorical kitten, and get some new stuff up here pronto.  That is all.  You may return to your life, already in progress.