The Weekend Roundup: OhCanada! Canadian Music, Movies, Books, and Television: Overlooked and Underfunded.

Next year, I will be celebrating 40 years of living in Canada. What makes this unusual (and insane to many I call friends) is that I migrated here from The Promised Land; California. Why, some of you will ask, scratching your heads through your Roots toques and taking another sip of your Timmy’s double double, would anyone in their right mind move from the fabled land of MILFs and Honey and move to a climate better suited to parkas and gloves instead of beach towels and flip flops? Well, first of all, who says I am in my right mind?

I have been playing music since I was 5 years old. Had I been in my right mind at any time since then, I would have become a lawyer, or better still, followed my dad’s footsteps into the family business, which was groceries and produce. I could stock a shelf like a pro (back to front), bag groceries (canned goods first, followed by packaged goods, topped with eggs and/or bread and baked goods), and tell you when iceberg lettuce was fresh and crisp and well grown (very little give when squeezed) melons were ripe (thump them, they make a certain sound), and avocados were ready to eat (darker green in colour, slightly pliable when squeezed), all before I was 12 years old.

What stopped me from turning my ability to talk my parents out of grounding me into a law degree and a new Mercedes Benz every year, or turning the family’s 5 grocery stores into a state-wide chain of supermarkets, was the uncontrollable desire to write and make music, be in a group, see the world, and get laid. You know…money for nothing and the chicks for free. Even after I learned that was bullshit, it was too late. While my friends drank themselves through college or worked at a real job that would land them in a happy marriage with kids and a dog and a modicum of security, I was busy chasing the dream, the dragon, and the tail. Living for that hour or two on stage, or coming up with a great verse or chorus, or the elusive bridge that turned a piece of music into a bonafide song. I cannot begin to describe the elation of creating something out of whole cloth. The only thing more fulfilling, is creating a living, breathing child who makes you proud, like my daughter does, and turns out better than anything else you have ever done.

When Elektra Records sent my third recording band (The Wackers) to Montreal to record our second album, I finally succumbed to the lure of Canada that had started back in the ‘60’s when The Family Tree (my first recording band) had played regularly in Vancouver at Tommy Chong’s Retinal Circus, among other venues.  Where Vancouver had seemed exotic (weirdly branded cigarettes, pop, and chips), Montreal was positively alien. Cosmopolitan like San Francisco, but somehow more urbane, sophisticated, and mysterious. I fell in love, not only with the city, but the people, the food, the ambiance, and most importantly, the music.

Like Vancouver, there were so many great local artists in Montreal, if we weren’t playing or recording, The Wackers could go out every night of the week and hear something new and original. Years later I would discover that the same was true of Toronto, and Halifax, and London, and Hamilton, and Calgary, and Edmonton…Canada, it seemed, was boiling over with hard working, creative, musicians and writers whose sole reason for existence was to make music and spread the word. This, I thought, is home. It still is, and for the same reasons.

We have the best writers, creative people, and talented support crews and technicians per capita in the world. Period. And not just on the music side of entertainment. Our country has a wealth of authors, novelists, actors, directors, and other creative individuals who all fly just under the radar, or off the grid altogether. Mushroom Records Creative VP the late Shelly Siegel. As great a Canadian Gate Keeper as they get.

Why is it then, most of them and what they create (or more importantly, could create) goes unrealized, unseen, unheard, unread, or unnoticed by the masses? Well, I’ll tell you;  A lack of visionary, risk-taking, creative Gate Keepers…and a Government more interested in Hockey and promoting Canada to the rest of the world than they are in feeding and housing the poverty stricken, repairing our infrastructure, putting aside money for pensions and senior assistance programs, and funding the creative people who live in Canada, the people who ARE Canada.

