by carl wilson

Hometown Chuffedness

Earlier this week, when I crowed about Toronto's prominence in this and last week's New Yorker, I hadn't read Alex Ross's piece about new-music groups in New York, in which the vision of a "total synthesis of pop and classical traditions" includes an account of Polmo Polpo, Toca Loca and the Social Music Work Group's NYC visit, "three groups from Canada" (in fact, all Torontonian) numbered among cases where "it's thrilling when a programmer decides to follow a common thread from one genre to another." But even before he got to that, when he mentioned "a new kind of insterstitial music - one that makes a virtue of falling between the cracks," I was thinking that Toronto in the last five years or more has been making a specialty of that. I regretted that I hadn't had time to do anything to publicize the Sandro Perri/"In C" excursion to New York, so I'm glad to see I didn't need to: Alex's account of new-music activity in NYC is exciting overall, but his attention to the T-dot contingent reinforces my sense that in its boundary-jumping, Toronto takes a backseat to no comers.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, April 13 at 4:04 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (25)

 

COMMENTS

Oh, backing off from backing me up now, are you Carl? ;)

I can't believe that *I* feel compelled to back up my original, sardonic statement, but when it comes to American's awareness of Canada, I do wish more of them realized we are a primarily urban nation, with over 80% of the population living in urban areas, and with a handful of big cities that all have distinct character. So I guess that it was made Carl and I ruffle our feathers, was that first, extremely minor reference to the musicians being from "Canada."

ANYWAYS, I was excited to read about the new music/indie-rock crossover in NYC, since it's something I've been a part of helping encourage at the Music Gallery here in Toronto, and it's encouraging to see something similar happening in other places.

Posted by Dovercourt on April 15, 2007 6:02 PM

 

 

I can't believe that I feel compelled to say this, but I am very fond of the United States in general, adore New York (though less than I used to), and didn't actually agree with that aspect of Jonny's comment.

Maybe we should all see this new documentary, "Let's All Hate Toronto":

http://www.torontoist.com/archives/2007/04/lets_all_hate_o.php

See you in Seattle, Jody and John!

Posted by zoilus on April 15, 2007 5:53 PM

 

 

Also, I recognize that ignorance cuts both ways. Most Canadians think Americans are all Bush-lovin', gun-totin' gas-guzzlers when in reality most American cities and states are way ahead of their Canadian counterparts in terms of environmental protection and urban revitalization. Also, I just read that American public school teachers get paid 10% more than their Canadian equivalents, while working 35% LESS hours!

Posted by Dovercourt on April 15, 2007 3:29 PM

 

 

For the record: I love New York, and almost every American I've ever met.

Also re: Toca Loca, their artistic director Gregory Oh most definitely calls Toronto home.

Posted by Dovercourt on April 15, 2007 3:07 PM

 

 

Malstain, you're right, and the conversation brings to mind the eternal wisdom of Brian Wilson.

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now what's the matter buddy ain't you heard of my school
It's number one in the state

So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school
And let your colors fly

Posted by john on April 15, 2007 2:58 PM

 

 

So it seems that non-Torontonian Canadians have this mix of envy and resentment towards Torontonians, who themselves have the same stew of feelings towards the USA and New York, and on top of it even New Yorkers do, as it turns out, actually feel the need to puff out their chests and promote/defend themselves... is this weekend's lesson that insecurity-based self-congratulation is universal?

Posted by malstain on April 15, 2007 11:26 AM

 

 

Sorry, got grumpy for a sec there, John. Sure, like all places, New York has its provincialisms. But because it's such global city, it's provincialisms are much less, um, provincial than most places. (Dovercourt, I reckon you'll find fewer people here with "a grade-school understanding of the world" than anyplace in America -- and by America I mean Canada too.) The most important way in which New York is beautifully unprovincial is its friendliness, how undoctrinaire it is about welcoming and absorbing non-natives. The transition from arriviste to "real New Yorker" takes place much, much quicker than in most cities. All you need is are certain ambitions. Or a certain jaundiced attitude about fucked-up weekend F train service and improperly shmeared bagels. Think of the quintessential New Yorkers: Warhol (from Pittsburgh), Lou Reed (Long Island), Cole Porter (Indiana), Ellington (D.C.), P. Diddy (Westchester County), Isaac Bashevis Singer (Poland), Mike Bloomberg (Massachusetts), Hillary Clinton etc. etc. ad naseum. This is totally the norm. I often meet people here who tell me I'm one of the few NYC natives they know. And I'm definitely *less* of a New Yorker, in some essential ways, than, say, Eugene Hutz or Barbara Walters -- and they're from Kiev and Boston. I haven't found the same vibe in other major world cities. I've lived in London and Paris, and both those places have much more rigid caste systems.

