Month: November 2018

Triumphalism in Boston’s Famine Memorial

Last week I mentioned the haunting and beautiful Irish Famine memorial carved from bog wood by the artist Kieran Tuohy. I spend a lot of time thinking about and, ultimately, teaching Famine memorials in both Irish and Public history classes.  For the most part, Famine memorials are similar to Tuohy’s sculpture, though perhaps not as haunting.  They show desperate, emaciated figures carrying their worldly goods in their arms and trying to get to the emigrant ships leaving from the quay in Dublin, Derry, Cork, etc.  The Dublin memorial is perhaps the most famous. The Irish memorials tend to reflect stories of leaving, the desperate emigrants heading to the so-called New World.  Death is secondary to these narratives, though just as many people died as emigrated due to the Famine.  Take, for example, my favourite memorial on Murrisk, Co. Mayo.  This one depicts a coffin ship, though unlike many other monuments, it reflects death, as skeletons can be found aboard the coffin ship.  In fact, if you look carefully at this image, you can see that the netting is actually a chain of skeletons, depicting the desperate refugees who died aboard these ships. The stories told by Famine memorials in North America differ, however.  They offer a solemn view of the refugees arriving here, sometimes acknowledging the arduous journey and the pitiful conditions in Ireland.  But they offer a glimpse...

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Devotchka — This Night Falls Forever

Devotchka This Night Falls Forever Concord On a transcontinental flight away back in 2006, my now-wife watched a movie called Little Miss Sunshine whilst I read something or other.  Watching the film, which she loved, she discovered this new band, Devotchka.  I was intrigued, if only due to the band’s name; A Clockwork Orange being one of my favourite movies (yes, I know it was a book originally, but I prefer the film, it’s not often I say that).  The band, though, say that’s not from whence their name comes, as ‘devotchka’ is Russian for girl.  Whatever. We got back to Montréal and got Devotckha’s 2006 ep, Curse Your Little Heart.  We were hooked.  We soon filled up the back catalogue, and then bought every album they put out.  At some point around 2009 or 2010, Devotchka came to Montréal and played Club Soda.  It was a sit-down event, with tables on the floor, to make it like some kind of dinner and show.  So we sat with a few other couples.  But the music!  We got up and danced, together, waltzing and samba-ing around the tables.  We were the only people to do so.  Around 2,000 people in the club, and my wife and I were the only ones to dance.  And people say Montréal is a party town! Devotchka originally got lumped in with the gypsy punk movement with the...

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National Unity and Conscription in Canada

The First World War has a complicated legacy in Canada.  When the war broke out in 1914, Canada was by and large still a colony of the United Kingdom, despite Confederation in 1867.  The young Dominion’s foreign policy was still controlled in London (as was the case for all of the Dominions: South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia in addition to Canada).  Thus, the UK went to war, so, too, did Canada.  As our historians tell us, by the time the war ended on 11 November 1918, Canada had arrived on the global stage. The Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War had performed more than admirably.  The tenacity and valour of Canadian troops became legendary.  For example, despite the lack of complete and formal training, the CEF quickly established itself as a forward-leading trench invading force.  The performance of the CEF was made all the more impressive, I argue, given the fact that they were not all that well-equipped (this seems to be a constant for the Canadian military).  For example, they were saddled with the underperforming and quick-to-jam Ross rifle (due to graft and corruption in Ottawa, of course), and malfunctioning machine guns.  And then there was the Canadian knock-off of British webbing that tended to breakdown and disintegrate in trench warfare. The combination of the performance of the CEF, along with the the diplomacy and...

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The Men — Hated: 2008-2011

The Menated: 2008-2011 Sacred Bones The Men used to be one of my favourite bands.  I discovered them just in time for the release of their 2012 album, Open Your Heart.  It was this brilliant mixture of hard core, country, noise, and just a metric shit tonne of guitars and screaming.  I think I once listened to this album all the way through for an entire weekend.  But, it turns out that Open Your Heart was a turning point for The Men, as they shifted away from their noise rock background towards a more accessible sound that sounded kind of generic to me by 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits.  To be fair, their last two albums, 2016’s Devil Music and this year’s Drift return them to  more familiar, amped up guitar music.  I will say this about them, they’re an incredibly diverse band.  And to say they used to be one of my favourite bands is not really to diss them.  Our tastes change and evolve, and their interests as musicians have done the same.  Fair play. Hated is a compilation of tracks recorded between their formation in 2008 and 2011, by which time they had released two albums, Immaculada (2010) and Leave Home (2011).  And in listening to Hated, I am reminded by how vital and loud The Men were.  They are punk.  They are surf.  They are noise.  They are rock.  There’s even the hint of countrified rock that broke out on Open Your...

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The Great War and Monuments in Canada

Across Canada, the cenotaph is a central component of the central square of villages, towns, and cities.  Erected in the wake of the First World War, these cenotaphs faithfully record those who gave their lives in the first global conflict.  The First World War was the ‘war to end all wars.’  While not nearly as massive or bloody as the Second World War, it is the First World War that is remembered as The Great War. These cenotaphs recording the war dead are deeply embedded on the landscape.  And, unlike so many memorials, they are not invisible.  Growing up, I was always aware of them and what they meant.  They were solemn and dignified, almost always identical, obelisk shapes.  I remember reading the names of the dead on them, and not just on Remembrance Day. The dead of the First World War seemed so faraway from me, growing up in the 1980s, beyond living memory for me.  My grandparents served in the Second World War.  And whilst my grandfather’s service as a tailgunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force held a certain romance, it was nothing compared to the First World War. As a boy in Canada, I didn’t know a lot about the conditions of the War.  I learned these in university and the romance of the war dropped away quickly.  And I learned more and more about...

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