Sunday, June 29, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #23

Of course this week's mix had to be one for my country's national holiday coming up this Tuesday. I seem to reflect most on Canada and being Canadian when I am away from home or have recently returned. Five years ago, when I went backpacking across Europe, as North American youth tend to do as some bourgeois rite of passage, the Canadian flag sewn to my backpack produced a rather awkward moment. While the very same embroidered patch had garnered both me and my travelling companion much gleeful recognition from fellow travelling Canadians and general camaraderie from European strangers, it also prompted an American girl to ask us why we wore it. We had been hanging out with her for a couple of days rather pleasurably in the Italian villages of Cinqueterre, and the question seemed to come out of nowhere, but was nonetheless very serious. Both my friend and I just stood there, completely unsure of how to proceed. We knew we didn't want to say outright that we didn't want to be mistaken for Americans even though we knew that was the truth and that that was what the girl was driving at. I don't quite recall how we wriggled out of it, but considering we're Canadians, we somehow managed to defuse the situation diplomatically like the peacemakers we are.

This incident illustrates something at the core of being Canadian, and that is negative definition, a Kenneth Burkean concept meaning we define ourselves by what we are not and against what we are not, in this case, namely, American. When asked to come up with what makes us Canadian or what defines Canada as a national identity, Canadians shrug their shoulders and say "We're not like the US." Despite the flawed logic to this response (especially considering the fact we are very much like Americans in a lot of ways), it points to an interesting and seemingly unique Canadian conundrum: we are a non-nation, a cipher. I remember the provincial English exam for Grade 11 asking us to write an essay on what Canadian national identity consists of. Probably because the school board didn't have an answer and really wanted to know. What country but Canada would ask such a question on a high school exam? Having written and passed that exam, I'm still unsure about Canadian national identity myself.

Being the rather sparsely populated but land leviathan that it is, Canada often struggles against its heavily populated and rather bolshy neighbour to the south, whether in terms of cultural production or economic strength. When we're not inundated with all things American, we are greatly reminded of our ties to Britain and its Commonwealth - we have a Governor-General, who is the Queen's representative in our federal government, and the Queen graces all of our coins. And I think all of these close, sometimes smothering, connections often force our very young country into some interesting issues, including one that has bearing on Canadian music.

Since I was a teenager and first listening to the radio, I noticed that Canadian artists were played at regular intervals, and that was when I first noticed the Canadian content requirement put in place by The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). This requirement is there to "protect" Canadian culture against a powerful influx from other nations' music. I'm not sure how I feel about this mandate or how I feel about radio in general, especially considering I listen to very little radio, and when I do, it's college radio. Does our music need protection? Do we need to pump our radio stations full of Canadian music even when it's not worth promoting just for the sake of it? For the most part, most of us Canadians probably don't really care.

Yeah, Canada, we stand on guard for thee, but only if we have to. From what I can tell, most Canadians, including myself, aren't particularly patriotic - you don't find a lot of maple leaf flags hanging outside houses, even on Canada Day. However, I like to think of Canada's seemingly lazy non-patriotism as a healthy apathy and as our saving grace; after all, patriotism leads to all sorts of mess, violent and otherwise. We carry on day to day in our multicultural mosaic surrounded by rather massive, unpopulated areas full of natural resources and bilingual food packages without really thinking about it. I read somewhere that the reason Canada has produced such prolific academic figures in the area of communications is because communication has always been one of our prime concerns in a country this large and this full of gaps.

At the same time that we are unpatriotic, we are often, humorously so, quick to "claim" the best celebrities any way that we can. For example, though Arcade Fire has members from both the US and Canada, we undoubtedly claimed them as Canadian, and I think several of us still want to claim Rufus Wainwright even though he technically wasn't born in Canada. If you're enormously talented and happened to live on Canadian soil for a few weeks, we'll count you as one of us.

My memories of Canadian music while growing up consisted primarily of Bryan Adams and that crop of '90's "alternative" bands like Our Lady Peace, Moist, The Tea Party, Econoline Crush and I Mother Earth - to be honest, I was more impressed with early Bryan Adams than I was by the latter. Also, from my high school years, I remember the pre-Gorillaz animated band Prozzäk (which despite their beating Damon Albarn to the punch, should best be forgotten, umlaut and all), the bubbly pop of Sky (as short-lived as Prozzäk), the one-hit wonder band Pluto (blink and you would have missed them), and the pop-punk of Treble Charger (who will likely forever be known as the band who discovered and promoted Sum 41 only to disappear completely under their protégé's shadow). All in all Canadian music was rather bleak to me when I was younger. In addition to this rather sad array, we had and still have our drivel just as much as any other country, including the aforementioned Sum 41, Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Three Days Grace, Loverboy, Shania Twain, and the national disaster that is Celine Dion, but as this mix reveals, we also have a lot of music to be proud of. I may have come late to an appreciation of Canadian music, but better late than more clichéd phrases.

No Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, or KD Lang on this mix - they are legends to some but not to least not at this juncture of my life. There may very well be a large contingent from Montreal - it wasn't deliberate in the sense that I favour Quebec over other provinces for music, it just so happens that this one city has made much of my favourite music of late, and often within an incestuous group of musicians weaving in and out of each others' work. I also have artists from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and of course from my home province of Manitoba. They range from electro acts to political punk acts to quirky indie to dreamy pop. For an honest, yet quirky, look at what truly makes Canadians Canadian, read Douglas Coupland's books Souvenir of Canada and Souvenir of Canada 2 and watch his documentary of the same name. Of course Coupland was technically born in Germany, but he's definitely Canadian to us. I'll call this mix Canadian Content. I don't think we have any reason to worry about CRTC regulations. Then again, we probably wouldn't worry anyway.

I Was a Pre-Teen McCarthyist - Propagandhi

Blood On Our Hands - Death From Above 1979

Monster Hospital - Metric

Black Flag (Juan Maclean Remix)- Duchess Says

Teacher Teacher - Dragonette

The Looks - MSTRKRFT

In the End It's Your Friends - Shout Out Out Out Out

Call Me Up - Chromeo

You're a Hologram - Hexes & Ohs

Dacha - Montag

Neighbourhood #4 (7 Kettles) - Arcade Fire

Heart - Stars

Falling Through Your Clothes - The New Pornographers

Lola Stars and Stripes - The Stills

Fine Young Cannibals - Wolf Parade

Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961) - The Weakerthans

Still Life - The Russian Futurists

Drifters - Patrick Watson

You and I Are a Gang of Losers - The Dears

Shampoo Suicide - Broken Social Scene

Present of Future End - The Most Serene Republic


JC said...

The way Canadians describe themselves vis-a-vis Americans is uncannily similar to the wat many Scots describe themselves vis-a-vis the English.

Hope you had a great Canada Day.

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