Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Conflict of Interest: Canadian Music Week Does Canadian Literature

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Conflict of Interest: Canadian Music Week Does Canadian Literature

By Nathaniel G Moore

"For Halloween I want to be Lenny Bruce" —Emily Haines, On The Sly (Metric)

I love that lyric because it reminds me of Jonathan Goldstein, one of my favourite writers, and Halloween, my favourite religious holiday. So, it's March. As a result, I was hanging out at my favourite coffee shop in the city, Saving Gigi, and had a meeting with Cancer Bats. Well I stood behind them in line. They were getting ready for their Canadian Music Week gig in Niagara Falls on March 19, and were appropriately dressed for the voyage, complete with beards (some) and toques and mittens.

Yes it's that time of year again, the time of year when we all listen to music non-stop and celebrate our fine musicians.

So let's see what some Canadian bands and music makers are reading, have read or recommend for you to test out. Plus, as an added bonus, a convivial melee with Rob Benvie who dares to both play music and write novels — right here in Canada!

Dandi Wind, Fan Death

Dandi says she recently discovered Toronto author Liz Worth's recent debut Treat Me Like Dirt. "I loved Please Kill Me so it was a no brainer. Another great book is They Came from Within. I just picked it up at the library. It has tons of Canadian cult stuff (Cronenberg obviously, Messiah of Evil, Changeling, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, Rituals, Death Weekend, Killer Instinct) Incidentally Deadline is a great Canadian horror movie with a cameo from Rough Trade as a killer punk band!"

Check out my interview with Dandi here.

Little Scream, Little Scream

I'm never without a great stack of books nagging at me to finish them. I just finished Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. I'd strongly encourage anyone who hasn't read that recently to revisit it, if only to be reminded of the fact that times haven't changed much. I'm also currently reading Patti Smith's Just Kids and Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. The former is reaffirming my conviction to a life of art making, and the latter reaffirming my suspicion that I actually am a curmudgeonly old man trapped in a lady's body. My upcoming stack includes Rawi Hage's Cockroach, Modecai Richler's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and A People's History of the United States by the late, great Howard Zinn. (Little Scream plays The Opera House March 10th at 8:30pm.)

Nathan Stretch, Bass Lions

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood,
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje,
The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair Macleod

Liam Jaeger, The Balconies

I really enjoyed Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion. I grew up in the east end of Toronto and read this right after I moved to Ottawa for school and was homesick. It gave me lots of awesome "olden day" Toronto dreams. If I had my pick of Canadian writers to open for me, I'd choose Denis Lee. I'm not sure if he performs, but I'm sure it would be very good.... Robert Munch tied my shoelaces once when I was little. He was my hero at the time so it was pretty awesome!

Jeff Pinto, Hands & Teeth

My favourite book of all time, and in my opinion, the greatest Canadian novel, is Mordecai Richler's Solomon Gursky Was Here. It's sprawling both in terms of time and geography, it's hilarious, and it's got a hint of the mysticism that makes books like Midnight's Children and 100 Years of Solitude so attractive.

When I read the amazing, but not quit as ambitious, Barney's Version (Richler's final book) I was arguing with a friend about which was better, when a guy at the bar interrupted me to say that, first of all, his father wrote that book, and second, he totally agreed with me. Turned out I got caught ranting about Richler by his son Noah.

Richler's style informs my writing heavily. He makes art out of what he grew up in. Cold water flats on Rue Jean Mance, smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz's, a combination of depth and irreverence. Every writer could learn from him. Take what you really know and have lived and write it well, that's where your insight will come from.

Cam Malcolm, Huron

One of my favourite Canadian novels is The Watch That Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan. It takes on the zeitgeist of post-World War Two Montreal, which in MacLennan's opinion is materially rich, politically stable, and yet somehow lacking in meaning. I think too many Canadian novels sometimes get lost in setting rather than plot, but the action in TWTETN is one of the few that seems to rise above setting and some of the more clichéd "Canadianness" that many novels unfortunately fall into it. From a pop culture perspective, the book is also the inspiration for the Tragically Hip song "Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)." I always thought the Hip got knocked unfairly for being what one of my friends called "a glorified bar band," but any close listener could appreciate the high quality of Gord Downie's lyrics and the rich history from which they were inspired. On "Courage, Downie" is at his best, just like MacLennan was with The Watch That Ends the Night.

Gabe Boothroyd, Five Alarm Funk

I read Mark Makoway's The Indie Band Bible, and it was a huge help in understanding the music business and very inspiring. It's very Canadian oriented as well.

Jon Landry, The Stanfields

I have two Canadian authors who very much inspired my life and music:

Jack Whyte — Dream of Eagles. I'm a big fan of historical fiction. In this case, the storyline is based on the legend of King Arthur, set during the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain in 401 AD. I find there are remarkable allegorical parallels in this story to the crumbling global infrastructure in which we live today. Though the story itself isn't true, there are many elements of truth found within.

Alistair MacLeod — No Great Mischief. The quintessential Atlantic-Canadian novel. A perfect marriage of larger issues (ie. worker migration) with with those of a more personal nature (substance abuse, homelessness, the diminishing family unit). I feel this novel is an accurate depiction of the true nature of Maritime life.

