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Book Review: Canuck Rock – A History Of Canadian Popular Music by Ryan Edwardson

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At first glance, Canuck Rock – A History Of Canadian Popular Music appears to be a fairly straightforward history of Rock music in Canada. I expected a tale similar to the well-known US version of events from the 1950’s up to the present.

Canada has produced superstars such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Rush, Anne Murray, The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and so many more, that this book looked to be a very interesting read.

It is interesting. But Canuck Rock is not the book it appears to be. The story starts out with typical, if clichéd events. Teens went crazy over Elvis and Bill Haley. Regional scenes developed to accommodate the garage bands they inspired. Later came The Beatles, the baby-boomers began to exert their huge generational influence, and so on.

With minor variations, this is a story that is remarkably similar throughout the Western world.

Maybe author Ryan Edwardson interviewed one too many bitter Sixties era musicians. Midway through that decade, Canuck Rock makes a huge left turn into the policies and politics of the Canadian music industry and government.

As Edwardson points out, one of the most basic components of the music business is it’s integration. A band performs, the press writes about them, clubs book them. If they are lucky, people show up at the gigs, they get signed, radio plays them, and everyone lives happily ever after.

What I had never really grasped before was the intense regionalism apparently so ingrained in the Canadian psyche. According to the author, a band from Vancouver had basically no chance in Toronto. Unless of course, they had already broken in the United States.

Things got so bad that the government got involved in 1970, mandating a 30% “Canadian content” quota on radio. As you can imagine, this has led to a simply nightmarish situation. Arguments rage over what makes a record “Canadian,” and what does not. Why do some Canadians get played and not others? And on and on, ad infinitum.

The saddest result of this seems to be the most fundamental of all. If I were a Canadian, and thought that the only way a band could get played on the radio was because the government had forced the station to play it, I really would not be very interested. What, they aren’t good enough to be played without being threatened? No thanks.

Apparently, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion no longer qualify as “Canadian content.” A pretty ironic situation, to be sure. So how do we get them forced off the air in the US?

A much larger story than misguided government mandates becomes clear when reading Canuck Rock. The separatism in Quebec seems to be just a symptom of a very deep problem in the national identity. The problem being that there really is no national identity, just a bickering collection of provinces.

While Canuck Rock does not contain the stories about Klaatu’s garage days, or Triumph’s woeful New Wave years I was dying to hear, it is eye-opening. Well worth checking out.

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About Greg Barbrick