Can you hear it?
That something-in-the-air inspiring Canadian writers to pick up their pens and write about music in fiction and memoir, biography and history?
Why Birds Sing, by Nina Berkhout
About the book: When opera singer Dawn Woodward has an onstage flameout, all she wants is to be left alone. She’s soon faced with other complications the day her husband announces her estranged brother-in-law, Tariq, is undergoing cancer treatment and moving in, his temperamental parrot in tow. To make matters worse, though she can’t whistle herself, she has been tasked with teaching arias to an outspoken group of devoted siffleurs who call themselves the Warblers. Eventually, Tariq and his bird join the class, and Dawn forms unexpected friendships with her new companions. But when her marriage shows signs of trouble and Tariq’s health declines, she begins questioning her foundations, including the career that she has worked so hard to build and the true nature of love and song.
Fake It So Real, by Susan Sanford Blades
About the book: Fake it so Real takes on the fallout from a punk-rock lifestyle—the future of “no future”—and its effect on the subsequent generations of one family. In June of 1983, Gwen, a gnarly Nancy Spungen look-alike, meets Damian, the enigmatic leader of a punk band. Seven years and two unplanned pregnancies later, Damian abandons Gwen, leaving her to raise their two daughters, Sara and Meg, on her own.
The voices of Gwen, Sara and Meg weave a raw and honest tapestry of family life told from the underbelly, focused on the grey area between right and wrong, the idea that we are all equally culpable and justified in our actions, and the pain and ecstasy that accompany a life lived authentically.
Bootleg Stardust, by Glenn Dixon (coming in April)
About the book: Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom on your way to the top.
It’s 1974. The music world is rocking with bellbottoms, platform shoes, and lots and lots of drugs. This year’s sensation is an American band called Downtown Exit and their latest album has just gone gold.
For high school dropout Levi Jaxon, things aren’t so great. After bouncing around foster homes for years, he’s living in his best friend’s basement. His dream is to someday be a rock star, but he has a problem—his own band has just broken up.
In an uncanny stroke of luck, Levi lands an audition for Downtown Exit, who are now recording their second album at Abbey Road Studios. He arrives in London and aces his audition, only to learn he’s not really in the band. No, Levi’s job is to sit in the wings and cover for the band’s real guitarist when he inevitably starts tripping on stage.
Levi sticks with it, hoping to step into the role he’s always dreamed of. But he must first navigate egos, jealousies, and deceptions. Frankie, the band’s front man, has it out for him. And Levi has fallen for Ariadne, the band’s photographer. All of them have their secrets, Levi included. And as the band tours through Europe and struggles to finish their new album, Levi comes face to face with unanswered questions from his past and the impossible price that fame demands.
Utterly magical and transporting, Bootleg Stardust is a one-of-a-kind joyride about the power of music to bring people together—and break them apart—and the courage it takes to find your own voice.
Saga Boy, by Antonia Michael Downing
About the book: Antonio Michael Downing's memoir of creativity and transformation is a startling mash-up of memories and mythology, told in gripping, lyrical prose. Raised by his indomitable grandmother in the lush rainforest of southern Trinidad, Downing, at age 11, is uprooted to Canada when she dies. But to a very unusual part of Canada: he and his older brother are sent to live with his stern, evangelical Aunt Joan, in Wabigoon, a tiny northern Ontario community where they are the only Black children in the town. In this wilderness, he begins his journey as an immigrant minority, using music and performance to dramatically transform himself. At the heart of his odyssey is the longing for a home. He is re-united with his birth parents who he has known only through stories. But this proves disappointing: Al is a womanizing con man and drug addict, and Gloria, twice abandoned by Al, seems to regard her sons as cash machines.
He tries to flee his messy family life by transforming into a series of extravagant musical personalities: "Mic Dainjah," a punk rock rapper, "Molasses," a soul music crooner and finally "John Orpheus," a gold chained, sequin- and leather-clad pop star. Yet, like his father and grandfather, he has become a "Saga Boy," a Trinidadian playboy, addicted to escapism, attention, and sex. When the inevitable crash happens, he finds himself in a cold, stone jail cell. He has become everything he was trying to escape and must finally face himself.
