Published Dec 01, 2000It's hard to imagine two Canadian icons as different as Stompin' Tom Connors and Carole Pope. One is an artist who has seen every corner of this country and earnestly mythologised its people in song, with no pretension beyond using the most basic folk music formula. The other is an artist chose to mythologise sexual landscapes rather than anything substantial, left a dubious musical legacy, and who as far as one can ascertain from this book never toured beyond Ontario. Both personalities are bigger than their music.
As a study in contrasts, their two recent autobiographies (Pope's Anti-Diva and Conners' The Conners Tome) make for great back-to-back reading. Especially because it's pretty obvious that neither one of them used a ghost-writer. Pope's book randomly jump cuts through time and thought, while Connors lays out in painstaking detail practically every hour of every day. After you bone up on your speed-reading skills 30 pages into Connors' tome, both books are juicy, gripping reads. Pope gives the cult of Canadian celebrity exactly what it sorely needs: a trashy, sniping dish-fest filled with sex, drugs, and crimes of fashion. Connors gives the Canadian music industry exactly what it sorely needs: a swift kick in the Boot.
Boot Records, that is. What most people don't know is that Connors is an indie label mogul, something that his crippling Canadian modesty prevented him from revealing before now. When he started Boot Records to take control of his own career, he wanted everyone to think that his business partner ran the show, so that Connors would appear as a regular working guy like his audience, not a label executive. His DIY approach would make Ani DiFranco jealous: he probably sold hundreds of thousands of records off the stage, never mind retail, and without commercial radio play. In fact, at least ten percent of the book is devoted to Connors ranting about the state of Canadian radio and their complicity with American cultural imperialism. This is the man who sent his Junos back and resigned from the industry in 1978 to protest the way the Canadian music industry treated its own artists, an incident that provides one of the many fascinating excerpts in the book. Connors is an endearing, loveable, crusty old fucker with an extreme passion for his music, his wife, and the people of his country. He'll talk your ear off and then some, but you'll feel like a better person after.
Carole Pope, on the other hand, makes me feel dirty. I don't know what it means about either my sexuality or my nationality, but before I was even an adolescent, one of my first sexual dreams was about Ms. Pope. That shocked me then and still does, and I don't know how I didn't notice that she was singing about a woman in "High School Confidential," or maybe I didn't care. (Then there was my high school crush on kd lang.)
The point is that Pope was a sexual rebel in the pre-Madonna age; it's hard to believe that we were that prissy 20 years ago. Her book chronicles her Yorkville hippie days, Second City in the early 70s, starting Rough Trade with Kevan Staples, Pope's relationship with Dusty Springfield, her spotty sex life and solo career and the death by AIDS of her beloved brother. Oddly enough, there's very little about music. Maybe that's because Rough Trade's music always seemed secondary to their theatrics, despite the odd great single. And the book shifts gears suddenly at the end, when Pope paints herself as the "anti-diva" outside of the touchy-feely Lilith loop. She plays the Michigan Womyn's Festival and interviews Kinnie Starr, and then poof, the book's over.
Connors represents the old Canada that most hip urbanites would like to bury. Carole Pope represents the global village's hip urbanite of her time that many Canadians wanted to be. Pope makes us laugh out loud with her sarcastic wit like a naughty old aunt. Like a resolutely moral grandfather, Connors entertains and inspires, imparting valuable lessons in between his stories about who we are and who we should aspire to be.