With the Osheaga festival happening this long weekend, it seems fitting to pay tribute to our favourite francophone city of the north. Montreal expat, the wickedly talented writer Vicki Hogarth (Vice, xoJane, The Fix), runs us through a musical ode to her old stomping grounds with a soundtrack that she's named "Soundtrack to Cure Montreal Homesickness (or Make it worse) – Montreal, Je T'aime". Here's this week's Friday music fix:
As a fairly new resident of Toronto, I have quickly learned that just saying "I'm from Montreal" is the easiest way to answer most questions people ask me. A guy I just met at a party: "Are you being serious when you say you'll go on a joyride to Niagara Falls with me tomorrow?" Answer: "I'm from Montreal." A fashionista friend: "Are you really going to wear a bralet and hot pink short-shorts...together?" Response: "I'm from Montreal." A group of people at a party: "Does anyone know where we can get a black market cronut in the next five minutes?" Obviously: "I'm from Montreal." Montreal isn't just the city where I got my start as a writer and editor (Strut Magazine and then enRoute); it's where I became me. It's where I had my first boyfriend, my first part-time job, my first night on the town... it's even where I went to rehab and eventually decided to start writing openly about my life in recovery.
I love cities like Toronto, New York and Paris for the personalities they so obviously have of their own, but I identify with Montreal. Some days you want to yell at it for doing something so ridiculous and self-sabotaging; other days, you fall in love with it all over again when you're eating a Fairmount bagel with your Olimpico coffee on a bench on St-Viateur. Even though Toronto's now home, I think about Montreal all the time, and I often take imaginary walks down the Plateau and Mile End streets I miss in my mind. It's a city that, though often plagued with politically tumultuous times, has a spirit that's so authentic and raw, it's obvious why it inspires such great art - fashion, film, literature, paintings, music and everything in between. When homesickness gets the better of me, I listen to these songs.
No Cars Go – Arcade Fire
Before the world went mental for Arcade Fire, they belonged to Montrealers. I remember seeing them at a small venue what must have been a decade ago and thinking, "Holy eff, this is going to be epic, but right now it's just for us." Sure, I've seen them in concert since they exploded, but nothing compares to seeing a band before they make big. That's when it really was all about the music for the band, and for the audience as well. No one at an early Arcade Fire show was there because Pitchfork gave the album a perfect score... and the band wasn't there because their record label told them that they had to be. It was just about legitimate lovers and makers of music having the most indescribably awesome night.
That's No Way to Say
Goodbye – Leonard Cohen
I wish all breakups with people, places and things could be like this song, and I wish all men could let you down the way I imagine Leonard Cohen would. I used to live about two blocks from Leonard Cohen off of Marianne in the Plateau. Sometimes I'd see him sitting on a bench in Parc du Portugal, a tiny little park on the corner of St-Laurent and Marianne, and he always had a suit, sometimes with a scarf over top. He's probably the only person I've ever met who has surpassed the vision of him I had created in my mind. He has an aura, and even if you don't believe in that kind of thing, you would after meeting him. A poet friend of mine introduced me to him one day when I ran into them, again in the park. He put out his hand to shake mine and said, "Hi, I'm Leonard." There's something so Montreal about that -- a lack of need to use a last name to truly qualify who you are or highlight your importance. Of course, I knew he was Leonard Cohen, but in the moment, we were just a couple of Montrealers saying hello and all he had to be was Leonard.