Richly evocative, Saga Boy is a heart-wrenching but uplifting story of a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes adversity and abandonment to reclaim his Black identity and embrace a rich heritage.
Czech Techno & Other Stories of Music, by Mark Jarman
About the book: From the author of 19 Knives and My White Planet comes a brilliant suite of stories built around music and travel.
Whether it's a band coming apart at the ruins of Pompeii, or tours through Napoli's "volcanic dust and volcanic drugs and jackal-headed bedlam and mountains of stinking trash"; or a nostalgic stroll past the homeless in Victoria's inner harbour while "gentle Tunisian techno" rides the breeze, where the addicted populate park benches, as weighted as Shakespearean characters ... "lit rock and tiny chalice hidden under his shirt, get it all, draw every wisp of the wreath and heavy is the head that wears the crown, that lights the lighter." Or it's Steppenwolf or The Youngbloods drifting from a car radio as "an ambulance siren and lights fly our street ... a flashing mime show of grief's rocket." Or, perhaps they're in Iceland, or Denmark, "somewhere seriously lunar and attractive" spending wheelbarrows of cash the record execs didn't give them. Or it's the Viper Room, Sunset Boulevard, a bar in Butte, Montana, or Johnny Cash in Tijuana.
The five stories that comprise Czech Techno are replete with the sizzle and jump we have come to expect in a Mark Jarman story—"those shadowbox anthems of lost icy street corners and vanished republics" are on grand display, his herky-jerky emblematic style in full roar. And the quest for love, the matters of the heart, is ever-present, weaving through these stories like a knife blade through sand.
And This Is the Cure, by Annette Lapointe
About the book: And This Is the Cure follows Allison Winter, public radio pop-culture journalist and former riot grrrrrl as she regains custody of her adolescent daughter, Hanna, following the murder of her ex-husband. She is unprepared to deal with either the demands of parenting or the fury of her ex-husband's religiously conservative, grieving family, so she pulls up roots and moves Hanna from Winnipeg to Toronto.
Allison's sweet-natured partner, Eden, struggles to take on the day-to-day parenting while Allison resumes her career and avoids the chaos building at home. Despite all efforts, tensions swell and Hanna's rage over her disrupted life eventually erupts in episodes of violence.
Allison's past histories—as a frontwoman for a riot grrrrrl band and her earlier history as a runaway from a conservative Christian family—return to haunt her present life. Her former bandmates want to reunite for a tour of Japan, and her sister demands help in caring for their difficult and aging mother. Allison decides it would be best for them all to return to Winnipeg, but this only sparks a whole new chapter of familial conflict, and precipitates a disastrous event that forces Allison to confront her estranged relationship with her mother and come to terms with her own troubled past.
And This Is the Cure is a novel about the weight of unresolved baggage—its pain and trauma—and working through the process of healing and moving on
We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel, edited by Charity Marsh & Mark V. Campbell, foreword by Murray Forman
About the book: We Still Here maps the edges of hip-hop culture and makes sense of the rich and diverse ways people create and engage with hip-hop music within Canadian borders. Contributors to the collection explore the power of institutions, mainstream hegemonies, and the processes of historical formation in the evolution of hip-hop culture. Throughout, the volume foregrounds the generative issues of gender, identity, and power, in particular in relation to the Black diaspora and Indigenous cultures. The contributions of artists in the scene are front and centre in this collection, exposing the distinct inner mechanics of Canadian hip hop from a variety of perspectives. By amplifying rarely heard voices within hip-hop culture, We Still Here argues for its power to disrupt national formations and highlights the people and communities who make hip hop happen.
