Archive for October 2007
We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance
If I was looking for something dark, I might note the year 1983 and turn to the chorus “Is it safe to dance, oh is it safe to dance.” If I was; I’m think that would be a needless, even gratuitous, imposition on a bouncy happy pop song.
If I was to impose meaning on “The Safety Dance,” it would be something to the effect of how Men Without Hats was part of the emergent Canadian popular music scene that had started off in the late 1960s, at least partly as a consequence of the Canadian content requirements imposed on Canadian broadcasters, as Allison Outhit describes in her article for Canadian music magazine Exclaim!, “Canadian Content Rules”
[A] lonely wind blew down the Canadian Shield and across the prairies. Canadian songwriters and musicians were now doubly isolated: first, by virtue of living in a vast frozen wasteland whose thin population couldn’t support an indigenous radio revolution; and second, by the growth of the American music business, which roved Godzilla-like across the land, crushing station managers and Canadian play lists in its path. By the 1960s, it was obvious to anyone with a dream that the only way to get heard was on American radio. The Canadian system was simply helpless, helpless, he-e-elpless.
Or was it? Canada had begun to venture down the road of cultural protectionism in 1958, when the Fowler Commission recommended rules stating that Canadian television broadcasters (including the CBC) must offer 45 percent Canadian content. In 1971, in response to lobbying from Canadian musicians and supporters of Canadian culture, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC, mandated by federal law to regulate Canadian airwaves) brought down regulations requiring radio stations to play a minimum of Canadian content on their stations as a condition of licence. The decision was controversial, for sure.
Supporters argued that affirmative action was the best way to give Canadian music a chance, whereas many broadcasters felt the quality of Canadian music was, let’s say, less than competitive. And it wasn’t just that Canadians wrote crappy songs: the industry-wide problem was that there wasn’t an industry.
“The main problem was, for much of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, you could listen to the radio and you knew what a Canadian song was just by the sound of it — it lacked in quality in all parts,” says Tom Tompkins, a radio programming veteran who began his career in 1969. “Production elements were lacking. There weren’t a lot of studios and producers in Canada at the time who were qualified. And the songwriting was inferior.” The badness in the booth caused Canadian DJs — much as they wanted to support Canadian music — many a dark night of the soul. “We’d go into a music meeting and we’d go through the stuff that was international, stuff that charted on Billboard. We’d add two or three a week, and then we’d hit the CanCon pile — holy shit, we used to dread it.”
Outhit points out that starting in the mid-1980s, the overall quality of Canadian popular music improved sharply. Was Men Without Hats part of this trend? I suppose that it depends on whether one thinks that bouncy, catchy, happy pop songs do or do not count in the wider scheme of things. Me, I’d ask why they shouldn’t count since it did for all those people who seem to have liked it.
Thursday evening, while walking west towards home along Dupont, I came across the distressing sight of a pile of books dumped carelessly into the westbound lane, very near the intersection of Dupont and Palmerston. It was terrible to see the pile so carelessly spread out over the space of a metre or so, and to hear the crunch of the paperbacks’ spines as cars drove over them. During a pause in the traffic, I dashed out into the street to pick up one relatively nearby book, and found it was a romance novel written Doris Mortman. Carefully, I put the stripcovered book back down on the pavement and went on my way.