The almost 2 Billion dollars spent on the Olympics and G8/G20 Summit could have been better spent in so many ways that my poor little head just spins at the thought. Jingoism comes at a much higher cost than just financial as well. We live in a world where hype has become the biggest turn-off when it comes to getting people interested in something. We now live in a world where quality speaks much louder than an exploding Pizza Pop or loud Dorito. The mainstream may be lining up to buy Ga Ga tickets and watching Survivor on TV, but the trend setters and non-conformists are filling the clubs for local and touring acts the mainstream has yet to discover, and watching Archer on their computers, always on the lookout for something new, something fresh, something of value. You have to ask yourself a question; if popular items weren’t hyped so much, would they become or stay popular based solely on their quality? Or does greatness always come from left field, unannounced, unpredictable, and unsullied by hype, marketing, and artifice, gaining popularity and attention purely because of their honesty, simplicity, and uniqueness? You all know the answer to that question, don’t you?

Everyone in Canada is either creative and talented at what they do, or count creative and talented people among their circle of friends. It is the creative and talented we should be investing in and nurturing. Even more than water and lumber, these people are our most important natural resource, and they deserve our encouragement, support, and attention.

As far as musicians, singers, and songwriters go…

Dear Mr. Government, Music Industry Leaders, Radio Consultants and Music Directors, Agents, Managers, and the Mainstream Public, please realize what an important resource our music, and the people who create it, are to our culture and economy. Start digging deeper, looking beyond the usual suspects, through the hype, and past the consultants, committees and contests. Help the hard working, self-starting individuals who eke out a living creating, performing, writing, and honing their craft. Respect those who take day jobs so they can better their skills and excel at what they do. These are not people hoping to win a contest, be famous, or achieve popularity by formula or compromise. These are artists looking to make a living doing what they love by doing it honestly, better, and with a personal stamp and  dedication money can’t buy. They need a roof over their heads and food on the table, not a new guitar or fancy clothes. You have seen what originality and perseverance are capable of. Find these people. They’re all over this country. They exist, and cannot be manufactured or created by a team of experts. They are Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Dominic Troiano and Doug Riley, Alec Fraser and Jeff Healey, Carole Pope and Mary Margaret O Hara,. Blue Rodeo and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and so many others. They all come from the streets and clubs of Canada. That is where the artists are. There are a bunch of them out there now…go find them and listen to what they have to offer.

As far as books, movies, and television go…

I know this probably isn’t really the case, but it seems as though the Publishers, Networks, and Motion Picture companies in this country aren’t interested in anything that isn’t about Hockey, Canadiana, autobiographical or second hand biographies of famous people, or Canadian-centric or formula takes on existing American and British TV shows, murder mysteries, and  (once) the Avro Arrow. I find this highly insulting.

Ty Templeton is a ridiculously talented (and successful) writer and illustrator who does tons of work for DC and Marvel, Bongo (The Simpsons), and even Mad Magazine, yet I cannot recall having ever seen his work in any Canadian publication. Jaimie Vernon, who successfully ran an Independent record label called Bullseye for 25 years, has been working for decades on a book called The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia for which he cannot find a publisher. The only other book similar to this has not been available since 1998, and there are thousands of people, libraries, schools, colleges and Universities, and radio stations, not to mention all the others outside of Canada, who would be interested in this book and yet not one Canadian publisher sees the value or historic significance of this ongoing work-in-progress. WTF? Do any of the publishers troll the blogosphere looking for writers? I highly doubt it. Is there even a place where an aspiring author can have his work read by professionals, evaluated, or considered for publication? Does the government have funding available for these people?  The same applies for screenplays and scripts. Studios,, directors, production houses, none will accept unsolicited material, so how do you get solicited? With all the mandatory Canadian content laws, you would think they would be falling over themselves searching for quality work, but oddly, they don’t seem to be looking at all. Is it a closed shop? It may be. Look for book publishing and film making to go more and more independent in the near future…that is, if the creative community doesn’t starve or freeze to death living on a steam grate or in a refrigerator carton, first.

Clearly, as more and more creators break through without the help of the existing Gate Keepers, new businesses and distribution avenues will spring up around them and like the music industry, more and more control will be handed over to the innovative and visionary upstarts who will come to replace the current regime. A regime whose agenda seems to be financing and releasing only that which they consider to be risk free, mainstream, board member approved, sure bets…which they very rarely are.

