What were you doing in '93? We know...: Where were we in ’93?

Where were we in ’93?

In '93 everything's for rent

Dredging up the memories of the year Hour was launched in news, music, film and arts

1993 IN NEWS

Things were grim in Montreal back in ’93 when Hour, that scrawny but rather feisty runt, came kicking and screaming into this world. Brian Mulroney was still PM for one, and the city was desperately clawing itself out of a 20-year economic decline.

As Peter Wheeland, Hour’s first news editor, sums up 1993 at the time: "JoJo Savard dominates late-night TV, city councillor Nick Auf der Maur is pushing for legalized prostitution and Mordecai Richler is (still) infuriating separatists." If this doesn’t provide enough context, a little reminder ’93 was just prior to all the Quebec separation debates, after which news in Montreal became entirely monopolized by the language wars.

The year’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the last year the Habs took home the Stanley Cup. (Call it déjà vu, but true to form, fanatical hockey fans rioted along Ste-Catherine destroying everything in their path.)

In many cases, despite a few typos and upside-down photos, to read the yellowed, timeworn pages of Hour’s first year in print is a thrill. While Hour may have been the new kid on the block, the news section was generously peppered with timely investigative journalism on local issues. The very first issue of Hour featured a full-page article on Montreal’s troubled road infrastructure, and Hour writer (or savant?) Florence St-Laurent predicted the future held bad roads and perpetual traffic jams in Montreal at rush hour.

When it came to liberal politics, Hour was on the vanguard, giving a voice to those underrepresented in the mainstream press. Early articles followed the often complex backroom wrangling over a new waste management project’s lack of environmental foresight; rigorously debated whether prostitution should be legalized, controlled or decriminalized (from a prostitute’s perspective); investigated a rash of murders committed against gay men in the city; and featured several reports on the ass-backward police crackdowns on refugees and asylum seekers from Africa (this story would later morph into a regular column called Refugee of the Week by Nantha Kumar).

Trends that have survived since ’93? Dieting. (Although, you could count on Hour to provide the sensible, feminist skinny on the matter: "Dieting is not the answer. A slower, healthier approach is to change eating habits and get more exercise," writes J. Marion Feinberg.) Also roller blading (Jamie O’Meara, then but a freelancer in the flush of his youth, called the phenomenon "crack on skates"). And finally, and perhaps Hour’s best call, the Internet.

Long before The Matrix took Hollywood by storm, and before other papers in this city had even heard of the Internet, tech writer Matt Friedman was exposing that fledgling phenomenon. Friedman’s astute articles explored everything from the expansion of cyberspace to media convergence, and from the growth of online users to the web’s effects on free speech. (Printed papers like Hour were cut-and-paste jobbies back in ’93! No email, baby!) Of course, Hour would go on to embrace cyberspace, becoming one of the first alt weeklies in North America to have a web presence: www.hour.ca. Of course, we hope to have another one of these anniversary dates with you, dear Hour reader, somewhere in/around 2023… (MH)


Shades Of Culture anthology, A Little Bit About Us (2000)

Unlike other ’90s city scenes, music in Montreal, particularly as it related to the then-often-overwhelmed anglo scene, but also to the franco underground in many respects, frequently defined itself by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t always accessible, it wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always an offshoot of the soon-to-be-ended run of grunge (though the admiration of some groups, not naming any Stellar Dwellers, was less than circumspect). Also, for the most part, it wasn’t anything like what was coming out elsewhere in the form of pacified "alternative" music.

To wit: At the time several Toronto bands were enjoying a certain kind of "renown," in the same way a rank turd on a hot busy sidewalk enjoys its own distinct renown (as in "Man, dis stincts"). Cases in point: Skydiggers, Crash Vegas and Moxy Früvous, who played Club Soda the very same day the first issue of Hour hit the stands, Feb. 4, 1993. "The Toronto group will perform… a rap version of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Not to be missed." The person who wrote that won’t be missed either.

But Montreal music was far too fractured and varied and idiosyncratic and interesting to be of any commercial or popular use yet (much of it still isn’t, praise Jebus). The DIY aesthetic had particular practical appeal to Montreal’s artistic poor, and the reappropriated, inexpensive commercial lofts and buildings that were home to many were also recording studios and concert halls as well. With the advent of accessible recording technology, the subsequent explosion of small record labels, and the rise of a little thing called the Interweb, bands could be, for the very first time, truly independent. By ’93, you couldn’t chuck a Boréale Rousse across St-Laurent without hitting a band member.

By ’93, established bands like Doughboys, Asexuals, Groovy Aardvark, Ripcordz, some kind of barely-holding-it-together version of The Nils (in other words, The Nils), Voivod, Me Mom & Morgentaler, Rhythm Activism, Les Colocs, GrimSkunk, Go Van Gogh, American Devices, Slov, The Dysfunctions, Swinging Relatives, Ray Condo and His Hardrock Goners, Bare Bones, Swing Dynamique, Bliss and Megalo – to name a meagre few – were being joined on stage by a whole generation of new bands.

