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Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars
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Author:  s1m0n [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 1:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

There's a triumvirate at the top of Canada's 60s contributions to popular music. I'm speaking of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen. They all came to prominence within a few years of each other, and all have had long, long careers. And unlike their contemporaries, or rivals in other decades, all three have gone on making artistically relevant music their entire lives. Their careers have waned and waxed over the years without ever dying out, and without them ever turning into nostalgia acts, recycling their past glories.

This is an extraordinarily rare achievement in popular music. And Canada, a low population nation, produced three such world-class artists within a few short years. What the hell was in the water. And what changed? Because no other generation has done the same, even once, let alone thrice.

~~

I suppose one thing that changed was the passage of the Canadian Content (CanCon) laws, which decreed that Canadian radio stations had to play 30% domestic music. This fostered a Canadian music scene, which meant that artists could stay home and have a career. In the 60s, Canadian acts could stay home and play clubs, or record and maybe have a regional hit, but stardom, even domestically, was out of the question. To make it big, you had to go to NY or LA, and the 3 I'm taking about all did. After the passage of the cancon law in 68, it became possible to stay home and have a career. Did that prevent Canadian acts from taking the chances that might have led to Cohen/Mitchell/Young scale stardom? Maybe, but I doubt it's the entire picture.

~~

Did the fact that all three were on the leading edge of the baby boom mean that the changes they were going through in their lives and reflecting in their music would be tracked over the ensuing decade by the largest generation in the demographic, giving them a ready-built audience for whatever they wanted to write about? Until the millenials (the boomer's kids) every other generation has been out of phase with demography, meaning that the zeitgeist and the largest audience were out of sync. Unlike the above, every artist since has had to decide to either pander (write for the market, not for art) or write for themselves and settle for a niche market, both of which must tend to prevent a long term career that's both artistically true and commercially successful. Hmm. I've just come up with this theory as I wrote the post, but I'm finding it persuasive.

~~

But still, it doesn't explain why 60s Canada punched above its weight. The US produced Bob Dylan, who has done the same, but who else from that generation? Springsteen, I suppose, tho he's a touch younger. I suppose I'm being colour-blind, here. There are any number of black american musicians of that era, and since, who have careers that combine similar amounts of super-stardom, artistic relevance, and longevity. Black America, too, punches above its weight.

I wonder if the additional ingredient is outsider insight? If you're born inside mainstream US culture, unless you try hard, that's all you see. If you're born out of it, you get your own culture overlaid with US culture, which provides automatic perspective that insiders don't get.

Author:  s1m0n [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 1:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

And just for the hell of it, here's Dave Van Ronk's cover of Mitchell's That Song About the Midway, her Leonard Cohen breakup song. That's really more about her disillusionment with the music biz. Because ultimately, everything's about Joni.

Author:  chas [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 2:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

There are a few other Canadians who came up in roughly the same era who are almost in the same echelon as those you mention. Robbie Robertson is another songwriter and performer whose height was as high as the others and who's still active. Levon Helm wasn't a songwriter, but he remained relevant up till his death.

A close Canadian friend told me several years ago that Joni, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Cockburn were the big triumvirate of Canadian pop/folk/rock. Personally I'd take Bruce over Neil Young any day (both as a singer and guitarist; I like the songwriting of both), but that's just me.

Author:  s1m0n [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 2:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

There's a bunch of folk who have 2, or 2 1/2 of the trio of super-stardom, artistic relevance, and longevity, and Robbie Robertson, Bruce Cockburn, Ian Tyson and Gordie Lightfoot all qualify. But I think the stars I mention are the only ones who've got all three. Levon Helm's from Arkansas. He's the only member of The Band who wasn't Canadian.

Cockburn's had a long and artistically relevant career, but he's been a niche artist all his days. AFAIK, Wondering where the Lions Are, Tokyo, and (especially) If I had a Rocket Launcher are all the mass market hits he's ever had.

Author:  An Draighean [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 3:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

s1m0n wrote:
Robbie Robertson, Bruce Cockburn, Ian Tyson and Gordie Lightfoot all qualify.


I was going to mention these four if someone else didn't. Gordon Lightfoot in particular is a tremendous writer and singer, who achieved international stardom and had many hits. His music was my inspiration to learn guitar as a teenager. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to carry it beyond a certain point, unlike Joni and Neil. Their creativity and output seems to know no bounds, though Joni has been quieter of late.

Author:  s1m0n [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 3:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

An Draighean wrote:
..though Joni has been quieter of late.


She's suffering from post polio syndrome. Long before she was an artist, and subsequently a singer, she was a dancer. Then she got polio, and never danced again. She recovered and had a lot of good years, but late in life past polio sufferers face progressive physical debilitation. She's had to have special, lightweight guitars made, because she can no longer hold her old guitars.

And as far as she's concerned, her artistic career consists of writing, painting, and making music. When she can't do one, she does the others, but we only really hear about the last (and lyrics, which is writing, I suppose).

Author:  chas [ Sat Dec 16, 2017 8:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

s1m0n wrote:
Levon Helm's from Arkansas. He's the only member of The Band who wasn't Canadian.


Lawdy miss Claudy, I'm embarrassed. I'm not old enough to plead old age, nor was it early enough that I could plead not being awake.

Author:  oleorezinator [ Sun Dec 17, 2017 11:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Cohen/Mitchell/Young: 60s Canadian folk/rock/pop stars

Back in the Pleistocene in my rock days
(I play the saxophone.)
I toured Canada with several bands of
varying prominence. Talking to some of
the musicians along the way one subject
came up more than once and that was
how some Canadian musicians had an
inferiority complex. Their take on it was
they weren't American nor were they
British.
It wasn't that they weren't great musicians,
this was how the u.s. and english record
companies perceived them.

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