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John Godard & Richard Crouse – Rock And Roll Toronto

I may have mentioned in these pages before that I have this love/hate thing with Toronto.

Some days, I think I could live there (in the highly unlikely event that we could afford it, that is). It really does have some neat spots to see, and cool things to do. But most of the time, I find the place really grey and lifeless, despite the thronging millions of people roiling about its burgeoning suburban hell in the general direction of nowhere. Oo. That was harsh. OK. So, my lovely wife lived in that city for five years, and therefore she likes it more than I do. Every now and then she says could live there again. And then, of course, I’d have a perfect reason to like the place much, much more. But until that happens, it’s OK to visit the concrete jungle and then get the hell back home.

John Godard and Richard Crouse’s Rock And Roll Toronto: From Alanis To Zeppelin is a fun trip through the city. The pair play tour guide to all of the spots where anyone even marginally famous has had a moment in Toronto. Of course we hear the dirt on Margaret Trudeau’s time at the El Macambo with the Stones, and we see a picture of Neil Young’s house. There’s a ton of artists who have ended up in the Big Smoke over the years, of course. John and Yoko, Bob Dylan (and The Band), Nirvana, Joni Mitchell. Lots more.

Highlight stories for me were the (probably unintended) humour of Bob Rae’s songwriting, and Madonna refusing to back down to The Man when told she could not simulate masturbation onstage (you go, girl!). Annie Lennox trapped in an elevator is a fun story, until we learn that she got out. (No, I’m not a fan…). Oh, and Sting, in his underwear, was pretty amusing, too.

Barenaked Ladies appear in that hoary old chesnut about the controversy, of course, though the picture included will make you blind. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s also nice to read a book that remembers when Alanis made shitty dance records. And I loved the acknowledgement of the SCTV crew, geniuses all. Great, also, to see the shout-out to Lonnie Johnson, and of course Sam The Record Man.

Even better, while reading this book I learned a bunch of stuff I hadn’t known, like the fact that Teenage Head actually started a riot. At Ontario Place. Ha ha. Brilliant. Also, I hadn’t known that Tiny Tim was such a Leafs fan. And the story of the Cowboy Junkies recording an entire album, in a church, using only one microphone, is pretty damn cool. And that’s a great record, too.

So now, having read this whole book, do I have a newfound appreciation of Toronto? Well, yes and no. I mean, it’s cool that there are so many places and venues for the multitudes of touring artists to do their thing, but just because Leonard Cohen liked one bar in a city of 5 million people doesn’t make it a shrine, ya know? And I love Leonard. I’m just sayin’. Stuff’s gotta happen somewhere, right?

And for the record, not everything that happens in Toronto is a World Class Event, so get over yourselves already. And if you get mad ‘cos I said that, why don’t you phone in the army, you sissies. You’re good at that too.

Look, this is a cool book if you’re at all interested in the myriad little pieces of Canadian music history that wait around almost every corner. I got my reading copy outta the library, and I’ll bet you could too. You should.

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