Followers of this blog are likely aware of my zealous passion for Canadian content.
In this patriotic special edition of Musings By Madison, I recommend some fine examples of Canadian fiction, poetry, and film, interspersed with my favorite songs from the Great White North.
Original Poem: “Leonard Cohen / Rocketship” (Avalanches in Poetry)
I figured I’d kick this off by sharing perhaps the most Canadian thing I’ve ever written, a science fiction poem about Leonard Cohen joining the space program:
Originally published in Avalanches in Poetry: Writing and Art Inspired by Leonard Cohen.
Song: iskwē – “Night Danger” [acākosīk]
iskwē easily is one of my favourite artists working today – I love her combination of dramatic gothic soundscapes with traditional Indigenous influences and potent political commentary.
Fun fact: this song inspired by moose warning signs along Northern Ontario roads.
Short Story: Ashley Deng – “Dégustation” [Nightmare Magazine]
This is a beautiful tale of alienation and self-affirmation (with mushroom people) by Ashley Deng.
Read it over at Nightmare.
Song: Kathleen Edwards – “Options Open” [Total Freedom]
I loved Kathleen Edwards’ music long before I ever heard her sing; her alt-folk hit “Back to Me” was a staple of the youth talent shows my Mom used to produce back in the day. Fifteen or so years later, that album was one of the few CDs I bought when I moved across the country on my own, and became a bit of a soundtrack to that era of my life (“Copied Keys” hit too close to home, at times).
Anyway, I really like this new song of hers (bonus points for a Canadian tire reference).
I can’t recommend Edwards strongly enough. Her lyrics are sly and evocative, and her best works balance mischief with melancholy: the subtly malicious “Back To Me” is folk music’s answer to Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” “In-State” is a deliciously vindictive break-up song; “Six O’Clock News” is a devastating tale of a pregnant woman trying to get through to her unstable lover before police gun him down.
Poem: Sheri-D Wilson – “Crow Fusion”
With her striking imagery and experimental use of language, Sheri-D Wilson has long been one of my favourite poets. She’s also currently the Poet Laureate Emeritus of Calgary and a Member of the Order of Canada. Tragic and mystical, “Crow Fusion” is one of her best works.
Read or listen to it here, alongside a selection of her other poems.
Song: Bruce Cockburn – “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” [Stealing Fire]
Ottawa folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn’s has a sense of moral outrage that’s almost as great as his faith in the beauty of God’s creation. Whether you like intelligent, complex protest songs or sincere Christian worship music (or just the occasional acoustic folk ditty), you can do no better.
Check out my review of his 2018 Calgary show here.
Short Story – Rebecca Katz – “Against Nature” [Enchanted Conversation]
This lovely story by Montreal writer Rebecca Katz chronicles a young siren who emerges from the sea and tries to start a new life in the city.
Read it at Enchanted Conversation.
Song: William Prince – “Leave It By The Sea” [Reliever]
With a powerful baritone voice and intimate, gospel-influenced folk songs, Peguis First Nation’s William Prince is one of Canada’s best songwriters. “Leave it by the Sea” (from his sophomore album Reliever) is one of his most cathartic pieces yet.
Poem: Yuan Changming – “Backwaters” [Lonesome October Lit]
I enjoyed this sparse, vaguely ominous piece from Vancouver-based poet Yuan Changming.
Read it at Lonesome October Lit.
Song: July Talk – “Picturing Love” [Touch]
This Toronto alt-rock group is the musical equivalent of film noir.
They’re also wicked live – check out my review here.
Book: Brendan Vidito – Nightmares in Ecstasy [Clash Books]
I haven’t been able to shut up about this short story collection by Sudbury body horror author Brendan Vidito since I first read it earlier this year.
Nightmares in Ecstasy features some of the most disgusting scenes you could ever dream up, often culminating in genuine emotional catharsis. At the time, I compared it to “Barker at his most visceral and Cronenberg at his most surreal.”
You should also check out Vidito’s interview on CBC, if only because I love that our National Broadcaster is now covering the bizarro scene.
Metric – Synthetica [Synthetica]
With lyrics about the fight for authenticity in an artificial world, set to a backdrop of punky power chords battling new wave synths, no song better crystallizes Metric’s sound and ethos.
Check out my review of their incredible 2019 concert here.
Poem: William Gibson – “Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)”
Vancouver-based author William Gibson is one of science fiction’s most influential and accomplished writers, having invented the cyberpunk genre with short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” and his debut novel Neuromancer.
