Friday, June 12, 2009

Recommended Canadian Content of the Week: Barenaked Ladies

I remember first becoming aware of Barenaked Ladies when CBC Radio began playing If I Had $1,000,000 and Be My Yoko Ono and interviewing the band before the album Gordon was released. I was struck by their humour (Canadian spelling intentional) and their musical skill was evident.

I bought Gordon as soon as it was available, and it's still one of my favorite albums (by any group or artist). It was very popular in Canada, especially with my circle of friends. I've seen them live twice, and enjoyed their improvisation and sense of humor—they seemed to really enjoy performing, playing music and each other's company.

The Wikipedia article on them is very interesting reading. Don't miss the first two paragraphs under "Indie Origins". I searched YouTube and found this short excerpt of their Speaker's Corner performance of Be My Yoko Ono. (See the last paragraph under "Indie Origins".)

I admire the group for the unabashed Canadian references in their music, even after their success in the U.S. They seem proud of their origins, but are not humorlessly patriotic. Growing up in Canada I was always aware of Canadian artists, and it irked me when (it seemed to me) they forced American references into their music as if they were ashamed of where they were from. (I should collect examples of this. I don't think it would be hard to find several.) Now, of course, I realize this wasn't out of shame but was probably a desperate attempt to increase their chances of commercial success south of the 49th.

My father mentioned during my parents' recent visit that the band had broken up. Actually (at least according to Wikipedia), Steven Page has left the group. I'm sorry to hear that—the band of course won't be the same without him—but I wish him and the remaining BNL members good luck in their continued careers. I'll follow them all with anticipation of more good music.

A couple more of my favorite songs of theirs:

I also recommend their childrens' album Snack Time. I'm always happy to listen to that with the kids. The song The Canadian Snacktime Trilogy i) Snacktime is a lovely tribute to Gordon Lightfoot. And Crazy ABC's is hilarious.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Recommended Canadian Content of the Week: Leonard Cohen

The choice for my second RCCotW blog post was easy. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Canadian or not.

I was introduced to Leonard Cohen fairly early, but I guess I wasn't ready for him. A grade 7 a teacher whose name I can't recall (and who I didn't appreciate at the time) split us into groups and had us do a presentation comparing two artists. I wasn't assertive enough at the time to choose two artists I liked (and at 12, if I was aware of the creators of the music, books, movies and TV I enjoyed, I'm sure I didn't think of them as artists), so my partner (who I also don't recall) and I asked (or more likely whined) that we couldn't think of anyone. The teacher suggested two artists that I would enjoy comparing now, but back then I had never heard of: Leonard Cohen and Margaret Atwood. I'm sure our analysis didn't go very deep—we may not have done much more than describe their biographies and that in addition to them both being Canadian, that they are both poets. I think I recall showing an 8 mm movie about each (that the teacher found).

Unfortunately I missed that opportunity to discover the music of Leonard Cohen. I'm sure I heard it occasionally on CBC Radio, but neither of my parents listened to him so I didn't hear his music around the house.

I finally didn't come to enjoy his music until I heard an interview on CBC with Jennifer Warnes, who was promoting her album Famous Blue Raincoat, which is "a tribute to Leonard Cohen, with whom Warnes had toured as a backup singer in the 1970s." (That must have been late 1986 or early 1987.) I bought the CD (one of the first I bought as I began to replace my vinyl collection) and it became one of my favorites. As so often happens, I over-listened to it until I was tired of it, and I haven't listened to it much since then. (It would be interesting to come back to it and see if I enjoy it.)

I remember raving about it online, and someone else responded that I should really listen to Leonard Cohen himself. Later I remember enjoying the song "Everybody Knows" in the movie Pump Up the Volume (in 1990). But it wasn't until 1993 (or maybe late 1992) that I bought my first Leonard Cohen album The Future. Wikipedia tells me it is one of his most popular, so I guess that makes sense.

Not long after that I bought The Best of Leonard Cohen (and noticed how much his voice has changed since he was young) and later More Best of Leonard Cohen. A couple years ago I bought the soundtrack to the Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man movie, which I haven't seen.

I recommend all of these albums, but I recommend you start with The Best of Leonard Cohen or maybe The Essential Leonard Cohen.

The songs I've marked 5 stars in iTunes are:
Famous Blue Raincoat
Take This Waltz

And these two tributes from Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man:
Antony's If It Be Your Will
Rufus Wainwright's Chelsea Hotel No. 2

What did I leave out?

Update: I remembered a very good interview of Leonard Cohen with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.