Music: Have Not Been The Same, even now

You get used to running into authors on the Maclean’s staff. Weekly deadlines and and an elevated ambient level of intellectual pretension ambition have built up a hefty staff library. Michael Friscolanti, Michael Petrou, Anne Kingston, colleagues Feschuk and Potter, and many more have put paper between covers. Geddes wrote a lovely novel. Even the boss finally finished his Hearst book.

But one of the most pleasant and unexpected surprises came a couple of years ago when I was chatting with Michael Barclay, an editor who often pauses from more vital chores to do a second read of my column on Tuesday nights to check for egregious errors. Barclay revealed that he’s an author, with Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider, of Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995. Since that extraordinary book has now been revised, updated and re-released in a tenth-anniversary edition, I thought I’d tell you about it.

Have Not Been the Same chronicles the decade when the rise of independent record labels, easy(-ish) CD distribution, college radio and shows like Brent Bambury’s Brave New Waves on CBC Radio produced an astonishing expansion of Canadian rock, alternative, punk and otherwise guitar-intensive music. What strikes you first about HNBTS is its breadth and depth: the new edition runs past 700 pages, with separate chapters on important regional music scenes (Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver) and on key bands (Sloan, Tragically Hip), but just about every band that made any kind of name for itself is in here. The bands that served as my touchstones after my undergrad are all here — Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Jerry Jerry, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.

But this is not merely a compendium. It’s a tremendously sympathetic audience with dozens of musicians, so it’s full to bursting with first-hand accounts of memorable gigs, epic or catastrophic tours, triumphant or (more often) messed-up shots at the big time. Barclay and his colleagues do not fetishize the minor players or penalize the bands that made it big for their success, so Daniel Lanois, 54-40, Blue Rodeo, kd lang and the Tragically Hip get as much respect as, and in most cases more attention than, the Nils, Hayden and Jellyfishbabies. The result is one of the most important Canadian social histories I’ve seen on any subject. And it’s far more entertaining than I just made it sound.

During the decade in question about 80% of my attention was going to jazz music, but I still washed up at Foufounes Electriques, the Rivoli, Call The Office and their dingy equivalents perhaps 30 nights a year. This book has been invaluable for making sense of that heady time. As a bonus, iTunes has released a series of playlists with music that’s referenced in every chapter of the book. I sorted through it this morning to download music from a bunch of bands I’d managed to miss over the years — Sloan (yes, I know, sheltered life), Thrush Hermit, Lonesome er, Handsome Ned, D.O.A. For younger readers or those who’ve had to weed their CD collection as they grew up and moved, the playlists provide a handy soundtrack.

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