Canada has always had a favourable atmosphere for the arts, and up until about 8 years ago, the government was instrumental in funding a lot of arts and entertainment that otherwise would have died on the vine. Severe cutbacks as of late have sent alarms through the arts community, and they seem to be rallying their numbers to change the current government back into a more benign and supportive force.

Regardless of what the current government says, their actions have sent a clear message that the people of this country are considered less a responsibility than the image and corporate identity of a country regarded the world over as a compassionate and people friendly entity. Not just the arts community, but seniors and the young first time voters, also seem to feel that it is time for a change, that taxes (the money we give back to the government to keep our standard of living high and our streets safe, our infrastructure sound, and our culture meaningful) shouldn’t be cut, only to have the tax money that is available spent on the military, money draining events like the Olympics and the G8/G20 Summits, and other areas that ignore the needs of the people and the heart of the country. I don’t want a tax cut, I want a job, lower prices, better health care (bring back dental and optometry care) and more diverse media, and entertainment choices made available to me. I want to hear new music, see home grown films and television shows, and read books that I would otherwise be unable to experience without our taxes being spent to aid and abet our desire for a better life. That the government has mandated Canadian businesses such as radio, television and other media conglomerates to create and maintain funding to help finance these things is a sound and wise decision. All we need now are people to disperse those funds to the deserving, the unique, the honest artists, and hard working individual groups whose goals are to first create quality entertainment and content, not for fame or financial rewards, those will follow. We need Gate Keepers whose love, knowledge and passion for the various branches of the Arts comes ahead of commerce and stockholder appeasement. Give the public the music, media, books, movies and television shows we are capable of, not what the bean counters and copyright owners think will generate the most money. When that happens, there will be more money coming in than the bean counters ever dreamed of. It will just be going into the creative Gate Keepers and Artists’ pockets instead of theirs. Above: Bernie Finklestein, one of the Greats.

The Election…

Time to take a chance. Do NOT just vote against Harper. Vote for someone who stands the best chance of speaking out for you and I. That someone is Jack Layton. I know, I know, I’ve heard every argument you can muster against Layton and the NDP, but it’s time to suck it back and see what they can do. Of all the parties, they seem to be the only ones who have learned anything in the past 10 years, and I would rather suffer through a few honest mistakes, than sit through another 8 years of calculated abuse of power and misdirected spending. Layton has the passion, the ideas, and the individuality we need in a leader, you can see it in his eyes. He is a man of the people, not a man of the image, nor the spokesman for big money. I may not know a lot about politics (so few of us do), but I know a good man when I see and hear one. If you plan on getting older, and care about our creative culture, Jack is the only candidate that even mentioned these things in his speeches and his campaign literature. I am publicly endorsing him, and Jade has gone even further, canvassing both door to door and over the phone forLayton and the NDP. I am proud of her. Make me proud of you on Monday.

For more on Music, the election, and my personal take on politics in general, see today’s Music Matters at Cashbox Canada.

Have a Great Weekend, we’ll see you on Monday.

Those of you who wish to continue to receive the Don’t Believe a Word I Say columns, The Monday Morning MailbagThe Rock Files, and The Weekend Roundup, can email me at segarini@rogers.com to let me know, and I will email the columns new URL directly to you.

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats And Dogs, and was nominated for a Juno Award  for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop,  continues to write, make music, and record.

4 Responses to “The Weekend Roundup: OhCanada! Canadian Music, Movies, Books, and Television: Overlooked and Underfunded.”

  1. Jaimie Vernon Says:

    Thanks for the mention, Bob. Here’s hoping you can talk about the Encyclopedia soon in it’s bookish form 🙂

  2. good article bob, it’s going on my fb. Here’s a link to a quick PSA ditty we did (had to do something) titled “Stephen Harper wants you…[in jail.”]

  3. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    Well said Bob. You are truly sounding like the voice of the people here.

  4. […] The Weekend Roundup: OhCanada! Canadian Music, Movies, Books, and Television: Overlooked and Underfunded. from SEGARINI:  DON’T BELIEVE A WORD I SAY […]

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