Wednesday, May 21, 2008

National Security Blanket

Not only can I "say Saskatchewan without starting to stutter" but I was born there. It's a flat, strange place, surrounded entirely by wheat and its smaller towns and cities, like my hometown of Estevan, are flat, strange places, beset by special effects-style weather and rife for any number of "strange drifter wanders into town and is kidnapped by inbred locals" scenarios.

My parents, however, were English, and I soon became a pint-sized Anglophile. It all seemed so exotic. The Beatles were from there. Monty Python was from there. It was somewhere other than HERE. I couldn't understand a word my northern grandparents said when they called, but that was cool in its own way too. When I was six, I came back from visiting England and was promptly beaten up for six months for my new, obsessive pronunciation of tomato.

As I got older, of course, and music became my guiding passion - my Anglophilia introduced me to Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Ian Dury, Billy Bragg, Ray Davies, Richard Thompson - all incredibly powerful influences on me. But I was also surrounded by the big Canadian bands of my adolescence - The Tragically Hip, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies and an array of other artists who were daily radio staples for me, but either unheard of or one-hit-wonders elsewhere.

Still, even when I moved to England at the age of 19, I thought of myself as somehow English. I wanted to be an English songwriter, part of a long tradition I'd worked out in my head. I worked then, and work now, with English (and Scottish. Really must learn to edit what I write, cause I'm never going to live that one down now. Sorry John. Mea maxima culpa.) musicians.

When our first album was released in 2004, however, one reviewer very kindly took the time to berate me, at length, for carrying on the horrific tradition of adopting a North American accent whilst singing.

Suddenly, I felt very proudly Canadian, and also began my life-long irritation with journalists who don't do research.

The capper occurred a couple of years ago, when I found myself riding a bus to a dead-end pay-the-bills job I hated, my children living elsewhere, my relationships in tatters.

A song came on the iPod. A Bruce Springsteen song. And I found myself in floods of cathartic tears. It wasn't my precious EC, it wasn't wit, wordplay and mentions of girls from Clapham. It was The Boss. I felt every inch the aspirational North America male, driving down a dusty highway in a car that Noah might think over-roomy, and dreaming of a better life.

I listen to a lot of Canadian and American artists again now, and I even wrote a song about Saskatchewan. I think it's helped me find my own voice, remembering from whence I came. I hope so, aynway. I do not, however, and have never said the word, "aboot".

What's your take on the national divide in songwriting styles? In playing style? In musical taste? Is there one?



Post a Comment

<< Home