Have Not Been the Same co-author Michael Barclay curates the ultimate playlist for his Canadian-rock bible, which celebrates its 10th-anniversary reissue tonight at Lee’s Palace with performances by a trio of its subjects.
Ten years ago, authors Michael Barclay, Ian Jack and Jason Schneider released Have Not the Been the Same, an examination of the 1985-1995 Canadian-rock gold rush the spawned everyone from Sarah McLachlan to Sloan, and effectively laid the groundwork for the post-millennial Canadian indie-rock insurgence. Like the work of many of the unsung, trailblazing artists featured within its pages, Have Not Been the Same had gone out of print and begged for a reissue. Fortunately, ECW Press have answered the call with a new, updated version of the book, which will be feted tonight (June 10) at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor W., #ANX) with a launch party featuring The Grapes of Wrath’s Kevin Kane, punk-funk dynamos King Cobb Steelie and a rare reunion performance by Sarah Harmer’s ’90s power-pop outfit Weeping Tile. To get you in a readin’ and rockin’ mood, we asked Barclay to curate the ultimate Have Not Been the Same playlist:
Slow, “Have Not Been the Same” (1985): This starts out like a soul song, with a guitar riff that could be a Stevie Wonder clavinet lick. Then come the slightly disco drums and the coo-ing female backing vocals. Tom Anselmi stumbles into the party like he just woke up in an alley in Vancouver’s east side, complaining about his hangover. As the song gains momentum and the drums struggle to keep up with the accelerating guitars, the fist-pumping chorus is an explosive release valve for the building tension of the verses. The final 60 seconds of this three-minute masterpiece finds the band tripping over themselves to get to the finish line, yet stopping on a dime like they knew what they were doing the whole time. How can you not name a book after that?
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, “Having an Average Weekend” (1985): Yes, this is the Kids in the Hall theme and, as such, it conjures grainy Super-8 images of pre-gentrification Toronto as seen on that show’s opening credits. It also illustrates how Shadowy Men could take a simple twangy riff and twist it inside out for three minutes without ever boring you; this is one band that never wasted a single note.
Blue Rodeo, “Piranha Pool” (1987): People who think they know exactly what Blue Rodeo sound like should go back to the first two records, where keyboardist Bob Wiseman is allowed to indulge in a gorgeous Thelonious Monk-inspired intro as well as a freewheeling, psychedelic organ solo in the middle. The rhythm section is soulful and jazzy, and Greg Keelor croons with a bit of bile.
Mary Margaret O’Hara, “Year in Song” (1988): Thousands of words have been written about Mary Margaret O’Hara, including dozens of pointless adjectives. I’ve written several of them, yet none of them do her justice—although I’d like to think we at least told her largely unknown and mysterious story well in our book. Just listen.
NoMeansNo, “It’s Catching Up” (1990): None of the great artists of the CanRock Renaissance became internationally famous by fitting into a cookie-cutter mould. Which is why the iconoclastic NoMeansNo are the greatest punk band of the era, twice as aggressive as Fugazi, jazzier than the Minutemen, and both intensely personal and political without whining or sloganeering.
Rheostatics, “Dopefiends and Boozehounds” (1992): Everything people love or hate about the Rheostatics is here: the 4/4 beat over a 6/8 rhythm, Martin Tielli’s swooping Steinberger guitar, Dave Bidini’s ode to suburban ennui, the clash between folk and prog, the jarring, lurching chords of the coda. The Rheostatics were a world unto themselves: they never chased cool, they were outsiders almost everywhere, they were utterly fearless—and, as heard here, stunningly beautiful.
Sloan, “I Am the Cancer” (1992): Before Sloan embraced their love of classic rock by successfully imitating all their favourite records, they were a noisy, fuzzy pop band full of mystery. This song, featuring vocals by Jale’s Jennifer Pierce, is propulsive and poppy and joyous despite being drenched in feedback—which only makes it that much more thrilling.
The Inbreds, “Prince” (1993): Just as alternative rock was culminating in an explosion of cookie-cutter conformity, here came a modest bass-drums duo from Kingston singing with a weird wit a heartfelt song about a bullet-ridden toy dog on wheels. Mike O’Neill played bass guitar like a combination of R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and the Minutemen’s Mike Watt, and even though he and drummer Dave Ullrich expanded their palette on later albums, it only took two to make things outta sight.
Cub, “New York City” (1994): Of all the ramshackle, amateurish indie bands that exploded during the indie boom of the ’90s, the K Records-inspired Cub got away with the most with so little; their brand of cuddlecore was brimming with charm. The Demics merely sung about wanting to go to New York City; Cub took the plunge with glee and wrote this sweet love letter that easily stands beside Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel and Jay-Z on the list of Big Apple boosterism (and was later covered by They Might Be Giants).
The Tragically Hip, “So Hard Done By” (1994): “Interesting and sophisticated / refusing to be celebrated”—a couplet that perfectly describes Gord Downie’s uneasy relationship with his status as the era’s most successful and intriguing frontmen, even though the line was certainly not meant to be autobiographical. (For starters, his band was most certainly not hard done by.) The Tragically Hip built their career on tightly-wound, razor-sharp rock’n’roll anthems that cut through’80s bullshit four years before grunge came along, though by 1994’s Day for Night they started unravelling their machine-revving tension and started luxuriating in groove, texture and sludge. Their counterintuitive urges could be hit and miss, but often resulted in subtle gems like this one, an act of denial that is a tiny triumph in itself.