Friday, May 19, 2006

More Reasons to Love Matt Price

Reading the Australian on line of late has typically induced waves of visceral invective targeted illiberally at the laptop in front of me. There's nothing more galling than the conservative triumphalism that so routinely wends its way into that paper's OPED soap-boxing. Sure there are any number of reasons to bash the ineptitude of leftist politics in Australia at present, but this still fails to justify so much self-aggrandising back-slapping at the Oz. Still one reads on fulminating at the paper's politics yet still forced to concede the manifest superiority of the written English found within its virtual pages. Sadly, journalists at the Age in Melbourne appear to have dispensed with English altogether in favour of some middling approximation of conversationalist free-association. Most of their journalists write the way football coaches speak - in sentences cobbled together like Orwell's proverbial henhouse. I have just finished reading more Gabriel Garcia Marquez - now there's a natural born stylist - so I have pretty high expectations at present. Reading his prose is to be reminded of just how wonderful the written word can be. His sentences lift of the page like musical notes freed from the keyboard.

Well I digress...for all the Australian's irritations one can still rely on Matt Price to deliver us from infortitude. Today's column ridiculing Canadians for their PC courtesies is spot on. This works perfectly with Andrea's recent Top 10. And what a joy it is finally to have Andrea posting! To be encouraged. So on to these Canadians are their damned endearing politeness for surely this is a nation of Ned wonder Homer never gave the card table back, or the BBQ, or the power sander or the...

The Soviet Canuckistan.

Matt Price.

It's popular - and not inaccurate - to ridicule Canada as preposterously politically correct. One of my close childhood friends works at a university in Calgary (virtually forced into exile by the Australian Government's neglect of higher education, but that's another story) and he needs to mentally reprogram himself whenever we converse.

Your typical Canadian is impeccably well mannered and inoffensive (Q: How do you coax 20 teenage Canadian boys out of a swimming pool? A: Stand by the edge and say, "Time to get out of the pool, boys"). Your typical Australian is, thankfully, not.

My Calgary pal confesses to secret pleasures elicited from gradually uncensoring himself during our too infrequent exchanges, conversations that wouldn't raise an eyebrow in antipodean circles.

"You know, I'd probably be sacked if anyone overheard us," he whispers.

The parallels between Canada and Australia are numerous. Both huge, sparse, romantic, challenging and picturesque. Both British colonies with vast coastlines. They have bickering provinces, we have rowing states. We belittle Tasmanians, Canucks ever-so-gently rib Newfies, burghers of Newfoundland.

Calgary was recently listed alongside Perth by the Los Angeles Times in a list of hip 21st-century towns thriving on the resources boom. Vancouver is almost (but not quite) as spectacular as Sydney. Montreal, like Melbourne, is one of the most charming European cities outside Europe.

I spent a wonderful month in Canada too many years ago and would eagerly return. As Howard told the parliament in Ottawa yesterday, there's a definite kinship between Australians and Canadians, something to do, I think, with being neither British nor American but sharing fondness for and suspicion of both.

Eventually, though, Canada's buttoned-up politeness starts to grate. That Canadian regulators threatened to ban Tourism Australia's "Where the bloody hell are you?" commercial, not for the cheeky catchcry but because that nice-looking girl offers to buy visitors a beer, pretty much sums up the difference in attitudes.

The spookiest thing about Canada is its truly astonishing contribution to popular culture. That a disproportionate number of world-class funnymen have emerged from Canuckistan - Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Leslie Nielsen, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels - is vaguely explicable.

All that spoon-fed political correctness must create some sort of backlash, a latent, pent-up, irreverent energy that flourishes when sufferers shift south to the US. But the uber-Canuck is everywhere. The incomparable Donald Sutherland, leaving peers Robert de Niro and Al Pacino in the shade as he shines into his 70s, is Canadian. So is Pamela Anderson, at least the parts that aren't plastic, as well as Linda Evangelista. The all-time best grossing film, Titanic, was made by Canadian-born director James Cameron.

It's in popular music where Canuckistan's contribution becomes utterly astonishing. With Celine Dion and Bryan Adams they've cornered the market in schmalz, K.D. Lang pioneered lesbian lullabies. Two of the three all-time top selling female albums belong to Canadians - Alanis Morisette and Shania Twain.

But this is all pulp next to the unalloyed genius of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and the Band (whose members, bar one, hailed from, yep, Canada). The combined output and influence of this quartet on rock music has been monumental, with subsidiaries leading to folk, punk, jazz, pop, country, alt country and heavy metal. Whether it's the access and proximity to the US or a capricious quirk of geography, Canada boxes well above its weight in the heavy division. Australia doesn't come close.

Which leaves just enough space for a confession. This ode to Canada was inspired not so much by the PM's visit or a recent email from my Calgary friend but from viewing Heart of Gold, the just released movie of Young playing a concert in Nashville. The music is simple and acoustic, the singing haunting and beautiful, and the filming slow, exquisite and utterly compelling. See it and luxuriate in the disproportionate glories of our mysteriously gifted PC confreres.


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