Gibson’s writing is marked by morally ambiguous characters, insightful sociopolitical commentary, and dense, startling imagery. This rare foray into poetry is typically imagistic and surprisingly intimate (taking, at times, the form of a man looking at family photos and through old drawers) but still withholds as much as it reveals, and clicks with the rhythm of some forgotten piece of tech.
Read it at his website.
Song: Mandible Klaw – “Custodial Wrath” [What’s the Matter / Live at SBC]
A choice live cut from Calgary’s finest hardcore band. Listen over here at Band Camp.
(As an aside, I chatted with the members of Mandible Klaw at their cassette launch for this album; you can read the interview/gig review here.)
Film: Floria Sigismondi – The Runaways 
Visionary music video director Floria Sigismondi (born in Italy and raised in Hamilton, Ontario) made her cinematic debut writing and directing this anarchic biopic of The Runaways, the all-girl glam-punk band that launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. It’s a fun, punchy movie with awesome musical sequences, and Sigismondi’s balanced take explores how the band’s experience blurred the lines between empowerment and exploitation.
Do yourself a favour and take a gander at Sigismondi’s visually stunning music videos for songs like Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” Fiona Apple’s “O’Sailor,” and Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People.”
And if you’re at all intrigued by her other movie, check out my review of her 2020 horror film The Turning, which (despite being critically reviled) boasts some effective surreal sequences and a strong feminist subtext.
Song: The Beaches – “T-Shirt” [The Late Show]
Speaking of The Runaways: Canada has their own glam-punk girl group, and they’re called The Beaches. Hailing from the identically-named neighbourhood of Toronto, The Beaches of stylish, funny, and they’re written some of the snarkiest, catchiest songs around.
I try to see them live whenever they come by Ottawa, and they always knock it out of the park. (They often bring along their surf-punk friends Goodbye Honolulu to open, which is an added bonus). Check out my reviews here and here and here.
Book: Norval Morrisseau – Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention [Key Porter Books]
This gorgeous art book features some of Morrisseau’s most stunning and spiritual work, combined with reflections from the artist on his process.
I particularly enjoyed a passage where Morrisseau reveals the source of his inspiration; his description is a startling fusion of mysticism and technology:
“One night I dreamed I was on the astral plane. I know I wasn’t here. I was somewhere else…The building was so huge that it could contain an open field. It was a big domed building. There was a countertop with all kinds of buttons. A computer was there. Everything’s computers, so you start pressing buttons for images you like. There are animals and paintings of any other thing you could think about. They all appear on the screen. So whatever you see here, the way I put the colours down on the canvas, or paper or whatever medium I’m using to put on the colour, that’s what I see there.”
Song: Northern Haze – “Iraq” (Siqinnaarut)
One of the most hard-hitting songs from the Nunavut rock pioneers’s JUNO-nominated second album.
Poem: Rachel Small – “Rideau Canal” [Kissing Dynamite]
Ottawa poet Rachel Small memorializes the workers who died building one of Canada’s most iconic tourist attractions in “Rideau Canal.”
Read it at Kissing Dynamite.
Song: Hubert Lenoir – “Fille De Personne II” [Darlène]
Quebec City’s Hubert Lenoir’s debut album Darlène was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2019 JUNO Awards and shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Prize.
And it totally lives up to the hype: the record is a Francophone glam-rock delight that evokes early David Bowie.
Film: Bob Clark – Black Christmas 
Canada produced a glut of horror films during the 1970s “tax shelter era,” but early slasher classic Black Christmas is one of the most influential.
In addition to being a well-crafted slasher with creative kills and a distinctive sense of humour, the film is also notable for its explicitly feminist perspective.
Song: PUP – “See You At Your Funeral” [Morbid Stuff]
For a bitter, slightly unhinged rant directed at an ex (“Ask you how you’ve been / not that it’s any of my business / but you know me, I’ve always been a little / masochistic”), this song by JUNO winning punk rockers is a lot of fun.
Poem: Leonard Cohen – “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” [The Flame]
Aside from being possibly the greatest songwriter of all time, Canadian icon Leonard Cohen was an accomplished (and idiosyncratic) poet.
I would imagine one of his most widely-read poetic works would be this posthumously published piece, which went viral in 2018. And fair enough – it’s genius. More than just a literary diss track, “Kanye West is Not Picasso” is an absurd, quasi-mystical synthesis of rap boasts and rockist curmudgeonry.
You can read or listen to it over at NPR.
Song: Rough Trade – “High School Confidential” [Avoid Freud]
Toronto’s Rough Trade were trailblazers in terms of LGBTQ representation on the music scene, and their discography is full of edgy new wave gems like “Crimes of Passion,” “Weapons,” and “Lie Back, Let Me Do Everything.” But their 1980 single “High School Confidential” (about an intense same-sex crush) remains their signature song.
