The Definitive CanCon List

The funny thing as a Canadian expatriate living in the United States is that you quickly discover that you’re 30-40% out of touch with American contemporary culture. That CanCon quota you so poisonously made fun of over Labatt products at your city’s local tavern before you emigrated has a way of burrowing into your brain; either shaping your youth as you’re mesmerized by the Log Driver’s Waltz, or getting your first weird erection to Heather Conkie. Such is the case for Brooklyn by-way-of Toronto’s Her Habits, AKA Joanie Wolkoff. With a rising attention to her latest musical output in the US of A, recently she has come to face a wall of nostalgia for her lifestyle upbringing that’s hit her like all she can smell is burnt toast. This is her definitive CanCon list, in her own words.

Plumbing the stores of my Canadian upbringing for this compendium was no easy matter. For every socio-musicological diamond unearthed on the list, another ten made the rounds in my mind for the rest of the day. Painful though it was whittling away Canadian treasures like Manitoba's The Guess Who (These Eyes) and Halifax's MCJ & Cool G (So Listen), it was my duty to gather these ten choices from the annals of Can Con glory. I hope you'll agree that they reflect the broad scope of our true North strong and free, but let's not forget the real aim of a good best-of list: to prompt readers' own journeys down history's irresistible rabbit hole.

May the artists and television sound bites catalogued below speed you on your way to a holiday season brimming with nostalgic pleasure.

The Littlest Hobo

The Littlest Hobo
Maybe tomorrow... your colleagues and loved ones will worry about how many times you've replayed this theme song.

This dog was brilliant. As a child, I wanted to be his owner so badly. But The Littlest Hobo teaches us an important lesson about casting off the shackles of entitlement. By all means join him for awhile on his travels, but don't expect him to stick around. This canine dances to his own beat. He just keeps moving on. Few things are as existentially moving as an ownerless dog and The Littlest Hobo theme song makes me feel like I'm crossing a river to the rescue with a hunting rifle between my teeth. What am I rescuing? Myself, duh.

Tona Walt Ohama

Tona Walt Ohama
"...what happened next: my father asked for help on the potato farm (‘just for a summer’ which turned into many years) so I quit the band and moved into the middle of nowhere with no musicians around and my thoughts turned to recording."

Some thirty years ago, Tona Walt Ohama invested in an 8-track Otari tape recorder and girded his loins against the challenges of pioneering new musical territory in relative isolation. After all, music programmers were not common fare on Albertan potato farms in the early eighties. Ohama is a founding father of Canada's electronic music scene and has a compelling swathe of under-the-radar material to show for it. You can learn more about this musician's musician here or check out his 1982 video for My Time.

Catwalk

Catwalk
My pre-teen heart was Keram-ed full of feelings for this man.

For anyone looking to relive the Canadian 1990s (or grasp their meaning because you weren't born yet), look no further than Catwalk. YTV ran this gem for two years in the early '90s and it was so much more than a post-apocalyptic-chic music drama. It was how I got to eat fruit roll ups and gaze at brooding, feral Keram Malicki-Sanchez while he grappled with the cool kid quandaries of his posse (including Neve Campbell, for all you Wild Things out there). 

Mashmakhan

Mashmakhan
Little did Mashmakhan know how hard people would try to look like them in forty-five years...

Since we're hanging out in a time machine, let's take a trip back to Ile-Perrot Quebec in 1970 when rock-fusion treasure Mashmakhan first formed. Their single "As The Years Go By" would to go on to sell over a million copies worldwide, garnering listeners' praise all the way to Japan (without the internet's help, because there was no internet, guys). Mashmakhan mania will make perfect sense when you hear this mighty love anthem.

Dear Aunt Agnes

Dear Aunt Agnes
Dear Aunt Agnes. Remember? You said you'd help me out of you could...

