By James Sandham
Well folks, we’ve already got one autumn holiday under our belts – along with several pounds of turkey and a few thick slices of pumpkin pie. But hold on, because the celebrations aren’t over quite yet. You may have thought it was finally safe to put away the decorative gourds, but no, not so fast! You might as well keep ’em out, because it’s time to carve them into demonic semblances of our worst Thanksgiving table guests, which is to say that it’s almost Halloween. Call it the dessert course to Thanksgiving and give these tunes a spin to help get you in the spirit.
BUCK 65 – “ZOMBIE DELIGHT”
Well, well, what do we have here? It’s CBC Radio 2’s Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) and a whole lot of zombies – many of whom appear to be played by Terfry himself. As do the zombie killers. As do the generals and news anchors. This tune has taken a turn for the terrifying, indeed!
ROBBIE ROBERTSON – “GHOST DANCE”
We’ve survived the zombies, so how about we check in with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson to see how we do up against the ghosts? This track comes from Robertson’s 1994 album, Music for the Native Americans, which was really his first foray into writing songs inspired specifically by his Mohawk heritage. Suffice it to say that this song isn’t so much about the sort of ghosts that go “boo,” but is more about the historic oppression of indigenous cultures in North America, which is really the more frightening of the two concepts.
WILL SMITH AND DJ JAZZY JEFF – “NIGHTMARE ON MY STREET”
Alright, let’s lighten things up – and what better way to do so than with the musical work of Mr. Will “Big Willie Style” Smith? This track, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain TV theme song, joins a long list of tunes that pay tribute to that king of 1980s horror Freddy Krueger. If you grew up in the ’80s, this will probably still give you the shivers (the vocal presence of Will Smith notwithstanding).
BRUCE COCKBURN – “GET UP JONAH”
Now let’s check back in with our Canadian Music Hall of Fame alumni. This little ditty comes from the CMHF’s 2001 inductee, Bruce Cockburn, and while it’s not exactly “scary” per se (that is, there’s no mention of zombies or ghosts or the suffering of our country’s Aboriginal Peoples), it does have some pretty dark imagery, including these lines: “There’s howling in the factory yard/There’s pounding in my head/I’m swollen up with unshed tears/Bloated like the dead….” And yet Cockburn manages to make it all sound so sweet.
MICHAEL JACKSON – “THRILLER”
Last but not least, what’s a Halloween playlist without Michael Jackson’s macabre mega-hit? “Thriller” is a must-have contemporary classic and it really brings us full circle with our songs: right back to those irrepressible zombies. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet that this song may have been something of an inspiration for Buck 65’s zombie tribute – specifically his line that when it comes to zombies, “there’s very little information and no answers/One weird thing is that they’re excellent dancers.”
Hope these songs get you dancing, too. Happy Halloween!
By Adam Bunch
CANADA’S FIRST OPERA COMPOSER/GUN RUNNER
Joseph Quesnel had never planned to come to Canada. He was born in France during this week in 1746 and spent the first part of his life travelling the world. He sailed to India, Madagascar, the West Indies, French Guiana and Brazil, but all that came to an end in 1779 during the American Revolution. That was the year that Quesnel was in command of a ship headed for the United States when the British stopped it. They found it full of munitions and other supplies destined for the revolutionaries.
Quesnel was arrested. He would be forced to live in Canada, at least until the end of the war, and with bloody revolution soon to sweep through France as well he ended up choosing to live in Quebec for the rest of his life.
Quesnel would become a businessman and a volunteer for the local militia, but he was also an artist. He wrote poetry, composed music and founded a theatrical company with a group of friends in Montreal – a controversial decision at a time when some priests and newspapers were denouncing plays as the work of the devil.
It was in the weeks around New Year’s Day of 1790 that Quesnel debuted a new comedic opera, Colas et Colinette, ou le Bailli dupé. It was the first opera in Canadian history and it was a hit. It would be staged multiple times over the next few decades. Even 40 years later one journalist could say, “There is no Canadian with any sort of education who has not read at least some of… Mr Joseph Quesnel’s works.”
By 1809, Quesnel was working on another comedic opera, but he would never get the chance to finish it. That spring, he jumped into the cold water of the St. Lawrence River in the attempt to save a drowning child. They say it weakened his lungs. That summer, he succumbed to an attack of pleurisy and died.
THE COUNTRY GOES STADIUM CRAZY
November 14 is a big day in the history of three different domed stadiums in Canada’s three biggest cities. In 1975 it was the day that the government of Quebec created a corporation to oversee the construction of Montreal’s new Olympic Stadium in the run up to the 1976 Olympic Games. In 1982 it was the day that the inflatable roof was lifted above BC Place in Vancouver. And in 1991 it was the day that the Ontario government sold the brand-new SkyDome to a private consortium just as the Toronto Blue Jays were about to win their back-to-back World Series titles.
In addition to their duties as sports stadiums, the three giant new buildings would also become three of the biggest music venues in the country. The Big O in Montreal is the biggest of them all: more than 78,000 people attended a Pink Floyd concert there in 1977. Everyone from Paul McCartney to Michael Jackson to Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young has played at BC Place. The Rolling Stones installed a water fountain in the dressing room. David Bowie turned it into a sushi bar.
Meanwhile, when Madonna played the SkyDome in 1990, her masturbation-simulation live act was considered to be so controversial that the police threatened to shut the whole thing down. Even when the Jays were on the field, the venue felt like it was meant to be home to a rock ’n’ roll spectacle. As ESPN would remember years later: “When you looked at the visitors dugout, you expected to see Bono in the on-deck circle. When there was a pitching change, you expected Madonna to walk in from the bullpen. When they played ‘Oh, Canada,’ you kept waiting for the fans to hold up their cigarette lighters.”