But enough NYC boosterism. Looking forward to my visit to Seattle next week!

Posted by Jody on April 15, 2007 10:38 AM

 

 

Jody,

Funny!

Now I have to look up "swivet."

I've always thought the provincialism of New Yorkers was funny -- however y'all wanna be is fine with us yokels.

I heart New York. Hope to get there again some time.

Posted by john on April 15, 2007 9:24 AM

 

 

Not to get in the way of reasonable and intelligent comments such as "I think the problem here is with Americans" and their "weird grade-school understanding of the world," but it's Carl and Jonny Dovercourt who have their facts wrong, and the grade schooler Alex Ross who got it right.

As one can tell from a simple Google search, one of the three members of Toca Loca, Aiyun Huang, is a Montreal resident, and on the percussion faculty at McGill:

http://people.mcgill.ca/aiyun.huang/

Another of the group's three members, pianist Simon Docking, lives in Halifax:

http://www.stcecilia.ca/Artists/sd.htm

Then again, it's probably America's fault for having invented myspace. Or did Toronto get there first as well?

Posted by Ryan on April 15, 2007 1:28 AM

 

 

Sorry, "NYC & Paris are all about the self-love"? I don't think I even know what that means. I do know that people who live in smaller, lesser (sorry, but let's get real) cities are forever getting themselves in a swivet over the fact that New Yorkers don't pay much attention to places like Seattle or Toronto or even Chicago.

Posted by Jody on April 14, 2007 8:35 PM

 

 

The ignorance of Americans about other countries is monumental. I grew up in southwestern Michigan and never went to Canada. Michigan is the Great Lake State, and we had no conception of Toronto. At all.

I've lived in Seattle for 15 years, and when I first got here the constant civic boosterism of "we're a world class city" used to annoy me. Chicago, where I lived for 4 years before moving here, didn't have that vibe -- if anything, it had a self-deprecating vibe. But Carl is right, NYC & Paris are all about the self-love. (Though I do like it that the New York has a pro baseball team named after an art museum and an opera company.)

In '93 or so, during the height of grunge, I was camping in the Canadian Rockies. Met a guy from Calgary who said, when he learned I was from Seattle, said, with eyebrows raised, "Oh, does it still have a 'scene'?" I laughed.

Posted by john on April 14, 2007 6:16 PM

 

 

well...in a conversation I had with Marcus Boon (who occasionally writes for Wire) I commented on how the scene in Tdot was so amazingly cool and diverse, to which he replied: (paraphrase) 'yeah, it's still at the stage where you can just wander into places and hear amazing stuff...the scene is still accessible and hasn't gotten too big yet'.
I totally agree...when I have the luxury of stopping in at wavelength,or leftover daylight, the now Lounge on sundays or the tranzac or the press club or any of the other ad hoc free for alls, I feel so fucking LUCKY to move about in a community that still feels like one.
Don't get me wrong, I still wish for $$$ and props for everybody involved, but allow me a little more time to witness truly extraordinary acts of creativity flow in quite an ordinary way.
thanks to everybody...peace'nlove...nilan

ps and what is so (musically, not getting-their-due) satisfying is to witness Tdot musician creators playing for 5 people burn the music waaay more intensly than international names with packed houses..rokfuknON!!

Posted by nilan on April 14, 2007 5:43 PM

 

 

Maybe I and the other alleged playa-hataz took your comment out of context, or perhaps it was the straw that broke our Torontopia-doubting backs. But it's all one love. Needless to say, there are many great (dare I say truly great?) things about both Toronto and its music scene... its self-image issues notwithstanding.

Posted by malstain on April 14, 2007 2:35 PM

 

 

Thanks, Jonny. And sorry to Malstain for having gotten irritable there, but the commenters' vehemence took me aback. It may have been clearer if I'd specified what I meant by "Toronto" there ("the current Toronto music scene" or something), but I hadn't thought it necessary.

Posted by zoilus on April 14, 2007 2:18 PM

 

 

I think the problem here is with Americans. Even a clearly educated and articulate one like Alex Ross betrays this weird grade-school understanding of the world when he locates these artists as being from a big, amorphous "Canada" rather than the unique metropolis that is Toronto... it seems to happen so often, that the city seems to lose its essential Toronto-ness, or has had hard time getting it properly understood or represented to the rest of the world -- and the rest of Canada doesn't want to hear about it, so who else is there but us to bang the drum for ourselves? Maybe it's familiarity that magnifies small differences into unique characteristics, but I'm really interested in what makes Toronto from other Canadian cities like, say, Calgary. And not in a chauvinistic way, it's as much about finding the commonalities as the distinctions. I also think the problem is New York, if you want to hate on anyone for "thinking they're the centre of the world"... what Ross says here indicates they refuse to even view themselves as being part of a global network of equivalent cities, culturally they import entire COUNTRIES.

