After Gord Downie, is there hope for lyrics in mainstream Canadian music?
This article originally appeared in Eighteen Bridges, a Canadian magazine of narrative journalism.
A LOT OF WHAT I SAW ON MUCHMUSIC in the 1990s has stayed with me. Perhaps it’s because I entered the formative years of my adolescence during the channel’s heyday that so much of my memory bank has been signed over to VJ Erica Ehm, Big Shiny Tunes playlists and Dan Gallagher handing out two-slice toasters on his gameshow, Test Pattern.
But some useful things stuck, too, like a report from the network that aired on September 24, 1994. That day marked the release of Day for Night, an album that galvanized (in platinum, six times) the Tragically Hip’s reputation as atypical but accessible CanCon.
Toronto record stores stayed open until midnight to move copies, and MuchMusic cameras captured an scene that still strikes me as anomalous. A frenzied teenage boy tears plastic from the CD to free the liner notes. “There’s lyrics!” he shouts. Weirdly, he’s not alone. His frenzied friends join the chorus, high-fiving as if Bill Barilko or Paul Henderson or whichever hockey hero that Downie deified in verse had just pocketed a winner. I’d never seen anyone lose their mind over the words a modern, popular Canadian singer set to music. But MuchMusic took note, so I did too. Frenzied Teenage Boy and I became kindred spirits, acolytes of the people’s poetry of Gord Downie.
As participants in the blanket exercise that was to come, we were told that we’d likely need the boxes of tissues being set out for us. It was a way of being told we weren’t ready to hear the things we were about to learn. Colonialism, our facilitator said, was “a brutal history.”
This story originally appeared in Eighteen Bridges, a Canadian magazine of narrative journalism. Sorry that all the pictures are of me. It’s all I had at hand and long reads aren’t any fun without pics, so there you go.
Near the halfway point, the trail became almost impassable. It was only a 10-kilometre race, but its dirt trail made it treacherous from the start. Within minutes of leaving the starting line, I plunged into the tangle of poplar, chokecherry, cranberry and dogwood that carpets the banks of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The late summer days had coaxed gorgeous reds and purples and yellows from the foliage, but who cared?
All that mattered was the linear metre of earth directly ahead, laced with roots and studded with stones. For two-and-a-half kilometres, the course rose and fell like river rapids, twisting and bucking capriciously. More than 370 runners were at its mercy. None got any.
In 2015, NAIT grad Billy Morin became the youngest elected chief in the modern history of Enoch Cree Nation. Thereafter, he set about trying to strike a balance between progress and tradition, and bring renewed prosperity to his community. It’s the “dream job” he always wanted, but it hasn’t come without a cost.