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The Canadian

October 12, 2009

1. It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, and I’m in Moncton, New Brunswick. I’m enjoying this gentle stretching of my legs, beyond Toronto and beyond the little bubble that sits over it. In a way Toronto’s most appealing characteristic – its successful multiculturalism – also means that if you’re a foreign visitor, like me, then you need never really face up to the task of becoming more Canadian.
2. I thoroughly intend to become more Canadian – first, imaginatively artistically, and then (this will always be completely secondary) in life itself. I’ve been reviewed in Toronto papers as a local musician, but not one of those reviews has failed to mention my Englishness. Considering the kind of songs I’ve made, I have to admit I’ve brought that on myself.

3. My current album, Persisting Like a Racehorse, might sound completely resolute in its Englishness – in its recitals of pastoral moods, in its reawakening of the English village or the cheerful, horrific seaside holiday. It’s only having finally released the thing that I’ve started to hear something else in the record. What I hear is the grim conclusion of Englishness. Never again will I revisit these lands… in art.
4. What then? I intend to make some Canadian music. When I think of independent “Canadian music” right now I think of all these bands that play in Toronto venues, singing songs about geography and recycling – bands with outdoorsy, camping-trip names like Rural Alberta Advantage and Wilderness of Manitoba and Forest City Lovers and Muskox and Saskatchewan Seal Farmers and Olenka and the Autumn Lovers. Apart from Olenka, who I once shared a bill with, I haven’t listened to any of these bands (and by the way I wish them all well). It’s not a flaw in my critical method that I haven’t actually listened to these bands – quite the opposite, because I’m talking about the cultural atmospheres that are created when thousands of bands choose a way to present themselves to millions of people who will or will not ever hear them. I associate those Canadian bands with a lot of beards, a lot of flannel, a lot of acclaim from the music prize panel.

5. I don’t think I will make that kind of Canadian music. For a start my Canadian music will involve much less music.

6. I also want fake Canadas. Quite recently I linked to some recordings of Celtic mouth music that I’d been enjoying, so imagine my delight when yesterday I got to listen to some Acadian diddlers while eating fish and chips. I’m a susceptible tourist at the moment and might have been fobbed off with reality, but I hope that they were totally inauthentic. That calculated mix of the east coast’s French, Scottish and Irish voices gets me thinking.
7. During this trip I’ve been reading Damian Tarnopolsky’s superb first novel Goya’s Dog. This book imagines an arch-modernist English painter called Edward Dacres, and sets him loose on second world war era Toronto. The grim and bitter Dacres is certainly the painting part of Wyndham Lewis (although Lewis himself was actually born in Nova Scotia), but there’s also, to my understanding, a bit of Fr. Rolfe involved too. What I find especially valuable about this novel right now is its ability to reimagine the strangeness of Canada in its earlier life, when the country was an enormous space with plenty of room to tell great immodest folk-lies. Horror also fills these spaces.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 26, 2010 11:46 am

    Wow ! .! Happy Thanksgiving!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and every yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, as it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” Of course, all these stories are mostly about family and friends, about coming together to heal old hurts and showing thanks for the gift of love. . . -=
    You Are Far better Off Today Than You Had been six Years Ago?

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