Caging The CanCon Beast
Great Canadian Music Encyclopedia is not something I originally intended to write. In 1986, a year after forming Bullseye Records for the betterment of Canadian rock, I began receiving demo tapes from bands who were looking for the big prize. I didn't have the money to sign all these acts (or any of them as it turned out), but I felt I should do something to try and help them. But what?
Being a fledgling musicologist I had also acquired enough records, posters, newspaper clippings, and magazines to break all existing fire codes. The exponential growth of these collected music by-products was threatening to occupy the last square foot of sleeping space my 1st wife and I shared. Something had to be done.
While sorting through the quagmire it quickly became clear that there was a theme developing; I was quick to draw the conclusion that the majority of Canadian music I was relating to came from independent sources -- that is: not produced by any of the big six record labels at the time (CBS, A&M, RCA, Polygram, Capitol, Warner Brothers). I was excited by the notion that a large country of 27 million people were still supporting their musical talents via a cottage industry...the indie scene. I decided to take it upon myself to let the world know that 90% of the Canadian music industry was being ignored and wholly undiscovered. The fact that most of that music was better than the 10% the major labels had been pumping out was a call to arms for effective action to be taken; a jaded market being told that they'll soon like Song A from Band B if they'd just tune into radio station C needed some education.
In my arrogance and naivete I plunged headlong into writing "Absolutely Indie: A Discography Of Canadian Independent Music". I wrote letters to the smaller Canadian music industry asking for help and guidance. I was swamped and a little intimidated by the sheer volume of such a task (let alone the actual book yet to be completed). The field was too big so I thought maybe I'd narrow my focus on "official" releases that were available commercially on vinyl (remember that?). A trip was made to the National Archives in Ottawa during the summer of 1986 where I soon discovered that I was out of my flippin' mind to try and do this. I hand typed all the information over the next year. The industry was changing too rapidly; any information I compiled on the activities of any Canadian act became obsolete immediately. I had hundreds of pages documented and there was still so much missing. The whole project became too daunting and I lost interest soon thereafter.
Timewarp to late 1989 where I'm writing the newsletter for a Toronto area rock band. In it I began injecting some opinions about the state of the Canadian music industry. People began to respond to that by sending me mail asking about some of their favourite Canadian acts who had landed in the bargain bins or just plain expired in a horrible, flaming crash. Thus was born GREAT WHITE NOISE magazine.
I relaunched my record label with a flashy office and telephone and set about resurrecting GREAT WHITE NOISE as a flip-cover, two sided magazine using my book research as a springboard for the second section entitled ABSOLUTELY INDIE.
Sharon Vernon (nee Leeson) was my assistant editor at the time and she, along with chartologist William C. Smith and photographer Joanne Michner spent from 1991 to 1994 commentating on the CanCon music scene.
Eventually, our support system atrophied as did my personal life and the little magazine that 'could' was shelved. Meanwhile, I had acquired 3 filing cabinets full of vital information that still needed a home. Thus, the new and improved book idea was born.
The fact that a musician of non-celebrity calibre should be chronicling the history of Canadian popular music shows how staunchly apathetic (and often pathetic) we've become in maintaining our own legacy. Sure, there have been one-off stabs at preserving our musical accomplishments - BMG's four volumes of 'Made In Canada', Polytel/Silver Eagle's 2CD set 'The Best Of Canadian Rock', and CARAS' four disc 25th Anniversary Of The Juno Awards - but these where strictly for "corporate" motives.
Where were all the music journalists/critics who put their opinions front and centre for all to bemuse at time and time again in daily newspapers and periodicals? I can count on one hand the 'reliable' published sources of musical Canadiana. Much of everything else is so grossly inaccurate or mundane that one wonders why the time was wasted writing such books. But, who was I to talk...I couldn't even get mine off the ground.
John Sakamoto, executive producer of the Internet's Jam Showbiz on Canoe, single handedly resurrected this project by asking the impossible...could the Great White Noise staff be convinced to reconvene and put together a Canadian music electronic encyclopedia in a mere 60 days?
We decided not to wait around to find out. It was just time to get on with it and create this overzealous tome you now read. Pick out all the mistakes you want and fire off your comments because the continual revision of this encyclopedia is a welcome burden that just might finally conquer this CanCon beast.
-- Jaimie & Sharon Vernon
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