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Have Not Been the Same: The Canrock Renaissance 1985-1995

by Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack, and Jason Schneider

Canadian rock and rollers have oft been overshadowed by their American and British cousins, so it’s no surprise that there’s been a dearth of memorable rock writing in this country. Where is our Greil Marcus to decode the cultural import of Halifax pop, our Lester Bangs to go gonzo over Prairie punk?

The three co-authors of Have Not Been the Same have taken a welcome leap in the right direction. At more than 700 pages, this book offers an exhaustive – and sometimes exhausting – chronicle of alternative-leaning Canadian rock throughout the 1980s and ’90s. The “CanRock Renaissance” conceit may be a little cutesy for some, but the authors do happily wander beyond the boundaries of the subtitle’s dates. The result is a survey of unprecedented generosity and breadth.

With so much material, an encyclopedia format must have been tempting, but Barclay et al have wisely opted for a narrative approach. Chapters focus on cities (Vancouver, Montreal), genres (protest songs, roots rock), or artists (Sloan, Blue Rodeo), but the book is also rich in engaging digression. For instance, a recap of Daniel Lanois’ early days as a producer in Hamilton, Ontario, includes a welcome tangent on Simply Saucer, the city’s legendary psychedelic punk band from the early 1970s.

Most of Have Not Been the Same is based on original interviews, so the book essentially serves up compact oral histories of dozens of acts, from the famous (Sarah McLachlan, the Tragically Hip) to the obscure (the Nils, A Neon Rome). It’s often informative and sometimes entertaining, but the pattern can get tiresome. The narrative suffers from too many too-similar sagas of label squabbles, sales fluctuations, and internal ego clashes.

Also disappointing is the shortage of insight and authorial personality. Unkind words are rare, and reluctant in tone, making for little sense of critical perspective. Have Not Been the Same ably documents a milieu that might otherwise fade into history – it’s a tremendous resource. But for now, we’re still waiting for that Canuck counterpart to Marcus or Bangs.