Here’s the funny thing about American politics: they can make you ashamed to be a Canadian.
Not because of all the assholism, including (but by no means limited to) Donald Trump, MAGA hats, tiki torches, mass school shootings, failed impeachments, Texas border holding cells, and unrepentantly angry beer connoisseur Brett Kavanaugh.
Instead, the great thing about politics in America is that the game is about hi-wattage pop culture as much as it is about power. And like every great pop-culture moment, that produces must-have souvenirs. Like Rolling Stones farewell-tour T-shirts from 1982. And Kiss’s never-ending-farewell-tour beer-pong tables from 2018. And Phish deodorant sticks from the reunited Phish’s farewell tour of 2004.
Today’s shit-hot memento of the week comes courtesy of the Strokes and Bernie Sanders. If the two have something in common, it’s that they continue to maintain large cult followings despite being, theoretically speaking, well past their pull dates.
The Strokes haven’t put out an album since their 2013 throwaway Comedown Machine, rightly or wrongly famous for being listed as a desert-island essential by no one ever. (There are those who’ll loudly argue that the band hasn’t put out a good album since 2001’s debut outing Is This It, but that’s a topic for the next time you’re out for drinks and reminiscing about how white belts were once almost as cool as the Hives.)
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders meanwhile is still out there swinging, yelling, and redefining the term apoplectic at an age where most folks are lucky to be making it to the rest-home bathroom without calling for the nurse. We should all be so lucky to be so spry and beautifully belligerent at age 78.
It makes sense—given their unlikely longevity, and the fact that they both exude rock-star charisma—that the Stokes and Sanders would have a mutual appreciation. That’s spilled out of the political arena and into live-music: on February 10, singer Julian Casablancas and Co. headlined a University of New Hampshire rally for the Vermont senator.
Sanders kicked the show off by taking to the mike of the 6,500-capacity Whittemore Center and announcing “It gives me great pleasure to introduce, for the first time in New Hampshire… the Strokes!” After 60 seconds of panicked screaming from the crowd—apparently, most people misheard Sanders say “It gives me great pleasure, for the first time in New Hampshire, to have a stroke!”—the band that spearheaded New York’s fabled new-millennium rock revival launched into the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”.
Twelve songs later, it was over, with no “Last Nite”, but with “Someday” and “New York City Cops” taking the sting out of that. And then, as the house lights went up, the only thing left was to hit the merch table, where fans descended to find shirts emblazoned with a riff on the iconic Strokes logo as designed by American visual artist Kii Arens. Instead of reading “the Strokes”, the logo was refashioned to read “Bernie Sanders”.
They not only sold out instantly, but became so coveted that the Strokes team was overwhelmed by the demand for more. Today, the band put up a new batch on the web, using its Instagram page to direct fans to the berniesanders.com website where the Ts are available to the public for purchase.
Which brings us back to politics in the Canada versus the U.S.
When the Liberal leadership race took place in 2013, it’s not like the Tea Party or soulDecision were headlining rallies for Joyce Murray, and Martha Hall Findlay. There's no such thing as T-shirt that became a hot ticket after a Moffats logo was altered to read “Karen McCrimmon”.
Over time, you’ve gone home disappointed as a music fan and political junkie if your life-long dream is to see Rudy Husny sharing the stage with Bootsauce.
Or Judy N. Green introducing Bran Van 3000 to a capacity crowd at a grassroots rally in Regina.
Or Annamie Paul ravaging a deli tray in the green room with Len. Or Julie Tremblay-Cloutier praying that she’ll get a massive bump in the Green Party leadership race after a live endorsement show from Danko Jones.
The sad thing about all of the above is that—admit it—you have no idea who any of those people or bands are. With the possible exception of the Moffats.
You know why, Canada? Because one of your grandest traditions is being boring. Going back in time, can anyone imagine Stephen Harper asking the good people of Dildo, Newfoundland, to give it up for Sum 41?
Or Jean Chrétien suggesting the community of Ball's Falls, Ontario, give a warm welcome to Kitty? Or Jack Layton introducing Down With Webster to the townies of Climax, Saskatchewan?
But, despite all that, there’s no need to be ashamed you’ll never live in a country where the likes of Bernie Sanders goes after-hours clubbing in the Bowery with the Strokes. Feeling inferior about bleeding maple syrup and poutine gravy when you read about the coolest T-shirt that’s going to hit a merch table in 2020? (And that sadly will be nowhere to be seen on the merch table when the Strokes play Rogers Arena this Thursday [March 5]).
There’s an easy fix for that: start seriously thinking about Donald Trump, MAGA hats, tiki torches, mass shootings, failed impeachments, Texas border holding cells, and unrepentantly angry beer connoisseur Brett Kavanaugh.