Here Goes Nothing, by Eamon McGrath
About the book: Here Goes Nothing, Eamon McGrath’s brave second offering and follow-up to 2017’s widely acclaimed Berlin-Warszawa Express, once again explores the world of touring musicians—but this time McGrath expands his scope and perspective from the inner dialogue of a traveling songwriter into the wider range of a multi-member touring band.
Told in two interwoven narratives that blur the lines between past and present, Here Goes Nothing explores the complex relationships that are both created and destroyed by the perpetual-motion engine that is the touring van.
From confessional tales of saving friends and oneself from drowning in polluted lakes in Michigan to legendary liver-wrecking nights of excess and debauchery in Lisbon, McGrath comments on the corrupt and selfish music industry and the toll it takes on musicians as they blindly chase success. Here Goes Nothing is a gutsy story of how life on the road can bring a band together—or tear them wildly apart.
People You Follow, by Hayley Gene Penner
About the book: Singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner's memoir takes a brutally honest yet humorous look at the dark, intimate truths we spend our lives running from. Like a map of beautiful mistakes, Hayley’s stories of questionable sexual encounters, artistic aspirations, and emotional abuse trace her coming of age in the music industry.
Hayley explores all her relationships—from her childhood as the daughter of a celebrity, to the destructive and coercive relationship with her boss, to her encounter with the actor we all know but who mustn’t be named—and brings them together in a series of sharp, touching vignettes. People You Follow straddles the delicate boundary between ethical and unethical behaviour, self-protection and self-destruction, power and weakness, giddiness and despair.
How to Fail as a Popstar, by Vivek Shraya (Coming in March)
About the book: Described as "cultural rocket fuel" by Vanity Fair, Vivek Shraya is a multi-media artist whose art, music, novels, and poetry and children's books explore the beauty and the power of personal and cultural transformation. How to Fail as a Popstar is Vivek's debut theatrical work, a one-person show that chronicles her journey from singing in shopping malls to "not quite" pop music superstardom with beguiling humor and insight. A reflection on the power of pop culture, dreams, disappointments, and self-determination, this astonishing work is a raw, honest, and hopeful depiction of the search to find one's authentic voice.
The book includes colour photographs from the showâ??s 2020 production in Toronto, and a foreword by its director Brendan Healy.
Buffy Sainte-Marie, by Andrea Warner (Now Out in Paperback!)
About the book: A powerful, intimate look at the life of a beloved folk icon and activist.
Folk hero. Songwriter icon. Living legend. Buffy Sainte-Marie is all of these things and more. In this, Sainte-Marie’s first and only authorized biography, music critic Andrea Warner draws from more than sixty hours of exclusive interviews to offer a powerful, intimate look at the life of the beloved artist and everything that she has accomplished in her seventy-seven years (and counting).
Since her groundbreaking debut, 1964’s It’s My Way!, the Cree singer-songwriter has been a trailblazer and a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, an innovative artist, and a disruptor of the status quo. Establishing herself among the ranks of folk greats such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, she has released more than twenty albums, survived being blacklisted by two U.S. presidents, and received countless accolades, including the only Academy Award ever to be won by a First Nations artist. But this biography does more than celebrate Sainte-Marie’s unparalleled talent as a songwriter and entertainer; packed with insight and knowledge, it offers an unflinchingly honest, heartbreakingly real portrait of the woman herself, including the challenges she experienced on the periphery of showbiz, her healing from the trauma of childhood and intimate partner violence, her commitment to activism, and her leadership in the protest movement.
Music Lessons, by Bob Wiseman
About the book: Bob Wiseman believes most things in life are universal or, as Lauryn Hill says, everything is everything. Bearing in mind that advice, Wiseman writes about finding the link between music and daily life, like what is common between Mary Margaret O’Hara, hiding around the corner with the lights turned off in order to record herself and his 5-year-old insisting he stop hurrying to her dance lesson and marvel at the fluff ball she is blowing toward the ceiling. Each entry is unique and compellingly written, but the themes throughout—on improvisational music, life lessons, and conflict—are ubiquitous.
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