Today’s stop on the Great Canadian Road Trip takes us to the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec. Montreal is one of my favourite cities. Even though I have never lived there, Montreal has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
My initial impressions of Montreal all came through my television screen. I grew up in Nova Scotia at a time when the national baseball team was not the Toronto Blue Jays, but instead, the Montreal Expos. All of my early baseball heroes were Expo players such as Rusty Staub (called “Le Grand Orange” because of his full head of orange hair), Andre “the Hawk” Dawson, Tim “Rock” Raines, Ellis Valentine, Timothy John Foli, Gary “Kid” Carter and, of course, from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, future Hall-of-Famer, Larry Walker. On the other hand, I always had a strong dislike for the Montreal Canadians hockey team because they seemed so unfairly talented during my youth. They always got the better of my favoured Toronto Maple Leafs. The only saving grace for me growing up was that Canadiens’ Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play commentator, Danny Gallivan, was from Cape Breton, so even though I hated the Habs, Gallivan was a source of hometown pride. A few years later, I was watching Sesame Street on TV when it was interrupted for a live news coverage of the FLQ Crisis. I was upset that my show wasn’t on anymore but my mother just shushed me because our nation seemed at risk and that was more important than whatever was going on between Bert and Ernie at the time. Let’s just say that we agreed to disagree.
The first time I ever visited Montreal in person was when I was three years old, and my family and I attended the EXPO 67 celebrations that were happening there. I don’t remember anything about the exhibits, but one memory I do have is being pushed around in strollers that were shaped and decorated like cans of pop. There are photos somewhere of my mother pushing me around Montreal in a green 7-Up shaped stroller. Those were the days, my friend. Another time, during my university days, I was traveling through Montreal…changing trains at the downtown train station…when I noticed the Montreal Gazette newspaper headline announcing that Wayne Gretzky had been traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles. As a family, we have visited Montreal and have enjoyed its unique blend of history and vibrant culture. There is just so much to do there, even for someone like me who is not fluently bilingual.
Pierre Trudeau was my favourite Prime Minister. He was from Montreal, as is his son, our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I loved viewing Montreal through the eyes of great books such as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, as well as the poetry of Leonard Cohen. I have also enjoyed learning more about Montreal via musical acts such as The Box, Ginette Reno, Celine Dion, Patsy Gallant, Sam Roberts Band, Men Without Hats, Voivod and, of course, the subject of today’s post, Stars. For my money, Montreal is a city that is truly alive, and one that ranks among the very best and most interesting cities I have ever known.
Having said all of that, Stars are a band composed of people who are, for the most part, all from Ontario. Lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan both hail from Toronto, but early in their career, Stars relocated to Montreal and have operated out of there ever since. Stars have been around for more than a decade and a half, and have carved out quite a space for themselves in the Canadian Indie/Alternative musical landscape. They are contemporaries of other Canadian bands such as Broken Social Scene, Metric and The Tragically Hip. It is quite common for members of Stars to appear with Broken Social Scene and vice versa. In addition, both Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have released solo albums. Yet, it is their work as members of Stars that has gotten them the most notice. Stars has been nominated several times for Juno awards and have multiple Gold records to their name. They have also been one of the most vocal opponents of streaming services such as Spotify, and how poorly most performers are paid by these organizations who shamelessly use their music to boost their own corporate bottom lines. Campbell gave a recent example of how their latest album, From Capelton Hill, had been streamed over 300,000 times on Spotify in the past month, which earned the five members of Stars a whopping total of $900.00. Spotify, on the other hand, charges a $10 monthly fee for full membership, so if all 300,000 streams were from individual plan members, Spotify earned three million dollars while paying out only $900.00 to the actual artist who generated their revenue for them. Needless to say, Stars support people like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who have removed their songs from Spotify. Stars are active on social media and regularly invite fans to support the band directly by buying their music through their own website.
The song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” came from Stars’ third album entitled Set Yourself on Fire, which was released in 2004, and which went Gold in Canada. I really like this song. It is so well written! It tells a complete story of what happens if you were mistakenly set up on a blind date with your ex-lover. The story is told from both points of view, and is one of those unique tales that doesn’t end happily ever after…and that is OK. The song begins with a taxi ride in silence across Pont Champlain, which was one of the main bridges that connected the island of Montreal with the suburbs on the south shore. The bridge mentioned in 2004 no longer exists. It was becoming structurally unsound and was replaced by a new bridge a few years ago. But, as far as the song goes, that journey across Pont Champlain sets the stage for a dramatic play about the choices we make in life, and about second chances that serve to open new doors, or else to confirm that some doors are best to remain shut. For me, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is like a breath of fresh air. I really appreciate the fact that this band took the time to create a whole world within the confines of a three-and-a-half-minute song. Far too often today, songs are just a chorus and a verse repeated a dozen times…yes, I am looking at you, Justin Bieber! So, to listen to the nuanced phrases and points of view found in “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is a real treat and I am grateful. I can’t help but think that there is something about the city of Montreal that lends itself to inspiring creative artists such as those in Stars to go beyond the commonplace, and instead to create Art that is deep and rich and beautiful for all to enjoy. I think “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is Art. I hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.
The link to the video for the song, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by Stars can be found here.
***Note, the man who does the spoken word part at the very beginning is actor Douglas Campbell, who is the father of Torquil.
The link to the official website for the band Stars can be found here.
The link to the official website for the City of Montreal can be found here.
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