Tuesday, January 31, 2017
"Canada" by Mike Myers
"In 1967, Canada turned one hundred. Canadians all across the country made Centennial projects," he writes. "This book is my Centennial Project. I'm handing it in a little late... Sorry. But it will be on time for the Canadian Sesquicentennial. In 2017, Canada will turn 150."
"Canada" is part personal memoir, part history lesson, part socio-cultural analysis, and part love letter to Canada -- more specifically, the Canada and Toronto of Myers' youth. Myers was born and raised in the Toronto suburbs, the child of British immigrant parents, and is just two years younger than me -- so we grew up at relatively the same time with many of the same cultural references, which he lovingly recounts throughout the book. I found myself chuckling and exclaiming ("Oh yeah, I forgot about that!!") over his references to (and photos of!!) the Centennial Train, Hockey Night in Canada, Remembrance Day and In Flanders Fields, Goin' Down the Road, Eatons catalogue, Stompin' Tom, Canadian Tire, Mr. Dressup and the Friendly Giant, Rocket Robin Hood, King of Kensington, Lonesome Charlie...
There are plenty of in-jokes and references that will only be fully appreciated by Canadians, but there's also some insights into what makes Canada and Canadians different from the rest of the world (and the U.S. in particular).
(My favourite in joke: I completely cracked up when Myers admitted that the character of Frau Farbissina in "Austin Powers" was partly based on Lotta Hitschmanova. Only a Canadian of a certain vintage would get that reference. I didn't know about this before, but I most certainly see the connection now...!!) (Another Canadian reference that was a revelation to me: did you know that Paul McCartney is wearing an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) badge on the sleeve of his Sgt. Pepper jacket?? Mind. Blown.)
I enjoyed Myers' stories about growing up in the Toronto suburbs, and how he got his start in show business. (He went to the same high school around the same time as Eric McCormack of "Will and Grace," and David Furnish, who is now married to Elton John. There's a memorable scene where Myers encounters Furnish years later at Elton's annual Oscars party. "We're a long way from Scarborough, eh buddy?" Furnish observed.) He describes his early days working in various CBC television shows (Gilda Radner played his mom in one ad he did), his comic apprenticeship at Second City in Toronto and Chicago, his days in improv in London, and his early days in the cutthroat environment of "Saturday Night Live" -- and the acts of kindness shown to him by Lorne Michaels (a fellow Canadian), Dana Carvey and Conan O'Brien, that helped him survive and thrive there.
"There's no one more Canadian than a Canadian who no longer lives in Canada," Myers writes. He left Canada in 1983, first to work in England and then the U.S., and he seldom returned after the death of his father in 1991. He admits that he began to feel increasingly out of touch with Canada, a Canada that seemed to have changed from the country he remembered.
However, he feels that the election of a Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 has helped to restored and reinforce the Canada and Canadian values he believes in. Myers is an unabashed fan of Trudeau (& his father, Pierre, who was prime minister during much of Myers' (& my) growing up years).
This irks some of the reviewers on Goodreads, who dislike Trudeau -- and yes, my American friends, there ARE people who don't like our current PM! ;) There are also some complaints that while the book is called "Canada," it's very Toronto-centric. (People outside of Toronto think that people who live in Toronto suffer from "centre of the universe" mentality -- with some justification, I think. It's kind of like American resentment of the "elites" in New York.) (Of course, I grew up in western Canada. ;) ) There were definitely some cultural references, slang ("Scarborough suitcase"??) & jokes that Canadians outside of Toronto wouldn't necessarily relate to (e.g., references to Buffalo & Irv Weinstein, Honest Ed's, Glenn Cochrane). Even so -- even I, growing up in the west (well before the time of the Internet) and never setting foot in Toronto until I was 22, knew about 1050 CHUM and Sam the Record Man and the CNE. The book has a solid average Goodreads rating of just under 4 stars (last time I checked), and most of the reviews are positive overall.
If you are Canadian (especially a Canadian of a certain age), &./or a fan of Mike Myers, you will enjoy this book. (Frankly, I don't think you could help it. ;) ) If you're not Canadian, this book will give you some insight into what it's like to grow up in Canada, and what the Canadian culture and character are all about.
But take it with a grain of salt. ;)
This was book #3 that I've read so far in 2017.