The Big Issue : Edition 495
THEBIGISSUE9–15OCT2015 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH A FAR-FLUNG CORNER OF THE WORLD. DIFFERENT PEOPLE. DIFFERENT NEWS. THE SAME MUSIC. CANADIAN COMFORT ZONE A Four’N Twenty pie at the footy in Melbourne, rock art and water holes in the Northern Territory. In the Philippines I climbed a volcano and visited Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection. In New York it’s a hot dog, a ball game, the subway. In Vancouver we’re talking First People art, maple syrup, mountains and...did I mention the trees? Yet when you’re in the white man’s world on any continent, the soundtrack is always the same – boomer hits, 1980s hits, current chart hits, the lion’s share American. The lack of imagination is staggering. And, given the dearth of opportunities for musicians of the world who aren’t Keith Richards to make a buck, dismal. Why aren’t I hearing Canadian music at the ski resort or tree-top sky walk or souvenir shop? Or ditto with Australian music in Australia? If someone’s travelled extensively to soak up local culture, they’ll survive if they don’t hear ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. Actually, tourists would probably appreciate being introduced to music they’d never heard before. It might enhance their experience by adding another cultural dimension. The visitor may even, I don’t know, follow up that new artist and buy their music. FFS! Hearing the same old music is comforting, but it shuts down your curiosity. It dulls the senses, instead of awakening them. What does it say about national identity when a big chunk of the experience on offer involves music from foreign bands that peaked 40 years ago? I know we’re supposed to funnel ourselves through the gift shop in a somnambulistic state and stock up on postcards, T-shirts and stuffed toys. And perhaps the back catalogue of Crosby, Stills & Nash songs facilitates that nicely. But I’d give my right arm to be stimulated aurally. Music is a significant component of how a culture expresses itself. On any given day, Melbourne, for example, boasts more local bands per square metre than rats. I’m heading to New Orleans after BC precisely because it’s a thriving music capital. I mentioned to my cousin Mike the lack of Canadian music available. He shrugged and replied, “We don’t have any.” Well, maybe you would if it had equal rotation with ‘Brown Sugar’. I’M NOT SURE what I was expecting from Canada. Snow? Bears? Mounties greeting us at the airport singing Monty Python’s ‘Lumberjack Song’? What I definitely wasn’t expecting was hearing The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ three times in as many days. I’m in British Columbia to meet a slew of cousins, and no matter which stunning natural wonder I’m taken to visit, the piped music is a smooth, soothing blend of Fleetwood Mac, The Stones, Supertramp and other safe-as- houses baby boomer evergreens. God it’s depressing. It’s the musical equivalent of visiting your parents. “You’re safe,” it’s saying, as yet another song you’ve heard a hundred thousand times trickles through your cochlea. “Nothing that happens here will take you out of your white, middle-class, middle-aged comfort zone.” Maybe it’s an important strategy when you’re charging $37 a ticket to look at some trees (impressive trees, don’t get me wrong), but I didn’t spend 20 hours on a plane to hear the same inoffensive, endlessly churned ‘hits and memories’ that I avoid listening to on commercial radio at home. Paul Kelly nailed it with ‘Every Fucking City (Sounds the Same)’, his song about a lovelorn idiot chasing a woman around Europe. Written in 2000, Kelly heard Ricky Martin’s ‘La Vida Loca’ wherever he went. I feel his pain. In 2002, I was chased around Greece, France, Amsterdam, Scotland and England by Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Head’. It was the first song I heard on disembarking the coach in Paris, and, worse, wherever I went, it was played immediately when it transpired that I was Australian. Hearing it now is bittersweet. On the one hand, it transports me back to my nine months in Europe; on the other, I want to punch someone in the ’nads. In 2015 in Vancouver, if they’re not supplementing Mick Jagger’s pension by spinning his upbeat ode to slavery and interracial sex, they’re playing Pharrell William’s ‘Happy’. This is a win in that I’ve heard it only one thousand times. Nonetheless, gee, when you’ve travelled halfway around the world, wouldn’t it be nice to hear something, I don’t know, different? We go all out for new experiences when we travel. Local food, landscapes and landmarks, art galleries, museums and whatever is traditional/indigenous to that town or country. » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.