In The Beginning – The Stills
For my generation of Montrealers, no band lived and breathed Montreal quite like The Stills. You'd run into them watching Montreal Canadiens games at Copacabana on St-Laurent or getting coffee at Cafe Neve on Rachel, or sometimes they'd show up at your house party in the Plateau. Montreal is usually a city that bands get their start in. They stick around for the cheap rent and arts scene, make a killer first album and then bust a move somewhere else once they've got a record deal. The Stills, all local Montrealers, stayed, reminding me every time I saw them that Montreal isn't just a place that lets you create good music because it's cheap to live there; it inspires it. Walk into any restaurant in the Mile End and you'll hear a conversation that's half French and half English at any given table. People dance in the street just because they feel like it. You can easily walk by an art show that's happening just because people like art, not because they’re trying to sell anything or get a write up in the paper. Dave and Liam from The Stills are in Toronto now in a new band called Eight and a Half, and I always get an old feeling of home when I see them out here at White Squirrel or Golden Turtle.
Tant Pis Pour Moi – Chinatown
When you're 20-something and in love and living in Montreal, it feels like this song: "C'est l'amour, ce sourire détendu à compter les étoiles, quand nous serons ensemble, amoureux pour la vie."
Innocuous – The Unicorns
For years, I was secretly in love with former Unicorns frontman Nick Thorburn from a distance, so much so that I can remember the two times I've had a conversation with him: once at a Vice Magazine party on St-Laurent, and another time backstage after a show in the Just Pour Rire building. He's been doing his own thing called Islands forever now and I don't even think he's based in Montreal anymore, but he became my first ever local musician crush when he was in The Unicorns. Maybe all the girls had a thing for him, I don't know. I like to pretend it was just me. If he asked me to drop everything and run away with him on his tour bus tomorrow, I would still go. But, hey, I’m from Montreal. That’s just how we roll.
Bye Bye Mon Cowboy – Mitsou
Maybe people outside of the borders of Quebec don't even know who Mitsou is, but in Quebec she's as famous as famous can be. This song to me is all about dancing in my giant dining room (because for $650 a month, you can have a kickass apartment with a kitchen and dining room in Montreal) with my best friends at 1am before heading out on the town. Who goes out before 1am, anyway?
Cigarettes & Chocolate – Rufus Wainwright
Sure, Rufus Wainwright and I are both straightedge now, but that doesn't mean we didn't enjoy some good ol' Montreal style debauchery back in the day. This song is what girls from Montreal are like: sophisticated, seductive and mischievous all at the same time.
Oblivion – Grimes
Grimes is next gen badass. You either love her or hate her, but you're not indifferent, and that’s what Montreal is all about. You can be as crazy as you want in Montreal; inciting indifference is the only crime.
Your Ex-Lover is Dead – Star
They had me at “Pont Champlain” in this song. I think of Stars as more of a Toronto band even though they live in Montreal. They remind me, though, of all the Ontario kids I met when I went to McGill who moved to the M dot to study and then fell in love with all things Belle Province: seemingly suggested 3am closing time, 24-hour bagels and picnics in Parc Lafontaine. Every Canadian artist should live in Montreal for at least six months of his or her life (and I'm not counting the McGill ghetto). There's something about the authenticity of the city that gives an artist's work, whether it’s a musician, painter or writer, an honesty that maybe it didn't have before, and a vibe that seems to acknowledge and disregard the commercial sphere at the same time. This song feels exactly like that: it’s beautiful, it’s different, it’s a song that’s a story. It’s also the most perfect breakup song for all those relationships that started at a Montreal party and sort of dwindled into whateverland but somehow always left you thinking about a person who maybe amounts to more in your memory than he deserves, but he’s there. I could go on and on. This song makes young heartbreak feel so good.
Bonus: Ego Orientation – UBT.
My current Montreal band
Their album is pop-infused rockout music at its finest, and features my old ladykiller of a roommate Gabriel Rousseau on drums. I used to break up with all Gabe’s lady-friends for him back in the day, and together we had the most awesome house parties that always ended with a guitar and a group sing-along at 5am. Check out UBT because, if you’re going to get down with the true spirit of Montreal, you should really find a band to love before everyone else does and while they’re still impossibly authentic. Plus, ladies, I’ll introduce you to Gabe next time he plays a show in Toronto. He’ll break your heart but, don’t worry, I’ll let you down easy.