Friday, July 2, 2010

I Stand On Guard For Thee

Exactly one year ago today, I went out with a friend from Guelph, in celebration of Dominion Day, popularly known as Canada Day in nine out of ten provinces. Quebec, since they have no respect, use the first of July as their moving day. What schmucks. Anyway, we were treated to a free show by the Constantines down at the Harbourfront Centre, and some piddly little fireworks because the folks who make the fireworks go were on strike in Toronto. What schmucks. But it was a lovely night, full of close-proximity standing and the gentle lapping of waves against a wooden dock. The Harbourfront Center is a pretty nice place to be in general, with it undulating playzone and free art exhibitions.

This summer, like a schmuck, I've exiled myself in my hometown of Stratford. In case you can't tell, I miss my adopted hometown of Toronto (hello, Annex, hello Leslieville, hello High Park - I miss you!), mostly because the programming available there far outstrips that in Stratford. Granted, Toronto also offers the chance to make out in front of riot cops, a proposition that, while titillating, excites me less re: G20 summits, largest mass arrest in Canadian history, and horrifying accounts of detention/poop-flinging/mall rage. Aside from the panic that infected the city this past this weekend - and make no mistake, the vibe was very weird in Hogtown - I like living in Toronto. Last summer, it was the garbage strike; this summer brought us G20 craziness. I can only assume that 2011 will be some sort of zombie outbreak and 2012 will, of course, have the entire planet flinging our miserable selves into the sun.

But outbreaks of G20 hullabaloo aside (and for my friends and neighbours who were arrested, raided, detained and who otherwise had their buttons pushed by police officers, some of whom, in all honesty, were probably just as freaked out as you [NSFW, due to not-at-all-sexy visible penis, and do yourself a hard favour and watch that whole movie at some point], I'm sorry you had to go through that, and I'm embarrassed our city and country has been painted with the unconstitutional brush), I generally like Toronto. And, by extension, Canada.

I feel lucky to live in a country where accessible socialized health care is a given, not to be debated. I feel lucky to live in a multicultural urban center. I have access to clean water and good music. I can buy President's Choice edamame spread in my decidedly small city, which is delicious. Canada isn't perfect: our trains are expensive, our government relies on an emissary of the Queen to run itself, and our pop music is frequently just awful. We've done some despicable things to First Nations people and, once upon a time, we very nearly lost Quebec and its population of schmucks.

But am I thankful that I live here? Absolutely. Canada is goddamn beautiful to look at. And I feel a deep kinship with this place. I remember when I was younger, I used to wish I was American, I think mostly because I thought the whole country was like Disneyworld, which I loved passionately. Having since traveled through the outskirts of Detroit, I can safely say that I was misled as a child, and have no burning desire to move south of the border. Sure, I like the US - no one can argue with New York/San Fransisco/Chicago/Boston/and so on for being banging cities. But do I want to live there, with Kaiser Permanente, child-hating public educators, the three-strikes rule and all the methamphetamines I can smoke? No. I do not.

I love my laid-back country. Our homos can get married, and they throw themselves a tits-out party every year. Douglas Coupland designed a park, visible from the much-derided Gardiner Expressway, that confuses my father every time he sees it. We're home to some of my favourite musicians (and, sigh, Justin Beiber). We spell things weird. We suffer through the cold together, wearing snow-mashing boots and plaid. We're slowly but surely developing our own aesthetic, one that references our abundant natural resources and our ugly-sexy historical ethos. We make supermodels. We make robot space arms. We recycle the hell out of our stuff. We invented basketball, the Bloody Ceasar, and Trivial Pursuit. We have Heritage Moments ("Doctor! I smell burnt toast!"). We co-operate.

While disasters like the G20 cool my passions somewhat, I generally want to plant a big sloppy kiss on this fine country. Happy Canada Day. And for the schmucks over in la belle province, Happy Canada Day to you too, je t'aime, and I'm glad you're still here. Big hugs, all around. Bear hugs, since we're Canadian.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Live And Direct

Back when I was totally bazooka'ed by the abrupt and hideously painful end of my First Real Relationship, I went on this misguided but fun mental mission based on the concept of "I'll win him back by going to awesome concerts!" which, in retrospect, is hilarious. My First Real Relationship was with a boy who considered himself a music type: he played guitar and was, like, into bands and stuff. I have a confused and possibly made-up memory of him telling me that he once slept in his car in order to see Alanis Morissette play a show. Yikes. If that's true, I'm embarrassed to admit that his dumping me shattered me; I really should have known it would end badly.

Unfortunately, when we were together, we were broke-ass kids and could barely afford to feed and house ourselves, let alone buy frivolities like concert tickets and CDs. I think we went to one show together in the entire duration of our relationship - Kaki King, who he was madly in love with and I was like, "Meh, this chick is sort of like a homely Sarah Silverman." The show was in late summer, and because we were awesomely, ultimately, super-duper in love, we cuddled and held hands and were generally glued together at the hip, even though the heat made it feel like suffocation and burning.

He was always wistfully sighing about how he never had enough cash to go to all the concerts he wanted (even though he smoked like a chimney in Industrial Revolution-era London and we drank in bars half the week), but rarely did we scrape together enough cash to finance a trip to a concert venue. I think he held this against me, like I was somehow holding his musical fun hostage.

I have friends who go to, like, five concerts in a month, but that wasn't me. But after this particular breakup, I felt like I needed to get back to who I was - because I was a person who likes live music. My ex had claimed The Music Person role in our relationship, but I've always been a musically-inclined girl. I like new music. I like seeing shows. I like mixed tapes. After we parted ways, I went to a bunch of shows. But I'll admit it: they were vindictive shows, I-don't-need-you concerts, a local tour of learning to stand alone again and half-hoping I'd see him there, just so I could prove that I was awesome: look at me, I like going to concerts!

I have never run into my ex at a concert. I doubt it'll ever happen. And slowly, that quit being the reason I was going to the concerts.

Some of them were about healing, in a different way: my entire family (sans underage brother, sadly) went to see Basia Bulat play a set at Lee's after a horrendously difficult winter re: my sister's health. It was a celebration, an uplift, a family reunion and a fuck-you to cancer. Similarly, my sis and I flew to New York to see Jenny Lewis play a show at the Apollo, the venue where my grandfather saw Ella Fitzgerald perform. I have a bartender acquaintance who moonlights as an insanely talented guitarist, whose shows are feasts of music videos and who band has about ninety-five members. Her shows make me happy, filling me with the kind of emotion that comes from watching someone talented make something good.

I got to see Ted Leo this weekend - and I have the biggest crush on him, because I'm a loser and love graying 40-ish punks who give their audiences tight shows - and it reminded me of all the reasons going to concerts is a blast. I was dancing, singing along, laughing when Leo told a heckler off. I went with a friend who goes to shows all the time; he laughed at my exuberance, but I make no apologies. When the band encored with "Timorous Me," one of my favourite tunes of the past five years, I nearly cried. I love that feeling.

Ticket stubs serve as a little trail of breadcrumbs leading back to some of my fondest memories: the beginnings of relationships, celebrations of success, travel, adventures. I live (mostly) in a city that affords me with the opportunity to see bands that would otherwise exist solely in my headphones, and I would be a fool not to celebrate the fact that, in my own way, I too am A Music Person.