Rob Moir,

I read Kicking Tomorrow by Daniel Richler at exactly the right time in my life. The lead character (Robbie) was my age, felt disfranchised like I did. Dabbled in excess and fantasized of punk rock stages to cure boredom. He stared in the face of jealously that comes with young love. It's as if Richler was writing my diary.

Troy Arsenault, Alert the Medic

In the middle of reading Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negros... great book about Nova Scotia and its major role before and during the slave trade. It is very interesting.

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Canadian Music Week Encore #1 : Sarah Selecky

In the spirit of books and music, may I offer you this playlist, which was made for (2010 Scotiabank Giller finalist) This Cake Is For The Party.

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Canadian Music Week Encore #2 Rob Benvie (Thrush Hermits, The Dears)

For you personally, how is writing a book different from writing music? How are they similar, or how do they influence one another?

For me, the only similarity is in the process of conceptualization and translation — that is, turning dumb ideas into less-dumb actual results. Beyond that, they couldn't be more different. Making music usually involves collaboration at some level, while writing is a profoundly solitary activity. Writing is usually excruciating, while making music is often fun. Playing in a band you receive applause and get your picture taken and have drinks provided, while writing just leaves you spiraling into misery alone at your desk. But the rare, electric joy of knowing you've written something good is, for me, far more rewarding on a creative plain. Both involve long stretches of self-doubt and financial anxiety, then fleeting eruptions of reassurance.

What are some of your favourite Canadian books you've been reading lately?

I confess that I don't have a very good answer for this, as my reading lately has been sort of old-timey. After reading and hearing some nice excerpts, I've been meaning to get Jon Paul Fiorentino's Indexical Elegies. He's a sweetheart and a bro.

It's been seven years since your debut novel, Safety of War, was published. What can you tell us at this stage, about your second book Maintenance coming out this fall? The preview on your tumbler site is a big tease.

I can't believe it's been seven years. In my defense, I've been busy, even if the results only trickle out. I tend to keep multiple things on the go at the same time, which leaves some on the back burner in the meantime. While working on this book, I've also been working on a bunch of other things, which might be an inefficient process but it keeps the coals fuming, if you know what I mean. I also tend to aim ambitiously with writing projects and make more work for myself than I should. To my joy, Coach House will be publishing this book in Autumn 2011.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian bands right now?

I must be loyal to my bros and endorse Peter Elkas, who has a brand new album out called Repeat Offender, co-produced by Ian McGettigan and on a label run by Joel Plaskett — these three guys have been some of my tightest lifelong friends, though their tastes are honestly sort of more rootsy than mine. I like Bad Tits, which is a thing run by Sebastien Grangier and Josh Reichmann, both mad geniuses. I'm also sort of into that guy Egyptrixx, dance-y freeform producer stuff.

What's it been like in working in The Dears?

The current incarnation is the best so far, and spirits are high. Touring and studio work isn't that great for my writing productivity; I try and get stuff done in hotel rooms, on buses or vans, but I find I need a certain level of solitude and isolation to produce anything of worth. Before or after shows one's mind is usually occupied in logistics and just getting through the night. There's a lot of socializing involved, which while pleasurable can be the adversary of good writing time.

How long have you been working on your new novel Maintenance?

I guess I wrote Maintenance in about four years, but then I had to face the pain of whittling about seven hundred pages of writing down to a reasonable and economic length, so editing took a long time and is still ongoing. Editing and writing and rethinking are all part of a continuous process that I guess never really ends until it goes to the printers. I'm still learning how to do this, really. But I think there are some solid laughs in this book. I have high hopes.

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Canadian Music Week Encore #3 Puggy Hammer (Featuring Montreal poets Jason Camlot & David McGimpsey)

"When I leave here /I'm taking my football with me / Dear Penthouse Forum / Will You Miss Me?" Listen to Milli Vanilli. Do it!

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Canadian Music Week Encore #4 A Melodic Reading List:

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
Treat Me Like Dirt Liz Worth
The Angel Riots by Ibi Kaslik
This Book is Broken by Stuart Berman
Hard Core Logo by Michael Turner
1979 by Daniel Jones
Whale Music by Paul Quarington
The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack
Death of a Lady's Man by Leonard Cohen
3000 Miles by Jason Schneider
Cigar Box Banjo by Paul Quarington
Certifiable by David McGimpsey
The Mourner's Book of Albums by Daniel Scott Tysdal
Secret Carnival Workers: The Paul Haines Reader by Paul Haines

Special thanks to Toronto music label Audio Blood for being so great to work with on this feature. Please click here to see where all their great bands are playing this week.

Nathaniel G Moore's favourite Canadian bands include Dragonette, The Balconies, Fan Death, Hot Panda, Whale Tooth, Sharon Louis and Braum, Puggy Hammer, Grapes of Wrath, Cancer Bats, The Young Architects, Still Life Still (East York in the house!) Glass Tiger and Quebec artists like Niagara, Mitsou, Little Scream, Corey Hart, Ladies Luncheon and Arcade Fire. Here's a poem about Canadian Music Week.

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