Unfortunately, Canada Day fell on a Sunday this year, which is very inconvenient for weekday blogger purposes. Ugh. But oh well: Today we’re toasting our neighbors to the North with a rundown of Canadian-produced pop culture moments. My choices are sometimes gay, sometimes pseudo-gay (a drag Julia Child!), and some are just asexually delightful. None of you are going to scoff at a Joni Mitchell mention, are you? Good. Let’s begin.
1. Rufus Wainwright takes on Judy Garland and everybody wins.
It may not have been an enormous commercial hit, but Rufus Wainwright’s track-by-track live cover of Judy Garland’s classic Judy at Carnegie Hall was a righteous gay triumph. The Montreal-reared balladeer even outsings Liza’s mom on a few tracks (as does his sister Martha, who joins him on “Stormy Weather”), and the whole album (Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall) is a virtuosic example of pop culture homage, which is something gay guys tend to love and produce with equal fervor.
2. k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” is one of the best music videos of the 1990s.
k.d. lang’s driving 1993 ballad “Constant Craving” was a melancholic earworm right in line with other gorgeous tunes of the time like Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” and it also boasted a killer video. In it, the striking Ms. lang trills backstage as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot premieres in Paris, and you’ll notice the play and the song share themes of desperation and anticipation. Nicely rendered, director Mark Romanek.
3. Dan Aykroyd’s version of Julia Child is as memorable as Meryl’s
You’ll be less than shocked to learn that much of Saturday Night Live’s first five seasons is dated. The show has evolved with the times, and thus, there’s little need for overlong and joke-free musical parodies like the Blues Brothers or the Killer Bees. (Now’s a good time to admit that I think John Belushi was generally insufferable. Anyway.) But one sketch that remains almost frighteningly hilarious is Canadian legend Dan Aykroyd’s version of Julia Child, who “cuts the dickens out of” her finger and lets blood spray all over her TV kitchen. And where’s his Oscar nomination for outshining Amy Adams, world? Also: Michigan-born Gilda Radner spent time at Toronto’s Second City, so I’ll mention that Judy Miller remains one of the greatest SNL characters ever created, since Radner is quasi-Canadian, I suppose.
4. Joni Mitchell slays the BBC with “California” and a dulcimer
Joni Mitchell has a number of astounding live performances — her Dick Cavett Show rendition of “Chelsea Morning” comes to mind, as does her version of “I Shall Be Released” with “Mama” Cass Elliot and Mary Travers, but for me there’s no beating her dulcimer-aided BBC take on “California,” the emotional centerpiece of her landmark album Blue. Hard to find a single flaw, in case you’re even looking for one. A perfect and unforgettable voice, perfect and unforgettable lyrics, and just staggering vulnerabilty. Saskatoon, we thank you.
5. Shania Twain. Leopard suit. Forever.
Let’s face it, even though Shania Twain was already an otherworldly phenomenon by the time her video for “That Don’t Impress Me Much” arrived, no one guessed that the woman born Eileen Edwards had this in her. And by “this,” I do mean the ability to work a hooded, leopard-print catsuit in the desert. “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” the sassiest track off the blockbuster album Come On Over, featured a video where a dismissive Twain struts around a sandy wasteland and rejects suitors who drive up to save her. It couldn’t be better. Or more ridiculous. Or more right.
6. Alanis Morissette scorches the Grammys with a revamped version of “You Oughta Know.”
Not to play down the accomplishments of Taylor Swift and Adele, but when Canadian-born Alanis Morissette enjoyed her own Grammy sweep in 1996, she did it with songs that featured thrillingly articulate lyrics, confrontational gall, and a revelatory candor — and she wrote those songs (with Glen Ballard) when she was 19 and 20 years old. For my money, Jagged Little Pill is the greatest of the ’90s blockbuster albums, and Morissette’s poignant, slowed-down version of “You Oughta Know” performed at the Grammys is one of the finest award show moments ever. Dave Coulier, you are one dubious Canadian.
(We should also award Morissette props for changing a key line in her hit “Ironic” for 2005’s Jagged Little Pill Acoustic to say, “It’s [like] meeting the man of my dreams and meeting his beautiful husband.” She’s also an ordained minister who has married off gay people! This woman is the best! And she’s gorgeous!)
7. The Last Waltz is the defining concert film
Canadian-based rock outfit The Band received the perfect sendoff for its star-studded final concert in San Francisco on Thanksgiving, 1976: Martin Scorsese’s gripping documentary The Last Waltz, which features the most gorgeous concert footage we’ll probably ever see. Some even consider The Last Waltz Scorsese’s best film. The Band is in unbelievable form (and they’d reunite in 1983), as are their guest stars Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell (hello, again!), Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, and Neil Young.
8. Alex Trebek mocks Jeopardy!’s greatest champion openly, but fairly.
Ken Jennings’ legendary 74-day winning streak on Jeopardy! may never be repeated, and that means we may never get to hear Canadian host Alex Trebek react as he did when Jennings said, “What is a ho?” in response to a question concerning “garden tools” and “immoral pleasure seekers.” Trebek’s taunt (“They teach you that in school in Utah, huh?”) was pretty hilarious — and it makes me think he’d be good at what he still considers a dream job: hosting a revamp of Hollywood Squares.
9. Rachel McAdams is evil and delicious in Mean Girls.
It’s hard to select a “best” moment of Canadian-born Rachel McAdams’ work in Mean Girls, but as queen meanie Regina George, McAdams spews some of the saltiest one-liners of the film. My personal favorite may be when she sits at lunch discussing carbs and losing weight, gets bored, and announces, “Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.”
10. Celine Dion is apparently just awesome.
This fan-made video says it all. You can forget that “My Heart Will Go On” is the most odiously overplayed song of all time; just remember that Celine is amazing, shoots lightning from her fingers, and sings “Who Let the Dogs Out?” at unsuspecting crew members. Go, Canada, go.
Any other Canadian-related pop culture moments I should’ve included? I’ll throw in an underrated radio single for #11: Nelly Furtado’s folksy, cool “Powerless (Say What You Want).” I miss that Nelly.