Knowlton Nash and the Outside World

We didn’t have power. We didn’t have running water. We grew up in a small house in an isolated corner of a treaty-settled island. As such, we weren’t meant to have much. But we had love. We had knowledge. We learned respect and humility. And because our roots were deeply embedded in both the reserved land on which we lived and in the town across the way, we were aware of the paradox of our lives.

To get a glimpse of life outside the bush, our parents provided us a small twelve-inch black-and-white television with erratically protruding rabbit ears. Our mom would delicately position the antennae while our dad would connect the wires of that tiny televised window to a car battery for power. There was only one reliable channel that came through the fuzz: CBC. Once in a while they’d get lucky and tune in CKCO-TV from Kitchener. But in the mid-1980s, CBC had all we needed: The Nature of Things with David Suzuki; Hockey Night in Canada; and The National.

The Nature of Things was educational and eye-opening. Hockey Night in Canada was an entertaining diversion from the daily rez routine (which, ultimately, led me to becoming a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan, for better or worse). Upon their conclusion, each show always led into The National with Knowlton Nash. Our parents would usually let us watch the first few stories, then it was time for bed.

Back then I was never really that interested in the news. The stories were always about far-off places in Canada and around the world that I felt no real connection to. Like many other kids of that era, I assumed Knowlton Nash was the host just because his name sounded similar to the show’s. And whenever his black-and-white bespectacled face occupied the tiny screen, it usually meant my day was over.

Eventually, we got hydro at our house. And as I got older and a little more aware, I began to understand the importance of the news, and I always associated Nash’s face with it. Still, the disconnect remained because I wasn’t seeing my life or my community reflected in the national narrative. I was no stranger to Canadian society; my mother is from the town that neighbours our community and I spent much of my childhood with my relatives there. But because “Indians” were rarely mentioned in the headlines, to me, Nash became the face of the world outside the rez.

But then people like Elijah Harper and the Mohawks of Kanesatake forced the national media to pay attention to Indigenous issues. That’s when the stories Nash introduced began to resonate a lot more with me. By the time he retired in the early 1990s, the media’s treatment of Indigenous stories was improving. It still has a long way to go today, but that’s when things started to turn around. At that point, Nash wasn’t as much of a foreign voice to me anymore.

He died this weekend at age 86. I never met him, but he’s highly regarded among my colleagues as a man of integrity and respect, and I believe them. Today I work at CBC, and have reported for the National dozens of times over the years. If there’s anything that I learned subconsciously from Nash, it’s that the outside world really isn’t that far out of reach.

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He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line


As this decade progresses, 1990s sentimentalists will continue to wax nostalgic as 20-year milestones tick by. As someone who was a teenager for most of that decade, I am also prone to this, especially when it comes to music. I’ve already done so with the most influential album on my life. Today marks another such anniversary: 20 years since the release of Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral. It was an album that broadened my musical outlook and emotional scope at a crucial time in my life.

Musically, I had never heard anything like it. Some songs were loud and aggressive; others were ambient and introspective. The album spanned genres from metal to rock to techno, and I learned that critics had sorted it into the “industrial” genre, whatever that meant. I was a little familiar with NIN prior to this. A buddy had lent me the Broken EP a couple years earlier, and I liked it so much I bought my own copy. But it was just a slight taste of the power and range that was fulfilled with The Downward Spiral.

Some of its themes like isolation, struggle, and oppression really hit home. I was a month away from turning 15, living on the rez and confused about my place in the bigger picture. I connected emotionally with some of the lyrics, and it was through this album that I really learned how music could powerfully convey darker sentiments, and that those feelings were valid and common. I didn’t start wearing eyeliner or black nail polish, but I respected that.

Later that summer I saw NIN open for Soundgarden (who, coincidentally, released Superunknown on the same day as The Downward Spiral) at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario. The songs were even more immense live, and I was totally blown away by how Trent Reznor and his band played them. They were energetic and unrelenting, and it looked really fun. I remember walking out of that show feeling extremely happy; almost like I was part of a collective emotional purge and celebration. Music, as art, is a release, and we share to make ourselves and others feel.

