Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why "Dat Dah-Dat Dah-Dat" Is So Uniquely Canadian

Okay, like, today’s topic is going to be about that strange confluence between public policy and private initiative that produces uniquely Canadian cultural cornerstones. And if you’re too much of a hoser to know who I’m channeling, you better go here, eh?

I don’t know how big the McKenzie Brothers got in the States, but in 1980s Canada they were HUUUUUUUGE. And they can’t have been unknown Stateside, because it got to the point where I couldn’t even attend a stadium rock concert without the singer and the drummer exchanging at least one, “Take off, eh?” The way the audience erupted, you’d have thought the drummer had just finished a marathon solo. This one-note shtick developed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas is what qualifies, still, as a Canadian cultural cornerstone.

Another, even larger, cultural cornerstone for us Canuckle-heads is the Hockey Night In Canada theme song. As of this posting there isn’t a link to its most recognizable form: the opening of the show. That’s because the copyright issues surrounding the theme are contentious in the extreme — so contentious, in fact, that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, who originally commissioned and for the last 40 years made exclusive use of the song, just lost it to a private sector broadcaster, the CTV. This is VERY BIG NEWS up here in the Great White North. There are any number of blow-by-blow accounts of what really happened, but the gist of it is the song’s composer, Dolores Claman, did not consider the income she was receiving to be commensurate with the popularity of the ditty.

And it is very popular. If you’re not Canadian, and you can’t wrap your head around why a TV theme song has become a national treasure, head over to the CBC website and check out Stand Up In Kandahar. It’s one of the Corp's finer concepts: fly a few Canadian stand-up comedians to entertain the troops in Afghanistan, then film the proceedings. The video highlights at the bottom of the page are all worth a look, but I want to direct you to Tim Nutt. Go on and give it a click, then come back and read the rest.

Welcome back. That’s why that little ditty is a big deal. Canadians all know it by heart, the rest of you do not, it’s “ours” — end of story.

Getting back to Bob and Doug: their creation came about when the suits at the CRTC came down to the studio and told the SCTV crew they didn’t have enough Canadian content in their material. Moranis and Thomas responded with, “You want Canadian content, we’ll give you Canadian content.” And that’s how we got two toque-clad, beer swilling idiots who couldn’t tell their right foot from their left lecturing the world about, like, why it’s so great to be Canadian, eh?

In his "official" history of SCTV, Thomas' contempt for the CRTC and their idiot demands is palpable. There is, of course, a double irony that boomerangs back on him: the McKenzie Brothers went on to become internationally recognized SCTV characters. Had it not been for the CRTC, none of this would have happened.

It sucks to be the square who enforces the rules, even when it's the right thing to do. Three million dollars is chickenfeed for a song like this, even to a public broadcaster. But when the CBC let it go to the private sector, they did the right thing. The song is still "out there" — it just moved to another Canadian broadcaster. As for the CBC, no Canadian hockey fan is going to stop watching HNIC just because the theme song changed.


DarkoV said...

Maybe my tilted view of things, but I think the McKenzie Bros were a big hit down below the 49th. The theatre that I went to to see Strange Brew back in the early 1980's was packed. Packed with people and with sixes.

And like, who doesn't have a VHS or DVD of the original hosers?

O.K., well that may be getting a bit too personal....

dan h. said...

You mean the McKenzie brothers were Canadian? I don't know about the rest of the USA, but in my midwest neck-o-woods they were kings.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - it looks like DH's experience would lend credence to your own.

DH - you seem to be the target audience for the McKenzie Brothers' geography lesson (heh heh).

paul bowman said...

I think of "Take off, eh" as one of those familiar but mysterious features of the habits of teenagers, from when I was about eleven. This expression that in my world only people of a certain age used, & which seemed to have no source. As a child I was well protected from all sorts of worldliness, so it was a while yet before I knew what "the McKenzies" was.

Still makes me smile to recall my mom rebuking a few church friends of mine, a few years later, for amusing one another at a holiday function with their rendition of the "And a Beer" 12 Days. She certainly didn't need to know who Bob & Doug were or whether they were a pop phenomenon, fading or otherwise.

Whisky Prajer said...

Some of the McKenzies' vernacular was already familiar to me when they first appeared, but other stuff seemed to come out of the ether. "Hoser" wasn't new, but I wonder where Thomas and Moranis came up with "Take off." Perhaps they were chaste in their use of language than we suspected?