Happy Anniversary, boys!

Blue Rodeo’s Stereovision DVD illustrates the band’s 20 year history
TORONTO (CP) – The lifeline of most bands lies in the relationship between its members so it’s no surprise that Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy’s friendship dates back some 30-odd years to Grade 11 math class.
Freshly enrolled Keelor found scrunched up notes with scribblings about the new boy with “ridiculous shoes” written by Cuddy and a classmate. “He was new. He came from Montreal. Montreal people were always hard on Toronto so he deserved a bit of initiation, a little bit of hazing,” explained Cuddy in a recent interview, as Keelor sat next to him shoeless on a well-worn red couch in the band’s downtown Toronto studio.
“It set him up for a career in the arts, reading your own reviews. He never should have looked at the notes,” added Cuddy.
That first encounter speaks volumes about the strength of the duo’s bond which has outlasted and outsmarted the tribulations of a volatile business where fighting is often the norm, even customary in some circles.
The then-teenagers started playing guitar in the 1970s and formed several punk bands which eventually, after a short attempt to break into New York, mutated and morphed into the country-infused Blue Rodeo in 1984.
The outfit celebrates 20 years with a DVD retrospective this month, directed by acclaimed, sometimes quirky, documentary filmmaker Ron Mann.
Toronto-based Mann, who directed docs Grass and last year’s Go Further with Woody Harrelson, says he wanted to take a “Salman Rushdie approach to music” rather than the talking heads, VH-1-style too often repeated.
Calling Cuddy and Keelor the “Lennon and McCartney of Canada,” Mann said he wanted to showcase the full breadth of the band.
“Their career is really interesting because they’ve done it in Canada on their own terms,” he said. “But they’re really kind of a secret in a way. It’s authentic music. People respond to it internationally.”
Stereovision is not what you’ve come to expect from music DVDs.
First, there are no videos – a completely overused technique these days for making quickie music DVDs. Second, there are no ego-filled introspective chats with band members musing about their own greatness.
Instead, the DVD is filled with a cornucopia of rare nuggets including a stylized appreciation by novelist Paul Quarrington, who appears in front of a yellow screen as animated illustrations float around him.
Called Sweet Soul Music, the 11-minute short premiered at a music film festival in Prague a few weeks ago. It’ll screen at Montreal’s international documentary festival next week.
Quarrington, who had his own band, Joe Hall and the Continental Drift, when Blue Rodeo formed, waxes poetically about the band’s influence on the Toronto music scene and offers up his analysis of “stupid” band names and the musical context which first inspired Cuddy and Keelor.
Footnotes to the segment include a New Music clip from the first time Cuddy and Keelor were interviewed as well as photos, posters and handbills.
A collection of rarities, such as a 1989 show at Toronto’s Diamond Club, shows the band’s transformation from greasy, slick-backed hairdos to the laid back guys of today.
Another segment sees the band’s original five members reunite for an outdoor party at Keelor’s Ontario farm, where they perform two new songs, Rena and Up On That Cloud, in addition to classics like Diamond Mine.
Showing their crazy, party side, the band stages a massive, psychedelic massacre of paper snowmen as the Sadies play a cover of Jim Morrison’s The End.
“We wanted to do something that encapsulated the entire career and have a party,” Keelor said.
His eyes widening, he admits he has a fire fetish and thoroughly enjoyed filming the burning snowmen scene.
“I love the power of fire. Whenever I have a party, there’s usually a pretty big fire. This is one of the bigger fires,” smirks Keelor.
Adds Cuddy: “It’s no problem for Greg to call the local fire department and tell them he’s going to have another event.”
A Hollywood pyro technician and the Bowmanville, Ont. fire marshal were on hand for the filming of the fiery scene.
The band came together in 1984 after Cuddy and Keelor placed an ad in a Toronto freebie requesting musicians who’d “dropped acid at least 20 times, lost three or four years to booze.”
But they didn’t really garner attention outside the Toronto club circuit until the 1986 heart-piercing Try was picked up by radio and MuchMusic.
The emotional ballad struck a chord with listeners and launched what’s become two decades of acclaimed songwriting from Blue Rodeo.
They’ve release nine studio albums which have sold over three million copies.
American success has always eluded the band despite a big push from Atlantic Records, a 1988 Rolling Stone magazine proclamation “the best new American band may very well be Canadian,” and another from Meryl Streep who included the band in 1990s Postcards from the Edge.
“Over the years I feel quite glad that we didn’t make it down there,” said Keelor. “My life would be so different. I’m very content.”