I’ve seen various incarnations of NIN play four times since then over the past two decades, most recently last fall at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Each time it was a massive audio/visual spectacle. Their live show really is something to behold. While Trent’s sound has evolved, it’s always nostalgic to hear those songs that struck me to the core as a teen 20 years ago. And as these musical milestones emerge, I’ll continue to reflect proudly and unapologetically. Rock on!

Top Ten Albums of 2013

The end of the calendar year always allows me the indulgence of reflecting on my own musical tastes. So as usual, here’s the regular December post that lays out my favourite albums of the past year:

Queens of the Stone Age…Like Clockwork

The best rock n’ roll band in the world returns with an extraordinary effort that’s lighter, emotive, and extremely powerful. There are fewer bangers than on previous albums, but that’s made room for more beautifully complex, temperamental songs. It all makes sense given Josh Homme’s near-death experience since the last album.

Ghostface Killah and Adrian YoungeTwelve Reasons to Die

Ghostface has always been my favourite member of the Wu-tang Clan because of his uncanny ability to weave stories with his rhymes. This is a concept album about gang wars set in 1960s Italy that’s a compelling narrative from start to finish. The music and production by Adrian Younge make of the greatest foundations I’ve ever heard on a rap album.

A Tribe Called RedNation II Nation

The power of good music is evident in its ability to unify. By combining elements of traditional powwow music and modern electronic music, these Ottawa DJs have created a proud, innovative movement that Indigenous people are embracing. But they’re also drawing in fans from all walks of life under the banner of positivity, respect, and understanding.

Leonard Sumner’s Rez Poetry

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Where A Tribe Called Red provides the soundtrack to the urban Indigenous experience, Leonard Sumner tells the modern stories of the rez. From folk to country to rap, this heartfelt collection is a riveting portrayal of the unique struggles and triumphs of Anishinaabe people. It’s the album I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear.

Big BusinessBattlefields Forever

As one of the most unique bands in metal, Big Business has always created a successfully loud combination of heavy rhythm, intoxicating melody, and bewildering weirdness. A fuller, more dynamic sound on this new album has added to that enigmatic intrigue.

Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

There is so much about her to love.

KEN ModeEntrench

What I’ve always admired about this Winnipeg trio is their ability to make the most massive metal sound from the barest of bones. While that formula has been hugely effective for more than a decade, they added a couple more layers including piano and strings on some songs here. It’s still some of the heaviest music out there.

BiipiigwanSomething for Everyone; Nothing for Anyone

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Warrior music.

Nine Inch NailsHesitation Marks

I must be getting older, because this is another departure from loud and heavy that I really enjoyed. Trent Reznor reaches back to the electronic influences that kicked off his career and produces a polished, refined collection of songs that are like ear candy. This is the “headphone” album of the year.

Pearl JamLightning Bolt

There are three kinds of people in the world: hardcore Pearl Jam fans, Pearl Jam listeners who feel the need to justify their fandom, and Pearl Jam haters. Pearl Jam has been one of the only constants in my life and I take comfort in knowing that every few years, they’ll put out music that I’ll really like.

Although that’s ten, I’m breaking from personal form here to add a couple more:

The MelvinsTres Cabrones

They put out three albums this year, including a covers album, a live album, and this. While Live at Third Man Records was my favourite of the three, my personal rule is to keep this list to studio recordings of new originals. They broke once again from their usual modern lineup with the Big Business members and revisited their original 1983 lineup (as closely as possible) to create something fun and heavy.

How To Destroy AngelsWelcome Oblivion

This came out before Hesitation Marks, but it’s the perfect complement. Beautiful vocals soar above ambient, intricate compositions and rhythms that are both soothing and exciting.

Honourable mentions:
Danny BrownOld
TomahawkOddfellows
Craig BrownHysteresis
The BronxIV
Deltron 3030Event II

What were your favourite albums this year?