Posted by Dovercourt on April 14, 2007 1:22 PM

 

 

again, I think it was obvious that by "Toronto" in "Toronto takes a backseat to no comers", Carl was referring to a small corner of music.

Posted by andrew on April 14, 2007 12:51 PM

 

 

Wow! I really didn't intend to set off such vitriol. I had no intention of "shitting on" those musicians or "taking them down a peg," and never would. I think it's great when any talented people, especially lesser-known experimental artists, get attention. My problem is rather with the machismo inherent in statements like "Toronto takes a backseat to no comers." To critique that is not the same as attacking the artists themselves, and I think it's unfair to suggest so.

Posted by malstain on April 14, 2007 10:49 AM

 

 

It's a question of tone.

Posted by KS on April 14, 2007 2:31 AM

 

 

You guys understand that I was touting a tiny new-and-experimental-music scene, a few dozen musicians who barely make a living, right? Celebrating their recognition in a prestigious publication? That this was the "Toronto" of which I spoke?

I was not talking about stadiums, or restaurants, or even transit systems.

This seems stunningly obvious. But thanks for coming around to shit on Polmo Polpo, the Social Music Work Group and Toca Loca. They really needed taking down a peg.

Also, what are these "truly great" cities that never celebrate themselves? It's certainly not New York, Paris or Berlin, for example, which have been going on and on about themselves for decades and decades. And you know what's the most boring concept of ever? "True greatness."

Posted by zoilus on April 13, 2007 9:34 PM

 

 

I think malstain has articulated my own thoughts on this subject better than I would have, and with far fewer swears.

Posted by KS on April 13, 2007 8:52 PM

 

 

As an ex-Torontonian with many mixed feelings about the city, I've avoided wading into this debate during the "Torontopia" hoopla and its inevitable backlash. But... here's the thing.

Torontonians never stop talking about how great Toronto is, which gets annoying to non-Torontonians.

People who live in a truly great city don't constantly talk about how great it is... they don't need to, they just live there and contribute to what makes it great. Until Toronto gets to that place, people crowing about its greatness will continue to get on people's nerves.

Posted by malstain on April 13, 2007 5:13 PM

 

 

Who was saying Toronto's hard done-by?

(Unless you're talking about within Canadian politics - in which case *all* large cities get shafted, for reasons built into the system.)

The Canadian need to prevent good words from being said about Toronto is astounding. If I'd said the same things in a post about Chicago (which, in fact, would be very easy to do), no one anywhere would bat an eye.

Posted by zoilus on April 13, 2007 2:45 PM

 

 

You know, I haven't mounted this soapbox recently, so here goes...I am so sick of hearing about how hard done by Toronto is. As a former Torontonian, it's just silly to hear such wimpering from my old hometown. The fact that the New Yorker wrote a bunch on Toronto is great...too bad the stereotype that all of Canada resides on the shores of Lake Ontario is continually perpetuated. Thanks for this. I feel better now...thanks for allowing me to vent. Now back to bullshitting.

Posted by Phil on April 13, 2007 12:22 PM

 

 

Sorry, Greg, this post was drafted very late at night and not really re-read, and some of the syntax was a bit tangled. I've revised a bit and hope it's clearer now.

I realize the article made no claims about Toronto. It was making claims about New York. My point was that they apply here, too.

As for Toca Loca: I'm sure most of the musicians in the New York ensembles Alex mentions didn't grow up in New York, either. Toca Loca's MySpace page locates them in "Toronto, Ontario, Canada." It's not an insult to anyone.

http://www.myspace.com/tocaloca

Posted by zoilus on April 13, 2007 11:15 AM

 

 

Carl, could you please clarify what you mean by

"I'd been regretting that I hadn't done what I hoped to set up the Sandro Perri and 'In C' visit to New York, but now I'm kind of glad I didn't hand-hold any conversion of those values into hype" ?

I'm also not sure why Alex Ross discussing the NYC new-music scene prompted any arguments in your head about Toronto having been there five years ago, or taking a backseat to no one. The article made not a single claim about Toronto.

Also, for what it's worth, the members of Toca Loca are from Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.

Posted by Greg on April 13, 2007 10:27 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson