Playlist: Bookish CanCon

Saturday 14 March 2015
It's Juno weekend here in Hamilton, which gave me the perfect opportunity to finally compile the Bookish CanCon playlist I've been thinking about for a while. It won't come as a surprise, but a lot of Canadian artists reference literature in both their songs and band names.

This list, of course, is just a snippet, but I hope to add to it. Send along your suggestions.

Arkells — Book Club 
Local favourites the Arkells are nominated in both the Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year categories. They also have a song that features maybe the worst literary pick-up line in music: "You're my library. Always open for business." (Care to challenge me on that one?)

Broken Social Scene — Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)
At first glance, there isn't much literary about "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)," the second track off Broken Social Scene's 2005 self-titled album. However, the song's namesake is author Ibi Kaslik, who attended the Etobicoke School of the Arts with members of the band. Though Kaslik wasn't quick to admit it, rumour is her novel The Angel Riots was inspired by the band.

Library Voices — Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers
Library Voices from Regina, Saskatchewan, have a lot of literary lyrics to choose from, but these ones (coupled with this catchy title) are a personal favourite.

"I've read Yates and Hemingway
Maybe in our time it's liars in love
Then you call out my name like lines from a page
Feel my sins washed away, feels like I've been saved
I don't wanna die heartless in the heartland"

Honourable mention: "Generation Hand Clap," which references to Coupland and Murakami

Gordon Lightfoot — If You Could Read My Mind
Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" has hands down my all-time favourite bookish lyrics.

"If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstores sell
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take"

Awkward related story: I saw Gordon Lightfoot at the Ottawa Folk Festival a few years ago when he filled in for Neil Young. I waited all night to hear this song from the front row, figuring it was one of those bits of Canadiana I needed to see live. However, the overpriced beer caught up with me. Of course, the second I closed the outhouse door is exactly when Lightfoot started playing "If You Could Read My Mind," meaning I heard the first few bars of one of my all-time favourite songs from inside an porta potty.

Honourable mention: "Don Quixote" by Gordon Lightfoot.

Dan Mangan and Blacksmith — Offred 
Dan Mangan and Blacksmith's album, Club Meds, is brand new, but its opening track, Offred, references the main character in a CanLit classic, Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.

Tokyo Police Club — Your English Is Good
This CanLit reference might be difficult to spot if you're not looking for it, but scholars of Canadian literature will quickly recognize this ode to Robertson Davies: "So we searched for you by night/ In the Deptford gravel pit/ Until the tramp finds Christ/ Injustice is my middle name."

The Tragically Hip — Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)
Local classic rock DJs play this song a lot, but I've never heard them mention that it has a subtitle, or that it was written with Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan in mind. The song's lyrics reference MacLennan's 1959 novel, The Watch That Ends the Night. This song was also covered by Sarah Polley. I've included this version as a bonus to this playlist, because (as every child of the 90s knows), Sarah Polley starred in the ultimate reference to Canadian literature — Road to Avonlea. 

Rush — Tom Sawyer
Rush is receiving the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at this year's Junos Awards. Their 1981 album, Moving Pictures, featured this now famous opening stanza: "A modern-day warrior/ Mean, mean stride/ Today's Tom Sawyer/ Mean, mean pride. "

Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long — Shoulders
To be honest, I don't know a lot about Short Story Long. I do know that they're closely associated with one of my favourite acts, spoken-word poet Shane Koyczan, and they've got one of my favourite bookish names.

Leonard Cohen — References the Bible in pretty much everything
In high school, a teacher cautioned me against studying Leonard Cohen in an independent study unit. She thought the religious references would be too heavy, so of course, I took that as a challenge. I spent the next few weeks gobbling up as much Cohen as I could. His religious references are plenty, and I could never choose a favourite, but I'll leave you with the ones that are probably most covered by artists in Canada and around the world.

"Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?"


  1. I know Moxy Fruvous is kind of verboten since the whole Jian scandal, but how could you forget My Baby Loved a Bunch of Authors?

  2. Oh I know! It was on there, and then it wasn't The video was very Ghomeshi heavy, and I didn't want to subject anyone to that! But yes, noted! It should definitely be on the list.

  3. Two more suggestions come immediately to mind: "Hemingway" by Porkbelly Futures (the late, great Canadian novelist Paul Quarrington's band) and "Time's Arrow" by the Weakerthans (based on the Martin Amis novel of the same name).


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