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How Canadian Rock Saved Me from NKOTB

Like many elementary-school-age girls, I once considered stuff like braces and popularity the most important things in life. And, unfortunately for everyone around me during my formative years in the late 1980s, New Kids on the Block were absolutely paramount. I had the t-shirts, the buttons, the VHS tapes, and the posters, and birthday and Christmas gifts only added to the madness. When I went to the NKOTB concert in the Toronto, I couldn't help but bawl my eyes out because oh my God, I was in the same room as Donnie!!! I was more or less New Kids crazy.


A whole new world of music opened up to me when I entered high school in 1990. Other than the records played at school dances, MuchMusic's "Video Music Dance"—a staple in Canada—became my primary outlet to new tunes. Watching the neon-infused videos while gyrating around was a huge part of my life in the early '90s. I relied on Canadian VJs like Steve Anthony and Monica Deol to turn me on to the decidedly anti-New Kids rock and hip-hop that I loved best at the time.


I also hit high school at a time when indie-rock was just starting up, and it proved pivotal in directing my musical tastes. Back then, I had to read magazines or spend a lot of time in local record and cassette shops to keep tabs on the scene, since MySpace was more than a decade away. Bands that friends introduced me to or that I sought out after reading about them in some 'zine are still among my favourites because they represent that time in my life when I was as much searching for my identity as cultivating an image. Indie-rockers may not have been the world's best musicians, but they seemed genuine. Unlike my New Kids-obsessed friends in the '80s, the people I knew in high school valued the entire rock album over the pop singles on which I had previously relied. I listened to Up To Here by Ontario's The Tragically Hip so much that I had to replace my cassette more than once.


Along with The Hip, I discovered a bunch of other great Canadian bands during the '90s. Aside from Canada's well-known history in rock—Rush, The Guess Who, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and The Band—I got to know some of my country's less-known rock stars like Glass Tiger, Kim Mitchell, Honeymoon Suite, Gowan (recently on MTV's Cribs!), and Haywire. Those classic rockers soon led way to the indie-rock I hold dear to this day.


In tenth grade, my musical tastes became fiercely pro-Canadian, inspired by my all-time favourite band, Sloan, a somewhat-known quartet from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sloan has become my personal benchmark for a rock band's struggle to remain independent and stay true to its roots in the face of popularity. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to bassist Chris Murphy after a show, and he told me an Adidas agent once approached him to offer the band an advertising deal. Chris basically told the Adidas guy to stick it and said Sloan had no interest in advertising for a company. That sealed the deal for me, and Sloan became my rock heroes for good.


Since I started my Can-Rock spree at 15 years old, artists overlooked or ignored by the fickle North American music industry have held prominent places in my heart, my shopping basket, and my mixtapes: Jeff Martin, Grapes of Wrath, and Eric's Trip are among my favourites. More recently, lots of Canadians have been making waves in the indie and international music scenes, including (but by no means limited to) The Arcade Fire, Shout Out Out Out Out, MSTRKRFT, Sam Roberts, Joel Plaskett, Sarah Harmer, K-OS, Cadence Weapon, Broken Social Scene, and Metric.


In the end, I do owe a debt to New Kids on the Block. If it weren't for their over-the-top pop, I might never have had reason to seek out the music that has since then changed my life. More importantly, NKOTB's embodiment of a foreign, pre-fabricated values is partially responsible for my quest to find something more real and meaningful in my own backyard.

-- Tanya Kearney, 04/18/2007