Thursday, September 29, 2016

10th Canadian Challenge - 6th Review - Coke Machine Glow

This relatively slim book of poems (Coke Machine Glow) is by Gordon Downie, who is of course the lyricist and lead singer for The Tragically Hip.  In 2001, he published this collection of poems, and simultaneously he put out a CD with 16 of the poems turned into songs.  (And at least in the first year or so, anyone who bought the CD got the poems as well.)  On a few songs, he had his regular band members help out on the tracks, but this was clearly not supposed a Tragically Hip CD, though 2 of the songs (Vancouver Divorce and Canadian Geese) might have fit on a Tragically Hip CD.  One of the strangest aspects of this effort is that the poem "Coke Machine Glow" wasn't turned into a song, though it definitely seems a bit more like a song lyric than a poem.  Here's a review of the CD.

It's sort of difficult to actually categorize this.  Downie writes quite complex lyrics for a rock singer, but much of this doesn't quite rise to the level of solid poetry.  It's hard to see this getting published without Downie's name attached to it, though I wouldn't say it is quite a vanity project.

I think Starpainters (one of the poems also on the CD) may be inspired by Earle Birney's "On the Night Jet," though I suppose plenty of poets have started writing about viewing the landscape from a plane.  While Downie has sort of pledged his allegiance to Al Purdy (who actually comes up in "L. vs. Al"), I suspect he was at least aware of Earle Birney's work.

I also suspect that the Jim Carroll referred to "The Goalie Who Lives Across the Street" is the poet (and talented basketball player).  However,  there was a Jim Carroll that played hockey as well, though it appeared he never made it beyond his college team (Michigan Tech). 

There is no question this is a more mellow outing than Now For Plan A (where his wife's breast cancer hangs over the record) and of course Man Machine Poem.

The second section might be of particular interest to fans, since it sort of gives Downie's impressionistic views of various cities where the band was touring.  The poem "Coke Machine Glow" is found in this section: "Here we are on the highway / Here we are on the road / Here we are in the parking lot's / pink Coke machine glow."  (As I said, it's hard to believe he didn't actually record this.)

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that most of the Canadian references are reserved for the poems in the 4th section of the book, where Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and the Yukon are all name-checked.  Indeed, in "Global Warming" a boy falls in love with a girl from the Yukon and decides to move on up there to get ahead of the crowds that will follow "in a hundred years / {when} it's gonna be like the South of France". 

I don't think I would recommend the book to anyone who had no idea of who Gordon Downie is or who had never heard of The Tragically Hip, though that is certainly a fairly small percentage of the Canadian population.  The book is really aimed at existing fans, and should be quite satisfying for them.  I would also suggest that the book ought to be read in conjunction with listening to the CD (probably easier said than done for anyone outside of Canada).  At least some of the poems in Coke Machine Glow (the book) were turned into a second CD (Battle of the Nudes) which is even harder to find (in the library at least).

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