49th Parallel


My sweetheart is a Canadian, those reasonable and quiet folk from the North. I am an American. We met in New York, and, as my style of flirtation is good-natured contrariness and gentle ribbing, we have been arguing about the merits of Canada from the beginning.

It is a favorite pastime of Americans to slight their northern neighbors (well, all of their neighbors), and now that I am faced with a true Canadian, and having consequently visited Canada and been in real conversations with many of her kind, I have had to question my feelings about the country and its people. Wherefore the lack of goodwill?

After many rounds of verbal sparring and some introspection, I came to the decision that Americans show dislike of Canadians for the very reason we love ourselves. They are not what we are, and because what we are is loud, brash, and prideful, we are caught in a cycle of egotistical self-inflation and outward depreciation of everyone that is not us.


It is who we are. Within a short and well-recorded history (and not a little mythology), Americans tamed a wild land, broke the bonds of its oppressors, formed the “greatest government in the world”, and became the world’s most powerful nation, the dominant player of the twentieth century, the most important time of mankind’s history. Canada never did that. They’re still a Commonwealth of Great Britain. They didn’t even have a constitution until 1982.

Canada never bugged us or caused us any real trouble. They’re just not us. And we love us. I could tell you plenty of wonderful things about Canada, not least of which is my boyhood realization that men encountered more rugged terrain in Canada than in America, and therefore Canadians must come from stronger stock, and my later thoughts on Canada’s accomplishment in becoming one of the world’s leading nations (a member of the G8) without being a major military power.

I can’t say I love Canada. I hardly know it. When I visited, I was asked what Americans really think of Canadians. We don’t think of them at all. They’re over there, we’re here, and if we have an image of Canadians as toothless, it probably has more to do with American aggression and egotism than any fault in the Canadian people.


I have plenty of opinions on Canadian music on the other hand, and they’re changing all the time. Before Apollonia showed up, I did not have much experience with her country’s music. She has presented me with a lineup of her favorite bands, and, regrettably, I have rejected nearly all of them.

There is a Canadian sound, especially in the vocals of rock bands, that I cannot get used to. It could be my own darling’s musical tastes, and it is exemplified in the sound of her favorite band, The Tragically Hip. But they are one of the most popular acts in Canada, so I should not fault Apollonia.

I cannot get into a full critique of The Tragically Hip, as I have not listened to them enough to get a bead on them. But I have heard enough to know I don’t like it. Of course, I have been raised on American music: country, R&B, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll; Canadians must have other influences. I could listen to the most wonderful pop song in Portuguese history, the culmination of their entire pop history, and not know it from anything else.


The same must be true of Canadian music. I have no bearing on their history and influences (though I understand that they must share a lot of influences with Americans), and The Tragically Hip only sounds like the kind of rock music I dislike in America. What makes it less palatable to me than the Portuguese song is that it is in my language and uses my musical foundation, but it is somehow off. It occupies that uncanny valley of things that are but in some indefinable way aren’t. I am confident that they must be a good band; it just doesn’t appeal to me.

I have tried again and again with many other bands, and it has had the same effect on me. I have attributed it to a Canadian sound, and I have even theorized that it must stem from that same divide: Canadians do not share our history, so they cannot share our music. I do not know why British rock succeeds where Canadian music falls short, but I theorize again that the British must have that cocksure egotism that we Americans are so derided for. And rock ‘n’ roll is nothing if not cocksure egotism.

Of course, I don’t mean to make a sweeping judgment here. I’m working only on the fact that little Canadian music has found its way to America, and what I have heard has mostly left me unsatisfied. It may only be me, a hard-to-kill bias. This is not intended as a derision of hard-working and talented Canadian musicians, but an investigation into why it doesn't translate. But there are bands worth noting. Also worth noting is that they mostly hail from Vancouver, which by my account is a misplaced American city.

I like Tegan and Sara, twin singer/songwriters whose punk-pop is infectious. The New Pornographers make terrific music. Their album Mass Romantic, with its crunching guitars and smart, bouncing vocals gets regular spin on my iPod. The Be Good Tanyas, one of Apollonia’s favorites, make sweet, jaunty bluegrass. They’re one of the best modern performers of Appalachian music.

And, of course, there is Arcade Fire, perhaps my favorite modern band, whose Funeral is the last album to get Everyday Play in my home, an honor bestowed to masterpieces like Astral Weeks and Pet Sounds. I think they formed in Montreal, and most of their members are Canadian, but the lead singer/songwriter is from Texas. That makes them American, right?

I know I have some Canadian readers. If you are offended by this piece, chalk it up to American xenophobia, pride, and ignorance. I’d be happy if you proved me wrong by recommending great Canadian music in the comments.

And before you mention them: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and The Band. They’re all pretty good.

Comments

LoveMy2Guys said…
I know a lot of people who hate Canada. I am not sure why though...what you posted made sense. What I hear the most is people hate Avril and hate hey. My girlfriends hate the word Canada because many of them have had fights with lovers regarding bachalor parties in Montreal. I hear they are a real hoot.

When I watched Murderball and the American went to go coach Canada...ughhhhh it made me mad.

I always remember cousin Timmy's hockey game in Tampa for some reason. Rutgers was playing at USF. USF guys were Canadian, and huge. Like they were breed and bought.

Myself, I love Canada Dry. Its my favorite.
Karen said…
I adored Toronto it was a city like New York only cleaner and filled with what seemed like a little more love and decency. The graffiti were peace signs, the local bars were filled with strangers sharing benches to watch the Maple Leafs go at it on television. There version of the projects were described and I could not help but think if only we could look to the North and learn from them just a little. ON a dance floor in Toronto I had my most memorable kiss and on its streets I embraced my most memorable snowstorm in the middle of November. I stood in a winter coat while the Torontonians just added a hat to match their sweater as though it was merely cotton landing all around them. I cannot remember my time in Canada without love. Even on my first trip to Quebec where we had to wait at the border for 6 hours the French/English combo made up for the slow welcome at the gate. Perhaps I have romanticized its goodness but I am a romantic.
Coleen said…
well goldie hawn absolutely loves living in canada, she says there is nothing like it. i enjoy avril and liked sum 41, and of course alanis.
Reilly Owens said…
Something I didn't mention is that a large reason Canadian music might have a bad reputation in the U.S. is that we only import the crap. Biggest Canadian artists in America? Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette (she can pass), whoever else Coleen just mentioned. That's got more to do with America than Canada.

And I will give Canada respect for its comedy: Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Dave Foley, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Leslie Nielsen, and all the rest of SCTV and Kids In The Hall. That list makes our American comedy look like the Royal Canadian Air Force in comparison.
Reilly Owens said…
Oh, I forgot that new comedy kingpin Seth Rogen is from Vancouver. If I were in America right now, I would be seeing Knocked Up at my favorite theater.
Coleen said…
Seth was from Freaks and Geeks, he's been around. Thomas saw knocked up, I'm going sometime this week.
Courtney C said…
I'm glad you are getting over your completely unfounded predjudices of Canada. I hope you realize you never would have grown up with Family Ties without us, we contributed the nerdy, tie wearing heartthrob, Micheal J Fox. Nor your favorite Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. AND, the reason you don't like Alanis Morrisette is 'cause you're a boy. AND, I'll let you know we do great political satire. OK OK. Enough said.

One last thing, next time you'd like to post a picture of Gordon Downie and/or the Tragically Hip please consult me first, I have some.

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