Monday, November 17, 2008


5eme saison pictureOne of the guys was listening to Harmonium on Friday in the office. I had heard about them (they are mentioned in Michel Rabagliati's Paul Has a Summer Job) but never actually listened to them. He lent me the CD. It was the second of their entire three-album oeuvre (plus a fourth live album) called Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison ("If we needed a fifth season") and was released in 1975.

I don't fully comprehend the significance of Harmonium in Quebec culture, but it is huge. They were the first band in Quebec to have songs that were longer than 3 minutes and really the only prog rock band to come out of the province. They had a huge following and grew steadily more popular, culminating their career with a world wide tour backing up SuperTramp. They were also closely aligned with the political movements of the René Lévesque era and la Revolution tranquille. I didn't find this confirmed anywhere, but the guy who lent me the CD told me that they were offered big bucks to sing in english and refused.

It's not just that these guys were big in Quebec in the '70s. They are still big! I think most Quebec kids go through a Harmonium phase. The webmaster in our office, who is in her early '20s and is always singing with her headphones on, told me which was her favourite album and sang tunes from some of the songs. She said she listened to it all the time when she was younger. I think Harmonium may be a bit akin to Jim Hendrix or the Doors or other '60s bands that young people keep rediscovering. The difference is that here in Quebec, most of the kids probably discover this stuff at home (although come to think of it, that's where I first heard Reggae music).

So I listened to the album and I apologize to my Quebec friends, but I didn't much enjoy it. I did appreciate it, and I especially appreciated the psychedelic album inside cover art. This album was like really pleasant, layered and professionaly played folk rock. If you are a fan of The Grateful Dead and Fish (or is it Phish?) then you probably will like this album. Personally, I've never understood the connection between LSD and folk music. The first time I heard the Dead, I was contemptuously disappointed. It sounded like bad country to me and I could not understand how so many of my college friends found their music to be psychedelic and mind-blowing. I think the same disconnect is happening here for me with Harmonium.

The difference, though, is that Quebec is a very musical culture. Everybody here sings and they love lyrics and melody and the intertwining of those things. So music that sounds poppy and banal to me can still be fun if you know all the lyrics and can sing it. It's even more powerful if those lyrics and the singing of the song are wrapped up in your childhood and cultural identity.

The third Harmonium album, L'Heptade is about the seven stages of a human life and is supposed to be a lot heavier and darker. I'll give it a whirl and let you know my feelings.


meezly said...

that's funny, cuz somehow a Harmonium tape ended up in my possession when I first came to Montreal to study french over the summer. it was their first album, and it had some really catchy, pretty folk songs. so I always thought they were a folk band, rather than a prog rock band!

I wouldn't mind giving their 1st album another listen, if you can borrow it from your coworkers.

Unknown said...

Harmonium, they were on my favourite band list in high school in CEGEP.
Perhaps called pro rock only because they existed during that time frame and shared radio space with the likes of Genesis and Supertramp and the rest of the popular english bands form that time.