Monday, 19 December 2011

On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock

On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian RockOn a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock by Dave Bidini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a Cold Road is the first book on my list for Canada Reads 2012. The point of Canada Reads is to find the most quintessentially Canadian book for the year to recommend to all Canadians to read.

On a Cold Road delivers what the subtitle says: tales of adventure in Canadian rock by documenting the Rheostatics as they open for the Tragically Hip on a cross Canada tour. Interspersed with Bidini’s poetic expressions of band life, are interviews with the founders of Canadian rock. The book begins quietly dealing with the troubles of the music business, travelling on desolate country roads and playing in high school auditoriums, before building up to the debauchery of groupies and of Yonge Street, playing the hallowed ground of Maple Leaf Gardens, and detailing the end: band implosions. The book takes the reader on quite a tour.

As well, Bidini’s prose is exquisite. In a blizzard, wind “knuckles the roof” of their touring van, and Vancouver is described as a “kiss from a ponytailed girl”. The book is also a love letter to Canada. From experiencing “skin-peeling” prairie cold in playing small towns, to wild nights in Hamilton, the band “got to know Canada way more than [they] ever wanted to”. Through the music, Canada becomes a place “waiting to be explored”.

This book gave me a chance to relive my youth: These were the bands and songs that were playing on the radio when I was in high school and university.

I also felt a different sense of nostalgia while reading the book: The book describes a Canada that used to exist: a country where we citizens had much more in common. All the kids of a certain age listened to the same music. I don’t know if that’s true anymore.

Or at least it felt that way. This was the Canada I knew when I left in the mid 90s to live in Europe. Canada was not the same place when I returned. Canadians had suddenly become diverse without a common sense of self. I didn’t know what Canadians shared anymore.

Also, I initially found the transfer from Bidini’s narrative to the interviews jarring. I needed to YouTube videos of the singers and bands mentioned to remind me of who they were. Certainly they created great songs. Unfortunately, I haven’t remembered their names. Also, until now, I never knew some of these guys/gals were Canadian.

So a combination of the book being set in a Canada Past, and the fact that the musicians are no longer household names made this book feel dated.

Would On A Cold Road then be the ideal book for all Canadians to read this year?

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