The triumph of Canadian rock

photos Arcade Fire

2010 Grammy Award winners Arcade Fire at Pop Montreal, Sept 22 2011. Ashley Tanasiychuk photo

Book review – Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995, 10th anniversary edition

– by Erin Hanson

The 10-year anniversary re-issue of this ambitious history, initially published in 2001, may come across a bold move. One might assume a book celebrating Canadian rock from 1985-1995 is anachronistic, for oh, how things have changed. Can we even remember an era before Arcade Fire, before Broken Social Scene and Wolf Parade, heck even before Nelly Furtado? A detailed history of their predecessors seems, well, obsolete. How quaint that authors Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack, and Jason Schneider consider 1985-1995 so significant a time in Canadian rock that it deserves a nearly 800-page history.

But it does, and the fact that this era is commonly overlooked is precisely the point. Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 10th Anniversary Edition (ECW Press, trade, 780 pps, $29.99) takes us through a major transitional time in Canadian rock/pop music, when the attitude was that one had to move to the U.S. to make it big (à la Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot) and that singing about your home country in a rock song was career suicide.

And then along came the Barenaked Ladies, Jane Siberry, Mint Records, the Tragically Hip, MuchMusic and countless DJs, among others, who built the very nation-wide music scene they wanted to see: one that was vibrant, supportive, and could be unabashedly Canadian.

The writing is strong in Have Not Been the Same; the authors avoid nostalgia and sentimentality and instead let the colourful history stand on its own. This chronicle is about more than just the musicians, and focuses on how fans, radio programs, journalists, and everyone in between had a role in making the music matter.

HNBS also celebrates those who fell under the radar, but maybe shouldn’t have. These are the musicians, fans, and players that paved the way for the exciting music scenes we enjoy and celebrate today. Anecdotes and sound bites add a variety of perspectives  to the stories (including an unintentionally humorous Bryan Adams quote on how easy it is to make it big in the music industry).

Young Bryan Adams image

Everywhere he went, Bryan Adams found, kids just wanted to rock.

The result is a book that holds the reader’s interest whether or not he or she is familiar with the band, program or person in question. Not a Sloan fan? Doesn’t matter. In a chapter entitled “The Importance of Being Sloan”, Barclay, Jack and Schneider show even the biggest cynic why Sloan mattered, and still does.

Sloan at the Commodore Ballroom photo

Sloan at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, June 3 2011. Jason Statler photo

The authors also ably communicate the importance of musical groundbreakers and milestones, such as CBC Radio creating the late-night new music showcase Brave New Waves, and artists like the Tragically Hip name-dropping Canada in their lyrics. What could be an overwhelming subject is broken down into manageable chunks with unique angles, such as a chapter on the dawn of MuchMusic and campus radio, and another about what the book calls “the Daniel Lanois sound”.

Have Not Been the Same is a fantastic read as well as a fitting tribute that will inspire many a reader to expand their music collection with little-known works from the era. If you ever wondered how we got to the point where Arcade Fire could win a Grammy, or if you just want to reminisce about favourite bands or discover new old music, this book is for you.

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