We’ll just rattle off some more names, ’cause it’s fun to rattle the old names, and it’s also fun to see who gets their nose out of joint when they don’t get mentioned. Among the newbies: the aforementioned Stellar Dweller, Bite, Tinker, Pest, Goldfish, Slaves On Dope, Pushing Up Daisies, Shades Of Culture, Laverne, The Snitches and Rhino Lift. Again, just a few.

These too would see their scene die in front of them, and a much more powerful scene arise, one that would put Montreal on the world stage. (JOM)

1993 IN FILM


Last week on a cross-Atlantic flight, I was treated to a screening of The Firm, Sydney Pollack’s cheesy legal potboiler starring Tom Cruise. At least, I remember that at the time it was first released, in 1993, we all thought it was a cheesy potboiler. With fresh eyes, a mile high up in the sky and 15 years later, it played like an art film. The score is fantastic, the script somewhat unpredictable, the characters inscrutable, the suspense palpable, not to mention the strange frisson of watching Tom Cruise play opposite a woman his own age.

Yes, 1993, that was the year that was. When Hour sprang fully formed from the forehead of some unholy god, the film section had plenty of meat to chew on. That year was the heyday of genuine arthouse fare, and in its first year, Hour featured Derek Jarman, who sadly passed a few short months later – as did River Phoenix. Jane Campion also spoke in our pages about The Piano, and we had a think piece about the old, real Cinéma Parallèle’s Cassavetes retrospective. Speaking of dear and departed, those arthouse heydays were happening when Montreal’s most cherished rep cinema, the Cinéma de Paris, was in full swing. So was Harvey Keitel. Bad Lieutenant didn’t win any Oscars, but in retrospect it might well be the most remembered movie of the year. That, or Menace II Society? Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould? Groundhog Day? Henry and June? Dazed and Confused? Schindler’s List? Last Action Hero? Wait, probably not that one. Though it occurs to me that Last Action Hero did a good job of keeping its leading man, Arnold Schwartzenegger, in his place in the movies, instead of on CNN. Cruise certainly looks better in The Firm than where he’s been since.

In 1993, just like today, we were well served by seeking our cinematic thrills closer to home: The Cement Garden played the World Film Festival, Manufacturing Consent brought Noam Chomsky to the world, and Mike Myers cried into a gigantic pillow in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Hometown reprazent. (MK)

1993 IN ARTS

A fetching (and very young) Yann Martel

Ah 1993, the year of fluorescent T-shirts, zebra print jeans, video art exhibitions and Portishead shows! Wait a minute…

Though it may occasionally seem like time has stood still over the past 15 years, there have been waves in what coverage art was allotted in Hour. In the paper’s premiere issue, Feb. 4, 1993, a glorious 28 pages, out of which five were dedicated to things artsy: There was a visual arts review, a dance review, and three books pieces including a column on the writers’ scene, Mark Shainblum’s In Print. That first year, much of the arts content was dedicated to the printed word – a youthful Yann Martel graced the cover on March 25 as the "hottest new writer." The early-’90s were the heyday of Montreal’s anglophone literati, and it seems most of its community members just happened to be friends of Hour’s staff.

Dance has always been an important part of Hour’s coverage, thanks mainly to the steadfast passion of one fine writer, Philip Szporer, who has been with the paper since its very inception. In the inaugural issue, he wrote, among other things, about rumours relating to "the solvency of the La La La Human Steps dance company," which was in dire financial troubles then, but survived to produce another decade of groundbreaking dance. Tracking the ups and downs of Montreal’s sorely underfunded dance world is a full-time job indeed.

Theatre took longer to get coverage in the pages of Hour, but once it did it was spearheaded by a number of impressive critics. Susan Schutta first graced our pages, leading eventually to the memorable Gaëtan Charlebois. Always the loudmouth, there’s something to be said about a critic who dares to stand up in the middle of an audience and scream at the stage "This is shit!"

The first voices of reason on visual arts in Hour were Donald Goodes, Cameron Skene and Valérie Lamontagne, who in the first year covered artists like Bill Burns, Lyne Lapointe, Martha Fleming, Bill Viola and Geneviève Cadieux. Plus ça change… Some kookier stuff was also written about in the visual arts pages, though, and among the funniest signs of the times to me is a 1993 article penned by current Editor-in-Chief Jamie O’Meara himself, about the crazy new phenomenon of "scratch video art," whereby artists spliced different (gasp!) images together. Listen to this: "It is, perhaps, a consequence of the widespread proliferation, availability and acceptance of visual imagery as information and entertainment that artists, videographers and others concerned with the manipulative power of mass media are beginning to challenge its authority as a cultural determinant." Ha! Am I the only one rolling on the floor? So young, so naive. Pre-web society was so darn cute. [Ed's note: You're a riot. Where are my rollerblades?]

Here’s to 15 more! (IT)

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