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Barenaked Ladies on art in the suburbs

From the construction of the first bungalow in Don Mills, Ont. in 1953, the debate went one way or the other. Perfectly planned communities were idyllic for some and unliveable for others. Since then, skeptics have weighed in on suburbia's cookie-cutter qualities — strip malls, two-car garages and endless doughnut shops. Nevertheless, Canadian suburbs continue to grow faster than cities, and now even musicians have claimed them a hub of artistic creativity.

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Singing about ketchup, K-cars and Kraft Dinner, the Barenaked Ladies have really made the most of their suburban roots. In satirizing the suburbs, this new group (of guys) from Scarborough, Ont., has managed in just seven months to sell 500,000 copies of their debut album. Band members Ed Robertson and Steven Page assert that, although Scarborough hasn't been upheld as a cultural milieu, creativity does exist in the suburbs.

In this CBC Television interview, the Ladies expose suburbanites for their reluctance: "People then move downtown and go, 'No, I'm not from the suburbs.'" 
• In their song If I Had a Million Dollars, the Barenaked Ladies joked about upscale suburban purchases. This included buying a K-car for a girlfriend, and eating Kraft Dinner with expensive ketchup.

If I Had a Million Dollars was featured on the band's debut album Gordon. The band composed initial songs for the album in their parents' Scarborough basements.

• Due to publicity about the band and their name, the Barenaked Ladies had their choice of signing deals for Gordon.

• The band signed a contract with an American company, Sire Records. The signing was a public event at Scarborough's city hall.
• The two initial members (Robertson and Page) formed the band's first incarnation in Scarborough in 1988. They started jamming together at a Scarborough summer music camp where they met.
• In the late 1950s, an American song about the suburbs called Little Boxes became popular in Canada.

• The song by Malvina Reynolds poked fun at suburban homes:

"There's a green one and a pink one/
And a blue one and a yellow one/
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky/
And they all look just the same."

(words and music by Malvina Reynolds)

• A Globe and Mail editorial entitled "Standardized - Like Anthills" exposed suburban conformity in 1946: "Endless dwellings of suburbia, each meticulously exact on its thirty-seven foot frontage, not an inch out of line."

• Other suburban critics spoke of "uniformity, conformity" (Humphrey Carver) and "identical houses on standard lots in featureless neighbourhoods" (Norman Pearson).

• In 1984, John Cougar Mellencamp's song Pink Houses also alluded to the simplicity of suburban living.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Evening News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 16, 1993
Guest(s): Steven Page, Ed Robertson
Interviewer: Peter Grainger
Duration: 1:01

Last updated: June 6, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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