What happens when it's Toronto in the mid '80s and your divorced mom takes a job overseas, so her kooky 65 year old sister who doesn't understand technology becomes your guardian? Answer: Canadian children's television takes up questions around non-nuclear families and the idea that young people can make their own educated decisions (pretty avant garde material for television of that era). You also get the dopest theme song ever. ION's unofficial Dear Aunt Agnes theme song cover contest begins today. Send all submissions to Trevor at trevor@ionmagazine.ca.

 

Snow

Snow
Yeah me shoes are tear up an' me toes used to show
Where me born in on the one Toronto so...

Without Snow, (né Darrin Kenneth O'Brian) there can be no Canadian '90s. Torontonian lore holds that a clique of musical warlocks in the municipality of North York, Ontario, incubated Snow until he was ready to spend the '90s on the Canadian charts, cavorting in 12 Inches of Snow (this being the title of his debut album). Next time you karaoke, stand tall and try your hand at "Informer." Whatever the results, no one present will ever see you the same way again.

Meryn Candell

Meryn Candell
The sweater has that faintly goat-like smell which all teenage boys possess.

Let's take a moment to admire the hilarious spoken word oeuvre of Brooklyn-born, Waterloo raised Meryn Cadell, who brought us "Sweater Song" in 1991 and followed up with a vibrant career in the arts, extensive human rights work and her public decree of transition into the Transgender Community on CBC Radio One in 2004.

Jane Siberry

Jane Siberry
...the day was faultless in beauty pitched on tropical scenery...

For my money, Jane Siberry was the most progressive thing going in commercial Canadian music in the 1980s. Here was a musically self-taught feminist who partook in major industry-level activity but maintained a degree of social awareness and aesthetic daring uncommon to the époque. Siberry took educated risks and went on to commandeer a one-woman label, and the Etobicoke native's self-aware lyrics and conceptual performance placed her in league with contemporaries like David Byrne and Brian Eno. Not to mention that she hit the beach in a pink bathing suit and walked a cow on a tether. 

Spookey Ruben

Spookey Ruben
Oooh loo-loo 
Ooh ya-ya-ya!
Oh- yeah!

In the mid-nineties, Spookey Ruben showed up on the Toronto scene, a former satanic t-shirt-wearing pariah. No sooner had he flashed his musical talents than he made the leap to a beloved former satanic t-shirt wearing pariah. Rumors swirled around Spooky. Could he really shrink down to miniature and fly over mountains? I recorded a few songs with this CanCon legend when I was a whipper snapper and his creativity floored me. I recall our goofy staring contest in an elevator, and the bare intelligence in that man's eyes has etched itself into my memory. He then broke into gales of laughter because he thought my expression was "so Polish" (he was right).

Michie Mee

Michie Mee
"One thing, and I think this was an asset, was that I wasn’t afraid to break the rules."

Let's wind down on a high note with Canada's first recognized female emcee, Michie Mee. This godmother of Canadian hip hop lobbied alongside contemporary greats like Maestro Fresh Wes throughout the '90s for broader inclusion of hip hop in our home and native land (so don't forget to thank her if you haven't already @MichieBadgalLee).

And speaking of Canadian hip hop luminaries, take a gander at contemporary rapper More Or Les' "Lunch Breaks: the Beat Tape." Album proceeds will go to the Daily Bread Food Bank and the rhymes were devised over several months during—when else?—More or Les' lunch break. Mark my words: this Canadian talent will rank high on any best-of Can Con list in another 30 years (and he'll still be at it), so now is a good time to listen up!

Her Habits’ music can be heard everywhere you might expect, including the deepest corners of your mind where jingles and futuristic pop play UNO against each other on rainy days. On the internet, follow Her Habits here:

http://soundcloud.com/herhabits
http://facebook.com/herhabits
http://twitter.com/herhabits

 

 

Leave a comment

ION Magazine 170-422 Richards Street Vancouver BC Canada V6B 2Z4
© Copyright ION Publishing Group 2013