I recently watched Rob Ford humiliate himself on Jimmy Kimmel. It was painful, sure. I cringed along with most other Canadians (ex-pats or not) as I watched the Toronto Mayor sweat and struggle through his answers as Jimmy pummeled him with barb after barb, then shamed him with incontrovertible video evidence. Kimmel smiled and pointed to a big, inescapable TV monitor while the Mayor offered only what could be described as a constipated grimace.
Poor bastard, I thought. Would he be crucified like this on the CBC? Just for yucks? Sure, he was skewered by Canuck journalists, but to be turned into a shallow joke-of-the-moment like a forgettable internet kitten clip? That’s a trick that seemed purely American. Then it struck me how different the Canadian and American cultures are. We tend to–at least Canadians do–think in terms of our similarities, and considering there is ample example, why not?
The differences, though, are more subtle. It’s not just the metric system either.
When I was a kid, I didn’t even notice what I was being spoon-fed on either side of the border. It wasn’t until I was living in the US that the shadowy politics of entertainment came to light.
Let’s take rock n roll for instance. There were plenty of Canadian bands that were big up north that never got a foothold in the States. Need an example? April Wine.
April Wine’s Could Have Been a Lady
Poised to become the next Guess Who, April Wine’s sales never took off stateside. It’s easy to chalk this up to talent, style, or management, but the real culprit here was distribution. It was the behind-the-scenes machinations at the labels and distributors that largely decided what was being heard, sold, and ultimately enjoyed by people.
Scotland’s Nazareth was another good example. Up north, they were as big as Led Zeppelin. No, I’m not kidding, that’s how they were presented. When I came down to the States, it seemed that few people had ever heard of them. But back in the old country, you couldn’t walk a block in your snowshoes without hearing Love Hurts or Hair of the Dog. An even more dramatic example? Bruce Springsteen. Sure we’d heard of him in Canada, but we didn’t hear much from him. In the late 70s when I visited Arizona–one of the spots where his label was trying to “break” him–I finally heard the Boss on the radio. I remember thinking, Oooh, so this is what everyone is talking about.
What I thought was driving my music purchases was my own taste, but in reality, I was being steered by forces beyond my control. As a 12-year-old wandering the aisles of Sam the Record Man, I liked to think I was the one making my own decisions, but with so many other things that happen when you’re twelve, the choice was being made for you. You think you’re a rebel and then it turns out you’re just another one of the sheep.
Maybe it was these kinds of things that made my conversion to punk rock and the counter-culture so seamless. It was a refreshing realization to finally accept that you’re being manipulated for your dollars right out of the box. That what was available never had much to do with what was best, the cream didn’t always float to the surface. It had more to do with backroom deals, board meetings, and favors between guys wearing suits that knew next to nothing about rock and roll. You know … politics. Christ, how else could Loverboy sell a million records?
So when Rob Ford insisted on the Jimmy Kimmel Show that Americans had it all wrong, that he was actually responsible for great prosperity in Toronto, I thought, shit, how the hell am I supposed to know?