I enjoyed David Byrne’s talk at TED today. He put forth a theory of creativity that runs contrary to the romantic model. Instead of thinking of creativity as a thing that emerges from the force of soemone’s specific artistic bent, he walked through the history of music and showed how music styles have been highly determined by the venue in which it was played — gregorian chants in the cathedrals, lilting Mozart pieces in parlors, subtle classical in giant concert halls, punchy rhythmic music in small venues where you have to be heard over the crowd, crooners and singers abetted by the microphone to whisper in your ear. Creators think ahead to the space in which the music will be heard, and create for that venue.
I think there’s a strong analogy to the evolution of the moving picture, from those strangely lascivious brief dramas of the nickelodeon to the Academy ratio of the silver screen, widescreen efforts leading to visual spectacles, television shows where close-ups have dominated, etc. The space of the filmic presentation guides the creator as to what they will make.
Listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered in the car, Stacy and I somehow got on to the topic of the Canadian Rock Pantheon. When it first came up, I thought the list would be long, but in our conversation, only two entrants qualified in my mind: Rush and The Guess Who. Stacy wanted to add The Tragically Hip, but I’m wary of including a band that had no significant uptake south of the border. We also dismissed the singer-songwriter folkies (e.g., Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen) as, well, not rock. We considered Neil Young, but while Canadian, pretty much his entire meaningful career existed in the United States.
On Twitter, I posed the question “Who is in the Canadian Rock Pantheon? Obvi, Rush and The Guess Who. Whom else? Neil Young? BTO? The Hip? Bryan Adams?” For me, to be Canadian Rock Pantheon, the band/person must have: recorded primarily in Canada; played guitar-driven rock; and had a lasting influence and presence. The latter criteria rules out a number of indie bands (such as Arcade Fire, New Pornographers) — to be in a pantheon requires the test of time. Given the criteria, and the feedback I got from Twitter, this is what I believe to be Canadian Rock Pantheon:
And, for now, that’s it. Steppenwolf is disqualified as they didn’t become that band until the members had moved to the US. Alanis Morrissette has not demonstrated any meaningful longevity. Blue Rodeo and Bruce Cockburn have no presence south of the border. Loverboy is simply too one-hit-wonder. After seeing Anvil! The Story of Anvil, I’d consider them as a kind of special entrant given their awesome influence on an entire subgenre of rock.
I’m surprised at how few bands made it into the pantheon. The population of Canada 1960-2000 tracks very closely to the population of California in that time, yet in that time California has had many more Pantheon bands (off the top of my head: The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Eagles, The Byrds, Metallica, Green Day (i think they qualify already) (and I’m sure these lists: Musical Groups from Los Angeles and Musical Groups from San Francisco would turn up many more.