(One of my all-time favourite Canadian live music moments was seeing lead singer Carole Pope join with Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz for a cover of CSNY’s protest song “Ohio” at a JUNO Week afterparty – you can read about that here.)
Movie: David Cronenberg – Videodrome 
I adore David Cronenberg, and this film – a surreal tribute to new media and new bodies – is both my favourite and a perfect introduction to his filmography. All hail the new flesh!
If you’re looking for something more tightly tethered to reality, check out his 1988 psychodrama Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons in a dual role.
Song: Voivod – Orb Confusion [The Wake]
No one does paranoid freakouts better than these experimental Quebec thrash icons.
(I had the chance to see these guys live during JUNO Week last year, in the strangest possible venue for a metal show. Check out my review here.)
Short Story: Eddie Generous – “Sunday Speed Trap”
This short story by Eddie Generous is a balls-to-the-wall apocalypse tale, with some fantastic set-pieces and over-the-top imagery. Come for the demonic cult, stay for the giant crabs.
Buy it below:
Song: Priya Panda – “Shook You Off”
Toronto’s Priya Panda has done a musical 180 and I love it. The fiery glam metal frontwoman recently released a pair of unabashedly dance-y tracks, harkening back to her eighties pop influences.
You can read my interview with her over at Bravewords.
Film: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, & Jessica Wise – Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey 
This excellent doc is a wide-ranging history of heavy metal from the perspective of a hardcore fan (who also happens to be an anthropologist).
Throughout the course of the film, Dunn interviews everyone from well-known metal icons like Tony Iommi, Bruce Dickinson, and Ronnie James Dio, to controversial figures from the Norwegian Black Metal scene.
Dunn and MacFayden later teamed up for engaging features on groups like Alice Cooper and RUSH, in addition to the illuminating Global Metal, which profiles the international metal scene and the importance of the genre to dissidents, outsiders, and headbangers around the world.
Song: Billy Talent – “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats” [Afraid of Heights]
Fusing punk urgency with heavy metal grandeur and an almost proggy flair for storytelling, Billy Talent is my favourite Canadian band.
If you like this, check out songs like “Lies,” “River Below,” “Red Flag,” The Dead Can’t Testify,” “Tears Into Wine,” Viking Death March,” and – you know what, just go through their entire discography.
Short Story: Kelly Stewart – “A Performance For Painted Bones” [The Dark]
This chilling tale of a dancer trying to escape the afterlife with his flesh intact reads like a more terrifying update of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.
Read it at The Dark.
Song: Natalie MacMaster – “Three Reels” [Sketches]
This lively tune by East Coast fiddler Natalie MacMaster is a delight.
Film: Bruce McDonald – Road Kill 
This surreal Bruce MacDonald flick about a young woman on a rock-n-roll road trip through Northern Ontario features esoteric Canadian in-jokes and an out-of-left-field cameo by Joey Ramone at a Sudbury gas station.
Easily the strangest movie I’ve ever seen.
Song: Terra Lightfoot – “Pinball King” [New Mistakes]
When her Longest Roadshow stopped in Ottawa, Hamilton blues-rocker Terra Lightfoot revealed that this song was written about a local bar where I have sunk a lot of toonies, legendary punk rock arcade House of TARG.
(Check out my review of her headlining JUNO Week set here).
Short Story: Jennifer Mitchell – The Unluckiest Skydiver [Stupefying Stories]
This sci-fi story by Jennifer Mitchell (about a woman who jumps out of a plane and never hits the ground) features some cool imagery and a sweetly romantic conclusion.
Read it at Stupefying Stories.
Song: Marianas Trench – Astoria [Astoria]
These shape-shifting Vancouver pop-punks perfectly meld irresistable hooks with concept album grandiosity.
(I fell in love with this sprawling epic when it was their opener at their 2017 Calgary Stampede set; my review here).
Original Short Story: “I Just Don’t Get the Hype Over the New Star Wars Movie” [Back Patio Press]
Early this year, Back Patio Press kindly published this nerdy Canadian in-joke of mine, in which the long-awaited Star Wars finale unexpectedly morphs into a Historica Minute.
You can think of this one as a spiritual sequel to “Leonard Cohen/Rocketship” if you want.
Read it here.
Song: Rush – “Fly By Night” [Fly By Night]
I thought it would be fitting to close this blog with an entry from RUSH, a quintessentially Canadian band that never fails to fill me with optimism for the future.
Happy Canada Day, everybody! How are you celebrating?