Godspeed wins Polaris, or why Canada makes me blindingly angry sometimes

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Photo: Eva Vermandel

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are exactly the kind of band the world needs, but Canada especially. Nobody needs another vaguely folky gaggle of troubadours singing oblique art school lyrical dribblings over lilting melodies or worse, reheated 70s boogie rock (sorry, most of indie music). Godspeed may not be your cup of lemon tea but their latest record, Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend is steeped in drones and minimalism, krautrock-y repetition and face-melting noise that’s in perilously short supply anywhere, but particularly here, where government funding helps the mediocre and the excellent in equal measure, thus guaranteeing a larger crop of both. So Godspeed didn’t just accept their Polaris win by smiling and nodding while biting their tongues, as their mothers might have wanted them to do. So fucking what? THEY’RE A ROCK BAND.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country, its natural beauty and its warm-hearted people. Even when some hacks that I don’t particularly like win Polaris (sorry, Patrick Watson and Arcade Fire and Karkwa), just seeing the whole thing makes me get a little misty. And Godspeed’s little post-Polaris-win tantrum is pretty juvenile as these things go – oh my god, an awards show is a waste of money? Call the Surete! – particularly the slamming of the car company sponsorship, given that Toyota’s Scion is one of the brands moving into the electric vehicle space; their iQ EV is already being rolled out for car sharing programs and fleets in places like the University of California at Irvine, not to mention that Scion’s fleet are pretty fuel efficient as these things go anyways. It’s not like it was the Polaris Music Prize Brought To You By The 2013 Cadillac Escalade. And the fact that it was a glitzy spectacle is unfortunate but necessary to guarantee the participation of the broader music industry, and make the whole thing happen. Maybe I’m biased because I’m on the jury, but I think the world is a better place because Polaris exists.

But Godpseed’s little rant is by far the least annoying thing about this episode. People are already lining up to bitch about how ungrateful they are for using the opportunity to make a statement, which is utterly mind-blowing when you think about awards shows in general. Marlon Brando was applauded for using his Godfather Oscar win to bring attention to the plight of the Native Americans. Michael Moore slammed George W. Bush when Bowling for Columbine won. Russell Brand cracked Nazi jokes about Hugo Boss at the GQ awards. Sure, plenty of people didn’t like what they said, but really, does anyone think the problem with getting political at awards shows is that it’s ungrateful? In America and the U.K. stuff like this is seen as part of the whole maddening shebang. They take it in stride, for the most part. (Miley Cyrus twerking is a whole different story – nobody thought that was a political statement, except maybe some shrill Jezebel contributors.)

Instead our punditocracy is gearing up to slam them for not being 100% politically consistent because they’re on the Nine Inch Nails megalith of a tour. Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, rock band breaks own rules! Stop the presses! The whole reaction is pathetic and sad, not to mention stereotypically Canadian. When Jarvis Cocker mooned Michael Jackson at the Brits in 96, people took it for what it was – rock star acts daft, makes headlines. Godspeed are being equally daft, but instead of complaining that they’re not being polite and well-behaved Tim Hortons-sipping Canucks, we might want to ask whether the world is a more interesting place with bands like them in it.

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